One of the main things that fell away for me when I stopped restricting food was… the obsession with food. It’s in our nature to have stronger cravings/desires for the things that we believe we can’t have or can only have in minimal amounts. This applies to everything in life beyond food. We simply want what we can’t have. When we have it and know that we’ll always have it, we don’t really care as much.
I had a really good reminder of this when, a few weeks ago, I had to take medication and wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol while taking it. Prior to this, I’d maybe consumed 1 bottle of wine total over the course of a month, and maybe had 3 drinks in December. Before that, I hadn’t been drinking because it just hadn’t been feeling great in my body. I really hadn’t been all that interested…. until I wasn’t allowed to drink. THEN it seemed like all day everyday, I was craving white wine. I noticed every glass of white wine people were drinking on t.v., I started getting jealous of my husband when he would pour a whiskey in the evening (I like whiskey but I never drink it straight and rarely have a cocktail), I wanted Baileys, I wanted all of the things – because I couldn’t have them. My alcohol radar increased 10 fold simply because it was restricted. But, when it came down to it, if I gave myself permission and just said “No, I shouldn’t really be drinking right now, but I’m still a grown ass adult and can make that choice for myself. If I want it that badly, I can make the choice to have it because it’s my body.” And then honestly, the craving went away. I knew I didn’t really want it. I didn’t really want to mix medication and alcohol because that isn’t how I choose to care for myself, but with the restriction placed, it made me want to.
**This is not in any way similar to alcoholism and NOT AT ALL what I’m referring to. Alcoholism is extremely different and a real illness and is in no way shape or form a simple choice of I’m going to drink or I’m not going to drink. Please seek medical help if this is something you’re suffering with.
This can be similar to when we give ourselves permission to eat whatever and as much of whatever we want, at all times, without guilt or shame. Will you probably feel the pull to binge on foods you previously restricted? Likely. Will it last? No. Not if you actually give yourself full permission and never mentally or physically compensate for it… because it won’t feel good. After about a year of giving myself permission to eat whatever and whenever, I started to be able to notice how certain things were affecting me/making me feel, and I was able to start making choices based around that. Do I sometimes want to eat 3 cookies because they’re so freaking good? Yes. But I pretty much never do because it will make me feel ill… and I don’t like to voluntarily feel ill. There are mornings where I really feel like I want cake or donuts for breakfast, but I know that those foods first thing in the morning just make me feel awful, so I give myself the choice to have it later in the day after a meal. Knowing you can have anything at any time without having to punish yourself for it afterwards really does take away the intense obsession/reward response for the things you’re restricting. Food choices just become… simple. What’s available/what is affordable/what sounds good/what’s going to feel best for you right now/etc.
Diet culture teaches you that you can’t trust your body. It teaches you that you simply don’t know how to best care for yourself and then reinforces that idea to you when it has you restrict foods. Once you do that, your reward response to those foods is heightened and you really do feel crazy/addicted/out of control around those foods. And voila, diet culture was right, you can’t be trusted.
But it simply isn’t true. You can trust yourself. Your body does know what it needs and it does know how to tell you. You do not need external calculators telling you how much food your body needs. You just have to let go of the reigns and give your body permission to do so.
*This does not apply to those in an active eating disorder. Your body cues will not at all be accurate and you very much do need the help of a medical team to help you recover. If you are currently in an eating disorder and aren’t working with any medical professionals, I urge you to seek help immediately. I am not a medical professional. This is not meant to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any illnesses and individual needs do vary. Please seek the advice of your doctor/a non diet, HAES dietitian than can help you with your specific needs. Our bodies are all so individual.