In my last post I shared what Unconditional Permission to Eat really means – it’s a lot more complicated than “fuck it, eat whatever you want”. Ultimately, eating ‘whatever, whenever’, without any attunement to how it feels in your body, can leave you feeling like crap and that’s pretty much the opposite of intuitive eating. The goal is to help you find what feels good for your body. Ultimately, eating too much or too little of anything isn’t a very satisfying way to eat. But regardless of how much we’re eating, if food comes with a set of conditions, if we have to bargain or negotiate with ourselves, make up for, or earn food, that’s also not a very satisfying way to eat. It leave us feeling guilty or ashamed if we break one of our food rules. Or it leaves us feeling deprived and restricted, which usually ends up backfiring as binge eating or eating past the point of comfortable fullness.
By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat, we are allowing ourselves some space to find out how food really makes us feel. Because if every time you eat a cookie, all you feel is guilt and anxiety, how do you actually know how the cookie feels in your body? YOU DON’T!
UPE allows us to come to food with curiosity; what would I really like to eat right now? What’s going to give me the most pleasure, satisfaction, energy and stamina? What flavours am I craving right now? Sweet, salty, spicy or creamy?
Sounds good in theory right, but putting it into practice is a whole other story, but here are some suggestions.
- TAKE FOOD DOWN OF THE PEDESTAL
No food is inherently good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, clean or dirty, real or fake. All food is a complex mixture of nutrients, and serves a different purpose at different times. But when we dichotomise foods in this way, we create a food hierarchy. We put ‘bad’ foods up on a pedestal that creates a forbidden fruit effect. When we tell ourselves that we can’t have something, THAT’S ALL OUR BRAINS THINK ABOUT. Then, when we inevitably do eat that food, we feel like shit about it. If we eat a bad food, we, by extension are a bad person. But the reality is, food has no bearing on who you are as a person.
Try taking the foods down off the pedestal. Don’t label them as good or bad, don’t say you’re being good or being naughty. You’re just a person who eats, and it’s just food. Use neutral descriptors to describe foods – fruit, vegetable, dessert, grain, snack. You get the idea.
2. FOOD SHOULD BRING PLEASURE.
Think about it – how many times have you tried to feel satisfied by kidding yourself that chocolate covered rice cakes were as satisfying as the Kit Kat you really wanted? And how many times do you eat the rice cakes and then eat the Kit Kat anyway. I use rice cakes as an example because let be real, they’re easy to take shots at, but it could be any ‘healthy alternative type food’: raw cheesecake, sweet potato brownies, cauliflower rice (I know some people like these foods, don’t @ me). The point is, that when we eat less satisfying foods, we’re much less likely to stop at the point where we’re comfortably full and feeling content than if we just ate the real deal, fully loaded brownie.
People are worried that if they give themselves permission to eat more satisfying foods, they won’t be able to stop. But the reality is, that when you can eat the things that bring you pleasure, without the threat of restriction and deprivation, those foods lose their power. You might even forget that you opened that packet of biscuits, or at least you won’t freak out and get all territorial when out when someone asks you to share them!
Try allowing yourself to eat the foods you enjoy, with curiosity, and without judging them, or yourself – Goldilocks that shit! How much is too much, how much is too little, how much is just right? Is it hitting the spot? Or do you need something else to satisfy your cravings.
3. EAT WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY FFS!!
So, hands up if you’ve ever tried to flat out ignore your hunger? Pretty much every client I have ever worked with has, at some point, totally ignored their body. This can cause cravings and hunger to build and build to the point that we end up feeling out of control, compulsive and super intense around food. We may label ourselves as emotional, compulsive or stress eaters, but actually, our bodies are just pissed at us for only having a salad for lunch.
I’m going to do a few posts about how to perceive the various sensations of hunger, but for now, just think about responding to those messages of hunger your body is sending you, see how your mood, energy, and concentration are all improved when you’re keeping the tank topped up.
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods can be tough if you’ve had a history of an eating disorder or disordered eating, so remember that it’s a process and there are tools available to help you. I recommend starting with either my book Just Eat It, or Intuitive Eating, or checking out my podcast – Don’t Salt My Game.