Woman making peace with food. Showing peace sign in front of a piece of cake and a salad.
I am excited to share with you the power of this third principle, my favourite principle, making peace with food. The second principle, honour your hunger, is all about the biological effects of restricting food; making Peace with Food is about the psychological effects of depriving yourself of food.
Let me start by asking you some questions. Do you talk about “good “foods and “bad” foods? Do you call upon willpower to “fight” the urge to eat the” bad” foods? Do you break a diet rule and feel like you’ve blown it? Do you constantly feel guilty whilst eating “bad” foods, only to be left feeling shame afterwards?
If you answered yes to some of these questions, then you may feel like it’s an uphill daily battle choosing what to eat; you may even feel like some days you don’t even deserve to eat. But let me share with you that your life does not have to be like that. You deserve to eat, you are worthy of eating, regardless of what you ate yesterday, regardless of your body size. You can get off the battlefield with food and make lasting peace with food.
Making peace with food starts by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. This means to stop giving food a moral label; No more labeling and believing that certain foods are “good” and other foods are “bad”. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, there is no moral judgement about food anymore. All foods are equal. It is true that foods are different; some are more nutritious for the body and other foods are nutritious for the soul. But there is no mortality or righteousness attached to food anymore.
And importantly, making peace with food means allowing yourself to eat what you want and truly enjoy it. It means eating without any guilt or shame or feeling like you need to atone for it afterwards- "I’ll have dessert tonight, but I’ll work out longer tomorrow to make up for it".
In a nutshell, making peace with food is about how to eat normally without any guilt, shame or moral judgment attached.
This principle is essential for getting out of the diet-binge cycle, yet it can be the hardest to grasp. So, don’t worry if you cannot quite get your head around it at first. And know, that as you start to consider this principle it can be thwarted by what we call rebound eating. Rebound eating can happen for a few reasons. One cause of rebound eating is restricting yourself from eating certain foods. This restriction often ends up with you craving and obsessing about those foods even more. You may even compulsively overeat them after a period of restriction. After a 12 week diet, it can feel like you are out of control, like you cannot stop eating the forbidden foods.
Rebound eating can also be triggered by just planning to go on a diet. It’s known as the “Last Supper Effect”. “Tonight, I’m going to finish all the biscuits and chocolate in the house, because I’m starting a diet tomorrow”. Maybe you have experienced this? The last raid of the biscuit tin before the new diet tomorrow.
Additionally, rebound eating can be triggered by breaking a diet rule and eating a forbidden food. This is what’s called the “what-the-hell” effect- “I ate one cookie, and blew my diet, I might as well eat the whole box!” After breaking the diet rule, any restraint you had goes out the window, and thereby you think you might as well just keep eating all the “bad” foods”
You have probably experienced one or all the above scenarios of rebound eating. So, why does this happen to us? It is all about the psychology of dieting and restriction of food. Tribole and Resch (2012) refer to as The Seesaw Syndrome of Deprivation vs. Guilt, with deprivation at one end and guilt at another.
You may be constantly stuck in this seesaw, perpetuated by dieting. You are following a set of diet rules, where certain foods are allowed, and others are not. Whilst you can restrict the “bad” foods and follow the diet rules, you feel great; you are being “good “and your guilt feelings are low. But following the rules means restricting foods you like, and in time, the feelings of deprivation start to rise. For a while there, you felt good and if you think you have been “good”, you may allow yourself a “bad” food. You eat your bad food and then you start to feel some guilt about eating it. This can trigger the “what-the-hell-effect” and you go ahead and just eat all the foods you’ve been restricting. You may call this a binge or a “cheat day”. There are many terms for this. Whatever you call it, it feels like an uncontrollable force to eat the naughty food.
And now your guilt is rising. But you have been eating all the “bad” foods, so your feeling of deprivation is falling. And guess what, your guilt is now high on the seesaw and deprivation is low. You start to blame yourself for breaking the food rules; Overcome with so much guilt and feelings of failure, you decide have to do something about it and you start to diet all over again. Setting up rules for yourself- maybe even stricter rules this time - and the food deprivation starts again. As you diet again and feel “successful”, the guilt will lessen, but the food deprivation will rise and so it goes on, time after time, year, after year. The way to get off the Deprivation-Guilt Seesaw is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat ANY food, anytime you want.
How can you start to Make Peace with Food?
Begin with a list of foods you like, or that seem appealing to you. Include all foods, the “good” and the “bad”. Tick off the ones you are already eating guilt free. Highlight the ones you are currently restricting, your forbidden or naughty foods. Now pick one of your forbidden foods and give yourself unconditional permission to eat it. Say to yourself, this is a food that I can eat anytime I please and I can eat as much of this food as I want.
Then find a quiet time in the day and sit down and eat the food mindfully, in slow bites. Pay attention to the food and try to savour every mouthful. Remember, it is totally fine to eat this food, and tomorrow you can eat this food again if you want. Even if you don’t fully believe it at this point, keep saying it to yourself. As you are slowly eating this food, ask yourself what if you like the taste of it. Is it as good as you had anticipated?
This all may seem scary at first, but take your time with it, start with foods that maybe feel a little safer and are not totally off limits. Repeat the steps as much as you need it. You may need a long time for this. Always approach it from a place of curiosity and kindness. Ask a friend to help to if you feel you need some more support. As you progress you will begin to feel more confident and you will build up your trust in yourself around food. It’s important to keep practicing unconditional permission as often as you can. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
Now you know more about Making Peace with Food, what do you think about it? What feelings come up for you?
Do you feel like you may need some coaching on how to make peace with food?
Contact us at our clinic and we can support you on your journey to food freedom. Recovery is possible and we can show you how.
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Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes.