I know, Intuitive Eating and Diet do not really belong in one sentence, but the world is not all black and white, there’s plenty of room for grey areas. While intuitive eating does not recognize any dietary restrictions, some people just can’t eat whatever they want. But it doesn’t mean that people following dietary restrictions should forget about the principles of intuitive eating and render them Not Applicable. All are welcome to live in peace with food regardless of the circumstances. Take my stepson, for instance – he has several severe food allergies and multiple food sensitivities and a skin condition associated with them. The food groups he absolutely cannot eat are dairy, nuts, seeds, wheat, eggs, soy and night shades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers). Yet, he never complains, eats plenty of whole, homemade foods, makes his own frozen desserts (blueberries and bananas – and finds them amazingly delicious!). He has learned the outcomes of eating foods that his body does not appreciate in a form of eczema flair ups, and he’s a lot more conscious about his food choices now. Foods that give him trouble simply don’t possess any value for him anymore. This is called operant conditioning – when certain experiences bring about changes in behaviour, in this case – diminished desire for the foods that cause issues.
When you learn that certain experiences pose negative consequences, with time you are conditioned to avoid those experiences. In my stepson’s case, he’s learned that certain foods give him hives, itching, cause skin cracks and inflammation along with flu-like symptoms, and now there’s no temptations associated with those foods. He doesn’t crave them, there’s no need to employ will-power and self-control when he’s around those foods. He doesn’t consider them foods anymore.
While his case is pretty severe with prominent symptoms, many people with underlying food sensitivities or even allergies do not even realize the effects these foods have on them. I will talk about food intolerances/sensitivities in another post since this topic does deserve its own full article. Right now, I just want to draw some light on how to deal with food elimination diets, necessary for feeling well, without depriving yourself of foods you love.
I’m not gonna give out bullet points of rules and tricks to employ. I find, that more often than not, lists of things to do and steps to follow are very generic and can’t possibly accommodate most people’s situations. I’d rather discuss the core idea of how to cultivate normal eating behaviours and attitudes while not being able to eat certain foods or food groups.
Once you’ve figured which foods bring about undesirable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, fatigue, skin rashes, headache and general feeling of malaise among others, your brain learns the association between eating those foods and feeling crappy. Going back to the operant conditioning, in which learning refers to changes in behaviour as a result of experiences that occur after a response. In other words, in operant conditioning, the behaviour changes as a result of a learned experience:
You eat a tomato => get a stomach ache => you eat a tomato again next day => get a stomach ache again => you avoid eating tomatoes from then on
As you can see, you don’t even have to do anything to train your brain to reevaluate your desire to eat the foods you should avoid. The only tricky part is that you have to be sure about the foods that make you feel bad. If you are not sure or you go on an elimination diet for the wrong reasons (weight loss, cleanse, etc.), your brain won’t learn the neural pathway of the cause and effect. Eventually the desire to eat those foods and the state of deprivation you are in will override and can easily push you towards bingeing on those foods.
It all comes down to being mindful of your body, paying attention to the reactions it has in response to different foods. Once you start observing it, you’ll come to realize the many things you didn’t see before and connections between them. It’ll be so much easier to follow any types of restrictions that are present in your diet without even noticing them. Hope this helps.