How to Make Peace with Food without Feeling Out of Control
Have you tried to eat intuitively only to feel more out of control with food, hence believing it doesn’t work for you?
One of the biggest misconceptions about Intuitive Eating is you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Often those who perceive Intuitive Eating as a free-for-all pass with food often report, “I tried Intuitive Eating but it just made me feel more out of control. I can’t just have whatever I want because I’ll eat cake, cookies, and chocolate all day. I know myself and I need rules”. They then revert back to dieting, back to the rules and restrictions and continue the diet → eat → repent → repeat cycle (such as depicted below) .
Venturing into Intuitive Eating without the context for “eat whatever you want” can lead you to feeling out of control with food and create frustration that it isn’t “working”. It’s important to understand that full permission to enjoy all foods is only1 of the 10 Intuitive Eating principles.
If you’ve tried Intuitive Eating before and it made you feel out control – here are a few things you need to know before making peace with food
You need to leave diets behind… for good!
If you are secretly hoping to use Intuitive Eating as a weight loss tool, it will become just another diet. Ultimately external factors (weight, guilt, food rules, skirt size) will override listening to your internal cues and you will revert back to diet behaviors (restriction, binging , compensating, etc.). You truly have to let go of the dieting fantasy for Intuitive Eating to work.
Diets have been shown over and over again to fail 95% of the time and are a predictor of future weight gain (66% of people end up weighing even more than the weight they started off with), negative body image, increased risk of heart disease, and increased risk of eating disorders.
The first thing to work on is your mindset. Learn to silence the food police inside your head. Shut down the thoughts that make you believe “I’m being good for eating a salad” and “I’m bad for having a cookie”. Get rid of diet rules. Instead, approach Intuitive Eating with curiosity and understand that it is a process, one that works if you give yourself the time to build trust in your body and food choices.
Get in touch with your internal cues
If you are consistently not honoring your hunger in time it will be very hard to make peace with food. When you get overly hungry your body goes into Primal Hunger mode. Primal Hunger is when your body has gone without food for too long and senses it as a threat to survival. At this point all your body wants is energy aka food, stat! You are less likely to make conscious food choices and more likely to overeat because your brain is screaming “feed me!”. It needs quick energy and overeating becomes a biological response.
On the other side of the spectrum, are your fullness cues. Some people are used to eating until they are stuffed and consider this sensation as being full. Tuning in to how your body feels once you are finished your meal can help you figure out just how much food your body really needs. It is also important to note how the food made your body feel – are you feeling energized, sluggish, neutral, or satisfied?
Get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues and learn to honor them in time so that you can start to rely on them to let you know when you need to eat and how much is enough.
Give yourself full permission to eat – with attunement!
Once you have let go of diet rules and have started to trust your internal cues, you can take steps to make peace with food. This requires you to give yourself full permission to enjoy any and all foods.
Here is why full permission is essential:
Our brains like novelty. Restricting foods, or telling ourselves we “shouldn’t” be having them, keep them in a novel state so when we do eat the “forbidden foods” it heightens the reward response in our brains. However, when you know you can enjoy something at any time there is no urgency to “eat it all while you can” because you know these foods will always be available. Instead, you can start to make food decisions by asking yourself: do I really want this? How will I feel after? Am I hungry? How full am I? Will I enjoy it more if I eat now or wait until later? Am I craving it because it tastes good or because I’m stressed out?
This is what’s called attunement. You can eat whatever you want, but the part many people miss is that it is on the condition that you tune in to how your body feels and understand where your desire for that food is coming from - and honor that so that you eat to feel good. If you have a desire to eat but aren’t hungry, it may be likely this desire for food is for emotional rather than physical reasons. Intuitive Eating encourages you to feed yourself for physical needs rather than emotional needs - for the most part. Which means you need dig deeper to figure out what your real need is – which likely isn’t food.
If you are struggling with emotional eating I recommend downloading my free E-guide: 3 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating.
Habituation: take it one food at a time
Consuming the foods you once restricted all at once can feel chaotic. The goal isn’t food burn-out. The goal is to remove the power these foods have on you, so you can make food choices using internal cues instead of external cues.
What you want to do is habituate yourself to foods you view as ‘bad’, ‘off limits’, or are ‘triggers’ to overeating. Habituationmeans you remove the novelty of that food so it becomes just another food choice to make. The best way to do this is by choosingone food at a time.
Here is how:
Choose the food item you want to make peace withand be very specific. This can be your favorite custard donut or a particular cookie.
Schedule a time to eat it.Make sure you feel safe (perhaps you want to be alone or have the food outside the home), are not overly hungry, and are able to stay present.
Before, check-in: notice how you feel about eating the food – are you excited? Nervous? Worried?
During, check-in: notice the flavor, texture, aroma, and appearance. Is it meeting your expectation?
After, check- in: how was the overall experience? Was it as good as you thought? How does your body feel? If you can choose to eat anything, would you want to eat this again?
Keep doing this exercise with the same food until you reach the point of habituation: you will usually sense this as no longer looking forward to eating that food all the time, only when you really want it. You may also notice you can eat less of it and be satisfied. Another possibility is realizing you don’t even like it!
Repeat with a new food.
As you can see, making peace with food is more than “eating whatever you want, whenever you want”. There is a need for awareness, which makes all the difference to your behavior around food.
Remember, Intuitive Eating is not linear. Even when you take it slow and do everything “right” there may be times where you might feel out of control as you learn to make peace with food. This is okay, it is part of the process – one which requires you to be patient and kind with yourself. There are no ‘setbacks’ with Intuitive Eating, there are only learning experiences.
Use it as an opportunity to learn and discover new things about you and your eating habits so that you are better equipped next time. Ask yourself: what made me vulnerable to overeat? Am I subconsciously imposing diet rules on myself? Was I too hungry? Am I emotional?
Each eating experience can be used to move forward toward becoming an Intuitive Eater. If you keep at it you will be on your way to living a truly free life, one where food is joyful, nourishing, and nothing to worry about. Now, doesn’t that sound peaceful?