Posts tagged Trigger Foods
Are you "addicted" to food or just deprived?

“I’m addicted to chocolate.”

“Cheese is my weakness.”

“I can’t stop eating almond butter.”

“Candy is irresistible.” 

“Can’t eat just one.”

When we talk about the foods we love, do you ever notice how Puritanical we get? These are all phrases that suggest we can’t control ourselves around the foods we love (and we need to be controlled.

While we can “feel” addicted to foods, clinical food addiction just isn’t a thing at this time. Even MSG-laden Chinese take-out, loaded ketchup chips, or Haribo tangfastics (my personal favourite…please send). Of course we love these foods, but it is very natural to eat and enjoy delicious foods — not pathological. 


In contrast, diet culture and its symptoms, like weight suppression, food restriction, over-exercise, and so on, are pathological and have well-studied psychological and physiological consequences. 

Adhering to diet culture feels good because being thin or performing thinness upholds the status quo. Because thinness is idealized, being thin or doing “thin things” — like hitting the gym, drinking green smoothies, or "working on our gut health” — helps us to feel superior. Except dieting requires restriction by its very definition — either physiological or psychological — and scarcity leads us to feel “addicted” to food.

Allowing ourselves to fully enjoy and savour food feels foreign and wrong because we’re rebelling against the very system trying to keep us in our place

But by denying diet culture and working toward food freedom, you offer yourself the opportunity to move away from food and body preoccupation.

To reject diet culture’s trappings and dissolve feelings of “addiction”, I’ve isolated 2 types of food deprivation (restriction) that must be worked through:


Overt permission is superficial and involves three main points: a) eating what you want, b) when you want, c) in the quantity you want. 

You may feel that if you “allow” yourself to eat cookies whenever you want that you will never choose another snack, or if you let yourself just have the lasagna or macaroni and cheese you’ll never choose anything other than pasta. But habituation theory suggests otherwise: eventually, you’ll tire of these foods (yes, even of your favourite foods!) and opt for something else. Humans are hard-wired for variety, so even if it seems this way, it’s because you’ve been living within a restrictive framework — not because these foods are inherently addictive. Remember that bingeing, overeating, and other “problematic” behaviours are reactions to restriction, not to permission. 

In short: connect with your internal wisdom and let yourself eat what it is you desire, eat to satisfaction (don’t go hungry or intentionally under-eat), and allow yourself to eat when you want (whether you’re hungry again two hours after breakfast, want a snack at 9pm, or just feel like having popcorn with the movie you’re watching.) 


Authentic (and unconditional) permission goes deeper. In my experience, it also takes more practice and time to grasp and implement. 

Let’s say you’re eating what you want, when you want, and in the amount you desire. Yet you’re still bingeing or generally feel out of control around and obsessed with food. 

Let’s talk about how you’re eating and what you’re thinking. 

Many people who believe they are practicing unconditional permission are actually self-sabotaging. Eating in secret — hiding food, only eating certain foods when you’re alone, hiding wrappers or containers — is a subtle form of restriction. 

And even though intellectually you may know you are allowed to eat what you want, it takes time for our emotions to catch up. This may explain why you still feel guilt and/or shame when eating certain foods, for you believe you should not be eating them. With time and practice (and help from me, if you like!) you can begin to integrate the lessons and eat without shame or guilt.

Let me know in the comments: do you engage in overt or subtle forms of restriction? 

In Defence of Cookies: Why Sugar is Not a Drug

With the sheer amount of fear-mongering inspired by the unicorn frappuccino, I figured it was far time to set the record straight. While I love pure maple syrup and local honey, my kind of cookie includes some kind of sugar. And though there’s much to be said for “natural sweeteners,” I think we often forget sugar is a natural sweetener, too, sourced from the stems of sugar cane or the roots of sugar beets. 

Health experts are generally quick to criminalize sugar. Sugar is “bad”, sugar “causes obesity” or “leads to obesity”, sugar makes us fat, sugar gives us various diseases and leads to metabolic syndrome, sugar is the devil, sugar is a drug. And though sugar isn’t exactly a vegetable, there’s no reason why kale can’t co-exist with real, fresh-out-of-the-oven oatmeal cookies. 

Intuitive eating | Health at Every Size | Anti-Diet. In Defence of Cookies - why sugar is not a drug.


Pour Some Sugar On Me, Baby: Sugar and Survival

An article published in the European Journal of Nutrition back in 2016 reviewed the current literature on sugar addiction and the addictive potential of sugar, concluding that sugar does not, in fact, operate like cocaine. I’m exploring this study today and what it means for cookie lovers everywhere.

But first, I want to draw your attention to a little snippet from a book by the name of Sugar: A Global History: “Sweet foods cause the taste buds to release neurotransmitters that light up the brain’s pleasure centres. The brain responds by producing endo-cannabinoids, which increase appetite. This may have an evolutionary explanation…40 per cent of the calories in breast milk come from lactose, a disaccharide sugar that is readily metabolized into glucose, the body’s basic fuel. The sweetness leads infants to eat more, making them more likely to survive.” (7.)

Yes, loves. Sugar’s not all bad. It has actually contributed to the survival of our species. But we don’t need gobs of it, you argue. Sure. But I would also argue (with supportive evidence) that if we simply allowed ourselves to eat it, we would eat only what we wanted (and not feel powerless around it), develop resilience in the face of hyper-palatable foods, and learn how to balance it with other foods.

The fruit was never the problem; it was the fact that it was forbidden

“But I’m addicted to sugar!”: Food Addiction Theory

Once upon a time, someone — let’s call her Eve, since we’re already there — mentioned she was addicted to sugar. “I can’t resist the apple,” she said. Okay, so she didn’t actually say that, but let’s pretend a donut is an apple is a donut. While the food addiction theory claims “excessive consumption of palatable foods may be understood within the same neurobiological framework as drug addiction”, this isn’t actually all that helpful. 

Of course it would appear this way on the surface, but you could also say we’re only repeating the pattern you’d expect from us — the same one we learned in childhood (see: baby and breast milk). The same one that keeps us alive. As Linda Bacon explains in Health at Every Size, the more we restrict food intake and the lower our weight dips below set-point, the more our bodies reach out for hyper-caloric foods to gain the weight back. I would argue it's less addiction and more straight-up physiology. 

In Obesity Reviews (14 - 19-28), the question of whether food addiction theory is a valid or useful concept was evaluated by researchers. Food addiction, according to them, “has acquired much currency with relatively little supporting evidence. Despite continuing uncertainty about the concept and relative lack of support, it has remarkable, and in our view, unjustified, influence in developing neurobiological models of obesity."

We Need Sugar Detoxes...Because Sugar Detoxes Exist

The intuitive eating model advocates that all foods fit — including sugar. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat, challenging the food police, making peace with food, and honouring our hunger and fullness cues (including ‘taste hunger’, ‘meal hunger’, and ‘snack hunger’), we can cultivate a healthy relationship with food. 

This particular article (the one from the European Journal of Nutrition) found “little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar (emphasis mine). These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar”. 

So let’s unpack this a bit. 

Say we have two situations. 

Betty Anne deprives herself of sugar, though she wouldn’t describe it this way. She’d probably say things like, “I don’t keep sweets in the house” or “I shouldn’t” in response to a cookie, or she uses artificial sweeteners and always opts for diet soda. She feels “out of control” whenever she’s around sugar and has concluded that she is addicted. 

Keiko eats whatever she wants, including cookies, candy, and pastries. She looks forward to sitting down with a croissant and a coffee on a Saturday morning, having a cookie with her mid-afternoon cup of tea, and a great glass of lemonade. 

Keiko eats sugar. Maybe she eats sweet foods often. Who knows? What we do know is that Keiko doesn’t feel like she needs a “sugar detox.” She doesn’t view sugar as a problem needing to be solved; she views sweets as a beautiful and amazing part of life. She can take a cookie or leave it. She can enjoy a croissant or a soft-boiled egg. It's just one choice among millions of choices she'll make during the course of her lifetime. 

Betty Anne is another story. She feels like she has a problem with sugar because whenever she gets around it, she loses “control”, or what I prefer to call “choice.” She probably assumes there’s something wrong with sugar, though more likely she assumes there’s something wrong with herself. The one thing she probably hasn’t considered is that there’s something wrong with her pattern of behaviour

Keiko enjoys sugar regularly without emotional or physical restriction. Betty Anne restricts. In the article, the rats wanted more sugar because they were deprived of sugar (intermittent access) though the same couldn’t be said of the rats who carried an all-access pass

Which kid eats more cookies: the one who’s told to eat as many as s/he/their wants, or the one who’s told not to eat any and is subsequently left alone with a jar? 

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not that sugar is a drug. The problem is that we treat sugar like a drug. The problem is not sugar. The problem is our relationship to sugar.  

We deprive ourselves of it, restrict it, shame ourselves for eating it, tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” when faced with a slice of cheesecake, deny dessert, and go on sugar detoxes. But the reason we “need” sugar detoxes is because we have sugar detoxes. Are we hardwired for hyper palatable foods? Sure. But the purpose of this mechanism is — rather, was — to ensure we consume sufficient calories for lean times. 

Maybe the answer rests in not denying or fighting this mechanism — a seemingly futile task — but in learning how to work with it. 

Imagine a faux Garden of Eden. There’s a single tree with one beautiful, perfect apple. I want you to imagine more trees popping up everywhere — the fields are filling. Everywhere, buds burst open, flowers emerge, and apples quickly form. Everywhere you look, there’s gorgeous apples. 

Now let’s apply this to sweets. Imagine a land filled with cookies, cakes, pastries, pie…all of your favourites. You can eat them whenever you want. Maybe you go a little nuts at first; it’s been so long since you’ve had these things. But after a while you tire of them. Maybe you eat a croissant on a Saturday. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you eat a mid-afternoon cookie. Maybe you work right through the break without realizing it. 

You can either restrict food and access to highly palatable foods…or you can create an environment of abundance — both mental and physical — vs. scarcity — both mental and physical — so that you feel safe and secure. 

Maybe the goal isn’t to deny our biology or to attempt to combat it. Maybe the goal isn’t to say no (which just leads to danger, danger, danger — eat all the sugar!). Maybe it’s to remind yourself you have unconditional permission to eat. 


4 Questions I Filter My Food Choices Through Before Eating

While intuitive eating is a land without rules, learning how to navigate its waters is often challenging for those of us who’ve spent the fast few years relying on macros, calories, and carb counts. How will I know when I’ve had enough to eat? Can I trust myself to stop eating? Will my body ever stop wanting pasta and mashed potatoes? Am I actually full or should I keep going? My head is spinning just thinking about it. 

To ease your way into intuitive eating, I’ve pulled together a list of four questions I filter my food choices through before I eat — and that you might wish to filter your food choices through, too! I want to emphasize that these are not rules; they’re guidelines to help you to become more intuitive about your food choices and to connect with your internal wisdom. 

Intuitive eating, body positive, emotional eating, anti-diet, body image, holistic nutrition. 4 Questions I Filter My Food Choices Through Before Eating.

I really love these questions because they root me. They remind me of what’s important when the noise of diet culture beckons me back. They allow me to pursue authentic health — my own authentic health — without regard for social expectations. If you’re struggling with moving away from counting fat grams and hitting a certain amount of protein per day, you might find this both liberation and helpful. 


Due to various factors, like budget and availability, I’m going to bet you can’t always eat exactly what you would like. I mean, if I’d be feasting on plump peel-and-eat shrimp straight from the Gulf dunked in warm garlic butter, a big fancy salad, red wine, and sweet potato fries. My reality? A re-heated black bean veggie burger sans bun topped with mayonnaise and hot sauce — the furthest thing from a fancy al fresco lunch.

But you can get pretty close. What’s the temperature like outside? Do you have a hankering for something hot or cold? Crunchy or soft and easy to chew? Are you craving something tart and bright, or something spicy and bold? Would you like a dish that’s light and elegant, or hearty and filling? Plant-based or meat-heavy? Answering these questions will help you to really find satisfaction in the foods you’re eating while giving your body what it needs to function optimally. 

The problem with dieting is that we often think about what we should be eating (or shouldn’t!) and never ask ourselves what we feel like. I don’t want you to focus on macronutrients, micronutrients, and other things right now. I just want you to ask yourself what you’d like to eat. Try to ignore your inner food police. Ignore your food rules. Ignore whatever your mind is telling you and try to listen to your core instincts. 

If you find this question challenging, try entering into it as an anthropologist and explorer rather than a judge. Why do I want this food? What’s delicious about this food? How will this food satisfy me? Get nostalgic if you like. It’s fine to want a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup in the same way that it’s also fine to want a green smoothie or a hot dog with a ton of ketchup. Let your choices be what they are. 


This is the next question I recommend filtering your choices through because figuring out how foods feel is a BIG part of intuitive eating. Let’s say you love potato chips, but find they make you a bit bloated. This doesn’t mean you won’t eat them, but maybe you’ll reserve them for a time when it doesn’t matter so much. Maybe you love wine, but know it gives you a headache and interferes with your work. This doesn’t mean you’ll never drink it, but maybe you’ll leave it for the weekend, when you can sit around and relax. 

If you’re super new to intuitive eating, I recommend stopping at the first question. But if you’d like to proceed, begin to consider how foods feel to you. Which ones give you energy? Which make you feel amazing? Which foods keep you full? Which foods feel lighter in your stomach? Again, try exploring this rather than judging it, knowing what you uncover is a tool to help you navigate the world of intuitive eating — not a hard-and-fast rule. 

The question of food allergies and sensitivities often comes up. How do I work on my relationship with food while honouring these issues? Awesome question. I think it still harkens back to how you want to feel vs. which rules you need to implement. If someone with Type II Diabetes eats too much sugar, they’ll feel sick. If I can’t tolerate dairy, I may avoid it for reasons that have nothing to do with diet culture and everything to do with how I want to feel.

I’ll admit this is tricky territory, but flipping externally-motivated rules into internal cues is probably the best approach there is to co-existing with restrictions. Another would be to find satisfying substitutes so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. For example, there’s a number of gluten-free options — donuts, ice cream cones, bread, cereal — for those with Celiac’s Disease and related issues, and dairy-free options — ice cream, yogurt, cheese, and so on — for those who cannot tolerate it. The goal is always satisfaction. 


Food is definitely pleasure, enjoyment, love. But it’s also energy to fuel our focus, optimize our concentration, and allow us to do exactly what we need to do. 

So you’ve decided what you feel like eating. And you know how you want to feel. Now what do you need to do? Do you need to run a marathon? Work all day, all night in the office? Are you headed to the cottage? 

I like considering this question because it helps me to view food as fuel. As the raw materials from which I will build my amazing life. If I want to spend the afternoon really killing it, I may choose to eat a filling, sustaining lunch to help me to do exactly that. If I plan on lounging around the house getting some laundry done and organizing my things (with a Netflix and popcorn date later, because #whynot), maybe I’ll be satisfied with something on the lighter side. 

When filtering your choices through this filter, consider what you need to do. Do you have time to stop for a snack? Or do you have back-to-back client meetings? Are you having a late dinner or are you the type to eat before 6pm? Dieting often gives us set serving amounts, calories, and times. It can feel super awkward, then, to connect with our bodies and ask ourselves what we need to do and how much food we need to do those things

This step is challenging, so try to go easy. Sometimes you’ll over-eat, or intentionally under-eat, but I think eventually you’ll get the hang of things. I’ve found that eating meals with more fat — which fills you up without leaving you feeling too full — can be helpful if you have a lot to do or need a meal that sticks. 


This final filter is an important one, and possibly one of the most confusing. But you told me to eat whatever I damn well please! You told me to honour my hunger! You told me I have unconditional permission to eat! Right. I did. And I have no intention of pulling the rug from under you. But I also don’t heed all of my cravings and desires, because I’m not hungry enough to eat all of them and because there’s a difference between wanting to eat a certain food and feeling like eating a certain food. Namely, one is intellectual while the other is physical. 

I love sour gummy candy. I would totally eat it daily. But then this wouldn’t actually be all that intuitive — it would be automatic. I would consume it on autopilot. And then I wouldn’t be all that satisfied by it when I did eat it, and I probably wouldn’t feel so good from all of the sugar. So I eat it when I feel like it (when I’m craving it!) and if I see it and feel lukewarm about it, I let it go. This is how I make most of my food decisions. I don’t always want potato chips, but when I do, I honour that choice. When I want pasta? I honour it. But I try not to eat things I don’t actually want even though I like them, because I’m after self-care and satisfying eating experiences, not just doing things for the hell of it. 

This question isn’t meant to keep you from the foods you actually want, but to help you to recognize when something is a choice and when it’s just another option

To summarize:

  1. What do I feel like?

  2. How do I want to feel?

  3. What do I need to do?

  4. Will I feel deprived if I don’t eat it?

What do you think of these filters? Do you have any filters you run your food choices through before eating? 


Sarah Berneche, Intuitive Eating Coach

Hey! I'm Sarah, Intuitive Eating and Body Image Coach. I work with purpose-driven women who want to let go of diets and stop fighting their bodies so they can show up fully in their lives. If you're interested in learning how to have an amazing relationship with food -- one where you can enjoy it all -- I'd invite you to book a discovery call so we can get to know each other and discuss your options.