What Does it Mean to Give Yourself Unconditional Permission to Eat?
One of the most essential but challenging pieces of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat means:
Letting go of food rules
This means letting go of dieting, counting calories, and other food rules (ie: avoiding foods that contain sugar, fat, or carbohydrates). It also means letting go of other more subtle food rules such as:
If I’m going out for dinner, I'll cut back on how much I eat during the day, regardless of hunger and fullness cues.
I eat “carefully” on the weekdays and then eat whatever I want on the weekends.
Letting go of judgment about food
This means changing the way that you conceptualize food and eating so that food is not valued as “good” or “bad” and your morality or sense of self worth are not affected by the foods that you eat.
Satisfaction and enjoyment play a role in your food choices
When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, satisfaction becomes a big part of your eating and you choose foods that will give you pleasure. You can learn to eat foods that you desire while being attuned to your hunger and fullness cues. This allows you to truly experience the taste and effect of food in your body.
Eating without obligatory penance
This means giving yourself permission to enjoy food without having to “make up for it later” through exercise or restrictive eating. If you allow yourself to have certain foods but then believe that you have to exercise to make up for it, you are not giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Guilt and shame are no longer a part of your eating experiences
Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize if we do truly give ourselves unconditional permission to eat. There is a difference between eating a type of food such as chocolate and giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat that food. Sometimes we give ourselves pseudo permission. We will eat the chocolate but we feel guilty, as though we are breaking a rule which may result in criticizing or shaming ourselves. This often followed by the conviction to limit these foods in the future. Therefore we may be physically eating the food but emotionally depriving ourselves in the future. This is not giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat. The process of becoming an intuitive eater means that we no longer experience feelings of guilt or shame around our eating.
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat can be very scary and may feel counterintuitive to the way that you've eaten for many years. However in order to become an intuitive eater and make peace with food, it’s absolutely essential that you give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Doing so allows you to be able to respond to your body’s wisdom and listen to your hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues. Restricting yourself from eating certain foods leads to psychological deprivation. Whenever you are deprived of something that you like or need, you will begin to long for it, resulting in obsessive thinking about food. When you giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, this leads to food habituation and the foods that once seemed exciting or forbidden lose their allure. Once you truly know that you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, the novelty and excitement of eating forbidden foods starts to wane. You will also start to want a satisfying experience with these foods. The desire to binge or eat to the point of discomfort will be gone. However without giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, you will continue to feel deprived and unsatisfied with your eating which may keep you stuck in the restriction-binging cycle.
The idea of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat can be a difficult concept to wrap your mind around especially if you have a history of restrictive eating. The notion of unconditional permission is counter to what you’ve internalized through diet culture, which is that certain foods are “bad’ and that you need to exert “self control” over these foods. Because this concept is counterintuitive to what we know and to what everyone around is telling us, it can be difficult to put into practice even if we intellectually understand it. If you want to learn more or need help with giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, I urge you to reach out for intuitive eating coaching.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York: St. Martin’s Press.