• Alice Clarke

Intuitive Eating - Making peace with food

In a world where unattainable bodies and food that looks too perfect to eat are plastered everywhere, it is easy to feel guilty and disheartened when you don’t think you look like you should or you’re not eating the perfect food. Our society is full of clean eating, detox diets and juice cleanses and there is a frighteningly long list of foods that are blacklisted by highly influential, health conscious individuals. But why do we feel so guilty about the primal act of eating and enjoying food? Why do we feel like when we’ve had one piece of chocolate we have ruined ‘it’ and so might as well have the whole bar?

There are many individuals that are suffering from serious eating disorders that are professionally diagnosed and treated. However, there are many more of us suffering from another food-related issue that is often played down to being much less serious – food guilt. Food guilt appears when we eat something that we feel we shouldn’t have done. This is often something that we have identified as not being healthy or not fitting in with our diet. Therefore, those of us affected by food guilt will often have a list of ‘safe foods’ – foods that we can eat without any of these negative thoughts popping up. As a society we have also got into the mindset that eating a blacklisted food isn’t just ‘unhealthy’, but it is actually a huge failure in terms of willpower. I talk about willpower vs. the primal response for fuel in my last blog, but by categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we’re underlyingly categorizing our actions as strong or weak, depending on whether we fulfil those restrictions.

However, this apparent inability to restrict these foods isn’t an internal weakness as in individual, it is just how we’re designed. Research has indicated that when we restrict or limit the amount or types of food that we are allowed to eat, it usually leads to us craving more and more of those particular items. When you are in the mindset that you are freely able to have as much of a particular food as you want, the need you feel for that food tends to slip away. For some this may happen extremely quickly but for others this transition into a more secure relationship with different items of food can take a bit longer. This process of removing food guilt from your life and making peace can take a varying amount of time, depending on how many foods you have blacklisted from your life. But don’t rush it, take one item of food at a time and embrace it back into your life.

So, now you want to fight back and diminish the food guilt that has taken over your life! Before we get into the how’s, I just want to remind you that any changes you will make to improve your relationship with food are long-term and as such won’t happen overnight. You’ve had these negative feelings for a long time, so it makes sense that it’ll take time for them to improve. The key priorities to remember when fighting your food guilt are:

1. Dismantle your food beliefs – write a list of your beliefs about your blacklisted foods and then dismantle them. You’ll find many of them are rooted in the diet culture that you are trying to ditch.

2. Give yourself the permission to eat on of your blacklisted foods – then go out and get this food, relax and enjoy it.

3. Check in with yourself when you’re eating as to how the food tastes. If you’re enjoying it, continue to give yourself permission to enjoy it guilt-free. If it is not as good as you thought, then you’re unlikely to crave it to the same extent.

4. Continue to have that food freely available to you – this will allow you to break the guilt cycle and begin to fight your food guilts.

5. Once you have made peace with one food, slowly move onto the next until the negative thoughts surrounding all foods has been banished.

These priorities aim to remove the obsessional desire you have built up surrounding your blacklisted foods. This journey isn’t going to be straight-forward or perfect, you may over-eat or binge initially. The important thing is to not punish yourself, you are not a failure. It is all part of the journey and you will find your balance if you are tuning into your hunger cues, you just need to be patient with yourself. Trust yourself, your body is a clever machine and it knows what it wants.

Note: Although this post can be read as stand-alone, if you are looking to learn more about improving your relationship with your body and food make sure to check my other posts in the series.