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How Having Food Freedom Can Support Your Healthy Eating Goals

Hello again! Thank you for joining me today!

author: Tshepang Pooe

Thanks to diet culture, eating has become quite a dramatic affair for many women. But it doesn't''t have to be this way. Imagine yourself at 7 years old - how much did you think about what you were/weren't eating? Aside from the fact that your food was prepared for you, you had no reason to obsess over food. You ate whatever was served and eating caused you no stress.

While it does help to be conscious of what we eat, given the rise of ultra-processed food in our environment, it is not helpful to be fearful of food. Food is not 'good' or 'bad', it just is. Having food freedom allows you to adopt this perspective without fear that your health will be compromised after eating a scoop or ice cream, or that you will gain weight after going for the side of chips instead of salad. It will help you to have a healthier relationship with food, ultimately leading to better emotional health, and it will help you to make healthier food choices in the long-run.

I actually got the idea to write this post whilst I was observing my internal dialogue as I was eating a slice of cake. I love cake; in fact I am quite a die-hard dessert fan. I've learned over the years how to reign it in with the sugar and start making my own healthy treats from home. But sometimes, like today, the cake display is too hard to resist! Our food choices are not based solely on survival needs, but also on environmental and emotional circumstances. Allowing ourselves food freedom eventually teaches us so much about ourselves as emotional beings, and it gives us the tools to set up systems in our lives that will help us to eat more healthily.

image source: Unsplash

Finding your body's happy place

You might be afraid that if you let yourself eat whatever you want you will cast off all restraint. While this might be true, it is not a bad thing. If you've been in a cycle of restrictive eating for a while, your body is probably craving some nutrients. Your brain may be craving energy as it has perceived that you're in starvation mode from prolonged dieting/restrictive eating. Naturally, when you give yourself freedom, you will gravitate to highly satiating and calorie-dense foods.

But our bodies are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. If you learn to listen to and trust your body, you will eventually start to notice yourself craving healthier foods. You'll gravitate toward nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables instead of sweets, chips and pizza. Lean into these cravings and give yourself what your body desires. The difficult part is in the initial release of control and trusting that your body will not lead you astray.

Willpower is a losing game

Willpower will only get you so far. Eventually your body's biological need for food and satiety will drive you towards eating anything and everything. After a while of restricting and not satisfying cravings, your brain will release hormones that are stronger than any willpower you've ever demonstrated. This is typically what leads to bingeing after prolonged restriction.

Instead of relying on willpower to eat healthily, we could adopt a far more proactive and realistic strategy. It's much more sustainable to include your favourite 'treat' foods, in smaller quantities, into your regular diet than it is to try to hold off from eating them for as long as possible. You could even try making, or buying, healthier alternatives to your favourite treats. This will stop you from feeling deprived, constantly thinking about the foods you're 'not allowed' to eat and separate you from long-held food guilt.

Answering our cravings can teach us healthier emotional wellbeing habits

Oftentimes, especially once we've started a health journey, we gravitate towards 'treats' for emotional reasons. Maybe you like to give yourself a treat to celebrate an achievement, to bond with somebody over a meal or to cope with difficult emotions.

Instead of denying ourselves our cravings, we could lean into the craving. We could start to analyse the emotions which underly these cravings and eventually learn a healthier response to emotions. If instead, we use all the willpower we have to ward off cravings, we're more likely to binge on unhealthy foods and reinforce the binge-restrict cycle that diet culture has taught so many of us. If we allow ourselves the space to listen to our cravings, we may end up learning a lot about what our cravings reveal about our emotional states and equip ourselves with the tools to respond more appropriately.

Did you learn something today? Let me know in the comments below!

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 Food and body image issues are distracting women from showing up meaningfully in their lives. My desire is to help women heal from disordered eating, have a healthier relationship with food and live a life of health without obsession. In this way, the noise will be cleared and collectively we'll be empowered to create a positive ripple-effect in our own lives and in the lives of others.

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