Turn your back on food guilt this Easter

Easter has become a huge celebration of chocolate and if dieting, seeing all the Easter chocolate bunnies out in full force might fill you with anxiety and fear. The narrative on social media to "choose healthier options" or "exercise to burn off the calories", and the increasing culture of shame around eating habits over Easter is so unhelpful. Evidence shows restricting ourselves and attaching feelings of guilt or shame to foods can increase the risk of disordered eating such as binge eating, increased negative thoughts, anxiety and depression.

Clients commonly describe allowing themselves to enjoy copious chocolate (often in secret full of feelings such as guilt or shame) over Easter knowing afterwards they need to start their next diet to get “summer beach-body ready” and of course chocolate and and all other “bad foods” will be off the menu for a while. If swinging between periods of “being good” with “control over food” to erratic episodes of “out-of-control" eating sounds familiar you will have likely criticised, blamed yourself and your lack of willpower? But willpower is not to blame here at all. I want to share with you that dieting itself, and the self-imposed restrictions that come with a diet, are what drives binge eating, not your willpower!! Diet companies continue to fuel this idea that all you need is willpower to succeed, except it is now widely demonstrated in scientific literature that binge eating is a side effect of dieting! So the very nature of trying to restrict foods is what is driving you to overeat on such foods. Whilst this might sound crazy I hope to share with you how to break the binge-restrict cycle that is deep-rooted in diet culture and finally enjoy Easter guilt free.

How does dieting cause bingeing?

Diets tell us to restricts certain foods that we then perceive as “bad/unhealthy and forbidden foods” and restricting and labelling of such foods can

  • Increase the cravings and intense desire for forbidden foods which can contribute to overeating
  • Increase reward sensation i.e dieters experience higher reward and pleasure from forbidden foods than non-dieters do.
  • Stimulate the brain to “get excited” when exposed to these foods, increasing cravings and drive to eat more.
  • Deny the body of necessary nutrients which can lead to ravenous hunger and increased risk of bingeing
Turn your back on food guilt this Easter Image

Helps explain why we struggle to stop at one mini egg when we finally succumb to our cravings!

 

Additionally, when we fall off the “diet-wagon” and eat a forbidden food we can experience what is known as the “Last Supper Syndrome” – the “out of control” eating that happens before another diet. This frantic or “out of control” eating can increase feelings of guilt and shame which can ultimately drive us to overeat further as we believe this is our last binge as WE ARE/ WE MUST/WE NEED to start another diet tomorrow, and won’t get the chance to eat such foods for a while (or ever).. And so we continue to binge before the diet and restricting starts all over again.

Turn your back on food guilt this Easter image

How to stop bingeing?

Ultimately, the only way to stop binge eating is to truly let go of dieting…which I recognise is easier said than done when we live in a culture that constantly tells you your life’s happiness and your worth depends upon you eating (and looking) a certain way.

 

To move away from dieting completely might feel really scary, however a starting point might be to start to give yourself unconditional permission to eat and make space for all foods in your diet. When we avoid foods the desire to eat such food increases and as described above the feeling of restriction is what can lead to a binge.

 

Practising unconditional permission to eat allows you to experience food habituation, which is a reduced desire/pleasure experience with a specific food after repeated consumption. Foods can taste truly delicious when eaten for the first time/eaten on special occasions but when consumed regularly foods lose their sparkle, or the heightened pleasure we experience diminishes and we need less to satisfy ourselves. Habituating ourselves to foods reduces the need to binge on them as they are no longer forbidden foods. Unconditional permission to eat is one of the principles of Intuitive Eating.

 

Habituation isn’t just experienced with food…. Remember when your heart used to skip a beat or you got butterflies when you saw your significant other? Overtime those stomach butterflies fly away. Habituation also happens with a new bag, new home, new computer, new car, people etc – i.e. With repeated exposure we get less excited around them.

Turn your back on food guilt this Easter image

This year, rather than feeling guilt and shame around Easter or finding yourself knee-deep in all your kids Easter chocolates try an alternative approach and have an egg-cellent Easter:

1. Give yourself full permission to eat

Give yourself full permission to enjoy ALL foods: chocolate, pizza, potatoes, cake, avocado, pies you name it.   This means no guilt with whatever it is you choose to eat! Part of this process is to challenge all the food rules you have (conscious and subconscious) around foods that can feed into food restriction which we know will ultimately lead to overeating at some point.

 

Working within an intuitive eating framework you can challenge all food rules, remove food labels so all foods are emotionally equal, and learn to enjoy all foods any day you want them.

 

2. Ask yourself what you really want

Once all foods are allowed you can clearly think about what it is you really want. You might find that you aren’t really in the mood for the chocolate sitting on the table because it is no longer as alluring when you can have it guilt free. Or you might just want it. There is no wrong or right answer. It is figuring out for yourself what you really want!

 

3. Tune in to how it makes you feel

Once you decide what to eat take a moment to be present and notice the taste and texture. Is it as good as you imagined? If it is, enjoy it. If it isn’t – ditch it! You might just find that you don’t even like it anymore! You are not obligated to finish something you don’t like just because you took a bite. In this way you will make sure you eat foods that truly satisfy you.

 

4. Say NO to your inner critic (aka the Food Police)

Remember there are no “good”or “bad” foods, it’s only the diet industry that made up such food rules. Any time you start to tell yourself that you are eating something “bad”, criticise yourself or start to make deals with yourself on how to compensate for eating chocolate – you are creating rules which ultimately lead to restriction. Remember restriction creates feelings of deprivation and urgency which can lead to overeating. Instead, focus on creating a satisfying eating experience. You aren’t being “bad” if you want to enjoy chocolate!

 

Don’t forget it is the repeated exposure to “forbidden foods” that will eventually decrease the reward you experience from eating those foods. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat ALL foods, overtime the need to binge reduces. Trust the process and trust yourself!

Of course there are other reasons why we find ourselves over indulging – one reason being the food is simple delicious. For many people I work with food has become their way to deal with unwanted feelings including stress/boredom/anger etc. Whilst emotional eating is very functional and can help people to cope with stress etc it can become upsetting when this is the only coping strategy. I work with clients to help them identify other ways to manage unwanted feelings and build up their own emotional toolbox. This will be discussed in more detail in another blog coming soon.

 

For further reading click this link to find out why diets don’t work

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