Giving Yourself Permission
Have you ever told a child they can't play with something? What's the only thing they want after you say that? ....The one thing you said they couldn't have.
Maybe you've noticed this, but the same principle applies to food. As soon as you tell yourself that a certain food is off limits, that is the only food you can think about. This sets you up for feelings of deprivation, leading to intense cravings and, often, binge eating. The result is overwhelming guilt and then the cycle repeats.
At the heart of this cycle is a belief that your body can't be trusted and that you must carefully micromanage it in order to remain healthy. In reality, your body is actually very good at telling you what it needs to be healthy and function properly if you pay attention to the cues it sends. Your needs also change from day to day because you're not a robot, so restrictive "black and white" rules don't really make sense.
To break this seemingly endless cycle, you first need to give yourself permission to listen to the cues your body sends. It isn't bad to be hungry - it means your body is working properly and telling you it's out of fuel! Listening to your hunger doesn't make you gain weight but ignoring it likely will, as your body attempts to protect itself from starvation. Consistently eating past fullness or when you're not hungry and neglecting to manage stress or get adequate sleep or move in a way you enjoy are all things that contribute to being at a weight above your normal, healthy set point. And your normal, healthy set point is likely not the same as your friend's or even what the BMI chart says. But that is for another post.
Once you give yourself permission to eat, it is important that this is FULL permission. No bargaining or judging. Don't say you can eat cake now if you exercise later or if you're "better" tomorrow. Just enjoy the cake without judgment and move on.
This also involves avoiding labeling foods as "good" or "bad". No food has the power to make you gain or lose weight and no food has the power to make or break your health. Your worth as a person is also not determined by what you eat. Food is just food.
Finally, be patient. Breaking down these long-held beliefs about food is not something that happens overnight. Try making a list of foods that really sound good to you and choose one that you have been restricting. Give yourself permission to go get that food. Pay attention to if you actually enjoy it and, if so, continue giving yourself permission to eat it.
This podcast episode featuring two fellow dietitians is a great listen on the topic of permission if you'd like to explore this idea more!