If the idea of eating anything you want sends shockwaves down your spine – you’re not alone.
You might think to yourself “LOL – CAN YOU IMAGINE?! I’d eat everything in sight. How could I ever trust myself?”
Especially if you’ve been dieting for a long time, this reaction would make sense. All you’ve really known is a good/bad mindset around food! You may have even developed a low-key binging habit along the way.
Still – it sounds nice, right? Not having to restrict anymore? Can you really eat anything you want, no guilt or fear? I’m here to tell you CAN eat this way if you know the process behind doing so.
This post will tell you how to eat anything you want in a way that will leave you feeling comfortable in your body and calm around food. But first, you’ll need some background to understand how this magic is even possible…
is it bad to eat anything you want?
As a Registered Dietitian, I get asked this question a lot.
Because of diet culture, we’re inundated with ideas that some foods are “bad” and others are “good”. You learn to approach foods like cookies, chips, and sweets with EXTREME caution – or maybe you go even farther – you try to exclude “bad foods” entirely!
This behavior is often backed by popular dieting programs like Noom and WW that label certain foods with punishingly high points, color-coding them red and then setting limits on how many servings of this food you get a day.
When you choose these foods, you can almost see your mother wag her finger and say “nuh, nuh, nuh! Can’t we choose something healthier? You don’t wanna gain weight do you?”
You can feel the guilt rising with every bite, and this often creates a tense relationship with food.
As an anti-diet Registered Dietitian, I’m not a fan of assigning morality or guilt to certain foods. And by the way – if your family members make you feel guilty around food, you can totally set boundaries here, check out this post for tips.
Here’s the reality from a Registered Dietitian – no foods are “bad” because all foods offer different types of nutrition. We need different types of nutrition to function – and our bodies are really great at letting us know when we’re out of balance, if only we learn to listen.
Plus, adequate nutrition is not something that happens in a single meal, or even over a week of eating. No single food can make, or break, your health. We wouldn’t survive very long that way. So what’s with all the guilt?
If you’re reading this like, “Okay, fine, but if left to my own devices, I will eat cookies for months and months straight – and my nutrition will be down the gutter!”
Gently, I’ll ask you: will it? Let’s take a look at why restricting is actually backfiring on your nutrition…
does calling food “bad” make you binge?
When you call food “bad” and then deprive yourself, your behavior tends toward something called the binge-restrict cycle. See if you can recognize this:
Only “eating what you want” when you are in binge mode makes food feel like forbidden fruit. When you do get them, you go HARD, knowing – it might be the last time for a while. Immediately following, you will promise never again and run back to restrictive diets.
This is often why people binge around foods they label “bad” – and one of the reasons why restricting and avoiding “bad food” really isn’t helping your cause if you want a normal, calm relationship with them!
Part of the work I do with clients is to help break this cycle so that the idea of eating anything you want feels more natural and positive. Finding the middle ground is key, and it starts with letting go of “good” and “bad” labels around food.
You might be thinking next – but what about health? As a Registered Dietitian, I want that for you, so let’s talk about that next!
how to eating anything you want and be healthy
The framework I use in my practice is called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating teaches you how to listen to body cues and eat for your health values based on your memory of what worked in the past.
Instead of trying to eat “good”, you can learn to eat in a way that is “good for you” using trial and error. Eventually eating feels simple – like you can just eat and move on, with 100% trust in your choices.
The problem I find is that for most people who have dieted since their childhood, eating is so linked to morality (ie: “good” and “bad” food labels) and weight, they can’t figure out how to eat intuitively on their own.
When I work with clients, I help them to determine their health values away from weight, so that they can finally figure out how to apply Intuitive Eating into their lives.
You can try this, out too – if you’d like: what would your health values be if your body already looked like what you wish it were?
If that question just knocked your socks off, take a moment to put them back on, and know you are not alone. Most people have never been given the chance to think about their health habits beyond dieting!
That can feel scary which is why support and community is a helpful part of healing your relationship with food.
If you’re not sure where to start, I invite you to grab my free 3 step guide to eat without guilt at the end of this post. It will walk you through an exercise to start setting goals around intuitive eating.
Here’s some examples. If you care about:
- Social health, you can work on not comparing your body or what you eat to others so much in public so you can focus on connection and relationships you care about.
- Mental health, you can work on reframing your thoughts around food and body image so that you experience fewer anxiety or depression symptoms.
- Emotional health, you can learn to validate your feelings, instead of numbing them with food.
- Physical health might consider finding forms of nutrition that feel satisfying, instead of restrictive, to manage your diabetes or other health concerns.
Getting clear on your health values this way will help you to pause and consider what matters to YOU in the long-term, not just act solely on impulses that leave you feeling awful afterward!
Though to be clear, enjoying your food matters, too. Let’s talk about that next….
why satisfaction matters
Eating what you want does not mean a free-for-all. It’s learning to make what you want reflect your needs now, as well as set you up for your definition of success in the long term.
I hate to break it to you, diets – but – shame and fear are not great motivators if you want to change your behaviors long term.
If that were the case, your first 35 diets would have worked out. But they didn’t. So here we are.
As a human being you won’t do anything that doesn’t make you feel good for very long. It’s not a shortcoming on your part, we’re wired toward pleasure as a means of survival. We all just want to feel happy, healthy, and free – don’t we?
Calling foods “bad” inevitably makes us feel fear and shame. And shame and fear do not feel good.
So, instead of saying: “this is bad for me I shouldn’t eat it” – I teach my clients to ask “how do I want to feel?” or “How will this choice make me feel?”
The answer usually guides them toward a choice that SATISFY their overall needs – including and beyond their taste buds.
Eventually you start trusting yourself with the power of satisfaction — check out this client’s transformation inside my program:
listening to your body is key
Many people find eating what they want challenging at first because they haven’t addressed their beliefs that some foods are “good” and others are “bad. As a result they are stuck in a rebellion mode around eating.
Why? Well a few reasons, really. Most of them have to do with asserting your autonomy and freedom as a person, which is a basic human need. It makes sense if getting told “you can’t have that food” makes you feel like rebelling!
- Were told at a young age by a caregiver to “eat less”, or differently, because you were bigger than your peers
- Have followed restrictive diets so long, “cheat days” – or planned time off from dieting – became a way of life
- Don’t trust your hunger cues and often ignore them to be compliant with whatever diet plan you’re on at the moment
If you went through ANY of these experiences, I want you to know you’re not permanently broken! You can get to a point where you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and no foods need to be “off limits” to do it.
In addition to working on your “good”/”bad” mindset around food, I show clients how to listen, and setting internal boundaries to honor hunger and fullness cues. Everything feels easier when you’re no longer so obsessed with food the only thing you notice is your own racing thoughts!
Eating what you want is not a free-for-all. It’s a liberating way of approaching food with less guilt, more joy – and if you value health; eating what you want can also help you toward effortless, sustainable healthy habits.
Diets often can’t say as much.
Important steps to take include: neutralizing foods by no longer calling them “good” or “bad”, identifying your health values beyond weight, and, listening to your body cues to help you find ways of eating that make you feel your best.
Intrigued by a life without dieting and never ending, guilt-ridden binge cycles?
I’m so excited to hear that!
Don’t delay! Get your hands on this 3-step guide to eating without guilt.
This repeatable guide has helped 100s of my clients walk through a vision-setting exercise, helps you to develop and understand your own hunger and fullness cues, and then guides you through flexible goal setting that will motivate you instead of making you want to quit – grab it now, so you can practice all the things I shared with you in this blog post!