The air is beginning to turn crisp, so you’re thinking about apple crisp – can you make it healthier? – and bam: you start on the good food vs. bad food morality spiral.
Or maybe you’re in the grocery store, overhearing folks talking about Halloween candy and how terrible candy is for you, our children, and that it should be banned.
Whew. Does that feel a bit dramatic to you, too?
We have a lot of labels that we use to describe our food. Healthy. Low-fat. Delicious. Forbidden. Satisfying. Off-limits.
The more we categorize foods based on their moral value, the more complicated (and sucky) our relationship with food can be. It can feel exhausting to worry about the right and wrong things all the time.
As an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I urge you to kick “good” and “bad” labels to the curb and enjoy the foods that you like. Even Halloween candy (My personal favorite is Junior Mints, in case you were wondering).
what is intuitive eating?
Real quick: Intuitive Eating is a wellness philosophy that is firmly rooted in good science. It is a self-care paradigm that includes having satisfaction in your eating, making peace with your body, and saying goodbye to food rules. Bon voyage, diets!
Intuitive Eating is the opposite of a diet mentality, the framework that I grew up most familiar with as the daughter of a chronic dieting mom. And contrary to common misconception, Intuitive Eating does include health-promoting fruit and veggies, it just also welcomes the sweets and treats (Hello, Halloween candy) that bring you joy and satisfaction. The big idea is that if you can remove “good” and “bad” labels around food, you will feel less of the guilt and shame that drive binge eating to begin with.
If you’re new to Intuitive Eating – a warm welcome to you! Check out this post as a good starting point to get your feet wet with Intuitive Eating: six intuitive eating tips for beginners.
You’re working towards a concept called Food Freedom. My post what is food freedom? gives you the full details, but briefly, food freedom is:
removing the morality
With Intuitive Eating, food is just food.
It isn’t “good.”
It isn’t “bad.”
Food is just food.
You’re not better than your neighbor for choosing organic blueberries over a peanut butter cup. You’re not a loser for eating a chocolate bar.
There is room for all foods in a healthful diet. In fact, eating enough variety by avoiding unnecessary restrictions supports your nutritional well-being. Unless you have an allergy or food preference for not eating something, you have full permission to eat all of the foods that sound good to you, wherever and whenever they sound good.
Here’s how to uncouple your food choices for all of the *should* reasons that are really just diet culture whispering in your ear.
Instead of: “What I really want is a burger, but I *should” have a salad instead because it is “better.”
You might consider: A burger offers different nutrition than a salad and has a different kind of staying power. Specifically, iron-filled beef could actually be more nourishing for someone with anemia)
Instead of: “I’m going to have an apple for a snack because it is the healthiest option.”
You might consider: choosing a cookie now doesn’t prevent you from having an apple later. Plus, if history shows, avoiding cravings more likely means you will eat four cookies in a binge later because that is what you wanted to begin with.
Do you see how neutrality helps you to connect with the food differently, without guilt? The truth is, all foods fit. We just don’t need to clutter our minds with all these moral judgments.
all foods fit
Would you like to see a list of the “bad” foods that I recommend you skip? It is pretty short:
- Foods that have spoiled
- Foods that you don’t like
- Foods that you’re allergic to
- Foods that don’t fit into your budget
- Foods that are not in alignment with your religious beliefs
Other than that? All foods are on the “allowed” list.
Sweets, like Halloween candy, can feel pretty tricky to a lot of us. The reason that they’re more appealing is that they have been banished as being “bad” for so long. And as soon as something is off-limits, we tend to want it even more.
Food freedom is about enjoying the foods, even sweets, that sound good. And then stopping when you feel satisfied. This is a skill I teach clients to practice after lifelong histories with dieting. When you learn to trust yourself, you can truly have Halloween candy in the house without obsessing over it or bingeing. Some clients are shocked to find it in the cabinet come December! When you can keep it in the house and forget about it; it no longer has control over your mindset.
It isn’t your perceived lack of self-control that makes you eat enough sweets and feel guilty, it is the fact that you restricted them, to begin with. Here is a bit more info about that: how to enjoy sweets without losing control.
The key to honoring your biological hunger, cravings, and enjoyment is to have a variety of foods. Certainly, that will include fruits and veggies, but there is also plenty of room for candy and other foods that feel like treats. Your body is much better at managing this than you’d guess.
make a list
I’d like you to make a different kind of grocery list. On this list, you’re going to add every food that you’ve ever had on the “bad”, “avoid” or “can’t have list” in your own mind.
And then? I want you to buy them. And practice eating them, without a heaping side of anxiety or guilt. Over time, you can normalize your experience with these foods because they are no longer “off-limits”
If this feels a lot harder than you’d care to admit, that is okay. When we’ve had complicated relationships with anything, including food, it can take practice to reprogram our thinking. But this is the practice that will allow us to feel neutral about all foods, even the ones you’ve excluded.
Why is it that we tend to think of foods in terms of their nutrients (oranges are high in vitamin C!) instead of how they would make us feel to enjoy them?
“On this hot and muggy day, nothing sounds more satisfying than a cold glass of OJ on ice!”
Pleasure and satisfaction are part of good health. That is made more difficult when diet culture has us break all foods down to their individual components. I invite you to consider how foods make you feel as you eat them and afterward. Do foods promote your energy level, make you feel satisfied in each little taste bud? Do your meals have a balance of salty and sweet? Does your snack offer a nice crunch?
Nutrition is one piece of the puzzle, but so too is satisfaction. As the seasons progress and different treats become plentiful, give yourself full permission to enjoy them. Including Halloween candy!
what if my friends judge me for how I eat?
When you’re embracing Intuitive Eating, it is a bit of a journey. You never are really done exploring your relationship with food, eating, and your body…just like with a friendship or romantic relationship. It just gets easier with practice.
Your friends or spouse might not be in the exact same place that you are with Intuitive Eating. They may still call foods “good” and “bad” as you are trying hard not to! Full permission to eat any and all foods might feel well outside their comfort zone, just like it probably did for you when you started on your IE journey. That’s okay!
It doesn’t mean that you need to stop or slow down your journey. And it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you for wanting a more peaceful relationship with food! Still, it can feel lonely being the first in your social circle to make changes to your dieting ways. If you struggle to feel confident in your choice to find food freedom, try out some suggestions to facilitate more effective communication, it might make things feel smoother. I have several tips for better communication right here: how to communicate better with your spouse about Intuitive Eating.
practice, not perfect
Do you think that an Olympic gymnast did a perfect cartwheel on her first attempt? Of course not.
Were you concert-ready after your first few flute lessons, or were you still scaring the birds away with those humble first screeching noises?
Or did you nail doing your makeup the first time? While probably photo-worthy, it wasn’t your best face ever, right?
It continues to surprise me as a dietitian that people don’t tend to offer themselves the same grace around food and eating that they might give themselves with learning any other new skill. Eating is just that: skill-building. And with diet culture, you learned a lot of skills and mindsets that don’t actually serve you well. Specifically? Shaming yourself for your choices.
It is going to take practice – lots of practice – to feel more confident. I promise it is worth it, but I can also promise you that it takes more than one attempt to feel like you get it. So as you use these tips, remember to take things one step at a time!
If binge eating is something you currently struggle with, please know that you’re not alone. I offer this post with some tips for after a binge: What do you do after you binge eat?
why are evenings harder?
It is common to feel more out of control in the evening around eating. This can happen for a few different reasons, which I detail here: why am I overeating at night?
The three main reasons are that you’re not eating enough during the day, but can power through it because you’re distracted by the tasks of the day. And then at night – bam – you’re ravenous!
Or, you’re too burnt out by food rules (remember all the “shoulds” around food we talked about before?) during the day that you “rebel” at night and eat all of the “bad” foods that have been excluded from your meals so far.
Another reason that eating might feel out of control at night is that you’re bored, looking for stimulation, or have emotions that you’re working through.
Eliminating the rules list – no more good vs. bad foods – helps to quell the first two reasons. Emotional self-care helps with the third. So too does my group coaching program! More on that in just a sec.
key takeaways: no more good foods vs. bad foods
If you take one thing away from this post, I invite you to enjoy the sweets that you love, especially Halloween candy. While sorting and counting Halloween candy is a fond memory of childhood – my sisters still hold a grudge for me swiping their M&M’s that one Halloween in the mid-90s– we don’t need to sort them into good foods vs. bad foods.
If anything, I’d recommend sorting them by which foods taste best from the freezer and which ones are your favs at room temp. Or maybe don’t sort them at all: my favorite Junior mints happen to be delicious in both the frozen and room temperature states. Reese’s on the other hand, it’s gotta be frozen.
Do you love a frozen Reese’s cup as much as I do?
Pause, unwrap slowly, and enjoy.
With full permission to eat them whenever you want, you might be surprised at just how long they last when you’re no longer rushing just to “get them out of the house” or bingeing because “you never allows sweets”
This post includes a few of the many skills I offer through my No Guilt Framework. Each individual will find different skills helpful at different times, and this post is by no means an exhaustive list of how to find peace with sweets like Halloween candy..
I offer group and private coaching programs that help you create a plan and practice these skills with the focus and consistency you need to FINALLY be okay with your body. Apply for coaching and I’ll meet with you to describe how you can go from feeling completely stuck in negative body image to feeling free and peaceful around food, just like my clients do.