I want to begin this week by saying that all of this is a process. Each week I am sharing with you a different principle of Intuitive Eating and beyond, but the expectation is not that you read these words and then you immediately go and do it. That would be yet another issue with diet culture mindset, this idea that if we follow these simple “rules” we will find our way to our most ideal, most happy self. There is a gross oversimplification that it nurtures for the often very complex relationships that we have with ourselves, with our bodies, with food and our emotions. Our human brains love the idea of a 12 step process that will lead us to whatever our idea of a promiseland looks and feels like, but unfortunately (and fortunately depending on how you look at it), life is so much more complex than that. It is, in many ways, what makes the human experience so beautiful and profound and I wholeheartedly believe that is something we can acknowledge and honor more for it will bring a deeper kind of appreciation and love for ourselves.
I say all of this because this week’s title “Make Peace With Food” is a very easy thing to read and say and roll off the tongue, but is not a simple and easy process all the time. And when I say this next thing, you might squirm inside, but I am preemptively saying that there is more to it than it may initially sound...and that is that in order to make peace with food you have to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Now, most people when they hear this feel all kinds of conflicted. I did too at first. What this often gets taken as is “eat whatever you want, how much ever you want, whenever you want”. And that’s true. And it’s not. Let me explain.
First let’s go back to last week, Honor Your Hunger. Remember that is vital because when your body is clearly cueing you that it’s hungry, it’s because it needs some energy in order to work well. So we begin there and when you feel those pangs, you eat. Now, what you eat is also completely up to you and your body. But here is the most important part of this step in the process: nothing is off limits (unless you have a medical reason such as a food allergy). And I know now that I just said that, you are completely confused because if you say that nothing is off limits, obviously you are going to go for the ice cream or nearest “junk” food right? And if you have unconditional permission to eat, you would never again choose to eat the fruits and vegetables we are always being told to eat right? If those are some of the thoughts you are thinking, I want to remind you of the title of this series which is learning to trust ourselves. It’s totally ok and normal that we would have this initial reaction, but this reaction is also a very clear sign that we have totally lost trust in ourselves. And that’s good information to have and know because it means that you are in the right place.
Here is the thing, you can’t learn to trust yourself if you are constantly restricting yourself. There is something that happens in our brains when we forbid ourselves from having something...we want it more and more and more. And then when we finally allow ourselves to have it, guess what happens? We gorge on it because we know it’s only a matter of time until we don’t allow ourselves to have it again. In intuitive eating this is called “Last Supper Eating”. You know right before you go on that diet, the night before you eat and eat and eat because you are about to embark on a journey of hyper restriction in order to get your body to look the way you want it to? This only serves the mindset that food is scarce or that certain foods are bad and it continues to keep the conditions that are ripe for binge eating when the gates finally open again.
To get very personal for a moment, I remember a big part of my binge eating would happen when no one was around. I could, in secret, keep going back to the fridge or cupboard without anyone noticing because in the times when I was around people, I wasn’t giving myself unconditional permission to eat the food that tasted good and until I was satisfied. Instead, I spent a lot of energy focusing on what the “appropriate” and socially acceptable amount of food was, along with the more impressive and healthier choices. My conditions were that I could only eat the bad and forbidden foods when no one was looking, which led to binge after binge when I was standing alone in the kitchen and no one would notice. It wasn’t until I started giving myself unconditional permission to eat, whether I was around others or not, that I was able to slowly let go of this behavior. It took time, believe me, which is why I began this chapter talking about process. But over the course of time I got better at allowing myself to honor my hunger as well as make peace with food.
I want to take a pause from talking about food for just a moment and bring this into another area, our emotions. We have been told for quite some time that there are positive and negative emotions. This often leads to wanting to work towards feeling only positive emotions and when things get uncomfortable, we tend to think something is wrong. In fact, that very phrase “what’s wrong?” is often asked when we see someone is sad, or angry and upset. In his book, Permission to Feel, Dr. Mark Brackett talks about how it’s not that any emotion is negative, but simply that we don’t allow ample space and time to actually feel what we are feeling with unconditional acceptance. Essentially, all emotions are valid and necessary and serve a purpose and when we give ourselves unconditional acceptance of all of them, we are much healthier of mind. Dr. Susan David who wrote Emotional Agility also talks a lot about the negative effects of toxic positivity on us as individuals and as a culture.
In my own teaching, I talk a lot about wholeness over wellness. Wellness culture has been so drastically co-opted by the same toxic positivity and diet culture mindset that I am often speaking about. This idea that we should be all “love and light” often leaves very little room for the moments when things feel dark and difficult. We are constantly perpetuating the narrative that the only satisfying moments of being alive are when we are happy and content, when so much of life is much more complex and nuanced than that. Rather than trying to “be well”, since we have now created such a narrow definition of what well actually is, I say what if we tried to embrace the wholeness of our humanity? When we are down and out, it’s not because something is wrong, but rather because we are human and it’s natural to struggle. And at the same time, when we are joyful and happy, may we not feel as if we have arrived to a permanent state of being but rather, acknowledge the impermanence so that we may appreciate them more.
I know this may not seem as if it is directly connected to food and eating, but I do believe that it all co-mingles together. As much of a bad wrap as emotional eating gets, the reality is that eating and emotions often go hand in hand. We will talk much more about this in week 7 and I will give more practical advice on how to navigate the two of these together. For now, I wanted to simply lay the groundwork and draw the parallels between our emotions, food and the detriments of restriction all around.
It’s like Glennon Doyle says in Untamed “being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, being human is hard because you’re doing it right”. This idea that we could give ourselves unconditional permission to eat for the sake of making peace with food and our bodies may seem counter to the current cultural narrative, but I promise that it is an incredibly important step in the process of making peace with yourself as a whole, awake and alive human being. It will take time, it will be hard and that will be ok because this is a process of learning to live in wholehearted trust with yourself. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have come up with all of these ways to try to avoid doing the work in the first place. And I do believe that dieting and restriction is essentially the easy button we came up with to not cope with our wholeness. But also as Glennon says, we can do hard things and learning to be unconditional and peaceful with all the ways you are human is oh so worth it.
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is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.