“Making peace with food means allowing all foods into your eating world, so that a choice for chocolate becomes emotionally equal to a choice for a peach.” — “Intuitive Eating”
The Dieting Dilemma
Want to succeed at dieting? It’s simple — you just need willpower.
The prevailing theory of weight loss tells us that sticking to a diet should be easy: If you keep to your allotted food plan, drink eights cups of water daily, and steel yourself against the foods which tempt you, you’ll succeed at any diet.
And if a week into your diet you end up licking the crumbs off the emptied cake pan? Well, isn’t that perfect proof that you lack willpower? Back to square one — begin a new diet and hope for the best!
Have you ever stayed up late into the night studying for a test when all you wanted to do was fall asleep?
Have you ever forced yourself out of bed earlier than your body would have liked?
Kept calm when you were angry? Kept quiet when you wanted to gossip?
Why can we be self-disciplined in so many areas of our lives, but suddenly lack willpower when it comes to dieting?
The answer lies in the diet itself: No matter what level of “willpower” one has, the act of restricting food and expecting not to feel deprived is like telling yourself not to think of that white elephant — how on earth could you not think about it?
Stop the Food Fight
Have you ever attempted a low-carb diet and suddenly desire bagels? Or cut out fat and sugar and crave a log of cookie dough? Restricting certain food groups can lead to intense cravings for those exact off-limits foods.
Cutting out food groups can wreak havoc on our ability to eat intuitively from a biological and psychological standpoint. Making peace with food, however, allows us to have any food around without feeling threatened.
Last Supper Eating
As chronic dieters know, the most out-of-control eating occurs right before the new diet begins — better get it all in now, right? Tribole and Resch call this “Last Supper” eating. We get so anxious about the anticipated restriction that we end up overeating, thereby reinforcing the idea that we have no self-control, and that another diet is needed!
In contrast, the push to overeat disappears when you know all foods will be allowed when you desire them. “The key to abolishing the pattern of restraint and subsequent overeating,” write Tribole and Resch, “is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.”
The authors discuss Heidi, a chronic dieter with an incurable desire for chocolate. Heidi “complained that the moment chocolate crossed her lips, she couldn’t stop eating it.” She tried to eschew chocolate from her life, but when she did have a bite she would end up bingeing.
After learning how to make peace with food, Heidi is no longer a chocoholic. She still loves the taste of it, but since she has stopped fighting and begun accepting chocolate as a morally neutral and fully allowable food, she is satisfied with a small amount.
Forget the Fress-Mess
Throughout her years as an Intuitive Eating Counselor, Rena has encountered a common misunderstanding about IE — that eating intuitively means eating whatever you want, whenever you want. But that’s not intuitive eating, that’s impulsive eating. Without listening to our intuition, our eating can easily become another fress-mess! True intuitive eating comes when you eat what you want with attunement. Our inner voice tells us, in its quiet and subtle way, what our bodies truly need.
Rena’s client Pessi* had a thing for Coca-Cola. When Pessi’s family ordered takeout pizza, the meal would come with a bottle of Coke. Guilt-ridden Pessi would guzzle the soda down as quickly as she could. When Pessi began the process of making peace with food, she was astonished to learn that she hated the feeling of Coke in her throat. Once she allowed herself to fully be present in the soda-drinking experience, one sip was all she needed to satisfy her craving.
The Quiet Month of Cheshvan
What better time to start making peace with food than after the yomim tovim? During the season when many try to compensate for holiday bingeing by piling on food restrictions, let’s try something new. In this month of Cheshvan when there is no holiday-related eating, you are free to experiment and make peace with the foods you have spent so long fearing… because making peace with your plate is way more fun than fighting with your food.
Rena’s Tool of the Month
Making Friends with Food
Ready to stop the food fight? Try this exercise to begin the peace process. Choose any food you desire — ice cream, cookies, chips — nothing is off limits.
Let’s say you chose chocolate chip cookies.
- Find your safe spot. Choose a time and place where you can eat mindfully, without distractions, external critics, or vulnerabilities. Make sure you are neither overly hungry (extreme hunger will divert your intuitive signals) nor overwhelmed by emotions (intense emotions will interfere with your ability to tune into your body.) You want to taste every bite of that cookie!
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat the cookies. Do not tell yourself you’ll stop at one cookie, or log ten extra minutes on the elliptical later, or plan to skip dinner if you eat too many. Remember: Any guilt you have will act like static against the radio of your inner voice—you will not get a clear signal!
- Time to eat! Hold one cookie in your hand. Smell it, feel it, and take small bites. Notice the flavor and texture. Roll the chocolate chips across your tongue. Take note of how each bite feels as it slips down your throat. Feel the changes in your stomach as you continue eating. Are you satisfied with one? Do you want more? Pay attention to the emotions and thoughts that come up as you eat.
- When you feel satisfied, review the process in your mind or on paper. How was the experience? Did the food meet your expectations? Do you want more cookies? Will you do anything differently next time?
- Keep going! There can be no failures in this experiment. If these cookies still make you anxious, repeat the experiment with the same cookies. It may take weeks, but if you give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy them with attunement, you’ll find your relationship to these cookies becoming a more peaceful one.
Try this again with another food, and another, and another. With time and experimentation, you’ll be delighted to discover you can be at ease around any food.
Rena Reiser and Elisheva Blumberg
Rena Reiser is a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She has changed the lives of countless women who have tried dieting and are “fed up.” She helps women come to peace with both food and life by discovering and satisfying our real hunger. Find her at towardsahealthybalance.com. Elisheva Blumberg is a freelance writer living in Edison, NJ. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was previously published in Olam Yehudi, a publication of The Jewish Press.