What Food Freedom Tastes Like

With the Fourth of July upon us, I’ve been reflecting on what Independence Day was like for me as a kid.

Naturally, the fireworks were the highlight of the holiday. However, I also have very fond memories of the food.

I recall kicking off the festivities with a pancake breakfast at our local pool. I happily gobbled up syrup-soaked flapjacks topped with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream in honor of the occasion.

After hours of swimming and playing with my neighborhood friends, the day would end with a big block party. What a thrill it was to be able to ride my banana-seat bike down the middle of our street!

Picnic tables were hauled from backyards and covered with an array of homemade summer dishes, while a couple of grills smoked away on the sidelines.

Food-Fueled Fun
My nighttime fun was fueled by ketchup-covered hot dogs, honey baked beans, buttery corn-on-the-cob, crisp watermelon wedges, salty chips and dip, and very patriotic Jell-O salads. All of this was washed down with thirst-quenching cups of lemonade.

No matter what I ate, I always had room for a fudgy brownie or strawberry shortcake topped with rapidly melting vanilla ice cream.

I ate what looked good, sounded good and felt good in my body. Sometimes I ate it all, and sometimes I left some behind.

I ate freely and intuitively.

Not Yet Tainted
My young mind hadn’t been tainted yet by diet culture—an oppressive system full of food rules, eating restrictions, good/bad food lists, careful counting (e.g., calories, points, macros, etc.), weight stigma and false promises.

I hadn’t been taught yet that I should be hyper-vigilant with food and micro-manage every morsel.

No one had told me yet that my body couldn’t be trusted and that I needed to rely on a plan or program to tell me how to eat.

I hadn’t learned to abhor my belly, demonize certain foods, feel ashamed about my eating and compensate for my food “sins.”

I didn't worry about others judging my choices nor did I play Hide & Eat to keep myself safe from scrutiny.

Do I Want It?
While I loved all that food, I had more exciting and important things to focus on, like water-balloon tosses, sparklers and bottle rockets.

As an Intuitive Eater, I just ate and moved on.

Eating was simply a matter of: I can have it. Do I want it?

Diet Mentality Takes Over
Unfortunately, all of this changed as I entered my teenage years and began adopting the diet mentality powered by salads, rice cakes and diet sodas (hello, Tab!).

My desire to achieve the “thin ideal” led to decades of disordered eating.

Thankfully, with help from some very wise guides, I eventually broke free from diet culture and made peace with food and my body.

The healing process wasn’t easy or fast. Some days, I feel like I'm still a work-in-progress. But, it’s all been worth it.

Ending the war I was waging against myself enabled me to return to the food freedom and body liberation I experienced as a young girl.   

It’s Still Within You
I’m sharing this story as a reminder that we all came into this world as Intuitive Eaters—that is, we ate based on our instincts, inner cues and desires. We ate without worry, guilt, fear or shame.  

Sadly, we’re losing touch with our ability to eat intuitively at a younger and younger age. Shockingly, an estimated 80 percent of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet.

I’m also sharing my experience to assure you that if you’ve become disconnected from the Intuitive Eater within you, you can reconnect with it.

It hasn’t gone away. It’s just buried under layers of diet-culture gunk, which today, is often packaged under the guise of “wellness.”

Magical Powers Not Required
I don’t have any magical powers. My clients don’t either. If we can relearn how to listen to and trust our bodies, so can you.

“I’m no longer searching for the ‘answer’ to the perfect way to eat. I don’t stress about how I eat because it isn’t that big of a deal anymore. I no longer believe those food guilt thoughts and that is F-R-E-E-D-O-M!”
–Client Molly

Are You a Pseudo-Dieter?

After years of jumping from one diet to the next and being a slave to the scale, Val hit rock-bottom.

Fed up with the weight-loss roller coaster and obsessing over every morsel she ate, she swore off dieting.

Yet, months after joining the "anti-diet" movement, she still shuns carbs, never eats after 7 p.m., and runs a few extra miles whenever she has dessert.

Val is a pseudo-dieter.

She genuinely believes she’s given up dieting, yet she continues to engage in dieting behaviors.

 As a result, she still experiences many of the side effects of dieting, including feeling anxious when eating in social situations, intense food cravings, feeling out of control with her “trigger foods” (ice cream and chips), and feeling guilt, shame and anger when she thinks she’s eaten badly.

Deeply Ingrained
As with Val, the diet mentality can be so deeply ingrained—or hidden under the guise of “health" or "wellness”—that many of us “non-dieters” don’t realize we’re actually pseudo-dieting and that our restrictive eating behaviors make us vulnerable to the physical and psychological damage dieting causes.

Here are some more examples of pseudo-dieting: 

  • Eating only “clean” or “whole” foods.

  • Limiting carb, protein or fat grams regardless of what your body desires or needs.

  • Compensating for eating “bad” foods by doing extra exercise, skipping your next meal, eating less tomorrow, or going on a detox.

  • Eating at only certain times of the day despite your hunger level.

  • Becoming vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. for the sole (and often secret) purpose of losing weight.

  • Putting on a “false food face” in public by eating what you think you should rather than what you really want (e.g., ordering the healthiest item on the menu, forgoing the bread basket, skipping dessert).

  • Determining what you deserve to eat based on what you ate earlier in the day or if you exercised, rather than your hunger level.

Releasing the Diet Mentality
Just like an official diet program, pseudo-dieting disconnects you from your body inhibiting your ability to hear and honor the messages it’s sending you.

 And, as I mentioned earlier, all restrictive eating, no matter how it’s labeled, leaves you vulnerable to the pitfalls of dieting, from binge eating and weight cycling to social withdrawal and a preoccupation with food.

If you want to heal your relationship with food and your body, you need to truly let go of the diet mentality and relearn how to nourish your body based on internal cues versus external rules.

As pseudo-dieting behaviors can be quite subtle and disentangling from diet culture can be very difficult (but not impossible!), it can be helpful to receive support and guidance. I’m here for you if you need me.

Source: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.

Becoming a Food Anthropologist Helped End My Binge Eating

When I used to binge on peanut-butter chocolate-chunk cookies while hiding in my dark kitchen late at night, my internal dialogue afterward sounded something like this:

“I’m so disgusting. I have no self-control. My willpower sucks. I can’t be trusted to have cookies in the house. I should know better by now. Why can’t I eat like a normal person? Starting tomorrow, no more sugar; I'm addicted!”

These voices in my head were anything but helpful, especially since I would find myself back in the same place doing the same thing again just a few days later.

Unable to take this torturous binge-repent-repeat cycle anymore, I reached out for help. A very wise teacher taught me that I had a choice: I could either ban the cookies or ban the voices.

Since I loved the cookies and hated the voices, the decision was pretty easy—even though it seemed like an impossible feat considering how ingrained in my brain the voices were.

A Powerful Ally Voice
Making peace with food and your body requires silencing the voices in your head that are constantly critiquing, criticizing and condemning your eating.

Replacing these disempowering, unhelpful voices with empowering, supportive voices is key for reclaiming the Intuitive Eater within you.

One of the ally voices identified in Intuitive Eating that my clients and I really gravitate toward is the Food Anthropologist.

The Food Anthropologist is a neutral observer of your thoughts and actions.

It doesn’t make any judgments or emotionally react. Instead, it witnesses what’s going on from a place of pure objectivity.

Unlike your internal Food Police that dictate if you’re good or bad based on what or how you ate, the Food Anthropologist simply states the facts. It sounds like this:

  • I ate six cookies at 10:30 p.m. and experienced stomach pain and feelings of guilt, regret and shame.

  • I skipped lunch, which led to strong sugar cravings at 3 p.m.

  • My eating felt out of control with all the different food options at the party.

  • The uncomfortable pressure in my stomach indicated I was full, yet I continued eating. I was angry at myself for overeating.

  • When I felt anxious yesterday, I ate a pint of ice cream while watching TV.

Distant Perspective, Deeper Connection
The Food Anthropologist voice gives you much-needed distant perspective. Yet, it also helps you stay in touch with your physical and psychological cues by eliminating all the noise that typically disrupts this connection and clouds your thinking.

When coupled with curiosity, the Food Anthropologist helps you expand your self-awareness and empowers you to better understand and release beliefs and behaviors that are no longer serving you.

Not a Lack of Willpower
When I became an objective observer of my binge-repent-repeat cycle, I was able to see clearly what was driving my cookie binges. It didn’t have anything to do with a lack of discipline or willpower, a character flaw or a sugar addiction.

Instead, I discovered my binge eating was driven by multiple factors including a restrictive diet, rigid food rules, a false persona, perfectionism and a pleasure deficiency. By addressing the root causes of my behavior and amplifying my ally voices, my binge eating eventually stopped.

If the loudest voice in your head is a critical one, it can take time to shift to a neutral, nonjudgmental voice like the Food Anthropologist. If you would like help identifying and strengthening your ally voices, give me a shout.