Jennifer is sick of food battles. She loves ice cream, but avoids it because she is trying to lose weight. Swearing off ice cream works for a time, but as soon as she is presented with an empty room and a carton of Haagen-Dazs, she feels completely out-of-control. She promises to eat "only a few bites," but once she breaks her rule, she spirals into overeating. After all, this is my last chance to eat ice cream, she tells herself. Half a carton later, the fear of weight gain kicks in. Tomorrow, I'll make up for this, Jennifer promises. True to her word, Jennifer starts restricting food the next day to compensate for the ice cream. Yet, time after time, her cravings surge and she overeats, confirming what she suspected all along: she can't be trusted around food--especially her favorite foods.
What About You?
Does Jennifer's situation resonate with you? Although hypothetical, it is not uncommon. Maybe you abstain from your favorite foods because you feel powerless to control yourself around them. Perhaps you've felt the devastating regret that comes after stuffing yourself on a food that you vowed you wouldn't touch.
The Effects of Rebound Eating
The example above illustrates the damaging effects of rebound eating. Rebound eating is a common phenomenon that occurs when people classify certain foods as "bad" or "off limits." For a time, they stick to their rules, but after they indulge in a forbidden food, they wolf down all the food in sight, promising to make up for it in the future. The result is that people like Jennifer never trust themselves around their favorite foods.
Sneaky Forms of Rebound Eating
It's possible that you aren't actively dieting but are still experiencing rebound eating. Here are a few ways rebound eating can be triggered:
Limited Food Access. You don't have to live hours from a grocery store or have tight finances to experience limited food access. Maybe you simply don't have time to pack lunches that you enjoy, or you eat food that bores you day after day because it's "healthy". Perhaps grocery shopping is low on your priority list. Whatever the cause, you'll likely feel deprived over time since your access to food is limited, and you'll probably overeat when something "more exciting." Having a variety of foods available is a great way to prevent rebound eating.
No-Waste Mantra. You hate wasting food because you or someone influential from childhood went through a period of time when food wasn't available. Oftentimes, individuals from the Great Depression feel strongly that they must finish every bite because they vividly remember a time when every morsel of food was precious. This habit is tied to past periods of deprivation, even if food will be readily available in the future.
Last-Chance Mentality. Maybe you're at an expensive restaurant and are tempted to stuff yourself because you won't be able to eat there again, and you want to "make the most of it." Or, perhaps you are eating at a friend's house and they make a special comfort food from childhood. Anticipation of future scarcity of a special food can trigger overeating for many people.
Making Peace With Food
All hope is not lost. There are real steps you can take to healing your relationship with food! By the end of this process, many people feel satisfied by a few bites or by a single serving of even the most decadent foods!
Step 1. Start by making a list of all of your "forbidden foods". This should include anything that causes you to feel guilty after eating it or that your inner food police would label as "bad". Don't be overwhelmed if the list is long! It might be helpful to organize the list from foods that feel less scary to the ones that feel the scariest or that you feel most out of control around. Think about all the ways that eliminating or avoiding these foods has caused you stress or made you feel like you were missing out. It's helpful to recognize the ways that diet mentality has caused you to be at war with food and yourself.
Step 2. Once you have a list, incorporating some of these foods back into your daily life will help you begin to make peace with food. For some steps on how to do this, check out our intuitive eating tip series. If you've already signed up, keep an eye out for this week's tips in your inbox! If you haven't, click below to sign up. Not only will you get the steps on how to make peace with food, you'll get additional tips to help you practice all of the principles of intuitive eating!