One of the primary concerns when considering the concept of giving up control around food is the boomerang effect—eating everything in sight and in massive quantities.
The truth is that yes, it’s common to feel the urge to eat a lot of these foods, and it’s also very common to act on this impulse. This can be a necessary part of the process for many people.
However, it doesn’t last forever, because with a newly formed sense of awareness and connection to our bodies, the desire to eat in a way that isn’t uplifting—emotionally or physically—isn’t enticing.
The allure of these foods quickly diminishes when we realize and accept how they make us feel, and we also become aware of why we’re making the choices we do. This includes overeating in general, too.
These foods are typically processed foods that have been on our “bad” list for years, but I often see clients fearing fruit, rice, and other natural carb sources too (as I once did) or foods that are higher in fat if they’re coming from a low-fat background. Everyone’s food rules are different, so the roads to unlearning vary accordingly.
It can be incredibly helpful to be aware of the boomerang effect prior to embarking on a more intuitive way of eating in an effort to reduce the fear of it occurring, as it’s nothing to be afraid of!
It can propel us towards healing much more quickly than “dipping our toes in while still holding on to our controlling ways” ever will.
The caveat here is the necessity of presence, awareness, and connection.
Without these elements, we’re simply acting on the opposite side of the same coin: treating our bodies disrespectfully and allowing our egos to run the show while not learning anything about ourselves in the process.
However, it can take time to develop these skills after years of neglect.
The goal is to learn how to effectively and consistently implement the practices of presence, awareness, and connection while simultaneously unlearning the rules we’ve been told about our own bodies.
Sound complicated? It really isn’t once you have an idea of how and where to start!
Meditation: This is the simplest, fastest, and most widely available way to develop a sense of presence and awareness of both our physical bodies and our internal landscapes.
When we sit in silent meditation, we’re forced to bear witness to our thoughts and any discomfort that arises. As a result, we become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and urges related to food and our bodies. This is absolutely essential to the process.
Pause before, during, and after eating: meditation will naturally lead to greater awareness during daily activities, but making a concerted effort to check in with our physical bodies and our emotions to understand what we really want and need in that moment is extremely important.
It takes time for this to become a habit, so be patient with yourself! Start by checking in before eating, especially snacking, and once you’re consistently implementing this at least 80% of the time, you can then add “during” and “after” to your practice.
Journal: We can evaluate the choices we’re making and their short-term and long-term effects much more effectively and quickly when we write them down and put our thoughts on paper. This enables us to connect the dots and really get clear on how our choices are affecting our bodies (energy levels, digestion, menstrual cycles, workout performance, skin, etc.).
Additionally, and often more importantly, we need to write about how our emotional and internal states are contributing to the choices we’re making. Does stress lead to overeating and eating foods that don’t make you feel well? Are you using food to cope when you feel lonely? Do you tend to eat highly processed foods during the work week because you’re miserable at your job? These are a few of the REALLY important things to understand about ourselves, and even bringing awareness to them is often enough to change our behavior.
Keep an open mind: this may seem obvious, but it’s impossible to “unlearn” rules if we’re convinced that we already know everything there is to learn. I certainly fell into this trap when I first began my journey, as I was all-in on eating according to hunger and satiety signals, but I wasn’t willing to let go of my dogmatic low-carb and paleo approach.
It wasn’t until I accepted that I may have more to learn that I was finally able to fully connect with my body and listen to what it was telling (read: screaming at) me.
The process isn’t black-and-white
The outcomes of these steps aren’t necessarily prescriptive, rigid, or black-and-white, and this can cause a sense of unease with many former dieters due to the freedom involved. And I get it! I’ve been there.
However, while it’s human nature to crave certainty, most things in life don’t fall into this category, and our relationships with food are no exception. This stuff is layered and nuanced—cultural ties, personal memories and emotions, forms of celebration, fuel for performance, personal preferences, suitability to lifestyles, effects on cognitive abilities, type and duration of activity, and many more.
It will take time to discover how all of these layers stack up and align for YOU, but the beauty of this tailored approach is that it’s created by you, for you—with your own body and intuition as your guide.
The boomerang effect might be part of your journey, but it certainly isn’t the last stop. It’s merely a byproduct of unlearning everything you’ve assumed over the years, and freedom is surely on the other side.