How to make peace with food

peace with food

Psychology of food deprivation

Making peace with food means facing self-imposed food restrictions and deprivation. In fact, depriving ourselves of foods we like because they are “bad” usually backfires and gives foods more power over ourselves. Let’s see how this works.

When we are deprived of anything in life (eating, sleeping, doing pleasurable activities, etc.), our desire for it tends to increase.

Think about it. This is like when you’ve been quarantined at home for weeks and you’re surprised to discover that you even miss the people you can’t stand at work! Being deprived of your usual company, you begin to crave it more, including the less pleasant aspects.

The same thing happens when we restrict food. Food deprivation can trigger what is known as “rebound” eating.

Here’s how it works: you deprive yourself of a particular food you like (for example, ice cream) for the sake of a “diet.” Then, at some point when you encounter the “forbidden” food (then “behave” and avoid it), instead of simply enjoying it, binge eating may occur, along with the conditioned guilt about the food that comes with it.

Then, the cycle of deprivation and binge eating begins again. This study describes how “dieters’ cravings were more likely to be the foods they were restricting.” Again, if this happens to you, it’s not your fault: it’s diet culture and the abstinence-based model of the diet mentality operating in our programming.

Breaking out of this cycle requires us to make peace with food. As? By allowing us to eat what we want, when we want.

I know, it sounds scary right? But that’s what intuitive eating is all about. It’s about getting rid of that false diet culture belief that we can’t trust ourselves around food.

It sounds blasphemous, but giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is vital to making peace with food and learning to trust your body and the signals it is sending you.

Restricted feeding

As the book Intuitive Eating defines it : “Restrictive eaters are essentially chronic dieters who are concerned about diet and weight control.” They tend to set rules about what and when to eat, rather than honoring their hunger.

In fact, as this study points out , restricting foods does not help achieve “dietary goals.” “One explanation for this contradictory pattern of behavior is that these people are very sensitive to food cues, and in some cases, this sensitivity leads to the desire to eat and as a result overeating…Confronting delicious foods and even “Thinking about favorite foods is a strong trigger for craving more and ultimately overeating from food packaging compared to other people.”

Restricted eating only leads to a power struggle between what your body wants to eat and what your diet-related beliefs say is appropriate to eat.

How to identify a restricted diet

Many people do not consciously identify as dieting, but unconsciously engage in restrictive eating behaviors. This list will help you identify the sneaky eating patterns that diet culture teaches us. To begin to gain clarity, ask yourself if:

  • You only allow yourself a particular amount of food.
  • You use exercise to compensate for the consumption of certain foods.
  • You have feelings of guilt or shame when eating certain foods
  • You only allow yourself to eat certain foods when you are at “x” weight
  • You have rules about when or how often you can eat these foods

Banning and restricting foods is definitely a recipe for unhealthy food concerns and a negative relationship with food. In the next section, I’ll guide you through 5 steps to help you make peace with food and see it for what it really is: something we need to stay alive, but we also have the right to enjoy.

The 5 steps to make peace with food

As with everything to do with breaking the diet mentality, making peace with food is not a quick fix. It is a non-linear process that calls us to be continually present in our thoughts and behaviors around food. Learning to recognize what our own voice is and what diet culture is may take some time, but it is a worthwhile goal to gain freedom around food. Here are 5 steps, derived from intuitive eating, on how to make peace with food.

1. Eliminate “good” and “bad” food labels

Moralizing foods into “good/bad,” “healthy/unhealthy” categories only adds more fuel to the food war. When we use these labels, we simply can’t help but feel like we are “doing something wrong” when we eat foods that are traditionally considered “unhealthy.”

We can’t fully enjoy that delicious caramel cheesecake without a lingering feeling of guilt. And we have every right to enjoy these foods! As I mentioned before, no food or meal is going to make or break you.

So start practicing some food neutrality. The next time you come across one of these “sinful” foods, ask yourself why you think it is labeled that way. How did you acquire this belief about this particular food? Do you think you can start to see this food differently? I mean, maybe it doesn’t contain many nutrients, but it sure tastes good! Honoring eating for pleasure is as legal as it is satisfying.

2. Make a list of your “forbidden” foods

Once you feel ready to start making peace with food, make a list of foods that you have banned in the past or that you feel you can’t control yourself around.

It’s helpful if you start listing them from the least problematic for you to the most. When making your list, try to reflect on why you feel the need to restrict these foods. Did you have a particular experience with any of them? Is it because of the way they have historically been labeled “bad”?

There are not correct or incorrect answers; This step is about getting to know your thoughts and feelings about certain foods a little better.

3. Plan to try one of these foods at a time

Ok, now that you have your list, it’s time to plan a time to try one of them at a time. If this seems too challenging, start with the least intimidating foods.

Buy the food or order it at a restaurant and get ready to eat! Remember to approach this exercise with as much non-judgmental curiosity as possible. Come from a place of wanting to learn more about yourself and reject the noise of how you’ve been conditioned to eat.

4. Register with yourself

While eating a particular food, you should be very present and focused on what you are feeling. Ask yourself the following:

  • What does this food taste like? Sweet? Salty? Umami? Tasteless?
  • What is the texture like? Crunchy? Creamy? Dry?
  • How do you feel while eating it? You feel happy? Comfort? Anxiety about eating it? Any guilt present?
  • How are you experiencing this food? Is it as good as you thought it would be? Or maybe now that you’ve given yourself permission to eat it, you realize you don’t really like it that much?

Continue this process with the rest of the foods on your list. Remember, go at your own pace and do what feels most comfortable for you.

The main goal of these steps is to recognize that food is just food; It has no power over you once you allow yourself to eat unconditionally.

5. Keep the foods on your list that you enjoy available at all times

Part of the reason we feel powerless over certain foods is that because they seem “forbidden” or “special,” we unknowingly give them power they don’t really have.

After trying the foods on the list you made, make sure you have the ones you like available at all times. That’s right: no more keeping “temptation” out of the house to avoid it. This only gives these foods more influence over you.

If your mind already knows that these foods will be absent from your diet for a period, you will try to “stock up” before the deprivation begins again. By having them around, you are telling yourself that (1) you can eat them (which begins to take them off their pedestal) and (2) that they are available at any time (thus eliminating the feelings of “I will never eat this again”, which only causes more cravings).

Conclusion

Remember, your relationship with food is influenced by years of restriction, deprivation, guilt and shame that diet culture embeds in us. It takes a while to unlearn these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around food.

I can’t emphasize this enough: be kind to yourself. Self-compassion and patience is the name of the game here. Go at your own pace, and eventually you will begin to gain freedom in enjoying food as it was always meant to be enjoyed.

And now, let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns about making peace with food. Did you try the exercise? How did it go? Any particular challenges you’ve encountered?

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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