The Subtle Ways You Don’t Give Yourself Permission to Eat

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I always thought I had no problem allowing myself to eat.

It’s 10:00 AM and I’m starving.

You ever have those days when you hit the snooze button two times? Three times? FOUR times? Yeah, me neither.

Okay, I’ll keep it real. I hit my snooze button four times today. After I pried my eyes open, I rushed around like a dog chasing his tail then drove 100mph to work (don’t worry, I’m exaggerating). And I missed breakfast.

Sitting on my desk in front of me is my lunch bag containing a green Tupperware filled with last night’s leftover dinner. It was an awesome salad—avocado, feta cheese, radishes, shallots, grilled chicken and buttermilk citrus dressing tossed with gem lettuce greens. My stomach is grumbling and a little bit queasy from having that coffee on an empty stomach. As I fantasize about eating my lunch, my mouth is watering.

Alas, it’s 10AM—not time for lunch yet. I have two hours until it’s socially acceptable to eat salad. If I pop open this Tupperware and someone walks by and sees me, the chubby lady, gobbling up her lunch two hours early, what will they think?!

I considered going through my two scheduled therapy sessions with a grumbling belly all because I didn’t want to give myself permission to eat.

As an eating disorder specialist—someone who talks about our relationship with food on a daily basis—I know that society’s ol’ diet mentality was getting the best of me in that moment. And this is not a value system I believe in nor one I want to be a part of anymore.

After years (if not decades) of dieting, I now strive to be an Intuitive Eater. Intuitive Eating, a nutrition philosophy created by well respected dietitians Elise & Irene, means a lot of things. I’d argue the most important principle being, giving oneself unconditional permission to eat.

What’s Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is based on the premise that our body instinctively knows how to nourish itself and maintain a healthy weight. That becoming more connected to our biological hunger and fullness cues is a far more effective way to attain health, rather than following a prescribed diet. The authors of the best selling book break down the Intuitive Eating philosophy with 10 principles. Click to see them here.

So here I am sitting at my desk, an expert on this eating stuff and I’m experiencing the subtle pull to deny myself food even though my body is screaming, “FEED ME!”

If anyone asked me if I give myself unconditional permission to eat, one of the I.E. principles, I’d respond ‘yes’ and with confidence. I’m sure a lot of other people would too.

But the truth is, many of us don’t have a perfect relationship with food (what’s perfect anyways). To not check in with the subtle ways diet culture invades our judgement could be harmful.

Think about the seemingly innocent ways you deny yourself food. Below are some examples that I’ve heard from my clients and ones that I’ve noticed in myself too.

Do you deny yourself food?

  1. In two hours you  have a big, fancy holiday meal but you’re hungry because you purposely selected a lighter lunch. You could have a small, healthy snack to hold you over but you deny yourself because you might over-indulge later.
  2. You don’t keep snacks/protein bars in your bag/at your desk/in your car because you “should” be able to wait until your next meal.
  3. You get invited to attend the grand opening at a cool new restaurant that you’ve been dying to try but decline the invitation because you “ate too much” at lunch earlier.
  4. At dinner, you weren’t all that hungry so you opted for a smaller portion. Just before bed, your hunger comes roaring in but it’s “too late to eat.”
  5. You’re really really really craving chocolate. But 30 minutes ago you were also really really really craving Mexican. Even though you only ate half of that chimichanga and still have some room in your belly, you don’t let yourself have a chocolate dessert because the chimichanga is high calorie.

Keep in mind that Intuitive Eating isn’t about stuffing yourself with any and everything that looks tasty. It’s about honoring your body. Trusting your hunger cues. Listening to your satiety. Treating your body with respect with gentle nutrition. Intuitive eaters give themselves permission to eat a wide variety of food—some packed with nutrients others packed with flavor.

It’s okay if sometimes we have to remind ourselves to pay closer attention to the body so that we can honor it better. And it certainly doesn’t mean we have an eating disorder if we do. In fact, I think everyone should make attunment with our body a regular habit.

I challenge you to check in with yourself to see if you can be more connected, more aware and more gentle with yourself. Happy eating! I’m gonna go eat my salad leftovers now.

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