Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat

Have you ever heard of the phrase – you always want what you can’t have? This could not be more true when you restrict certain foods from your diet and prevent yourself from enjoying them. 

Studies have shown depriving yourself of something can actually heighten the desire for that very item. This can present itself in a number of different ways:

The what the hell effect: When dieting to have a strict set of rules you must adhere too, usually very unrealistic ones. Have you ever been on a diet and thought you’d ‘blown it’ so you end up overeating even when you’re not hungry … “I’ll start again tomorrow?”

The last supper mentality:Have you ever told yourself from tomorrow I’m going to stop eating xxx e.g. chocolate? So, to make up for that you’ve eaten as much as you possibly can of it in anticipation? For many people, just the thought of not being able to have something can trigger a sense of urgency to eat.

The forbidden fruit phenomenon:Has there ever been a food you love but you won’t allow yourself aka “the forbidden fruit” and you do everything in your power to not have or think about this food, only to find it’s all you can think about and leads you to overeating? Research has shown that trying to suppress thoughts of something, including food, will only increase the time you think about it, and in the case of food can also lead to increasing eating behaviour.

Try it now, if I say “do not think about a brown bear”, what is the first thing that pops into your mind?

Consequently, it comes as no surprise that trying to restrain yourself from eating, doesn’t equate to eating less overall, in fact studies have shown high restraint is more closely linked with eating-related guilt.

Reflect on a time you may have eaten your ‘forbidden fruit’ food, did you enjoy the taste and connect to your body eating until satisfied and content or did you feel disconnected, maybe even eating it with a sense of urgency? How did you feel for the rest of the day? Did it impact how you ate and your mood? 

The likelihood is if you’ve been restricting yourself, you may end up overeating in the long run. Biologically this makes sense, your body needs energy, if you really were in a state of famine, your body would need energy-dense foods and increasing your appetite is your bodies way of saving your life!  

Yet time and time again you find yourself going back to dieting and restricting yourself? 

A way of visualising this is the deprivation-binge pendulum. You deprive yourself and restrict eventually you get cravings and overeat. You feel guilty so you swing back to restricting yourself and the cycle starts all over again.

The key to eradicating this cycle is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat. This means: 

  • Throwing out the idea that certain foods are ‘good’ and other foods are ‘bad’. Remind yourself superfoods are not a thing – no single food can make you healthy or not! 
  • Eating what you really want.
  • Eating without compensatory action or time restriction (e.g. ‘I can have the cookie now, but tomorrow I diet’). 

Truly making peace with food means allowing all foods you desire into your world and understanding your food choices do not reflect who you are as a person.


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