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4 Steps to make peace with forbidden foods through Intuitive Eating

How can you possibly have a healthy relationship with salt and vinegar chips, cookies, and salted caramel ice cream – they’re “bad,” “hyper-palatable” – right? And still be healthy?

It can feel like the chips (no pun intended – haha) are stacked against you because many of these “forbidden” foods are designed by lab engineers to be irresistible to your tastebuds and brain.

But the good news is that there’s a way out of what might feel like vicious cravings, out of control eating (and guilt) – and yes, without a “diet” or restrictive food plan.

Here’s how:

To get started, check-in with yourself. Take a pause (if possible, as sometimes – it’s just not! and that’s ok too) and get curious about why you want a particular “forbidden” food.

Four Steps to Make Peace with Forbidden Foods with Intuitive Eating

1. Are you overly hungry, ravenous?

It’s common for you to want to reach for quick and convenient, packaged “easy” foods when you’re so hungry you want to “eat your arm.” Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Hunger says that can be difficult to make rational, conscious eating decisions once you’ve reached this point (that’s why when you may have packed your lunch but it no longer sounds good anymore).

An overly hungry Garfield the cat at the table.

And then, because you’re “too hungry,” you might eat this food quickly and end up at the bottom of the package. Or maybe you graze while preparing dinner and you’re no longer hungry by the time you eat, or you eat dinner anyway despite not being hungry now.

The Practice: Eat meals and snacks with awareness of your biological hunger needs throughout the day and do your best to eat when you are gently hungry (which means that you feel relaxed and ready to eat and could prepare food without feeling like you have to graze).

And bonus, working on honoring your hunger when it’s gentle is one foundational strategy to being able to honor comfortable fullness – Principle 6 of Intuitive Eating.

2. Are you tired, lack time, unprepared? (uh, STRESSED?)

So maybe you’re not overly hungry but when you’re living under chronic low-level (or high-level) daily stress, again, it’s challenging to make conscious foods choices (especially in the late afternoon or at the end of the day when you’ve reached decision fatigue).

It makes sense that you want to press the quick and convenient button and reach for what’s easiest.

First, be kind to yourself. In my article 3 Reasons Why You Should Ditch Your Scale (and get healthier), I discussed how you (we, yes, me too!) can get in self-care ruts but there’s a way out – baby steps – what small shift do you have the bandwidth for right now?

The way you do food often mirrors how you do life.

The Practice: Figure out what’s going to work for YOU. I know this isn’t an easy question to answer. What do you need to set yourself up for a more nurturing day? What CAN you do to make nourishing yourself a priority and not put yourself last?

Here are a few ideas: schedule time each week to grocery shop (or have a family member do it), or batch cook so you just have to reheat it (and have leftovers too!) or maybe you try one of the many meal kits out there (if your budget allows).

And if you don’t have an answer yet, don’t worry, that’s OK, I’ll be happy to help you – for now, just move on to the next question.

3. Do you have a rule about this food, restrict it?

Yes, you’ve heard it from me many, many times before, nothing amplifies a craving like restriction. It makes the food extra special so when you feel like you need, want or deserve something special, you will want this food(s).

With Intuitive Eating, you learn how to make peace with this food through a science-backed practice called habituation (more on this in a future community email).

Unconditional permission to eat is vital to a healthy relationship with food

The Practice: Notice your relationship with your “forbidden” foods. Does restriction make these foods “more special?” And by the way, if you’re substituting a “forbidden” food with a food that doesn’t truly satisfy you, you may continue to seek satisfaction which is Principle 5 of Intuitive Eating: Discover the Satisfaction Factor.

4. Do you eat foods that you like, satisfy your taste buds AND make you feel good?

The Practice: Explore and create a list of foods that fulfill your desire for tastes such as salty, sweet, savory that ALSO make you feel good physically when you eat them. Do you have these foods readily available in your home, purse, workbag?

When I considered this question, it made me think of when my brain used to seek the Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies that are in my pantry after dinner, even when I’m full (and just a side note, yes, this mental seeking occasionally happens as I am a human just like you).

Sometimes I choose to eat them, but if I check-in with myself, most of the time, I don’t really want those cookies (as I’ve made peace with the Milanos through the habituation process mentioned above).

I’ve learned that some other sweet is equally as good or better taste wise AND bonus! also makes me feel satisfied and nourished physically. Personally, I’ve found that I love dark chocolate dipped in natural peanut butter or sometimes eating some raspberries fulfills my desire for something sweet. If you hate dark chocolate, you do you (as remember satisfaction is key). Find what works for you.

Furthermore, having foods that you enjoy that also support your health are great to have available when your hunger might be more stressed, emotionally-based such as wanting some comfort, pleasure, energy, a reward and the list of emotions goes on.

And of course, the most nourishing solution is to learn new stress management and skills to cope with your emotions with kindness instead of relying on food to fulfill needs that it can only temporarily band-aid – Principle 7 of Intuitive Eating.

And one final word. And this is a very important piece of wellness wisdom:

Stop feeling guilty about, beating yourself up anytime you eat a “forbidden” food (as I used to! 🤚 – especially as a nutrition professional).

Remember, it’s what you eat for the most part that impacts your health. Good nutrition isn’t perfect eating and it’s just one piece of your complex health and wellbeing (as I mentioned in my article: 3 Reasons Why You Should Ditch Your Scale).

And by the way, if you find yourself doing the opposite – eating mostly highly processed, “forbidden” foods – be nice to yourself. Offer yourself kindness and compassion. Revisit these self-reflection questions and get curious about what’s behind your desire for these foods – your why and if you need help, that’s what I do (so reach out).

Tanya Mark Love Love Coffee Mug

♡ Tanya

P.S. 🤩 I have some exciting news! I am a Non-Diet, Body Image Expert on The Body Love Society’s UnDiet Your Mind App!

Curious? You can sign up here: UNDIET YOUR MIND APP

For 50% off of your first month (from $9.99 to $4.99 – if you just want to check it out) or savings off a yearly subscription, type in my coupon code: TANYAMARK (thank you, thank you by the way, as the app itself will offer a code too but I’d be thrilled if you used mine as a referral). If you want more details on what you get first, you can go to the app website here.

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