Eat foods you enjoy
We always desire what we can’t have. It’s human nature. If you tell a child that they can play with any toy except the red truck, guess what toy they’ll want to play with?
The same happens with food.
Restricting any type of food is, without a doubt, one of the leading causes of eating issues. Even if we forbid ourselves access to only one food group (for example, carbohydrates or fat), sooner or later it results in overeating.
When we tell ourselves that we “can’t” eat certain foods, they become tastier, more special and certainly more desirable. That’s why problem eaters tend to binge on foods that they don’t normally allow themselves to have.
So why do we still limit our access to certain products?
It’s because after years of food restriction, diets and disordered thinking, we’ve been left with the notion that certain foods are “good” and “safe”, while others are “bad” and “fattening”.
Every diet comes with its own set of rules and things we should or shouldn’t eat.
Eat this, don’t eat that.
Eat that before 7 PM every second Tuesday.
We hear messages like “carbs make you fat!” .
We get lost, confused, frightened, afraid to eat anything in case it causes our bodies to expand like balloons.
We want to eat healthily, we really do, so we try our best to follow these rules.
But it’s too hard, too strict, too controlled.
We miss those tasty foods that we don’t allow ourselves to eat.
We feel miserable and deprived.
Eventually, we give in and eat something “forbidden”.
We break a rule.
We feel weak, ashamed and guilty.
These feelings often cause us to lose control and binge – which makes the guilt even worse.
And so a simple act of breaking a food rule (which shouldn’t be a rule in the first place!) can snowball into a day-long binge fest.
Here’s the reality: any diet that demands you to give up your favorite foods is not only ridiculous, but also unsustainable.
Who wants to live like that? You’re not the problem here, strict food rules are! ♥
We need to allow ourselves to eat food we enjoy!
Not allowing ourselves to eat food we enjoy leads to deprivation – and deprivation makes us miserable and prone to bingeing.
We need to acknowledge that these foods are important to us.
By depriving ourselves of these foods, we’re denying a large part of our own being.
Food is more than just sustenance.
It holds deep emotional connections too.
Perhaps your granny used to comfort you with some ice cream when you were little.
Perhaps the smell of a warm apple pie overwhelms you with calmness, security and joy.
These foods are special to us.
They have a special place in our minds.
We deserve to allow ourselves to experience the emotional satisfaction that they give us, guilt-free.
The truth is that all foods have a place in a healthy, balanced diet.
That’s right! ALL FOODS.
The quality of your food intake is best assessed by looking at the overall picture.
It’s all about balance, variety and developing a non-restrictive, non-judgemental attitude towards food.
But if I allow myself to eat my “restricted” foods, won’t I just end up bingeing on them?
By allowing yourself to eat all foods, you’ll gradually remove the anxiety, guilt and fear associated with certain products.
By confronting this fear, you’ll expose it as fake. These foods will quickly lose the sense of dread that is attached to them.
If you can eat something every day, you tend not to crave it as strongly anymore.
Eventually, a piece of chocolate could be as exciting as an apple.
I’m not saying that you should eat 10 bars of chocolate every day in place of your regular meals (besides, it wouldn’t take you very long to grow tired of chocolate!). What I am saying is that it is absolutely fine to eat some chocolate when you feel like it. You shouldn’t avoid foods because you think they’re “bad”.
Science & Studies
Studies show that food rules lead to overeating and bingeing.
One study looked at the eating behaviours of two groups of people: those who lived by strict food rules and those who did not. The researchers asked individuals from each group to consume a high-calorie milkshake. Afterwards they could eat as much ice cream as they wanted.
Those who followed strict food rules in their everyday lives went on to eat significantly more ice cream after drinking the milkshake. The researchers hypothesised that they continued to overindulge because they felt bad about breaking their food rules (Herman & Mack, 2975).
In a similar study, participants were asked to consume either a milkshake or a serving of cottage cheese (both containing the same number of calories), before going on to eat as much ice cream as they liked.
Those who initially consumed the milkshake went on to eat considerably more ice cream than those who chose the cottage cheese – even though the calorie content in the two foods was identical!
The researchers suggested that individuals with strict food rules experienced more guilt after consuming the milkshake because they believed it to be “forbidden”. This guilt triggered the urge to keep on eating.
These experiments show that whenever we try to adhere to strict food rules, we’re only setting ourselves up for failure. The more we restrict our food intake, the more likely we are to overeat (Holmes et al, 2014).
Eventually our food rules – the very things that are supposed to keep us safe – lead to bingeing.
Introducing "sometimes" food
Perfectionism is a trait shared by many eating disorder sufferers.
We don’t want to make mistakes or allow exceptions. There’s no grey area between finishing victoriously and failing miserably.
If we fail at all, we fail hard.
Isn’t this black-and-white thinking to blame for the majority of our binges?
I know for sure that it was in my case.
During the worst times of my bulimia, one bite of chocolate was enough to cause me to spiral into a full-blown bingeing and purging session.
This is exactly what we want to avoid.
This is why including your fear foods into your meal plan is such an important step.
Instead of seeing food as something that can only be undeniably right or shamefully wrong, imagine balanced eating as a spectrum.
On this spectrum of balanced eating, there are no good or bad products.
Instead, there are “sometimes foods” and “all-the-time foods”.
It doesn’t mean that the second type is better than the first.
This distinction simply states that, in order to promote physical and mental health, foods like fruit, vegetables, meat, tofu, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and so on should be consumed every day – while more energy-dense products, such as chocolate, ice-cream and chips, should be eaten less frequently.
That’s all there is to it!
The problem is that for people who are prone to bingeing, these “sometimes foods” acquire a whole different meaning.
Because we usually binge on products that are high in fat and sugar, our brains start associating them exclusively with bingeing over time.
Consequently, we start avoiding these products.
We start fearing them.
The more we avoid them, the stronger our fear grows.
Before we know it, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle.
In order to break this cycle, you have to reintroduce “sometimes foods” into your daily diet.
WORKSHEET TO DRAFT!!
Here’s how you can do that:
– **Make a list of your fear foods. Take a piece of paper and divide it into three sections: “slightly scary”, “very scary” and “extremely scary”. Think about your fear foods and rate them according to the anxiety that the thought of eating them causes you. Even if you consume certain products extremely rarely, or avoid them at all costs, you should still include them in your list.**
– **Start with the least scary products and incorporate small portions of them into your diet.** Let’s say that bread is one of your “slightly scary” foods. In order to conquer your fear, you can start off by having a small piece of rye bread as one of your snacks. Once your anxiety about doing that decreases, take it up a notch and eat a white bread sandwich for breakfast. Keep doing this with all of the foods on your “slightly scary” list. Some people find it helpful to keep a written record of their fight against fear foods. Write down the date, the fear food and your anxiety level after eating it (from 1 to 10). Notice how this number decreases every time you confront the product on your list.
– **Once you’re ready, move on to the more challenging foods. Do the same with “very scary” and “extremely scary” products. Make sure to keep the process slow. For example, if donuts are “extremely scary” for you, you can start off by having a tiny bite of donut as a snack. Keep increasing this amount gradually until you work your way up to a full donut. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s okay if you need a few weeks or even months to achieve that. Just go with your gut and continue challenging yourself.**
– **Avoid binges. Fear foods are scary because they can lead to bingeing. However, you can make sure that the possibility of losing control after eating them is as small as possible. Pick the days when you feel less stressed or anxious to reintroduce them into your diet. Throw away any leftovers if you’re tempted to binge on them. If you’re more likely to binge at home, invite a friend to a restaurant and have your “sometimes food” there. Don’t be afraid to ask for support – call a friend and let them know that you’re struggling if you feel like you’re about to binge. Our HealED coaching services work great for situations like that as well. You can always reach out to your personal recovery coach and receive guidance and emotional help.**
As you keep on destigmatising your fear foods one by one, you’ll be able to include one or two portions of these “sometimes” products into your diet every day.
It does take time and patience. Nevertheless, the freedom that you’ll discover once you conquer your fear foods is more than worth the effort.
- Acknowledge that food rules do not help you in any way.
- Stop labelling foods as good and bad, instead label foods as “any foods” and “all the time foods”
- Make a list of your top 10 favorite foods and ensure you are not deprived of these foods.
- Every day, add two “any foods” to your meal plan.
Make it “intentional.” This isn’t in-the-moment indulging. You’re being intentional when you slow down, take your time, and savor the experience.
Being intentional is how you know it’s your choice — and not an emotional response.
- Remember, while this can be challenging at first, eating “any foods” every day will help you to banish harmful and unnecessary food rules.
- If you’re worried that exposing yourself to “restricted” food can lead to a binge, try and eat it when you’re at your best both mentally and physically – perhaps when you’ve eaten a well-balanced breakfast or feel relaxed and well-rested.
- Try to shift yourself from a scarcity mindset around food into one of abundance – I can have anything I want at any time. That opens up the power of choice, something which is not fully available to the binge eater.
You can also try and think about this in reverse. When would it not be safe for you to eat those foods? Perhaps when you’re tired? When your period is due? When you’ve had a stressful day at work? When you’ve been restricting?
If you tend to binge in the evening, it’s probably a good idea to avoid any “restricted” foods at that time of day – at least until you’re feeling stronger and more confident.
Use positive affirmations when thinking about “restricted” food. Try and repeat: “Food is just food. It can’t make me fat just because I eat a serving.”
Throw away any leftovers after eating if you’re tempted to binge on them.
- If you’re struggling with doing that, start with a small portion of a product that you find the least scary. Once your anxiety around it decreases, take it up a notch and give other foods a try. This strategy is known as “exposure therapy” and can be extremely effective. It works by gradually exposing you to the thing you fear, starting with the least scary version of it. As you overcome your fears one step at a time, you can eventually get rid of them altogether!
- This may push you outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay. This is you taking your first tentative steps towards food freedom. Don’t worry – there’s no need to rush. Just take it one step at a time.
Trust me, you can absolutely do this!
- If food rules are wreaking havoc on your life, you might want to spend a little extra time here. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s okay if you need a few weeks or even months to achieve a real sense of balance. Just continue challenging yourself and introducing new foods into your daily life.
“Why must I do this?”
It’s not the food that leads to a binge; it’s the anxiety and fear associated with eating the food. By avoiding specific foods completely you are only reaffirming this anxiety and fear.
By confronting this fear, you will expose it as a fake and then these foods will quickly lose the anxiety and fear attached to them.
Very soon, it will become evident that you can handle all foods and they have no control over you and your recovery.
“Do I have to have “any foods” twice a day?”
Consuming “any foods” twice a day, effectively de-stigmatizes them, making them less desirable.
Don’t think of “any foods” as special treats to be eaten occasionally. They are not special treats, do not make them more special than they really are. Sporadic consumption is likely to make them more of a binge trigger when eaten.
Regular consumption of forbidden foods will prevent you bingeing on them. You will no longer feel so deprived and miserable.
You will start to find that your prohibited food loses its sparkle. When these previously off limit foods are tasted every day people report that they do NOT taste as good as previously imagined.
“But… I’ve been avoiding these foods for years, how can you expect me to just start eating them again?”
Although you may have been trying to avoid these foods, it hasn’t stopped you from bingeing on them!
Look, let’s get this straight…
You are going to eat these foods anyway, no matter if you try to avoid them or not.
Would you rather have loads of candy at once, or lots of small pieces that you can enjoy over time and guilt free?
There is nothing to fear, your body can handle it!
Make this your motto: “A favourite food a day helps to keep binge eating at bay!””
“Are you sure? but eating a favourite food can lead to a binge!”
Why do you think this happens? It happens because these foods feel special, you feel as though you are breaking some rules and you feel deprived. It isn’t until you eat them every day that they lose their magic. They become normal and you feel no anxiety eating them