Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Do you struggle with trusting yourself around food? If so, it might be due to chronic dieting, undereating, or consistently restrained eating. We are all born as natural intuitive eaters, but as we become entrenched in dieting and food rules we increasingly lose the ability to trust ourselves around food. The reality is that food rules can be a false security blanket and may actually leave you feeling more out of control around food.
Failing to keep our bodies fed with adequate calories, nutrients, and carbohydrates can signal a primal drive to overeat, leading to that unpleasantly full feeling. Even if we do eat enough, but we tell ourselves we're "bad" for breaking a rule, we can become more preoccupied with food, overeat, and experience unnecessary guilt. One study showed that the mere perception of blowing a food rule, even when it didn't actually occur, was enough to trigger overeating (Urbszat, Herman and Polivy 2002). It's no wonder then that dieting has consistently been shown to be a significant predictor of weight gain.
I know you might be thinking, "if I just allow myself to eat what I want, I'll eat ice cream for every meal," or "I'll never stop eating." These are completely normal thoughts when we've broken trust with ourselves and have been consistently relying on external cues to guide our eating for some time. The truth is though that when we become more flexible with food, work on making all foods emotionally equal, and feed ourselves consistently, we can find a more balanced approach to health and wellbeing.
So what do you do if you don't have rules?
Step 1: Get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues and work on building interoceptive awareness, a key component to intuitive eating. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to perceive the physical sensations that arise within your body. This includes honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness, while also learning how to eat in ways that make you feel physically well.
Step 2: Identify your food rules and start letting go of them. As you continue building interoceptive awareness, can you start letting go of some of these food rules don‘t serve you? Some people like to let them go all at once, and that's great, but for others it can be scary, so going slowly with this is totally fine and may allow the process to go more smoothly.
Examples of food rules or dieting tools include:
I don't allow myself to eat sandwiches for lunch, even when I want them over a salad.
I don’t allow myself to eat carbohydrates after lunch.
I will not eat between meals even if I'm hungry.
I always order the lowest calorie option on the menu.
I weigh myself daily.
Choose one food rule you can start letting go of that feels the least scary for you.
Ex. Rule 1: I don't allow myself to eat sandwiches for lunch even when I want one over a salad.
Ex. How I will break it: I will give myself permission to choose a sandwich over a salad for lunch this week when I want one.
Step 3: After you break a rule or eat a previously forbidden food, check in with yourself. Do you actually like the taste of the food? Does it make you feel physically well? Would you want to eat this again? If you eat this food again, would you do it in the same way or differently?
These steps are just a couple of the many tools that may help you start making peace with food. Practicing compassion and patience with yourself is super important and working with a dietitian and/or therapist trained in intuitive eating can be tremendously helpful in this journey.
Don't hesitate to reach out to work with me or schedule a complimentary discovery call to discuss more how I can help!