Roughly two years after I began working with my nutrition coach I was was feeling pretty great. I had so much to be proud of. I could easily recognize hunger and fullness cues, I was loving my body because it was MY BODY and not because it was a certain size or shape, and I was able to cope with uncomfortable emotions WITHOUT always turning to food.
So why did I still find myself bingeing from time to time? Yes the binges were generally smaller and the time between each binge was lengthening, but how could I be feeling so great and still choose to put myself through this? I felt like the random binge was becoming part of my identity.
At this point in my journey I had certainly heard of food neutrality. I knew that I could eat whatever I wanted because no single food was considered good or bad. Kale or cookie - it didn’t really matter. I also knew that if I was eating intuitively, it meant that it was important to honor my cravings and eat the cookie if that’s what I truly wanted.
But here’s where I was getting held up. I was eating the cookie (or cupcake, or chocolate, or ice cream) and still depriving myself. But how can that be? I was eating the treats that I craved! Unfortunately I was so used to thinking, “Should I really be eating this? I don’t know if I should be eating this. No, I shouldn’t be eating this!” As a result, these restrictive thoughts would often accompany the action of eating something sweet.
Therefore, we can still be restricting even when we are eating because restriction is truly a state of mind. If we don’t fully accept and believe that all foods are equally fine, we end up shaming ourselves when we eat the cookie. Anytime that we are shaming ourselves for what we’re eating, the subconscious implication is that, "I should try not to eat it again tomorrow." And then we are actively putting ourselves in the last supper / eat it while you can mentality, even if we don’t go overboard and do stop when we’re satisfied. Our brains can’t recognize the difference between physical deprivation and restrictive thinking.
When I was struggling with the final binges during my recovery period, I hadn’t FULLY accepted that all foods are an okay choice. I was still thinking that the best choice would be to forgo the sweet or have less of it, even if I really wanted it. Without realizing it, this mental restriction was still causing me to FEEL like I wasn’t giving myself full permission to eat. When we don’t have full permission to eat, we feel restricted. And when we feel restricted, we feel a psychological push to eat large quantities of “off-limit” foods. In other words, we eventually binge.
So how did I, and HOW CAN YOU, break free from this trap?
- Pick one food that you generally consider to be off limits. You might want to start with a sweet or dessert food, or you might feel more comfortable selecting a starchy carb or fatty food like white rice or cheese. I really wanted to feel free to eat chocolate-caramel dipped popcorn, so this is the food that I used for this experiment.
- Take a few bites and REALLY savor the pleasure. Notice how much you are enjoying it. I often shut my eyes, which helps me to focus even more on the taste, texture, and enjoyment factor.
- And here’s the BIGGIE - between bites and when you are finished, tell yourself that you are so happy because you get to have this delicious food again tomorrow. And tomorrow it will bring just as much pleasure and enjoyment. I actually felt a wave of relief when I reminded myself of this. "I get to have it again tomorrow...yes!!"
For me, this final step was a true stepping stone to the belief that all foods are okay and I have full permission to eat whatever I want, whenever I want it. After several months of doing this (yes I really love that popcorn!), I had proof that nothing bad will happen when I include all foods in my meals. While I’m not implying that weight gain is bad, I do want to share that my weight didn’t increase at all, even though I didn’t restrict the amount of chocolate-caramel popcorn that I was consuming.
And the best part? True freedom to eat means that the binges have died off. I no longer feel deprived, so I no longer feel the strong pull to consume endless amounts of food in one sitting.
I love talking about food neutrality and putting an end to the restrict/binge cycle. If you have any thoughts or questions on the topic, please feel free to share in the comments below or reach out to me through my connect page so that we can have a more personal conversation.