I posed a question to a patient one day that went something like this: “What would it feel like to not have food rules anymore?” The response? Freedom.
Freedom can be defined in many ways, including:
“The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved”
“Unrestricted use of something”
“The state of not being subject to or affect by a particular undesirable thing.”
And you know what one of the listed antonyms for freedom is? Restriction.
As food freedom is the opposite of food restriction, they typically do not coexist. Identifying + eliminating food restriction is one of the key steps to finding this freedom. And restriction comes in many forms, for people of all shapes + sizes.
While restricting calories or shear volume of food might be the first thing that comes to mind, we often hold on to more subtle forms of restriction + restraint as well. For example, not allowing yourself to order the pasta dish you’re truly craving in favor for something you deem “healthier,” yet won’t be as satisfying can be a form of restriction. Or only eating within specific time frames. Or feeling the need to vocally justify that it’s okay that you’re having a cookie because you “earned it” at the gym that morning.
As with most things in nutrition + life in general, it’s not always black + white. Living in the grey is more fun anyways, right? Depending on where you are in your journey with food freedom, gentle nutrition might also play a role. This can sometimes create a difficult-to-navigate blurred line, because you have to be honest with yourself. Are you opting for the salad because your body is craving veggies + it will satisfy you or is it because you view that as the lowest calorie option?
So what can food freedom look like?
It’s not feeling anxiety attending a social gathering that will serve food.
It can be accepting a donut from a mentor on your last day and actually being able to enjoy it without guilt.
It can be stopping halfway through a delicious meal because you’re satisfied + not feeling guilty about not clearing the plate.
It’s not compulsively checking every single nutrition facts panel on a granola bar before you choose. Rather, you might opt for your favorite flavor.
It’s honoring your hunger even if it doesn’t “make sense because you just ate yet already feel hungry again.”
It’s moving your body when + how it feels good rather than as punishment for food you’ve eaten.
It’s not constantly thinking about food, rather, you have brain space for more important things.
It’s allowing yourself to continually learn + change — even when it’s tough. Eating a few too many cookies + feeling physically sick can teach us that we are better satisfied with fewer next time.
It’s not partaking in negative food talk either towards yourself or others. Not saying things like “it’s so bad for you.”
It’s allowing yourself to eat something other than what you originally meal prepped because another option sounds tastier in the moment.
It’s embracing that nothing in life is, nor needs to, be perfect — including our diets.