Give Yourself Unconditional Permission to Eat…Even if it’s Frightening

I am no stranger to over-thinking every single aspect of my life. I am also extremely fond of twisting my brain in knots and circles to plan around every unexpected curve ball. Not to mention–I am an extremist at heart. Given these tendencies, it’s no surprise that they contributed to my past development of certain disordered eating habits along with the mental and emotional behaviors that came with them.

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Similarly to food guilt, disordered eating is actually a lot more common than most people believe to be. This is because most people are familiar with eating disorders, but not disordered eating that are not classified as mental and psychological conditions that need to be addressed in clinical settings. Obviously, disordered eating is still a matter of concern in psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, but often go unreported. Fortunately, there are ways to combat certain aspects of disordered eating without direct external intervention.

The most common form of disordered eating centers around restriction–otherwise, directly prohibiting oneself from consumption of a certain food or anywhere over a particular portion of food. More often than not, these restrictions are all based around irrational reasoning that derive from research, exchange of information, and/or personal experience. Problem with restriction? An inextinguishable craving for what’s restricted.

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Personally, whenever I label anything “off-limits”, I end up thinking about it much more frequently than usual, even if it was never something on my mind frequently. The amount of food I cut out of my diet just several years ago could probably stock up an entire grocery store. Even if I restricted the timing of when to enjoy these foods, I’d still desire them throughout the whole day that when the time came around to eat, I’d overdo the serving sizes and experience even more guilt than what I would have if I were to just help myself to a smaller portion around the craving time. Essentially, I held the all-or-nothing mentality where I’d either pick at food from two or three food groups or gorge myself to physical sickness. It’s a toxic cycle that I would never wish on anybody.

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Here’s an experience of mine that I am both proud and deathly embarrassed of admitting: I had my usual dinner of a generous serving of seasoned vegetables and my dark chocolate bar for dessert, then got a call from a friend inviting me to a restaurant. First thoughts that came to mind: absolute terror. I basically froze, my thoughts scrambling around like flies around the dumpster. Do I go, do I bail, what on Earth should I say? This was a lose-lose situation. I’d feel crappy for canceling on my friend and confining myself in my comfort zone, but I would feel just as terrible if I tagged along and ate what would probably amount to my daily caloric maintenance.

What I ended up doing was visiting this friend with the initial intention on just enjoying a beverage and possibly an appetizer or a few bites of whatever my friend was willing to share, which I’d assume would be more on the conservative side. Boy oh boy, did plans take a turn in the completely opposite direction. Not only did I help myself to a beverage, but I also had a piece of my friend’s appetizer, half of the entree, and a whole dessert to myself. Yeah, I felt very full after my meal and somewhat regretful of giving into this unexpected swerve. However, with this event, I finally recognized that this–THIS is the key to letting go of all forms of restriction: unconditional permission.

As a disclaimer, unconditional permission is completely different from throwing in the towel and going overboard for the sake of it. Unconditional permission looks more like one or two servings of ice cream after dinner, whereas overeating resembles an entire pint and more (then again, eating a pint of ice cream can be nailed easily, but you know what I mean). One looks a bit more controlled whereas the other appears extreme.

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At the end of the day, none of us have a deadline. Sure, we can keep ourselves accountable if we set a time allotment to how much weight we want to lose or what clothing size we want to drop down to, but we will always have the next day, the next week, month, year, several years to hop right back into routine. It’s much more mentally straining to wish that you could have taken advantage of an opportunity to learn something new than to regret that leap.

If you encounter an experience that you may never see again, take it while you can. Growth is found at every corner.

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