Have you ever experienced really wanting pizza? But you make yourself eat a salad? And then you find that there’s pizza sitting there on the countertop – late – after everyone has gone to bed and no one’s really around?
If you’re anything like most humans I know, if you ate the salad and really wanted pizza and the pizza is sitting there, you’re going to eat some of the pizza… Or, maybe all of the pizza…
And can I just say that that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, or your body.
It means you’re human.
Because if we consistently underfeed our bodies and deprive ourselves of what we really want, then eventually our body is going to want to feed herself more, overeat, or “binge.” Or become obsessive about food or feel crazy around it.
Even though this is a totally normal thing for our bodies to do, when clients first share that “this” is happening – the “this” being the binging or overeating or obsessive food or body image thoughts – there’s so much shame there. There may be shame there because we – as a culture – don’t think it’s ok to give ourselves permission to eat what our bodies really need, we feel embarrassed for binging, or not being able to “control” our overeating or a whole host of other reasons.
The important thing to remember, however, is that if you’re undernourishing and depriving your body, then your body eating more later on, or uncontrollably eating the food you haven’t allowed yourself is a completely normal thing!
I know it doesn’t feel good.
I know it feels out of control.
I know it feels scary.
But I also know that this is an example of your body doing what it’s supposed to do. It is supposed to make sure that you have enough nourishment so you can go on and continue living.
The fact is: Deprivation leads to overeating, obsessive food thoughts, and quite frankly, feeling nutty around food.
So how do you begin reversing this?
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Notice how you feel when I say that.
If I had to guess, I’d say you might feel pretty scared or anxious, which again is totally normal. It’s true that allowing yourself to eat what your body needs to satisfy hunger and to eat what feels satisfying is instrumental in cultivating a healthy, peaceful relationship with food. But it’s also true that this is much easier said than done, if you’re struggling in your relationship with food and your body.
Here are the three most common blocks (or objections) I see in allowing yourself the freedom to nourish your body freely…
Block #1 >> How do I actually put the “give yourself unconditional permission to eat thing” into practice in my everyday life?
Block #2 >> I’m afraid of what will happen to my body size…
Block #3 >> I’ve tried allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted and it always ended up a disaster… I couldn’t stop.
All of the above pieces take time and practice in working through and often require getting support, but here are some general things to think about and note, if you struggle with any of the above blocks…
Block #1: How do I actually put the “give yourself unconditional permission to eat thing” into practice in my everyday life?
First of all, this is going to take time and lots of practice and experimentation and there’s no way we can get into everything you need to do in just a few short paragraphs. But what I can tell you is that if this is totally foreign and anxiety-producing for you, a gentle structure here, as you learn and become more trusting with your body can be very helpful.
A general rule of thumb is that you want to nourish your body within an hour of waking up and every 2-5 hours after that. If you go longer than 5 hours, you’re likely setting your body up to overeat or feel “bingy” come your next eating experience.
Because what we know about our desire to eat is that:
- When we don’t get enough to eat or when our primal hunger kicks in (that feeling that we MUST eat now!), our biology will kick-in and we will eat past the point where we’re comfortably full and are more likely to binge,
- Having rigid food rules or beliefs (carbs are bad, I can’t eat past 8 PM, etc.), adds to the effect of binging or feeling crazy or uncontrollable around food,
- If we don’t have the tools for moving through our emotions, or if our needs are not being met, food can become the “go-to” to help cope, numb, fill time, or find a sense of “control,” and finally,
- When self-care is lacking, we’re more likely to use food in self-harming ways.
So giving yourself unconditional permission to eat first starts with the basics of making sure you’re getting enough to eat. Then, beginning to really get to know how hunger, fullness, and satisfaction looks and feels in your body and slowly overtime, building more and more body trust. Please remember that this is process and it’s a practice. Meaning, it doesn’t happen overnight.
If you’re dying to try this concept out, a simple roundabout way I’ll often have clients ease into this is by looking at food through the lens of satisfaction. Experiment by asking yourself, come your next eating experience – What food sounds satisfying right now? NOT what you think you “should” eat. Not what is on any sort of plan. Just what sounds satisfying to you.
And again, experiment. Show up with curious compassion and see how this one experiment goes. Remember: your goal here is just to collect information. Not to judge yourself. How does the food feel in your body? Do you enjoy it? What happened after your eating experience? How do you feel – positive, negative or neutral? Collect information.
The more you know about yourself and your body, the more you can care for yourself and your body.
Block #2: I’m afraid of what will happen to my body size…
I get it. I really do. Fear of the unknown is super scary. Even if you know that what you’re doing right now isn’t working for you mentally, physically, or soulfully. For me, 15 years ago when I decided to heal, I remember having the thought – “Am I going to be 80, afraid of eating cake at my own birthday party? Or thinking I need to go to the gym to burn it off?!”
Is this how I wanted to live my life? Obsessed with my body size? Feeling crazy around food? Isolating myself because I wanted to be at the gym instead of with people or doing fun things?
I had to get really honest with myself, take a step outside of myself and really begin thinking about who I was as a human being, rather than who I was in a human body. In other words, I needed to start living because no one is going to end up at my funeral praising my biceps or abs, or lack thereof. And if they did… What kind of life did I live?
Now, I am by no means the epitome of perfect here, as I share some of my story. And your healing will undoubtedly look different. Yet, I share with you so you know that healing is possible and to highlight a different lens for you to look through.
So I encourage you to think about things like:
- If my body size wasn’t a factor, what would I be doing in my life? How would things look different?
- If my weight wasn’t a factor, what would my relationship with food look like?
- What am I really afraid of if my body size changes?
- What am I really afraid of if I eat this food?
- What will happen if I don’t work on healing my relationship with food and my body?
- What does my weight mean to me?
- Does what I eat really make me a “good” or “bad” person?
- What do I need right now to move through this next chapter in healing my relationship with my body and food?
Block #3: I’ve tried allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted and it always ended up a disaster… I couldn’t stop.
I want you to do a little digging here and think back. Did you really give yourself full permission to eat until you were satisfied and comfortably full? Or were you reacting in response to giving yourself permission to eat whatever you wanted – after never really giving yourself permission before? If it was the latter, then it’s naturally going to feel more like an uncontrollable free-for-all, which doesn’t feel good for anyone’s body or emotional state.
If you’re giving yourself “full permission” to eat to just test this theory out – without really having dug deep and let go of the “black and white,” “I should or shouldn’t eat that,” this food is “good or bad” dieting mentality – then you haven’t really given yourself full permission to nourish your body how you see fit. And please don’t feel embarrassed or shameful about this.This is very common.
In fact, it’s very common for fear to creep back in after giving yourself this unconditional permission, and then want to go back to a diet or restrictive behaviors. But in reality that reaction is a panic reaction. It’s a fear reaction that ends us up right back in the same old cycle of diet, binge/overeat, feel shame, restrict > binge/overeat, feel shame, restrict > repeat.
It is, however, absolutely 3000% possible to break the cycle.
Overtime, the more and more you begin working with your body and listening to your body, you will begin to cultivate body trust and more and more food freedom.
But, please note that freedom could look as simple as allowing yourself 1 cookie or scoop of ice cream or piece of pizza and not freaking out about it. Or, allowing yourself mayo on your sandwich. Food freedom and body trust looks and feels different for each and every single individual, as it should. Not to mention it’ll shift and grow as you grow in your journey with making peace with food and your body.
The important piece to remember is that intuitive eating and caring for your body and yourself isn’t another diet. It’s not a way to control your body. It’s a way to work with your body. Care for your body. And ultimately, in doing so, it’s a way to begin connecting your mind, body, and soul.
It takes time and practice and often support, especially if you’ve been struggling for years with food and body image issues.
The biggest thing you can do right now is to give yourself a break. To take a breath. And ask yourself – As I grow in learning to work with my body and in trusting my body, what do I need right now for ME to move through this next moment in the healing process?
Because sometimes or rather lots of times, all you need to do is make it through the moment. And that is something you can do.
P.S. If you’re exhausted by constant food and body image thoughts, and you crave food freedom and body trust and being able to live your life feeling free and peaceful – NOT constantly thinking about calories, food rules, or the size of your body, I can help. Info on Food + Body Image Coaching