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  • Paige Smathers

Are You Feeling Confused about Intuitive Eating? Pseudo-Permission Might Be to Blame


Have you ever had those moments where you feel like you just can't stop eating something? It can be tempting to blame permission, but restriction is really the culprit.


Let me take a few steps back. If you're new around here, maybe the term Intuitive Eating is something you're unfamiliar with. If so, please check out the following blog posts and podcast episodes to help you get a basic understanding of what we're talking about in this post.


In essence, Intuitive Eating is a framework that encourages folks to connect to their body and honor their hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and other cues the body gives for how to fuel and nourish yourself. Intuitive Eating rejects the diet mentality and encourages a more intrinsically motivated approach to feeding yourself. It's a framework built upon the foundation of permission with food, instead of the restrictive and punitive approach we're used to with dieting. It's working *with* your body, rather than against it.


Many people who are new to this approach will assume that this approach would lead to poorer nutrition patterns. The opposite is actually true. In one study, intuitive eaters were found to consume more fruits and vegetables on average than their dieting counterparts. In another study, intuitive eaters were associated with more regular physical activity habits than those who are in more of a dieting mindset with exercise. At this moment, there are over 100 studies validating the intuitive eating approach as a means for a healthier, more sustainable, and more positive approach to food and health than the typical dieting paradigm we've had for decades.


One of the core principles of intuitive eating is permission with food. Reminding yourself that you can have this food now, tomorrow and next week if you really want it allows yourself to then ask whether you really want this food now. Permission is critical in challenging the dieting mindset.


When ex-dieters first try implementing the concept of permission, they often experience an out of control eating episode (or more than one). They often then will mistakenly write off the concept of intuitive eating because feeling out of control with food is scary and it's understandable that experience would cause doubt.


But here's the rub: usually the first attempt with permission is actually pseudo-permission. And, it's often so subconscious that it's difficult to detect. Let's break it down.


When you finally allow yourself something you haven't allowed yourself to eat for a long time, usually you are bargaining in your head. You made it "okay" to give yourself permission to eat it because you tell yourself today is the last time, tomorrow you're back on your diet, etc. and that thought process right there–the bargaining to make it okay to eat this by promising you'll restrict in the future—is RESTRICTION, not permission.


Giving yourself permission with food means there's permission today, tomorrow, the next day and so on. There's no doubt that this mindset with food is likely radically different from the approach you've taken in the past. But, that's why it's so powerful. When you know you can enjoy this thing again, it allows you to access other important questions like: Do I want it now? Does it still taste good Am I still enjoying this? How am I feeling?


True permission is ongoing, not just something you do in a particular instance with a particular food. That ongoing permission and trust that you can eat it again makes it possible to connect to what you really want now.


So, don't blame permission if you've had an experience where you've felt out of control with a certain food. Take a look at where restriction is still creeping in. And remember, this is a journey and process! You will make mistakes, have missteps and struggle sometimes. This doesn't mean you're doing something wrong. This is all part of how you learn what works for you and hone in on an approach to food that feels sustainable, realistic, positive and health-promoting long-term.

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