Have you ever noticed that limiting carbs somehow magically leads to binge eating pasta and pizza? Or that limiting your sugar intake somehow makes a dozen glazed donuts sound reeeally good?
I used to notice this back when I was attempting to lose weight by dieting and calorie counting (which never worked, and you’ll soon see why). At the time, I thought it was just lack of willpower.
But now that I’ve dug into the psychology behind overeating, I’ve learned that restricting certain foods actually makes us crave those foods even more!
Today we’re talking about why Permission to Eat is essential for being able to not eat when you’re not hungry. If that sounds like a nice goal, then let’s dig in.
PS. If you’re new around here, this is the home of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: a path to stop binge eating focused entirely in psychology and spirituality.
Permission to Eat & Fear of Gaining Weight
See if you agree with the following statement:
If you eat when you’re hungry, eat exactly what appeals to you when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full, then your weight will regulate itself.
Do you think this is true?
Many of us would agree intuitively. However, we feel like it won’t work because (we think) that allowing ourselves to eat what appeals to would lead to eating everything in sight.
We believe in diets and barriers, because if the floodgates were to open, (we think) we’d gain a thousand pounds in one night.
Eating late at night while totally unconscious has taught us that we’re insane, insatiable, and cannot be trusted around food. But dieting and restriction is one of the reasons why we compulsively eat late at night to begin with.
It’s not because you’re broken or lack willpower. In fact, all this thinking proves that you really care about this issue! But it doesn’t work because you’ve engaged in war against yourself – and it’s a biological war that you cannot win.
For every restriction, there is an equal and opposite binge.
Rebellion Against Food Rules
Usually, we binge on the very foods we’re trying to avoid. Let’s call them Forbidden Foods.
Forbidden Foods often end up on our list of ‘bad foods’ because they have been demonized by mass media. Things like gluten, sugar, and carbs have all been frowned upon and shamed.
And while I’m not suggesting that everyone would feel good eating those foods, the problem happens when we make these foods Forbidden Foods. It only makes them more magnetic.
The pizza, the pasta, the glazed donuts… All those treats that we crave but don’t allow ourselves to have… They’re all ridiculously ordinary!
But they don’t feel ordinary when we spend so much time and energy actively resisting them.
This is why we feel absolutely crazy and obsessive around food.
Why We Obsess Over Food
When we restrict our diet and starve ourselves, it pits part of ourselves against another part of ourselves — it pits our willpower against our biology. And guess who wins? Biology.
Restriction triggers the biological response to famine, which is to eat. Eat quickly, eat everything, because our primal brain isn’t sure where our next meal will come from.
This is why we often eat so much late at night. Our willpower is shot, and our biology finally takes over. I used to live in this vicious cycle too.
I would spend all day strictly counting calories and eating “good foods” only to find myself compulsively shoveling cheddar rice cakes (a Forbidden Food) into my mouth late at night. It sucked!
So what’s the trick to all this then? To allow ourselves to eat the foods we know we shouldn’t have?
How to Not Eat When You’re Not Hungry
Giving yourself Permission to Eat is terrifying, I know. Trust me, I know.
But once you give yourself Permission to Eat forbidden foods, you probably won’t even want them anymore. Or, in most cases, it will happen like this:
- Once given Permission to Eat, you will likely eat your Forbidden Foods, and you may feel guilty after eating. (This often coincides with Stage 2 of giving up dieting: the Rebellion Binges.)
- After that stage, which can be small or large depending on your unique factors, you realize that these Forbidden Foods weren’t as good as you thought they would be. You’re almost over it.
- Because you know that you have Permission to Eat these foods whenever you want, the obsessing will stop.
- When the obsession goes away, you have a greater ability to stop eating when you’re full.
It really does happen that way. And while there is more that goes into stopping when you’re full (see the method to stop a binge in its tracks), this is the first step.
Give Yourself Permission to Eat
When you give yourself permission to eat what appeals to you (even if it’s a horrible monstrous carb), you’ll have so much more energy left over to actually stop when you’re full.
It will leave you with permission to have a warm bowl of pasta – and it will leave you with permission to leave 75% of that pasta uneaten. And it will feel normal leaving it uneaten.
Because this whole time, your body just wanted fuel, and your psyche just wanted satisfaction – and now you have both.
If all of this resonated, then I think you’ll really like my approach to stop binge eating called Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. You can get a crash course on this method by starting with the free ebook below:
Originally published September 12, 2016 // Updated October 12, 2020
Hello, I just wanna say your blog has been helping me so so so much!
I keep trying to remind myself that I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and while that’s still a little scary, I’m a lot more flexible with what I eat and I’m noticing that I’m still drawn to healthier food, even though I know I can have the burger if I really wanted it..
I’m also noticing that I’m a lot more mindful while I eat, I really try and enjoy the experience, eat slower, feel the texture and be mindful of the taste.
My food rules still come up and I make sure to challenge them, however some of them are so engrained in my head that I don’t even realise they’re actually rules/obsessions!
In addition to all this, I’m consciously trying to make sure I feel my feelings when they arise, and I’m hoping to start doing rebirthing and maybe seeing a therapist in order to uncover any past trauma that could’ve been playing a role..
There is one thing I’m struggling with though, and its my hunger and fullness cues. Do you have any tips on how to tell whether I’m actually hungry/full? I always ask myself whether I’m truly hungry or whether I’m trying to block/avoid an emotion or something… It works sometimes but reading my hunger/fullness cues in general is quite challenging for me.
I also wanted to ask if you think its a good idea to log what I eat, at least in the beginning.. I deleted myfitnesspal and haven’t been calorie counting but I’m logging what I eat in addition to how I felt before/while/after I ate. Should I stop this too?
Looking forward to hearing back from you, your help would be much appreciated!
I’m absolutely in love with your work and incredibly grateful I found you.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart
Kari Dahlgren says
Hi G! First of all, thank you so much for your kind words!! I’m so glad my free resources are helpful. Here are some answers. (RE: hunger) I would focus on emotional check in when you feel confused by hunger. Almost like doing a preemptive Stop, Drop, and Feel. You’ll get back in touch with the physical sensations of hunger with practice, and I find that focusing on emotion helps too. (RE: logging your food) I LOVE that you are logging your food and feelings. I think it would be a mistake to log calories, but logging your feelings before and after you eat is AMAZING and actually an exercise that I recommend to clients. Keep this up sister!! I wish you luck as you continue on this journey ????
Loretta Dietz says
I wasn’t sure this was a path I wanted to explore but today it clicked so I thank you. I was hungry and wondering through my kitchen, I found a piece of fruitcake left in the freezer from the holidays. I ate the piece didn’t feel guilty and I was able to ignore any further cravings. This has never worked before. Stop, drop feel. You are amazing. I am anxious to learn more.
Kari Dahlgren says
Thanks for the comment Loretta! I am impressed that you were able to bypass the guilt and embody the Permission to Eat so quickly! That’s amazing! I hope you’re on my Tuesday newsletter — because that’s where I send my best stuff! See you in your inbox. 🙂