I’m Afraid I Won’t Stop Eating if I Stop Dieting
“I’m afraid I won’t stop eating.”
We’d like to address this incredibly common fear of letting go of dieting. You might think that if you’re afraid to eat anything and everything that you want, you’ll never stop eating.
And we know you’re not afraid of binge eating kale salads or lean proteins. You’re terrified of eating pizza and cookies and chips and ice cream every day for the rest of your life and winding up on TLC being airlifted out of your home. You might be thinking, will food freedom be worth it? Does it mean I’m just letting it all go to hell?
No, friend. It doesn’t. In fact, there’s a research-backed phenomenon that all but ensures that if you’re practicing the 10 principles of intuitive eating in earnest, you will not, in fact, want pizza and cookies every, single day. You might even get sick of them and crave vegetables in the very near future.
Unconditional permission to eat is one of four foundational characteristics of intuitive eating that we assess (to see how you score, click here to take the Intuitive Eating Quiz). And one of the reasons it’s so vitally important to healing is because of the habituation response.
Humans quickly adapt to repeated experience – and subsequently experience less pleasure each time. It’s a universal phenomenon that applies in many situations in life – new car, relationship, home, item of clothing, etc. These things are pleasurable and rewarding at first, but as the novelty wears off they become less exciting and more routine.
As Daniel Gilbert says, “Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.”
The same phenomenon occurs with food. It’s why leftovers decrease in appeal. And why, when we eat any food over and over and over again, we tend to lose interest. There’s a ton of research to show that food habituation occurs in all foods, not just hard boiled eggs and Brussels sprouts. It’s actually a neurobiological learning process. Eating the same food causes a decrease in behavioral and physiologic responses (Epstein 2009).
How Dieting Works Against Food Habituation
When we attempt to restrict or completely remove certain foods or food groups from our diet, it heightens the novelty and desirability of these forbidden foods. When we inevitably have that “screw it” moment and break our rules, we tend to eat these forbidden foods until we feel like shit – due to a complete lack of habituation to them. The whole “I’m afraid I won’t stop eating thing” is caused by dieting itself.
Combine zero habituation, excessive hunger and a fear of never being allowed to eat these foods again, you’re got one perfect recipe for a binge, an emotional eating episode or Last Supper syndrome. These eating experiences are typically followed by the guilt, shame and disgust that pulls us back into compensatory or punitive thoughts that drive us back to the restriction. And around and around we go.
Pizza is not a big deal when you’re always allowed to have pizza.
Chocolate cake doesn’t remain sinfully delicious if you remove the sin and allow it whenever you want.
The Point is Not to Never Want Pizza and Cake Again
A common hope early in the intuitive eating process is that if I eat enough chocolate cake, it will fix me and I will never want to eat chocolate cake again. That’s not the point. We’re not giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat in order to get sick of our favorite foods. It’s simply to experience food habituation so that the novelty and desirability of these forbidden foods wane back to normal levels.
We go deeper into this entire lesson on the pod this week. Which you can listen to here:
Food Habituation is Part of the Larger Intuitive Eating Process
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating that we work through to help our clients heal their relationship with food along with the body image work required to make peace with their bodies. Food habituation won’t be experienced if we’re not working the entire framework together.
Intuitive eating isn’t just about allowing all foods. It’s not just about eating whatever we want, as much as we want, whenever we want. Sure, we have to allow all foods, but we also have to work toward hearing and honoring our hunger and fullness cues, fighting back against the food police, coping with our emotions, building interoceptive awareness and attunement, among other things.
This is a self-care eating framework to help you heal from dieting and stop feeling out of control around food, but it’s way more than just eating whatever you want.
Stop Dieting > Heal from Dieting > Become an Intuitive Eater
You might have tried this before. You might have already sworn off dieting and given up the food rules. But that’s not the same as healing your relationship with food. There’s a common misconception that we can just stop dieting. And sure, we can. But if you truly want to repair your relationship with food you have to go through the process of healing.
It goes 1.) Stop dieting. 2.) Heal from Dieting 3.) Become an Intuitive Eater. You can’t jump from 1 to 3 without going through 2.
With food specifically, and building a normal level of food habituation, there are five specific steps to making peace with each of these forbidden foods that make you feel out of control. And it requires the prerequisite of having practiced the second principle of Intuitive Eating as well. You cannot try to make peace with food if you’re not practicing principle number two.
To get all 10 principles in a handy, printable cheat sheet you can slap up on your fridge, click here.
And if you’re thinking “I’m afraid I won’t stop eating” and are serious about healing your relationship with food, we urge you to come work with us and get support and community. It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to live your life struggling with this. Come get some support and move on with your life. Book a free Breakthrough Session with us today and let’s get you on the path to food freedom.
Because remember, life’s too short to count your almonds.