Answer this question honestly, do you ALWAYS, without fault give YOURSELF full permission to eat exactly what you want, when you want?
If you are some one like myself recovering from an eating disorder it is an essential skill we must master.
For a person who has never endured an eating disorder, you have still been subject to the messages from society that eating xyz is bad, eating after x o’clock is unhealthy. It’s all bollocks but it’s been ingrained into us and so I reckon if you really answered this question truthfully the answer would be no, for the majority.
What does permission mean in eating disorder recovery?
There were times/ are times where I have required external permission to eat. Questions like, is it okay to eat XYZ, is this too much, are you sure I need to eat XYZ? These are all utterances that have left my lips. Obviously, like any human being, I do actually know the answers to these questions. But giving myself that permission to eat is something the eating disorder makes very difficult. The eating disorder tells us there are many things we cannot/ should not do. Permission to eat intuitively, unconditionally is not something the ED permits.
This is something we have to master for ourselves.
There were times early in recovery, where I just couldn’t give myself that permission. At this point, I think it’s often helpful to have support, where permission can be granted, whether it’s from friends, family, therapists, dieticians or coaches, until you are strong enough to start permitting yourself. Ultimately that is the goal. Full unconditional self permission. It doesn’t happen over night. I have given myself permission slips before. If I couldn’t do it mentally then having a permission slip physically was helpful.
Intuitive eating is the goal, but it’s not something we can just start doing. Particularly in early recovery, when you are re-kindling hunger cues, trying to restore weight because realistically left to our own devices in this phase we would likely not eat enough. My ED would not allow me permission to eat more than I intuitively felt in early recovery. This is where external permission was really helpful until I could do this. I would set an alarm every 3 hours, my snacks, meals all non negotiable. Until I started getting hunger signals and cravings.
Even now, there are occasions where if I’m having a stressful time where this self permission can be difficult. I can walk through the process in my mind but then following through is the issue. So permission slips or external permission can be helpful.
The following are some common permission pitfalls/ situations I’ve come across- I don’t think they just apply to eating disorders but I do believe they are very important for us not to fall into.
1. I ate a lot of food already/ I ate so much for dinner I can’t possibly be hungry or eat now. If you are hungry you are hungry. What you ate before is old news and irrelevant. Your ED won’t like it, but so what.
2. I haven’t exercised. You do not need to move to eat.
3. I’m not hungry now so I’ll just have a little bit. Then 30 minutes later or just before bed you’re hungry. It’s normal. Respond. You’re bodies not on a timer.
4. It’s after X O’clock I can’t eat now because “it’s unhealthy”….Your body does not tell the time, it doesn’t work to a schedule, this is a diet industry myth that is not substantiated by evidence.
5. But I’m going out for dinner in an hour so I’ll wait. Nope if you’re hungry, you’re hungry.
6. No one else around me is eating but I’m hungry. This is a tough one for those of us in ED recovery. Eating in front of others can be challenging as can eating when no one else is. But YOU have to be able to give yourself permission to eat whenever, wherever.
7. You don’t know what the nutritional value of something. (You don’t need to). Your body is not a calculator, again this comes from diet culture.
8. You gained weight. Giving yourself permission to eat when you have gained weight- whether you’re in recovery from an eating disorder or just rejecting diet culture is courageous.
9. Don’t feel hungry. Eating when you don’t feel hungry but are not sure when you will next eat etc is smart eating. In ED recovery there will be times where you don’t feel hungry as your hunger signals are not working. Eating mechanically here is important, giving yourself to eat even when you’re not hungry is essential. Set an alarm, reminder if you have to.
10. Eating when other’s around you are dieting. Giving yourself permission to eat unconditionally- this is definitely a hard one. With or without disordered eating.
11. Permission to eat, just because. Because it’s nice- something our weird ED brains can have a hard time with. My brain often questions why. There does not have to be a reason.
12. When you don’t feel you deserve to eat. Food has no moral value. You always deserve to eat. Find that permission.
You always have full permission to eat what you want, whenever you want no matter what. We all need to be able to grant ourselves unconditional permission.