As a first step in healing eating problems, legalizing food is a tricky and complicated business, based as much on biology as psychology. Many disregulated eaters get stuck in the effort to widen food horizons and don’t move beyond it. This blog and future ones can’t tell you exactly how to manage legalization, but will help you sort out the issues.
When the concept of legalizing foods surfaced in the late 1970s/early 1980s, it was positively revolutionary. I know, I was one of those eaters who was revolutionized by it. Eat whatever you want whenever you want in whatever quantities you want—what an astounding idea! It worked for a lot of us. Merely thinking that we could eat the foods we’d forbidden ourselves enabled us not to. It took many months and years of practice to convince ourselves that all foods were fair game. I used to think, I can eat the entire frozen apple pie this instant (as I often had done!), but because I had the mental freedom to choose, I began to opt not to.
Experts acknowledged that although we initially might gain weight from eating previously prohibited foods, when we truly accepted that we could eat them, we’d stop overeating them and start losing weight. While this radical concept of trusting our appetite and feeding the body what it needs was an eye-opening, life-changing gift for many people, for others it spelled disaster. You hear about all the food legalization success stories (like mine), but not about the folks who’ve never been able to manage having all that tempting food around and who, when off their diets and food plans, keep steadily gaining weight. I know folks like this who consider themselves a failure at “normal” eating. But they aren’t failures. Once again, the experts have failed them.
What we didn’t know decades ago is the powerful part biochemistry plays in eating and weight: people can become physically dependent on high fat/sugar foods because of the kick of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) they generate in the brain, some folks convert food into fat more efficiently than others, the food industry is gunning for our appetites and making it harder to resist sweets and treats, and people with a neurotransmitter imbalance are at higher risk for substance addiction than others. Ironically, through trying to trust our bodies to overcome food dependencies, some people have ignored their experience that certain foods mean trouble, distancing them from the very body trust they were trying to develop. And round and round we go. Now we know that food legalization is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Stay tuned for future blogs which will focus on how to come to terms with food legalization.