Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
Do you constantly feel like you are at war with food? Are you constantly trying to avoid thinking of food? The third principle of intuitive eating is finally making peace with food and realizing that food is not the enemy. When we finally make peace with food, we give ourselves permission to eat freely without obsessive thoughts or feelings of shame and guilt.
Making peace with food means that you are giving yourself permission to eat ALL foods. You read that right, ALL FOODS. This means throwing out any rules you have previously made for yourself, like cake and cupcakes are never allowed or only allowed on special holidays and birthdays. It is very common for people to feel like they need to give themselves permission to eat certain foods, but only on “cheat days” or only if they feel they have done something to deserve the food like over-exercising. But this type of “permission” is not what making peace with food
actually means. When you make peace with food you give yourself permission to eat all foods, unconditionally. No conditions at all. You may be thinking this sounds too good to be true and that surely giving yourself permission to eat all foods will lead to you eating the whole sleeve of Oreos. Wrong. Do you know what leads to binging? Deprivation.
Depriving ourselves of foods we love leads to a nasty repeating cycle. After abstaining from these foods for a period of time, cravings increase until it’s all you can think about. Eventually, you will eat the food you’ve been abstaining from, but instead of having a reasonable amount you binge and overeat. Did you truly take time to enjoy the food when you were binging? Probably not. You were probably already thinking about how you will compensate for the binge, working out extra hard the rest of the week or restricting your calories the next few days, or that you should just eat as much as you can now, because the diet starts again tomorrow! I’m here to tell you that this cycle is normal and how most bodies work. There is even research to back this up. One study looked at the effects of restricting certain foods from university students’ diets and found that this caused a significant increase in cravings for those foods.
The goal of making peace with food is to allow yourself to eat all foods, but to eat them with mindfulness. Be present in the moment so you allow yourself to really enjoy that food. Know that no shame or guilt will follow. Once you stop depriving yourself of certain foods there will no longer be that sense of urgency that you can never eat that food again. So, how can you finally make peace with food?
Here are some steps:
- Take a pen and paper and write down all the foods that you have banned from your diet. Reflect on each food. Does this food give you anxiety thinking about eating it? Does this food make you feel out of control? Really try to understand why you refrain from eating it.
- Choose one of those foods to focus on. Next time you are at the store buy enough of the food item that will allow you to eat it several times.
- Practice mindful eating with the food item you have chosen. Pay attention to all the feelings you experience while eating it. How does it taste? What aspects do you enjoy most?
- Next, pay attention to your emotions while eating the food. Do you feel anxious? Guilty? Shameful? Happy? Nervous?
- Repeat this process until eating the food no longer elicits any negative emotions or feelings. This may take some time. The goal here is to get to a point where you feel fairly emotionally neutral while eating the food item.
- Pick another food item from the list and repeat the entire process.
These steps may seem like a lot of work, and they are. After years of restriction and deprivation an emotional response of fear or anxiety is usually connected to these foods. The only way you can finally make peace with food is by stripping away the emotional attachment to those food items. It takes work, but the result is so worth it.