When you first start reading about and practicing Intuitive Eating, you hear a lot about honoring your cravings and eating what you want. And I can certainly attest that taking all foods off of the DO NOT EAT list has made a big difference in my relationship with food and eating. But there’s a second part to that rule of thumb, an additional guideline that sometimes gets ignored, perhaps because it is significantly more difficult to accomplish.
Eat what you want…without judgment.
I bet a lot of you are nodding your heads right now, because you know what it feels like to “give yourself permission” to eat whatever it is that you want, only to feel overwhelming guilt afterward. That’s because – in a way very similar to the notion of pseudo-dieting – saying nothing is off limits and actually living out that principle are two very different things.
But sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Sometimes we think – we truly believe – we’re not judging ourselves when deep down we still are.
I’ve definitely found myself caught in the trap of No-I’m-Not-Judging-Myself-Oh-Wait-Yes-I-Am-How-On-Earth-Did-That-Happen??? Here are some of the signs I’ve seen in my life that judgment is present – even when I’m telling myself that it’s not.
Five Signs of (Subconscious) Judgment
This is probably the most obvious one. If I tell myself that I can eat “full-fat” yogurt or cheese but then feel guilty after doing so, have I really given myself permission?
2. Attempting to Undo the Act
Sometimes after I’ve honored my craving for ice cream or french fries or whatever, I find myself wanting to make sure that my next meal or snack is extra-nutritious to “make up for” my indulgence. But trusting my body means not trying to “undo” the so-called “negatives” in my food intake by restricting my future choices.
When I’m being true to my Intuitive Eating principles, I can eat anything I want and then move on with my life. But when judgment is present – even on a subconscious level – I find myself dwelling on my food choices throughout the day. I go over and over what I ate in my head, even hours afterward! That kind of rumination is a sure sign of judgment.
4. Eating Mindlessly
When I am genuinely giving myself permission to eat what I want, when I want it, I have no problem eating mindfully – sitting down at the table, putting the food on a plate or in a bowl, and savoring every bite. But when the back of my mind is filled with judgmental thoughts about the food, my body, my choices, etc., eating mindfully is the last thing I want to do. Instead, I want to eat while watching TV, reading a magazine, or browsing the Internet…as if I’m trying to distract myself from what I am doing. I want to pretend that it’s not happening. If judgment weren’t present, would that feel so necessary?
5. Eating Secretly
This is, perhaps, the reddest red flag that I have. When I’m judging my food choices – or, more accurately, judging myself based on my food choices – I tend to eat differently in private than I do in public. Probably because when I’m judging myself, I assume others are judging me too, and that totally freaks me out. So I wait until I am alone, and then I see it as “my chance” to eat whatever I want. Again, for me that’s a sure sign that I haven’t give myself genuine permission to honor my food cravings and desires; it’s a sign that it’s time for me to re-evaluate my connection to the basic Intuitive Eating principles.
This brings up another important point. When I say that part of healing myself and my relationship with food is being able to eat what I want without judgment, I’m not just talking about self-judgment. I also needed – and still need – to feel that those around me aren’t judging me either.
And you deserve that, too. That means that if you decide – truly giving yourself permission – to eat ice cream for dinner one night, or skip the reduced fat cheese in favor of the real thing, or whatever it is in your particular situation, you should be able to enjoy your decision in plain view of your spouse or your mom or your children or whomever is around when you’re eating. You shouldn’t have to feel like a common criminal when you’re eating, you know?
Of course, this requires two important steps. 1) Having supportive people in your life, people you can trust. 2) Having an open and honest conversation with said people about your relationship with food and the Intuitive Eating journey you’re embarking on – what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you need from them, which is, basically, non-judgmental support.
If you’re finding yourself struggling on your Intuitive Eating journey, I encourage you to look inward, to question what’s going on in the deepest parts of yourself. You might find, like I have in the past, that judgment is present – even though you’ve said and thought and truly believed it wasn’t. But recognizing that it is there is the first step in getting rid of it for good.
Have you found that one of the toughest parts of giving yourself permission to eat what you want is doing so without judgment? How do you deal with those judgmental thoughts?