Believe it or not, it’s not about willpower
Feeling as if food dominates your life is common, but it doesn’t have to be! Many of our clients report feeling out of control around food and often associate this with a lack of self-restraint. However, over the years, we have identified a pattern of three common behaviours that these clients share, and you might be surprised to find it has nothing to do with willpower! Keep reading to find out what they are and how to counteract them.
The problem: Delayed eating
Waiting long periods of time between meals and snacks is a sure-fire way to trigger feelings of powerlessness around food as your body attempts to compensate.
This is known as the restrict-binge cycle.
Essentially, when the body is feeling deprived of nutrition, even if only for a few extra hours, it will create increasingly stronger urges for you to eat as a survival mechanism.1 When you do finally begin eating, you’ll likely feel out of control as your body tries to make up for the food it missed. Oftentimes you’ll end up eating more than normal as your body attempts protect itself from future famine.
The solution: Regular and adequate eating
Eating at regular intervals is one of the simplest ways to feel more control around food if you’ve been delaying your meals. Research has shown restriction is a key cause of bingeing, and so it’s important to provide your body with consistent nutrition.1 A good guide is the rule of threes – having three meals and three snacks across the day, each approximately three hours apart.
The problem: Portion control
Messages related to portion sizes seem to come from every direction – social media, news stories, public health projects, ads – the list goes on! Despite being relentless and definitive in an effort to inform us of what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to portioning, these messages are incredibly unhelpful.
Firstly, the idea that there is a right or wrong way to eat is not only incorrect but activates feelings of guilt, shame and confusion. Even if you are portioning in a way that is right for your body, messages telling you otherwise can make you feel out of control for not meeting these “requirements”.
Secondly, every body is different and we don’t all need (or want!) the same portions of different foods. The amount of food needed not only varies between individuals, but can shift within a person from day to day, depending on factors like exercise, sleep, injury or illness, menstrual cycle and stress.2,3
If you are basing your portion sizes on what you think you are supposed to have, you may not be eating enough. As noted above, restriction (whether intentional or not) is a major trigger for feeling out of control around food.
The solution: Relying on internal cues rather than external cues
You don’t need to be told how much food to eat by other people – you already have a perfect system to let you know how much you need. Your hunger and fullness cues!
By tuning in more to your internal cues (ie. How you’re feeling) instead of external cues (ie. What you think you should do), you’ll be able to get a better sense of what your body needs on any given day. By combining this internal awareness with a sound understanding of basic nutrition principles, you’ll be feeling more in control around food in no time! Learn more about how to tune into these cues and how to feel your fullness.
Repeat after us: Your body has your back!
The problem: Restricting certain foods
When we talk about restriction, we are talking about not only physical restriction (as discussed above) but also mental restriction.
Mental restriction stems from food rules that inform what is “good” and “bad” when it comes to eating. Despite having adequate nutrition, by avoiding certain foods that you have deemed “off limits”, you are inadvertently reinforcing to your brain that you cannot be trusted around food, leading to the anticipation of restriction.
Metal restriction has the same effects as physical restriction in terms of the body responding by increasing the desire and drive for these foods.4 The forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden is the perfect analogy of this – we always want the thing we can’t have!
The solution: Giving yourself permission to eat all foods.
The third principle of Intuitive Eating is to make peace with food. Part of this is removing the “good” and “bad” labels from food and taking them down from their pedestal. By doing this, foods lose their ability to induce guilt and shame, instead sparking joy and connection.
When all foods are allowed, your body doesn’t feel deprived and consequently has no need to make up for what it feels it has lost. “Forbidden” foods become less intoxicating and you’ll find yourself being able to enjoy them without fear of losing control.
If you’re thinking this is all much easier said than done, we hear you! We would love to support you one-on-one on your journey towards food freedom. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can help.
Karli Battaglia, APD
EHL Team x
- Polivy J, Herman C. Dieting and binging: A causal analysis. American Psychologist. 1985;40(2):193-201.
- Hirotsu C, Tufik S, Andersen M. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Science. 2015;8(3):143-152.
- Brown S, Morrison L, Calibuso M, Christiansen T. The Menstrual Cycle and Sexual Behavior: Relationship to Eating, Exercise, Sleep, and Health Patterns. Women & Health. 2008;48(4):429-444.
- Polivy J. Psychological Consequences of Food Restriction. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1996;96(6):589-592.