We like to think about restriction as we would a long-distance relationship (LDR). Maybe you know what that’s like from personal experience, or perhaps you can recall a movie or show in which the main characters are trying to make a LDR work. In a relationship like that there is A LOT of emotion. Intense preoccupation (what are they doing right now? Are they thinking about me?), maybe fear (is this going to work?), worry, anticipation, excitement (only two more weeks until we’re reunited!), sadness (ugh, I miss them so much!), etc. THEN, the long-anticipated reunion.
Think about your own experience with this or picture a couple embracing for the first time in a long time in an airport- the moment is intense and full of raw emotion. They embrace for a while, hugging and kissing because they can’t get enough of each other and want to make up for all that lost time and separation. It feels so good in the moment, only to be followed by another long period of missing each other. Then compare that scenario to a couple who live together and see each other every morning and again after work. They might embrace briefly- happy to see each other- but the moment is not nearly as extreme because it is just another day in the life. With the couple who live together, they are used to each other being around and there isn’t built up emotion that comes from a long separation…it’s easy, natural, pleasant.
This is a perfect analogy to depict what it’s like when we restrict foods and label them as “bad” or off-limits. We end up thinking about that food all the time, longing for it, missing it, and then when it is available to us, the moment is so charged with energy. When we remove that black and white, all or nothing thinking around food, we remove the charge and take away the power that food has over us.
This is, in essence, what we refer to as unconditional permission. We’ve touched on this before when we’ve chatted about why “cheat days” are problematic, but we wanted to give you some concrete steps to get there. When we give ourselves full permission to eat all foods, we eliminate that “forbidden fruit” factor, thus enabling us to have a much more fluid, relaxed relationship with food (much like the couple living together). That might mean simply stocking our home with those foods we previously deemed “bad” and regularly having some when we are in the mood for it until it no longer feels so charged. The thing with unconditional permission that so many people get hung up on is that it might feel like granting yourself permission will open the floodgates and chaos ensues. The reality is, you might need to give yourself this period of eating those specific foods in what feels like an out of control manner. This doesn’t mean you lack control or willpower, you are simply allowing this food back into your life until it doesn’t feel so emotionally charged.
8 Ways to introduce unconditional permission to eat:
Allow yourself to have something sweet after lunch or dinner (or both!)
Instead of calling it dessert, call it a snack, as dessert can have a negative connotation. There is nothing wrong with having a sweet tooth. In fact, all that means is that your taste buds and the pleasure centers in your brain are working!
Maybe it’s a piece of chocolate, a baked good, or a tasty beverage (anyone else loving hot chocolate lately?!) – making this a routine will help to increase body trust and awareness.
Look for ways you can introduce a little more variety
Maybe you aren’t ready to tackle your “fear foods” just yet – that’s okay! Seeing where you can increase your repertoire of foods can help break you out of the cycle of eating those “safe” foods each day.
Challenge your food rules
What food rules are you still holding onto? How much are those rules enabling you to have a healthy relationship with food? Is there any truth to those rules?
Maybe your food rule is that you don’t eat croutons. Get curious! Do you like croutons? How do you feel after having them? Do they make salads more enjoyable for you?
Create new recipes (perhaps set a goal of one new recipe each week)
Getting creative in the kitchen can help bring the fun and enjoyment back to food while also introducing some new foods.
Remember: food is just food
And all foods are neutral. Some are more “nutritious” than others (like an apple has more health-promoting nutrients than a brownie), but while an apple could fill us up physically, a brownie might be more emotionally satisfying. They’re just different! One food is not morally superior to another. Your body knows what to do with the food you provide it!
Take it one snack, meal, and day at a time
Each eating opportunity is a chance to learn and build body trust. View this as an experiment! Be curious and practice trial and error.
Hold compassion for yourself
You aren’t always going to get it right! Diet culture’s messages have a stronghold on our psyche. Give yourself the time and space you need. This is hard work. Remember: permission, practice, and patience are KEY.
Wear comfy clothes
Who wants to practice unconditional permission when their jeans are tight and pinching their belly? No one! Find clothes that feel comfortable and not confining. When you are wearing clothes that help you feel confident and relaxed, your thoughts won’t be on your appearance as much, saving space for more positive and productive thoughts
Undoing the damage of deprivation or labeling certain foods as “bad” as we are conditioned to do will take some time. In order to reach a point where food no longer takes up so much headspace, we need practice, patience, and lots of experimenting to get to a place where we feel confident and competent in trusting our body’s signals. The only way to do that is to build up many positive experiences with foods, and slowly chip away those psychological restrictions you might still be holding onto.
What are your thoughts on getting started with giving yourself unconditional permission to eat? If you’re feeling stuck in your IE journey, join our newsletter to stay up to date on how we can support you.