True or False?
You don't need to make up for what you ate over the Memorial Day weekend - or any other summer get-together that might be on your social calendar this year.
If I could grant you 1 wish to make your life easier around food, I'd give you 100% food peace - not just during holiday weekends and summer gatherings, but every day - with no get back on track tomorrow BS.
While I’m no fairy godmother, I can help you make peace with food one bite, one meal at a time. It's call habituation.
Habituation, means repeatedly eating food, that you previously deemed off-limits until eating the food isn't as exciting anymore. It starts to lose its luster because you no longer feel like you're getting away with something by eating it. You still like the food and enjoy eating it, but the compulsive lust isn't there anymore. You know you can have the food whenever you want it, so it's no big deal.
I have to be honest with you. Working through habituation in order to make peace with food was by far the hardest part of my recovery from disordered eating and dieting.
On the one hand, in the beginning, it's amazingly delicious and feels free - kind of like the first few weeks of a romantic relationship when everything feels all flustered and wildly passionate (think Jamie and Clair in Outlander on their wedding night...and every moment alone after that!).
Then, when it comes to eating the food you're working through habituation with, your dieting mind freaks out - scared to death of what the passionate, lustful eating will do to your weight, stomach, thighs, butt, health, etc.
This was my relationship with cookies and chocolate. I grew up with a strict 2-cookies after dinner rule and didn't have chocolate around unless it was a special occasion or at my grandparents' house.
I remember trying to sneak more cookies (chocolate chip of course) out of the cookie tin when my Mom was out of the kitchen. I perfected the fine art of opening the aluminum cookie tin barely making a whisper of sound.
If I got home from school before my Mom came home, I'd grab a handful of cookies and hope she won't notice. You know Moms always notice!
This lustful relationship with cookies would continue well into my adult years - making batches for myself that would only last a day or two.
I'd start off by saying, I'm just going to have a few cookies. And that might work at first.
Then they'd taste so good I'd have a few more and a few more until I'd get freaked out that I was eating too many, that I'd gain more weight, and I'd better finish them all today and never bake anymore!
You know the feeling, right?
I'd also feel this guilt leftover from childhood that I wasn't supposed to eat more than 2 cookies at one time. That I wasn't supposed to eat as many as I wanted. The guilt made it feel like I was getting away with something. Like I was doing something bad.
It's cookies for heaven's sake, not stealing or committing adultery!
After my Mom died, it was time to make peace with cookies. I made batch after batch after batch - mostly chocolate chip, plus a few oatmeal raisin batches. And I ate 90% of them - my Dad helped with the other 10%.
I knew about how habituation worked to stop the binge-restrict cycle with food. But I didn't believe that it would work for me and my relationship with cookies. Eventually, I had to prove myself wrong.
After eating I don't know how many batches of cookies over the course of a few months, my weight didn't change as dramatically as I thought it would. My pants fit tighter, but my dieting mind made me believe I'd be a completely different, unworthy, unattractive person if I let myself go eating all the cookies I wanted.
Didn't happen. I was still me. The people who matter the most to me didn't find me any less worthy or attractive. I was still able to move my body in ways that I enjoyed even if I was slower. And the biggest surprise? My sleep and digestion were amazing! The best they'd ever been!
Hear me when I say that by no means do I think your experience will be the same or even similar to mine - nor should it. The point is that the catastrophic image my dieting mind created about me eating as many cookies as I wanted (needed to) in order to feel habituated to them, wasn't that big of a deal.
The uncertainty of working through habituation with any food you've previously put off-limits or only allowed yourself to eat on certain occasions (i.e. holiday weekends and summer gatherings), feels terrifying. And by me saying "trust me, it won't always be that way," might seem like a complete cop-out.
But research on habituation found that when study participants were repeatedly exposed to the same stimuli be it food or sound, they became desensitized to it - especially if there were no other distractions during the exposure.*
Meaning, whatever food you're struggling to make peace with, keep exposing yourself to it in a mindful way without distractions whenever possible. Pay attention to how it tastes, its texture, its smell. As you're eating, ask yourself, do you still feel the same lustful passion for this food?
Remember, you have full permission to eat as much of it as you want. You have permission to go buy more and always keep the food on hand in your pantry if you want.
If you're struggling with a deeper emotional response to the food, talk with a trusted friend or even better a therapist trained in disorder eating recovery and binge eating disorder.
By working through habituation to heal your relationship with food and your body, you'll stop feeling guilty about eating differently during Summer BBQs and just enjoy the time with friends and family.
This week on the Savor Food and Body Podcast you'll hear about Janelle Banat's experience with habituation and how she used the SCARF Tool to help her overcome the fear of weight gain as she learned to make peace with food.
Tune in here or search for Savor Food and Body Podcast on Spotify, Stitcher, or Google Podcasts. If you like what you hear, leave a comment, review, and subscribe to the show. Doing so helps other people find the show too!
*Epstein, Leonard H, et al. “Habituation as a determinant of human food intake.” Psychological review vol. 116,2 (2009): 384-407. doi:10.1037/a0015074