Everyone knows that person.
The one who can enjoy a piece of chocolate cake or a biscuit and only have one.
They can have chocolate sitting in the cupboard and completely forget it’s there. They might even turn down dessert altogether (gasp!). Food isn’t an issue for them, but it might be for you, and it certainly was for me!
I remember in my dieting days (ie. most of my life) I used to have various labels for foods. Sugar, for example, was very very bad, as was everything made with it. I used to believe that if I had a bit of chocolate or something else sweet and delicious I wouldn’t be able to stop and so to prevent that from happening, I avoided it all together. It was just much much safer that way. But I used to crave it! I used to want it all the time (especially when I was stressed or tired) and sure enough, when I did have it, whether it was a ‘paleo brownie’ or not, I couldn't stop at one bite or one piece for that matter.
So, how did I go from there, to one of ‘those’ people who can have a box full of chocolate in the cupboard and not even think about it?
Unconditional permission to eat whatever the heck I want.
Terrifying? Read on.
This idea of unconditional permission is a core fundamental to Intuitive Eating. It basically means that no food is off-limits, nope, not even chocolate (especially not chocolate) or ____________ (insert favourite food here).
When I used to have these cravings for sugar the idea of allowing myself to indulge WHENEVER I wanted it was terrifying – I mean, I wouldn’t be able to stop! I would get fat! My cravings would intensify and the list went on.
But a funny thing happened when I gave myself permission to eat WHATEVER I wanted…. The cravings went away just like that. Not only that, but I was a whole heck of a lot happier.
We’ve been taught to label food as ‘good or bad’ ‘healthy and unhealthy’ ‘fattening and non-fattening” etc. But for people who are not eating instinctively, this way of thinking about food simply doesn’t work. If you’ve been on more than one diet, overeat, or binge, you’ll know this to be true.
A common marketing tactic is the idea of scarcity- If you believe there is only a certain amount of a product available you’re more likely to buy it up quickly.
The same thing applies to our thoughts around food. If you believe that there is a deficit in a certain food (even a self-created deficit) you are more than likely to want it more. The food is put on a pedestal and the cravings are only going to intensify.
Imagine for example that I was to tell you that as of tomorrow morning you could never have chocolate (or your favourite food) again. What would you do now? Tonight? I know what I would do. I would run to the nearest supermarket and buy as much chocolate as I could possibly eat and eat it.
You see how it works? When we tell ourselves that a certain food is “bad” it’s “unhealthy” it’s “naughty” it creates scarcity, the cravings intensify and when you finally cave (because we always do) we over eat because ‘we don’t know when we may get another chance to eat it again’. Guilt is sure to follow which can either lead to more restrictive eating the following day until the next episode or be giving up entirely.
Nutrition is not black and white and you will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, meal or day of eating ‘off the wagon’. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters and progress, not perfection is what really counts. There are 21 meals in a week on average, having 2-3 that are slightly less nutrient dense do not cause the scale to tip.
What I continue to do is to practice awareness around food. I do my best to pause before eating anything and ask myself "am I hungry?". If I am not hungry, but I am craving something I ask myself if I "really really really really" want it. I check in with my body, with what I've got planned for the day and knowing that I can totally have it if I want, I make an executive decision. 99% of the time, the answer is no, and knowing that I can still have it tomorrow, or later in the day if I really (x4) want it then, helps. It's the unconditional permission that allows me to truly assess whether or not I do actually want it and to be able to proceed from there. If I do want it and decide to have it, that's ok too. I enjoy it mindfully and move on.
I understand that you may not be ready for the idea of unconditional permission. But when I truly embraced it. The fear went away, the cravings went away and my health has only improved. What’s not to love? Life is so much more fun without food fear, and that is why I've made it my mission to help people achieve health and happiness without giving up the foods they love.