By Jaclyn Chute, RD

Kaylee’s Story

Meet Kaylee. She is interested in her health and looking for results from a new eating program. She says, “I know exactly what I should and shouldn’t eat. I just need to stick to the plan.” This new way of eating is different from her usual diet, and it restricts a number of foods she normally would choose. At first, following the plan seemed easy. But lately, Kaylee is having a few struggles. Sometimes she just doesn’t feel satisfied after eating her meals, and she misses the foods she has cut from her diet. She has also noticed an increase in food cravings. Usually she tries to ignore these by drinking another glass of water, but more often than not, she finds herself rooting around the kitchen eating more than she’d like to admit: a cucumber, then an apple, then more spoonfuls of almond butter from the jar than she’d like to admit. Yet she never seems to feel satisfied, even long after her hunger pangs are gone. Kaylee is wondering, “Is my new program really the best way to eat? It seems to be working for lots of other people. I mean, if I eat what I really want, will I just end up overeating?”

What’s actually happening in Kaylee’s story?

“If the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” –Ellyn Satter, RD

What Kaylee is experiencing is all too common; she has lost the pleasure in eating. Many people share her belief that if you eat a pleasurable food, you won’t be able to control your eating. Thus, the countless plates of plain grilled chicken and steamed veggies I see in my social media feeds touted as the ideal way to eat. (Side note: There is nothing wrong with these foods; I just question the enjoyment you might derive from them if you eat them day after day). Instead, why not choose foods and flavours you enjoy, in the amount your body needs that leave you feeling satisfied. Otherwise, you may end up eating around your cravings, like Kaylee described, when you likely would have eaten less overall if you had just eaten the cookie you really wanted to begin with.

Are we just talking about treats and overeating?

No. Deriving satisfaction from eating encompasses all types of food. A lot of it comes down to what foods make you feel best. Everyone wants to feel energetic and healthy rather than bloated and tired. Think about how your body will feel when you finish eating by asking yourself these questions:

  • Will protein at breakfast give me more energy all morning?
  • Will a really rich meal give me a stomach ache?
  • Will a sugary snack give me an initial high and then an energy crash?
  • Will having only vegetables in my salad at lunch leave me feeling lightheaded?
  • Will an afternoon snack keep me from becoming “hangry” before supper?
  • Will an extra portion of dinner leave me feeling stuffed?

How searching for satisfaction actually frees you

Consider the last meal you ate. What were you thinking about? Were you somewhere in the past, worrying about how many calories you have already eaten today and wondering if you should ignore your hunger and eat a little less now? Were you somewhere in the future, making plans to burn off what you ate through exercise? Or were you in the present, noticing the taste and listening to your hunger and fullness signals?

Freedom comes from honouring your body. You can get back to enjoying your food by eating what you really want, in a pleasant environment, while listening to your body signals. This leads to satisfaction, and the more satisfied you feel, the less you’ll have the urge to eat beyond physical hunger.

Tips to return the joy of eating

  1. Commit to feeding yourself reliably. Plan three sit-down meals and as many snacks as you need every day. Food is always more satisfying when you are moderately hungry rather than too hungry or too full.
  2. Ask yourself: What do I really want to eat? As you make your decision, consider how your body will feel after eating.
  3. Own your choice. Work on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you feel guilty about the food, you may rush through eating or try to do it in secret, which is not satisfying. Instead, slow down and savour each bite.
  4. Check in. Does the food taste as good as you imagined? If not, you are allowed to set it aside and choose something else. You can also check in part way through eating. If you find yourself not enjoying the food anymore, you may stop eating. You don’t have to belong to the clean plate club.
  5. Aim for imperfect progress. Changing your relationship with food, and practising skills associated with intuitive eating takes time. Be patient with yourself as you navigate new ways of thinking about food. You might not get it right every time, but each meal is a new opportunity to choose food that nourishes your body and honours how you want to feel.

This article was originally posted on Nourish Move Thrive as Do I have to restrict the foods I like to eat to be healthy?