Can intuitive eating (IE) actually make food less enjoyable? It’s interesting to think about, right? Let’s unpack this a little bit and you’ll see what I mean when I say, yeah, it is possible that IE could make some foods less enjoyable than they used to be.
Back when I was deep in the midst of a majorly disordered and unhealthy relationship with food, I had a thing for Fiber One bars. Yes, I loved me some Chocolate Chip Fiber One bars and I could literally binge on them and pretend I didn’t know how the box emptied itself. Now, I will add that for whatever reason, the weird alternative fiber they use didn’t affect me…so yeah…don’t be picturing any major GI blowouts or anything (although if that’s happened to you after eating Fiber One bars, you did not suffer alone. Plenty of people have been there, done that).
Anyways, at the time, I’d eat multiple bars every day and can even recall a couple of instances of eating two or three back to back. In my mind I was eating a “healthy” food. What did it matter that I was borderline binge eating them? They tasted good. I really liked them. And I knew exactly how many calories they had so afterwards it would be no big deal to head off to the treadmill and slog away until the balance was back to net zero.
Fast forward to today….I cannot freaking stand Fiber One bars.
I tried one recently (after not eating one for several years) and could not, for the life of me, remember what I found so appealing about them. Then it struck me: what I was really wanting that whole time was chocolate chip cookies. Ask me how many times I let myself eat a cookie…yeah, it happened, but the occasions were few and far between. And do you think I was a sane, rational person who could calmly enjoy one or two or however many cookies until I was satisfied? Hell no, I was eating them in secret, when no one was watching and eating far, far beyond my fullness just because I’d never know the next chance I’d have to eat them.
Fiber One bars were a replacement food. They were something I (unsuccessfully) used to mask a craving for chocolate chip cookies and as a result, I felt like I earned a “reward” of sorts if I ate a Fiber One bar instead of a cookie.
Remove restriction, remove reward.
(just pretend that’s a Fiber One bar getting shoved off the plate with sass…but if salad is your replacement food, by all means, shove that off with sass too)
If food is taken off the pedestal and cravings are recognized and addressed, there is no longer a value system based on good behavior and reward. When I stopped restricting cookies, I no longer felt the need to scarf down every single one before someone else did. I also didn’t continue to turn to a replacement food when I found myself wanting one. Now, if I’m at a coffee shop or bakery or farmers markets or friend’s house or whatever, the opportunity to eat a cookie does not illicit the same anxiety and mental beat-down I previously gave myself. It’s just as acceptable to say, “Yeah, I’ll have some” as it is to say, “Actually, I’m good for now, no thanks.”
Does this make me enjoy chocolate chip cookies that much more? I suppose in a way, yes. Because I am much more mindful when I eat them (instead of insane with cravings and completely unfocused on the experience of eating them) I find I do get slightly more enjoyment. In reality, it’s simply more awareness.
Replacement foods aren’t a solution. They don’t address a craving and it continues the cycle of restrict-reward-repent that is a classic hallmark of dieting. If you’re caught in the trap of “good foods/bad foods” or “good choices/bad choices”, just remember that IE can neutralize foods. Instead of good/bad, restrict/reward, you have permission to eat any food you desire and trust your body in it’s innate wisdom of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.
So I challenge you to think of any of these replacement foods you may be using right now. Are there things you substitute for something else when you experience a craving? Are there foods you don’t allow yourself to enjoy even if you want to eat them?
And if you’re looking for a little more support on your journey with intuitive eating, come on over and join the free online community in my Facebook Group, “You Can Eat With Us.”