Why Giving Yourself Unconditional Permission to Eat Is so Important and Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Efforts
One of the most important steps towards healing your relationship with food is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods.
When most people quit dieting, it’s because they are sick of feeling like they’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of restriction and binging. It can feel like most of their free time is spent:
- worrying about what they’ll eat (or not eat!),
- if a particular food will fit into their food plan, and
- how they can ‘get back on track’ after the cravings get to be too much and they succumb to a binge.
It can be mentally exhausting to be in this phase:
You just know you can’t go on another diet!
You feel like you’re lost without the rules of a diet. Food just feels chaotic.
Can you relate?
So, where do you begin when you just want to feel normal around food?
When I begin working with a new client, one of the first things we address is making peace with food using the guideline of unconditional permission to eat all foods.
What does unconditional permission to eat all foods mean?
As a concept, unconditional permission seems simple:
Let’s start with the word unconditional.
Unconditional is defined as “not subject to any conditions.”
And eating all foods means just that. There are no foods off limits, except those you are allergic to of course!
Most people get really scared when they consider actually putting those words into action. Perhaps you read them and thought, “that sounds interesting” – “just not for me!”
Here are some very common fears I hear about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat:
- I can’t give myself permission because I’ll eat pizza, cake, and burgers every day of my life.
- Eating all foods without rules can’t be healthy.
- If I was allowed to eat all foods, I’d never eat a fruit or vegetable again.
- Every time I eat my favorite foods, I binge on them.
- I already eat whatever I want and I’m still stuck in a cycle of binging and restriction.
Of course, unconditional permission to eat all foods is not as simple as it seems on the surface.
And when you first allow yourself to eat foods that you’ve previously restricted, it’s normal to eat them until you feel uncomfortably full. The food is novel because you rarely eat it (or only eat it as part of a binge), and your body fears that it will never get it again. So, it makes absolute sense that you’d eat as much as you physically can.
But if you continue to eat this food frequently, over time you’ll become relaxed around it and you’ll be able to eat it in a completely different way.
In my work as an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I have helped hundreds of women get to a place of freedom and ease around food.
Unconditional permission can sometimes feel like jumping into the sea without a life raft, but taking this brave step yields incredible results. Trust me!
The power of unconditional permission to eat all foods
You might be wondering, “Why is giving myself unconditional permission to eat all foods so important?”
I understand your skepticism. I felt the same way too, a long time ago. When I was stuck in diet culture, I believed that my diet kept me in check. I believed that I couldn’t be trusted around some foods because I ate them until I felt unwell every single time I ate them. I figured that unconditional permission would mean repeating this cycle over again and again.
However, not giving yourself unconditional permission is exactly what’s keeping those foods so challenging for you!
Those foods are holding power over you because you enjoy them, but you’re placing so many rules around them that they’re up on a pedestal. You become obsessed with them because you’re constantly restricting them or feeling guilty when you do eat them.
Unconditional permission to eat all foods is a key element in becoming an intuitive eater. For more info on this specific topic, check out my other article: Make Peace with Food here.
When you take the courageous step of allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat these foods, they will eventually become completely neutral. You’ll be able to eat them when you want and let them sit in the pantry (or freezer) when you don’t. You’ll even be able to eat them and feel physically good afterward!
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?!
It’s not. I watch women step into this glorious new relationship with food every single day and you can experience this too!
But all too often, I see women get stuck because they are unknowingly sabotaging their efforts.
How you might be sabotaging your progress towards your goal of unconditional permission.
Perhaps you’ve ditched dieting and started eating all your forbidden foods. You feel like you’re giving yourself unconditional permission, but it’s been a few months and you still don’t feel at peace around food. You think – “Maybe this won’t work for me!”
Please don’t give up yet! If you’re like most women with whom I work, you might be unintentionally sabotaging your progress, and making a mindset shift might be what you need to experience real peace and freedom around all foods.
What I didn’t realize on my own Intuitive eating journey- and you might relate to this too – is that I wasn’t giving myself unconditional permission at all!
Sure, I’d eat these foods from time to time, but:
- I’d feel guilty when I ate them.
- I’d stand at the counter, often at night, quickly eating the food.
- I’d often hide the fact that I ate these foods from others.
- I’d only allow them infrequently – maybe once a week, or once a month.
- Sometimes I’d find diet or lower-calorie versions of the food – that didn’t taste quite as good.
- I’d immediately regret eating them and would be eager to get back on track.
Does that sound unconditional to you?
Hint: It’s not.
If you think about the scenarios above, you might see certain themes:
- The belief that you don’t really deserve to eat these foods.
- That if you eat them, you need to sneak around to do so.
- That you cannot trust yourself to make good or healthy decisions around food.
In the Intuitive Eating book, this is called pseudo permission. You’re half in and half out when you are in a state of pseudo-permission.
Your brain and body know that you aren’t really buying into this unconditional thing and it’s backfiring by keeping you stuck. In fact, when one of my clients is stalled in their process of making peace with food, I help them to address their pseudo-permission through mindset shifts and specific actions when they are eating.
The best news is that through the power of unconditional permission, you can get to a place where all foods will feel neutral and you will be empowered to choose the foods you want according to a host of factors that include your taste buds.
What unconditional permission to eat in action looks like:
- Keeping an adequate supply of the food in your house. Hint: it will probably be more than your recovering dieter brain wants you to have!
- Eating the food frequently – at least a few times a week.
- Telling yourself that it is OK to eat this food and that you deserve to eat it. I love to encourage my clients to practice saying it out loud.
- Eating the brand and flavor that is most appealing – to YOU!
- Not measuring the amount you’re eating. And allowing yourself to get seconds or thirds!
- Putting the food on a nice plate or in a bowl and sitting down to eat it. This allows you to get real enjoyment out of your food!
Now, this process takes time.
In a world of quick fixes, sometimes we have unrealistic expectations. I encourage you to give yourself at least 3 months to tackle this element. However, if you’ve been on and off diets for 20-30 years, this process may take longer. And, if you have lots of foods that feel forbidden, you’ll need extra time to work through all of them.
The key to experiencing peace around all foods is to keep going with unconditional permission to eat all foods. After some time, you WILL feel at ease around food.
If you want additional guidance to help you explore unconditional permission to eat, download my Make Peace with Food Workbook today. It will guide you through the process of eating one of your forbidden foods – a key step on your journey towards food peace!
Perhaps you’ve already tried this step but you feel like you need more individualized support.
If you want to know what it’s like to have the support and guidance of a professional as you work towards making peace with food, schedule your complimentary Take Action Call with me so you can learn what it’s like to have individualized support!
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”