Unconditional permission to eat – confusing choosing not to eat with restriction

When people enter onto the Intuitive Eating path, one of the most important steps is to give themselves unconditional permission to eat. After years – sometimes decades – of deprivation, good and bad foods, and resisting “temptation” until they couldn’t take it anymore, many find this step daunting.

And yet…intriguing.

The idea that they could make peace with food and their bodies, find a natural body weight, and eat what and when and how much they actually want to feel satisfied sounds pretty freaking great.

But in figuring out the finer points of this non-diet approach and how it applies in their individual lives, many people reach a point at which choosing not to eat – even when comfortably full – feels akin to that familiar restriction that deprived them of satisfaction for all those years.

This highlights perfectly how essential full and unconditional permission to eat is. Because when you have full permission to do something, choosing to do it and choosing not to do it are on basically the same level.

And part of unconditional permission to eat sometimes means choosing not to eat because it’s the right decision for you in that moment.

Say you reach the point in a delicious meal – about three-quarters of the way through – when you realize that it’s not tasting quite as wonderful as it did when you first started eating it. At the same time, your stomach is feeling fuller, but not yet to the point where your waistband feels too tight. That might be a good time to gently but with precision punctuate this awareness by saying to yourself “I could continue to eat this delicious food but I choose not to in this moment because I…would rather eat the rest later when I’m hungry again and it will taste better to me” or “because I am curious to see what it feels like to stop at this point, knowing I could always have more in 15 minutes.”

The same approach could be used in those moments when you gravitate toward food out of an emotional rather than physical hunger. Yes, you can choose to eat any time you want and part of intuitive eating may include doing this at times. If we are honest with ourselves, however, we might discover that in fact food is not what we need in that moment. In such a situation, we might say to ourselves “Yes, I could have this ice cream but I choose not to in this moment because I think my true hunger is for companionship and ice cream can’t give me that” or “because I would like to try to face this feeling of loneliness directly for a few minutes just to see if I can.”

If moments like these are arising for you and still feel like restriction, it might be a sign to reexamine whether you’ve truly given yourself unconditional permission to eat or if you are still harboring some food rules and diet mentality.

Once you start experimenting with this approach, however, you might discover what satisfaction and “enough” truly feel like and remember who’s really in charge here!