How to Stop Restricting in Intuitive Eating

Whether you’re new to intuitive eating or have been at it for a while, I think you’re going to benefit from today’s discussion about (unconscious or unrealized) restriction. I’ve received many questions and comments lately that all revolve around restriction and today I'm digging deep into it to shed some light on where you're limiting yourself. 

For example:

…You want to eat a plate of vegetables, but doing so makes you feel “virtuous” — and triggers you to eat something you deem “bad”, “unhealthy,” or “indulgent.” 

…You don’t want to deprive yourself of sweets, but you don’t feel satisfied by the amount of sugar you’re eating until you feel you’ve overdone it. 

…You’re trying to create new health habits and behaviours, but your mind is always rebelling or resisting these changes. 

Intuitive eating, body positive, health at every size, non diet approach, nutrition. How to stop restricting in intuitive eating.

There’s all kinds of ways to restrict that impact our ability to eat in ways that feel good to us. 

Let’s take the first one. If you believe you’re being “good” by eating a plate of vegetables, you’re still working through your diet culture hangover. If eating a plate of vegetables triggers you to eat sweets, it’s possible that meal was not satisfying to you. 

But my biggest question here is: when you’re eating all the vegetables and rebelling, who are you eating the vegetables for? Why are you eating the vegetables? And be really honest here. If the answer is “with the hopes of weight loss,” it’s not actually the vegetables that are triggering the desire for sweets. It’s the perception of restriction and scarcity symbolized by the plate of vegetables. It's that you associate the plate of vegetables with dieting and weight loss. 

Put another way:

What you think is happening:

I eat vegetables —> I want and eat all the sweets 

What is actually happening:

I’m going to eat vegetables —> a plate of vegetables makes me think I’m dieting —> I want and eat all the sweets. 

The problem has nothing to do with the sweets or the vegetables, but your relationship with sweets and vegetables. Here’s a few ways you can tackle this issue:

  1. Get crystal clear on why you eat vegetables. What words come to mind? 
  2. What’s your goal? Why do you want to eat nutritious foods? How will your life change?
  3. Why do you associate vegetables with dieting and weight loss?
  4. Do you enjoy vegetables? How could you enjoy them more?
  5. Are you truly giving yourself permission to eat sweets?

Try asking yourself the above questions and unpacking this a bit further so you can really get at the bottom of what’s triggering you. 

Now let’s say you eat sugar, but you never feel satisfied by what you’re eating until you’ve overdone it and feel sick to your stomach. Let’s explore this. 

Maybe part of you knows if you eat too much sugar (for your body), you’ll get a stomach ache. 

Maybe part of you knows if you eat too much sugar (for your body), you’ll experience low energy.

And maybe these narratives are also competing with the following narratives:

I’ve always overdone sugar and I always will. I don’t know how to control myself around sugar. 

I’m addicted to sugar, but I guess I’ll *try* this intuitive eating thing…

Which further compound the issue. 

Here’s the thing: by placing expectations and limits on these foods before you’ve even started eating them you are engaging in a restrictive mindset. 

Here’s how I would solve this split, restrictive situation. 

  1. Sit down to eat without any distractions.
  2. Instead of going in with a set limit, try to exploring. E.g.: “I’m just going to see how many it takes to satisfies me.” Go in without any preconceived notions or judgment.
  3. Try eating your favourite foods slowly. This can take time and practice, especially if this food still carries a significant charge. This will also give you time to register when you’ve had enough sugar to satisfy. Take note of your pace. 

Now, what about when you’re trying to create new health habits and behaviours, but your mind is always rebelling? 

Unpack this. Do your new goals feel like too much to you? Oppressive? Restrictive? I want you to think really hard about what you actually want and why you want it. What will it give you? Get crystal clear on the meaning behind your goals so that they really are internally- vs. externally-driven. 

Sarah Berneche

Sarah Berneche, 14 Denison Square, Toronto, ON, M5T 1K8