If satisfaction is the hub of Intuitive Eating, permission is the key to get the whole practice flowing.
If you've spent years following food rules, diet tips, and wellness protocols, you're probably familiar with NOT giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods - especially foods that were given the "unhealthy, bad food" wrap by whatever plan or program you were on (aka diet culture).
Regardless of what plan you followed, you're likely to be familiar with the concept of the Dietary Restraint Theory, which is a cornerstone of the Intuitive Eating model. The theory goes something like this...
Follow precise rules about what and when to eat (i.e. food rules or retrained eating) to gain optimal health and weight.
Life happens - an event, thought, emotion, craving, hunger, all-of-the-above triggers you to take 1 bite of food, one of your favorites, from the do-not-eat (forbidden) food list.
It's the most delicious thing you've ever tasted. You eat another bite, then another, and another, until you're in a full-fledged fuckit eating fest - eating rapidly just in case you change your mind and re-instate the restrained eating rules.
As you polish off the plate, pan, or package of the forbidden food, a wave of guilt and body shame washes over you. You hate yourself for breaking your diet. You vow to get back on track tomorrow or at the very least next Monday (all diets start on Monday BTW).
Sound familiar? To you and millions of other dieters. You're in terrific company!
This cycle is also called the restrict-binge cycle, dieting cycle, and restrained eating cycle.
Let me be REALLY clear. It's a cycle NOT because you fail to stick to the food rules. It's a cycle because your body is designed to survive a famine and when food is around that otherwise won't be there tomorrow, your body drives you to eat. This is you surviving as a human, not failing.
Research has shown that even if you think you've blown your diet, you'll fuckit eat.
People who eat with greater restraint are NOT likely to eat less overall and are MORE likely to experience a higher degree of food and body shame'n blame after eating forbidden foods.
Additionally, research shows that trying to suppress food-related thoughts leads to ruminating about food and may also increase eating beyond fullness. In other words, planning your weekend cheat day contributes to the fuckit eating that you experience.
There's another concept at play as well - the forbidden fruit phenomenon. This is created first by diet culture's use of alluring language to describe certain foods as indulgent, sinful, and addictive. These cultural messages enhance the psychological thought processes that make you feel that rush of excitement when you've broken your food rules. Research shows this thrill of excitement combined with the rumination about what foods you're going to have creates the perfect storm for fuckit eating.
Enough is enough! How do you get off this shit-storm cycle of restriction and fuckit eating?
Habituation + Uncondonitional Permission = Food Peace
Habituation is the consistent exposure to the previously forbidden food, which reduces the sexy allure and the excitement of getting away with something when you eat the food.
The authors of Intuitive Eating, Evely Tribole MS RDN CEDRD, and Elyse Resch MS RDN CEDRD describe habituation as hearing your partner or spouse say "I love You" for the first time. It's exciting, thrilling, with fireworks exploding! But after 10+ years of hearing them say "I Love You," it becomes commonplace. It's still nice to hear, the rush isn't there anymore.
Practicing habituation with forbidden foods doesn't mean that you'll eat them so much and never want to see them again; although it may feel that way in the beginning.
Eventually, you'll start to remember the taste, textures, and pleasure that eating the food gives you. It will be those things that drive you to enjoy the food at any given time rather than the excitement of breaking your food rules.
Curious to learn more and give habituation a try? Watch this short video to get started!
Watch to the end to get 3 actionable steps plus a free Food Peace Guide that you can start using right away to ditch the diet cycle for good.
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