How to Improve Your Love/Hate Relationship with Sweets

“Just a little bit of the brownie batter…” 

“Lick the spoon then move on.”

*Feels guilt and shame about licking the spoon*

“Hmmm… well if you’ve already licked the spoon, you might as well finish off the whole bowl of batter.”

*Feels guilt and shame about finishing off the brownie batter*

“Well, you’re already ruined the night. You might as well binge on the pan of brownies.” 

*Binges on brownies to cope with feelings of guilt and shame related to having some of the brownie batter.*

*Feels terrible, physically, mentally, and emotionally*

Raise your hand if you can relate to this?! 

Binge-eating, or for layman’s terms, “loss of control” eating, can be caused by a number of factors, with the most common being physical and/or psychological deprivation. When you combine those things with a stressful day, time alone, and lack of appropriate coping skills, there’s no wonder the binge occurs. 

So how do you break free from this cycle?!

Here’s a few things con consider: 

Physical Deprivation: Are you eating enough throughout the day? 

My colleague Megan Bray recently said it bast on her Instagram account: “Diet culture’s 1200-1500 calorie recommendation is starvation. The human body will fight back by increasing hunger and cravings.” 

Our bodies are wired to resist starvation. Plain and simple. They don’t know the difference between a diet and famine (aka starvation). It doesn’t matter what size your body is. It doesn’t matter if you “think you need to lose weight”. When we aren’t getting enough to eat, leptin, an appetite and fat storage hormone, send signals to the hypothalamus (control center of the brain that regulates many things, appetite being one of them), telling it to ramp up cravings for foods that are energy-dense, generally higher in fat, carbs, or sugar, foods that would be potentially life-saving during a “famine”. It also ramps up the urgency in which you feel to get those foods. Hence the crazy, out of control feelings around certain foods after a day of dieting / under-eating. 

It isn’t a coincidence that the first day you go on a diet is also the day that you’re craving desserts. It isn’t a coincidence that when you don’t eat enough throughout the day, that you crave sugar. That’s your body’s way of telling you that you need more fuel, you need more food. 

So let me ask you again, are you eating enough? And you may not know. That’s why it can be super beneficial to work with a registered dietitian to help determine appropriate nutritional needs for your age, gender, and activity level.

95% of people who come to me wanting to “fix” their “loss of control” eating habits  and love/hate relationship with sweets don’t get enough food during the day. And then late afternoon or in the evening, they binge partly due to physical deprivation. 

But binge-eating isn’t only related to physical deprivation. It’s also more often than not related to psychological deprivation. 

Psychological Deprivation: Destructive Beliefs and Attitudes about Food 

When you tell a little kid that he / she cannot have any of the freshly baked cookies out of the cookie jar… what do they do? They become hyper-focused on how they are going to get the cookies, when they are going to get the cookies, and how good the cookies are going to taste.

Who wouldn’t, right?! 

When we tell ourselves that something is “off limits”, it generally makes that food item even more enticing than it already would be. 

What are your beliefs around sweets?

Are sweets “bad” or “unhealthy”? Are they placed on a pedestal? Do you allow yourself to have them? Are they off limits? Do you fear them? Are they reserved for special occasions? Or binges? 

All of these beliefs can contribute to psychological deprivation, which can make it harder to feel “normal” around sweets, and to feel like you have a choice in the matter. 

What’s the solution? 

Unconditional permission to eat sweets, desserts, etc. Allow yourself to have the foods you so desperately desire, or crave, or fear, or all of the above. 

This concept is terrifying. I totally get it. 

And that’s where I think many people get lost in how to make the transition. When you have a history of restricting food, it’s unlikely that you will give yourself unconditional permission to eat x,y,z food overnight.

Most people don’t start at 100% unconditional permission. Although it would make the process shorter, starting at 100% unconditional permission is terrifying for most people. 

I usually have my clients started by having sweets / desserts more often with friends and family (their safe people). It can be helpful to have desserts with friends and family in a more normalized setting. For many people, it gives them confidence and helps them prove to themselves that they can, indeed, eat dessert in a “normal” manor, without feeling numb or out control while eating. This can also empower folks, and teach them that they can handle desserts alone, that they are capable of making choices that served my body well, physically and psychologically. 

Once my clients feel good about this, many make the transition to regularly keeping desserts + foods that used to be “off limits” in their house. This transition usually isn’t perfect. Sometimes binge-eating still happens. Sometimes there is still guilt and shame associated with eating the food whether or not there is binge-eating. But slowly, overtime, as one continues to give herself / himself more and more permission to honor my hunger, fullness, AND food preferences and cravings, they can transition into a mindset of “unconditional permission to eat.”

And there are times when we are ALL use food as a way to cope with a stressful day. And that’s TOTALLY NORMAL. It’s okay to mindfully say, “I’m stressed and I want some chocolate…I know it won’t solve all of my stress but I want it so I’m going to have it.” Totally normal. 

It’s only problematic is when our only coping skill is to turn to food, and we have no other way to manage emotions, when we believe that the ONLY thing that will make us “feel better” is the food. Because at the end of the day, it won’t. Food won’t solve all of our problems or take away our biggest hurts. It doesn’t have that power. Food is just food. So it’s important to work on learning how to identify what emotions you’re feeling, and how to cope in a place that’s out of  self-care, whether that’s getting ice cream with a friend, taking a nap, deep breathing, going on a walk, or curling up with a good book. 

Nourish your body, allow yourself to eat the foods you fear, learn how to identify your emotions + expand your box of coping skills.

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