Eating healthy is good for us, and a little indulgence is good, especially when it’s what our bodies want. But when happens when you start to feel weirdly obligated to eat unhealthy after you give up dieting? More than what feels good?
This is what happened to me after I gave up dieting back in August 2016. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was entering the “Rebellion Binge” stage of giving up dieting. And I was feeling like I “should” eat junky foods.
Feeling obligated to eat any sort of way doesn’t help us feel normal around food, which is the entire goal here (aka, the goal of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, the blog you have stumbled upon.)
So let’s talk about this strange phase that many of us go through after we give up dieting.
Feeling Like You Should Eat a Certain Way = Intellectual Eating
Whenever you feel like you “should” eat a certain way (whether it’s towards healthy or unhealthy), it’s your brain talking. And while your brain is great for all sorts of things, like keeping you alive!, it can get us into trouble around food.
Often, it’s not that we don’t know enough to stop overeating and reach our natural weight. It’s that we know too much, and our brains are drowning out the quite sounds of our intuition.
Your brain has learned knowledge while your body has innate knowledge. And this innate knowledge is your intuition, and it’s should be your North Star when deciding what to eat.
You’ll notice that your body never says, “I think a salad would provide the right amount of nutrients and help balance out that salty burger we had earlier.” Nope. Your body doesn’t think. It just knows. “A salad feels right, so let’s have it.”
Best of all, when you listen to your body and eat based on your inner wisdom, your weight figures itself out, naturally.
But it can feel like a major plot twist – and a very scary plot twist – when we suddenly feel obligated to eat unhealthy foods after we stop dieting. So, what do we do?
The Rebellion Binge Stage (Feeling Obligated to Eat Forbidden Foods)
This means that the chocolate cake from your Forbidden Foods list, for example, is now on the Allowed Foods list.
In the beginning, it’s normal to eat chocolate cake (or whatever your formerly Forbidden Foods are) as a way to rebel against years of deprivation. It’s even normal to eat a lot of chocolate cake.
This is a phase, and you’ll get through it if you stick with the other principles of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. (See: The 5 stages of giving up dieting.)
Once the phase passes, things can get confusing.
Since you’re allowed to have the chocolate cake, you’re supposed to eat it now, right?
Nope! Words like “should” indicate intellectual eating, not intuitive eating. Have the cake only if you actually want the cake and it sounds really good! If you’re having it because you feel obligated to have it, forget about it!
The chocolate cake will always be there. And this feeling of security around your forbidden foods is something that you will work your way up to, and when you do, it relieves a lot of the anxiety around them. They go from forbidden foods to average foods.
I never thought Kashi cookies could one day feel average (read about my former obsession with them here), but alas, that day did arrive after I gave up dieting.
So What’s Next?
So if you’re feeling weirdly obligated to eat unhealthy after you give up dieting, try to practice distinguishing between intellectual eating and intuitive eating. What feels like a “should” and what just feels good?
If you’re afraid of gaining weight through this process, you’re not alone. This is the biggest fear for most people, and there are many tools that can help.
- Psycho-Spiritual Wellness Eating Guidelines: The short version is to eat exactly what appeals to you when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Do this, and your weight will regulate itself.
- The Stop, Drop, & Feel: If you struggle with stopping when you’re full, that’s what the Stop, Drop, & Feel is for. It’s a tool to stop a binge in its tracks by addressing the emotions behind our compulsions.
- Permission to Eat: It always comes back to permission! Restriction is proven to lead to binge eating. So if you’re trying to eat your forbidden foods but haven’t fully 100% committed, try your best to surrender. If you have one foot out the door, it won’t work. Try your best to trust your body and the process.
- Emotional tolerance: Your ability to be uncomfortable is key to success, especially when it comes to tolerating the emotions that drive compulsive eating. Tools like the Stop, Drop, & Feel help us train in this skill (which I call emotional tolerance). And hopefully, by building strength in this area, you’ll feel more confident during the process.
And before I wrap this up, I’d like to end on a note of compassion.
Everyone experiences a different path on the way to food freedom, and many of us (no, all of us!) experience hiccups along the way. If you accidentally binge on forbidden foods or accidentally eat unhealthy foods out of obligation, that’s okay.
Treat yourself with compassion. Mistakes are part of the process. Don’t slash the other three tires just because one tire went flat. Do the kind thing and move on.