One of the healthiest things that I've done in life was giving myself permission to eat unlimited quantities of cheesecake - without any guilt - when I wanted. Cheesecake used to be a "forbidden" food in my life - before I read the powerful book, Intuitive Eating, did some internal housekeeping to work on issues that I had with food and my body, and became a non-diet dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.
When I did consume cheesecake, I was in a restaurant - because I felt like it wasn't safe to keep it in the house. After finishing that piece of dessert, I would often worry about how my jeans might fit a few days later. I never fully enjoyed that dessert because I was constantly in diet mode - which of course didn't support my well-being. Little did I know that I would someday feel the same way about cheesecake as I feel about a ripe mango. They're both delicious - and taste the best when they actually sound good.
WHAT DOES CREATING PEACE WITH FOOD MEAN?
As I've written in the past, we are surrounded by diet culture. Before working with Intuitive Eating, it never really occurred to me that there was such a thing as creating peace with food. I was first introduced to this idea when I read the book, Intuitive Eating, and came across the third of the ten principles of Intuitive Eating, "Make Peace with Food."
The "Make Peace with Food" principle encourages you to give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Including foods that you might consider to be "forbidden," - without judging yourself or your food choices. When we refrain from consuming a forbidden food, this frequently leads to wanting that food more than ever. By the time we end up eating that forbidden food, we will often eat more than usual in that moment - while also feeling out of control - which is frequently followed by feeling guilty. The "Make Peace with Food" principle encourages you to end the food fight.
The "Make Peace with Food" principle entails experiencing habituation - which enables the forbidden food to not seem so enticing. Habituation involves exposing ourselves over and over again to the identical stimulus - which will lead to that stimulus becoming less alluring. For example, if you're consuming the same forbidden food in each of your snacks for the day - and the days that follow - that forbidden food is eventually going to lose its big appeal.
The goal is not to intentionally become so tired of the food that you never eat it again - because this would be a form of restriction. The goal is for that food to eventually become emotionally equal to an apple or another food that you haven't considered to be "unsafe," in the past. That you'll feel comfortable and confident around that particular food - and food in general.
WHEN I BEGIN EATING A FORBIDDEN FOOD WILL I BE ABLE TO STOP?
When I'm working with new clients, one concern that I frequently hear is, "Once I start eating my forbidden food, what If I won't be able to stop eating it?" I understand where this concern comes from. Diet culture makes so many people feel like they can't trust themselves or their bodies when it comes to food.
I have found that one of the keys for success for my clients is to tune into and honor their hunger/fullness cues throughout the day. Nourishing their bodies with adequate amounts of food throughout the day promotes more balanced blood sugar levels - and helps them avoid feeling ravenous - which reduces the chances of feeling out of control around food due to extreme hunger. It can also be helpful for clients to consume a forbidden food - as a snack - a couple of hours after finishing a meal. At a time when they're not "meal hungry."
In some cases, a client might feel more comfortable incorporating a food that they consider to be "safe," into a snack as they begin working on making peace with food. As their confidence and self-awareness increases around food, we can gradually begin incorporating a forbidden food into snacks. We focus on consuming the forbidden food in a relaxing environment where they can really be present with what they're eating - versus experiencing distracted eating - which interferes with experiencing habituation.
By doing some of these things, and giving themselves unconditional permission to eat, clients are frequently surprised by the fact that they can consume their forbidden food and stop when it feels right. In these moments, their confidence begins to increase around food - as does their body trust.
Another benefit of giving themselves full permission to consume forbidden foods is that they actually taste the food. They're giving themselves permission to stock up on the food in their house, and eat more of that food should they wish. This can sometimes result in the realization that they don't actually like the way the forbidden food tastes. Just the other day a client expressed that a chocolate dessert suddenly tasted like "cheap chocolate," and had a waxy texture. Creating peace with food can enable you to determine which foods you really do enjoy eating - and how they physically make you feel.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I'M STILL CRAVING THAT FOOD?
The length of time that it takes to make peace with food can vary for each person, as can each individual's circumstances. But one thing that could be helpful to explore is if you're really giving yourself unconditional permission to eat that food. Or are you mentally putting a limit on how much you can consume? Putting limits on how much you can consume of the forbidden food can lead to feeling out of control around the food and slow down the process of experiencing habituation. I recommend having an ample supply of that particular food in your house so that you know you can consume as much of it as you would like.
It's also important that you consume the exact same forbidden food for a bit. For example, if you find that your "forbidden" food is a certain type of candy bar, then it's very helpful to continue to consume that same brand of candy bars. Otherwise, you'll keep that candy bar exciting for a longer period of time because you won't be experiencing habituation.
When I was working on making peace with cheesecake, I was purchasing cheesecake that came in a variety of flavors. So instead of just eating turtle cheesecake multiple times in a row, I was consuming cherry cheesecake, then turtle cheesecake, then strawberry cheesecake, etc. I felt like making peace with food could go on forever because I wasn't getting tired of eating the cheesecake.
I realized that the variety pack was keeping the cheesecake exciting - because by consuming assorted flavors I wasn't experiencing habituation. Once I stopped buying the cheesecake in assorted flavors and stuck withe the turtle cheesecake, the turtle cheesecake was still good, but ended up having the emotional charge of a mango.
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO CREATE PEACE WITH FOOD
The bottom line is that you deserve to create peace with food. You deserve to conquer your forbidden foods so that they're no longer forbidden. So that they're no longer fear foods. You deserve to feel confident keeping them in your house in the future, and to feel comfortable around them.
Giving yourself full permission to consume these foods - without judgement - will be a big step towards becoming an Intuitive Eater. By creating peace with food, you're supporting your emotional and physical well-being by ditching the restrictive, diet-y thoughts, consuming a wider variety of foods and actually tasting them, and tuning into how different combinations of foods make you feel.
If you find that creating peace with food is difficult for you, I recommend that you find a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor to collaborate with. There are a number of dietitians, therapists, etc. who would love to partner with you throughout your Intuitive Eating journey. Including me.
If you would like to work with me on making peace with food and your body, or address general wellness concerns, click here to learn more about my private one-on-one sessions. Happy eating!