Question from a reader: “Is it ever worth restricting certain food groups (sugar, dairy, etc.) on the advice that it might help something like PMS? Or is that just dangerous ‘good food’ and ‘bad food’ thinking?”
First of all, I’d like to start by saying that I believe intuitive eating is for everyone. Even those who choose/need to restrict certain food groups that would keep them on the toilet all night.
Intuitive eating, by definition is simply: a philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural signals (hunger, fullness, satisfaction) is a more effective way to attain health (and a healthy weight), rather than dieting/restricting/counting (which are damaging long term).
The paradigm shift for the intuitive eater is this: you’re allowed all foods. From this place, you ask yourself if eating x is worth feeling z.
So, here’s how I’d encourage a client (work with me).
Let’s use gluten as an example for someone who has Celiac Disease. This person will eat 100% gluten free, but her mindset is that it is her choice to eat gluten free, because when she eats gluten she knows that she will feel violently ill and that’s not worth it to her.
This same woman will also make sure that she has all of her favorite foods available in gluten free options. She will also seek out fun restaurants to try with gluten free options, and she will support herself by making sure she can feel just as satisfied without gluten.
When choosing what does and doesn’t work for you, you’re noticing which foods make a difference for you, and you’re asking yourself if you care (cause and effect).
For example, if kale makes me bloated, but I love it, at a time when I’m craving this food I may ask myself “am I willing to feel puffy and bloated?”
If yes, then I can have it.
If not, then I’ll more easily be able to pass it up because I gave myself the choice, versus deeming it off limits. There’s freedom in all of it, and we don’t have to have absolutes around food.
There was a period of time where I was working to clear up my PMS and I took a break from coffee because I noticed the caffeine was aggravating my anxiety. Instead of telling myself I wasn’t allowed to have coffee, I simply woke up each day and made the choice to have decaf.
I knew I had the option to have caffeinated coffee, but I was feeling so much better with decaf that I wanted to choose it. I was so thankful for a decrease in my levels of anxiety. The rewards of having decaf instead were huge.
Having the freedom to make this choice removed the mental energy it takes when something is restricted. It allows us to make a choice from “how do I want to feel?” versus “I can’t have that,” which sometimes makes us think we want a food/drink when we don’t actually want it.
The unconditional permission to eat piece is huge.
When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat you crowd out the “justification thoughts” (black and white thoughts we use to justify eating something, usually in a way that is not honoring to our bodies or what we actually want) that lead us toward eating in ways that don’t feel well.
Some examples of this are:
- “Eat it all now, this is your last chance. Come Monday, we’ll never eat this again.” (*not enjoying the food that much, eating as much as you can as fast as you can)
- “You’re so bad.” (*continues eating the whole tub of ice cream out of the carton)
- “It’s my cheat day” (*thinking about how it’s your cheat day while you’re eating instead of actually enjoying the food)
I knew I had permission to have real coffee if I really wanted it and that permission allowed me to take a break for a few months, let my body rest from the caffeine, and then when I was ready, have it again.
The permission cleared space for me to listen to what I actually needed.
Also, some foods we’ve thought bothered us historically might be okay in certain quantities. For example, when I used to eat ice cream I would eat it in massive quantities because I was never allowed to have it.
When all of my experiences with ice cream were eating massive amounts, it made sense that I thought ice cream equalled a bloated and upset stomach.
However, when I learned that I could always have it anytime I really wanted it (unconditional permission to eat), I also learned that if I just had a little bit and savored it I could enjoy it AND feel good afterward.
I learned to love this feeling-good after ice cream experience so much that now when I eat ice cream I only want a little bit. I want to enjoy it and to feel good in my body after I eat it.
SO, the answer is yes and no.
Yes, there are times where it may be good for you (everyone is different) to not have a certain food, but no, I don’t believe it’s beneficial or necessary to deem something off limits or think about it in a way that causes you to feel like you have no choice.
The key here is to remember that you always have a choice and from there, practice making empowered choices that leave you feeling happy, satisfied, and healthy.
All things considered, nothing is off limits, and we have the choice in each moment to choose what we want to eat.
I hope that helps!
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