Do you feel out of control around food?

Like there are certain foods that are just completely off limits to you because once you open that bag of chips or that pint of ice cream or that box of pizza you’ll go crazy, eat the entire thing, and then feel so guilty and ashamed and uncomfortably full to the point where you vow to NEVER EVER eat that food again?

Until you do.

And then it happens all over again. This vicious cycle of restriction and denial leads to “just one bite,” which leads to eating the entire thing, leading again to guilt, shame, and discomfort.

Most of us think it’s our fault. WE don’t have the willpower. WE just can’t control ourselves. WE are a failure.

That’s not true.

Remember when you were a kid or, if you have kids, and you tell them “don’t touch that”? Well, 9 times out of 10 what do they do? They touch it. THEY CAN’T WAIT TO TOUCH IT. They stare at the forbidden object like it’s the only thing they care about. And then, eventually, they give in, they say an internal, “screw you, mom”, and they touch it. And then they get reprimanded only to do it again the next time around.

This is the EXACT same thing that happens when we restrict specific foods from our diets and label things as “bad,” “fattening,” “junk,” or “unhealthy.” How many times do you start a diet and tell yourself you can’t have pizza or cookies or ice cream or bread only to eat all of those things and then some with the mentality that “the diet starts on Monday”? Then you restrict for a few days, weeks, maybe months, but your body keeps pulling you toward the carbs and the sweets, until finally, you cave. And 10 minutes later you’ve eaten a box of donuts and feel like you should just continue to eat all the “bad” foods you can get your hands on because, of course, the next diet “starts Monday.”

There are a few things happening biologically and psychologically here that are causing this. AKA THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

  1. We tend to remove carbohydrates and sugar from our diets when trying to lose weight. Our brain needs the carb equivalent of 3 cups of pasta PER DAY to function properly. This is JUST OUR BRAIN.

  2. We are biologically attracted to sugar and carbs because they give us immediate energy and are essential to the body.  

  3. If we didn’t find food pleasurable, we would not eat, we’d starve, and die. Food is supposed to taste good!

  4. The more we restrict something, the more we think about not being able to have it, the more we want it, the more power we give it.

We give food SO much power here. And what I love about Intuitive Eating is that it takes the power away from food. It takes the control away. It allows us to be the boss of our own body. It allows us to say “yes” with absolute certainty to foods we want, enjoy, and make us feel good, and “no” to foods that don’t.

There is no guilt, no shame, not judgment. Just curiosity, compassion, and pleasure.

We essentially fall into this yo-yo dieting cycle of doom because we are so afraid of getting fat that we’ll do absolutely anything to prevent that. We tell ourselves certain foods make us good, healthy people, and certain foods do the opposite, and we don’t allow ourselves to eat foods even when we want them.

The problem with this is being fat doesn’t automatically make us unhealthy, or lazy, or bad. Being thin doesn’t automatically make us healthy, active, and good. Kale doesn’t make us royalty, milkshakes don’t make us peasants. And food is simply made up of macro and micro nutrients that provide us energy throughout the day. However you choose to get that energy is completely up to you and your environment.

Some of my favorite Intuitive Eating Principles address these issues:

1.     Reject the Diet Mentality

A.k.a. being fat is not wrong or unhealthy and being thin is not right and healthy. Our health is determined by many biological and psychosocial elements that have NOTHING TO DO WITH WEIGHT. The diet industry has told us that weight alone is what is responsible for us being unhealthy, unhappy, and unsuccessful. In reality, weight-stigma is the culprit. The fact that there is so much discrimination against fat people, the fact that we constantly need to be “watching what we eat” and “watching our weight,” the fact that the idea of becoming fat is so scary to us that we’ll go to extreme, unhealthy, limits to prevent it. The fact that I’m allowed to eat a cheeseburger and fries because I’m in a socially acceptable body but someone larger than me can’t – ridiculous. And most importantly, the fact that fat people are constantly viewed as less than in our society. That guilt, shame, and stigma is what’s causing heart disease, high-blood pressure, depression, eating disorders, negative body image, stress, etc.

So, let me say this again, being thin does not equal healthy and being fat does not equal unhealthy. You cannot tell a person’s physical or mental health status solely based on their exterior body.

2.     Make Peace with Food

Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. All foods are on the table. Nothing is off limits. Gasp, did you say nothing is off limits? I sure did! Pizza, ice cream, pop tarts, potato chips, french fries – you can eat it all! Notice I said “can,” meaning you don’t’ have to eat it all, but you may eat it, any time, any day, whenever you’d like. Play around with this here. You’re essentially eating foods for the first time. Notice how ice cream tastes, what flavor is your favorite, do you actually like it as much as you thought? Do you like it more than you thought? Completely remove the guilt here. Food is just food.

When you finally know that you can eat all foods any time you want, the glamour of those foods goes away. You don’t feel like you need to get ice cream every time it’s presented to you, but you know you always have the option. You can make body-congruent decisions – what feels good in your body? You’re going to be in meetings for the next 4 hours with no breaks? Ice cream probably won’t hold you over for that long. You make decisions that are best for you depending on the circumstance, what you need, and how you FEEL. Sometimes it’s a bowl of ice cream, sometimes it’s a big chopped salad, both have a place in your life, and neither are better than the other. '

3.     Challenge the Food Police  

You are not “bad” or “good” for eating a kale salad vs. a cheeseburger. Your inner voice constantly tells you what you should or shouldn’t eat. Order the salad with grilled chicken, that’s less calories and that’s what a “good, healthy” person would eat. Don’t get dessert, it’s not worth it. Oh wow, you ate how much of that ice cream?! This voice is just that, a voice. It has no authority, it has no backbone, it’s just making you feel worse and worse each day.

This voice can get quieter and quieter, but first it needs to be challenged. Let yourself know that it’s okay to order a salad if you want it, but it’s equally as okay to order a burger and fries. That your worth is not defined by your dinner order, and your health certainly isn’t either. As a matter of fact, it is much better for your health (physically, and mentally), to just get the burger and eat it vs. obsessing over not ordering the burger, getting the salad, feeling unsatisfied, and longing for something with more carbs and fat.

You are not a failure.

You guys, you do not lack “willpower,” you are not a “failure,” you are not “addicted to sugar.” You are simply a human being, neglecting your body of essential nutrients and satisfaction. Our bodies are smart. Our bodies are made to keep us alive. And when we use dieting to get in the way, our bodies fight back – THANK GOODNESS.

You cannot trick your body into not being hungry. Hunger is another biological cue designed to keep us alive, and fullness, designed to keep us properly fueled (not too much, not too little). It’s truly incredible when you start to listen to and trust your body. It knows exactly what you need and is fully there to support you so you can function at your optimal level.

So, what can I do?

The next time you’re ordering at a restaurant, ask yourself what you really want to eat, not what you “should” eat. When the food police pops in your head, tell him/her to f off. And when you go to eat something, ask yourself if you’re eating this with the intent to lose weight, or will this fulfill my hunger and satisfaction needs? And for the love of god, understand that all bodies are worthy of love, health, and care. That you are not better than someone else because you’re smaller than them. And that you have no idea what someone’s lifestyle is simply by what they look like. And furthermore, it’s none of your damn business.

If you’re interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size (HAES), schedule a Free Breakthrough Session with me. Seriously, it’s 100% free, no commitment, and an insanely good time.

So, what do you have to lose?

Kathleen Layer