How to eat, in a nutshell – lesson one: Permission.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.


I spend a lot of time and energy trying to teach people to eat normally. It’s amazing what a difficult process it can be, and I blame a lot of that on the severely disordered culture we’re all swimming in.

It can be a long, drawn-out process, full of tears and frustration and mistakes. There’s also good stuff in there, but make no mistake, it is not an easy task.

And that’s why writing is so nice. It’s more abstract, it’s less emotional, and it helps me to reinforce the nuts and bolts of what I do. So, both for myself, and for all of you out there who just want to know how to do it, already without all the hand-holding and emotions, here you go. Here’s how it works.

Lesson One: Permission

There is one golden rule to normal eating, and it is this: no one decides what or how much goes in your mouth but you.

You are an adult. You are an autonomous human being. You make your own choices with food. I do not care how much you weigh, or whether you have a disease or an allergy – you have unconditional permission to eat anything in any amount.

There are no laws, legal or moral, to stop you.

That’s what being an autonomous human being is all about.

Even if you have a disease or an allergy, it is your choice to either follow the therapeutic dietary recommendations for your condition, or not. (It is also your choice to figure out what works for you, personally, since not all therapeutic diet recommendations are written in stone. Some may not even be based on good evidence.)

Would I recommend that you eat something that will cause you immediate death or illness? No, of course not – but that is not my choice to make. It is yours, and only yours.

Even in the most extreme scenario, you make that choice. Is it a fun choice? If it’s between peanuts or death, no. It’s not fun at all. But from a philosophical perspective, it is still a choice, and you are still the only one who can make it.

You also have the unconditional right to eat. Eating is a human right, no matter how fat you are, no matter how screwed up around food you think you are, no matter how much you know or don’t know about nutrition, no matter what your concerned family or friends say, no matter who harasses you on the street.

You have the right to eat, because you are a human being.

You also need to eat, because you are a human being. There is no person out there, fat or thin, who can live a healthy, functional life without eating a reasonable amount of food.

There is a misconception that somehow being fat beyond a certain arbitrary line drawn in imaginary BMI sand means you have the superhuman ability, and the moral obligation, to live without food. Which is total BS.

Quick nutrition interlude: your body, every cell in your body but particularly your brain, runs on sugar. Glucose is the preferred day-to-day gasoline that makes you go. And, believe it or not, our body only has a short-term store (usually measured in hours) of glucose to draw on.

Which means? You need to eat. Regularly. You’re not going to be able to think clearly for very long without it, and you’re going to feel like ass, physically.

To sum up:

  • You need to eat.
  • You have the right to eat.
  • Only you can choose what you eat.

All of which can be distilled into a single concept: permission. Unconditional permission to eat whatever, and however much, you want. Healthy food? Junk food? A lot? A little? It’s your choice. You have permission.

Because we don’t live in a world that naturally encourages your autonomy around food, you will need to put this into practice. To put permission into practice, you need to say it to yourself every time you sit down to eat:

“I’m allowed to eat this, and I can have as much as I want.”

Permission works both ways, too – you do not have to eat anything you don’t want.

Ever see a toddler spit out strained peas against his mother’s best efforts? That’s you.

You do not have to eat anything you don’t like, don’t want, or aren’t in the mood for. No matter who is pushing it, who thinks it’s for your own good, or what magazine says it’s the new superfood. You do not have to.

You don’t have to count calories, or Points, or measure portions out and leave the table feeling hungry. You also don’t have to get so full that you feel uncomfortable, just to assuage someone’s insecurity about their cooking, or their guilt for being an absent parent, or whatever.

You do not have to clean every plate in sight because someone, somewhere in the world, doesn’t have enough to eat. You are not the Human Garbage Disposal, and you can’t solve world hunger by eating leftovers.

You are responsible only to yourself, and your stomach. You are allowed to eat only what feels right, in amounts that feel right.

Say it to yourself – “I’m allowed to eat this, and I can have as much (or as little) as I want.”

Say it like you’d say grace over your food. Even if you don’t believe yourself at first. Even if it feels stupid and pointless. You do it, and you do it again and again and again.

Why? Because it is absolutely true.

So, here’s the takeaway – write a permission note to yourself, right now. Put it on a Post-It, or make a big sign, or embroider something. It doesn’t matter.

Put it in your own words. Put it somewhere you’ll see it and remember it. And then say it, either out loud or in your head, every time you eat, as often as you can remember.

How do you give yourself permission, in your own words? Tell us why you’re allowed eat in comments.







191 responses to “How to eat, in a nutshell – lesson one: Permission.”

  1. ksol Avatar

    Have I told you lately that I love you?

    We have periodic wellness programs at work. The latest, greatest includes a book by a fitness expert. (Did you know that “expert” comes from “ex” meaning “has-been,” and “spurt,” meaning “a drip under pressure?”) Between her little cheerleading blurb on “it’s time to throw out those twinkies!” (I haven’t had a twinkie in decades. Not that there’s anything wrong with them if you like them.) and talking about how many eggs I am “allowed” (ummm…. all I want, since I have no cholesterol issues?), I got a headache from rolling my eyes.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It’s funny…like 80% of the blog posts I’ve already written basically deal with “permission.” But there is so much crap like you describe floating around in the world that I feel like it needs to be said over, and over, and over again.

      Is this “wellness” program voluntary or mandatory?

      1. ksol Avatar

        Voluntary … but we get a discount on health insurance premiums if we do it. Mercifully, they’re not asking that we follow this woman’s program to the letter, but only to eat 2 fruits and 3 veggies a day and get 30 minutes exercise of our choice. That I can do and enjoy and have no problem with.

    2. KellyK Avatar

      Is it your copy to mark up as you want? Can you make snarky comments in the margins?

      1. ksol Avatar

        Hadn’t thought of that… what a great idea! yep, it is. Mine to keep. I’ve been using it as a drink coaster so far.

        1. Baffled Avatar

          LOL What a great use for it!! Perfect!!

    3. MEatRHIT Avatar

      I hope you were joking with the “expert” quip.


      late 14c., from L. expertus, pp. of experiri “to try, test” (see experience). The n. sense of “person wise through experience” existed 15c., reappeared 1825.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Yes, that was a joke.

        1. flightless Avatar

          The way I heard it, the first part was “x” is a mathematical term for “unknown,” so an expert is “an unknown drip, under pressure.” I like “has-been” too! ;-)

          (And I love this post, and your whole refreshing and awesome approach. Thank you!)

        2. KellyK Avatar

          Wait, you mean that’s not the real meaning?? Dude, next thing you’ll be telling me that politics isn’t from “poly” meaning “many” and “ticks” meaning “blood-sucking insects.”

  2. AcceptanceWoman Avatar

    I love the concept of Humane Nutrition.

    As someone who has diabetes (I hate being called diabetic) it’s so annoying being asked, “can you have that?”

    Yes. Yes I can. I can have this, and this, and all of this if I want it. I also don’t have to have any of that, or that, or that. Because I’m a human being who happens to have a particular way that my body manages energy, I might choose to operate within a set of self-defined guidelines, based on evidence and experience.


    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, I completely agree – permission totally applies to diabetes. This is like, one of the things I say that people find the most shocking – because apparently, once you are diagnosed with a disease, your right (and ability) to choose what to eat is completely forfeited.

      I also am really fond of the “Add on, don’t take away” school of thought when it comes to diabetes, and a few other diseases with nutritional components. It sounds weird, but it can actually work to help someone transition to a more blood-sugar-friendly diet without feeling like they are having their hand slapped and being told NO. I’ll be writing about that later on in the series.

      1. tiferet Avatar

        I get this a lot with celiac disease. I have NO desire to eat wheat/barley/rye/uninspected oats (it made me sick for 20 years, and I look at it and think ‘poison’) but people don’t always know that I am eating gluten-free cupcakes or whatever, or they think that gluten is in all complex carbohydrates, ever, including potatoes and rice, and it is annoying that well-meaning people cannot understand that I actually do know what will and will not make me sick.

        Also other celiacs insist to me that reading labels isn’t enough and if it’s made on “shared equipment” I must avoid it, even though my post-6 months of gluten free eating endoscopy was completely clean and I’m really very improved. I always read labels and can often tell from the wording whether the company cares enough to avoid cross-contamination. Godiva doesn’t care if I fall over dead; Trader Joe’s is so scrupulous they won’t put “no gluten ingredients” on anything made on shared equipment but they always say they did not use wheat and that they use good manufacturing practises, they just can’t legally promise.

        Not that I don’t have the right to poison myself if I want, but I really don’t want to! I don’t mind when people warn me that they think something I’m eating or looking at eating might not be okay. I just don’t want them to concern-troll me when they’re doing so.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          This is a perfect description of healthy, gluten-free eating. I’m so glad you’re eating in a way that helps you feel good – and when it comes to the annoying people who have to make assumptions and judgments about your diet when they know nothing about it, boundaries boundaries boundaries.

          It’s actually not okay to police other people’s food. If anyone questions what I’m eating, I tell them (sometimes more politely than others) to stuff it. I think this is especially important when people are aware that you have a condition that requires you to restrict certain foods. A gentle (or not-so-gentle) reminder that you know what the hell you’re doing, and a lot better than they do, is called for.

          “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but it’s not working.”

          1. tiferet Avatar

            Thank you! :D :D :D

        2. dessa Avatar

          Ugh, I have exactly the same problem! It’s like the diet mentality is so strong that dietary restriction for an illness must still surely be tied to weight-loss paradigms… I’ve had friends sneer at the idea of me eating potato & rice, and call it ‘cheating’ despite the fact that they know full well I’m not on Atkins – I have coealiac disease.

          I hate that people feel they have the right to police other’s eating.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            I’d sneer right back at those friends and tell them it’s not “cheating” to not follow rules from a game you’re not even playing. That’s like sitting at a football game and yelling “HEY! Travelling! You’re supposed to dribble!” at the guy running with the ball.

      2. Living400lbs Avatar

        “Add on, don’t take away”

        Oooooh, this. Most recently I’ve been eating more fiberific foods, and yeah – adding oatmeal or whole wheat toast works much better than “You can’t have _______!”

        1. Chris Avatar

          I have diabetes too. Of course, what they don’t tell you about GI eating, is that if you want to lower the GI of a food, add fat! One of my friends – his partner developed gestational diabetes, and found that the grapes she ate after lunch spiked her blood sugar too much. I suggested she add some cheese, which she did, and everything turned out fine. As she mentioned – everyone’s too busy telling you what to take away, they forget to tell you anything that – y’know – is even remotely helpful.

          In my own words, permission to eat is pretty much “fuck you, you fuckers!”

          I hope I can say that here! :)

          Or, my other favourite angry thing to say at the moment: “I refuse to work for the approval of those who I despise”.

          Love to all!

          1. Chris Avatar

            Hmm, meant to post that under the earlier comment… oh well!

          2. Michelle Avatar

            That is pretty much the most appropriate comment you could ever make on my blog.

          3. Chris Avatar

            I’m glad!

          4. marni Avatar

            Haha! I love you for that!

      3. Ellie Avatar

        it can actually work to help someone transition to a more blood-sugar-friendly diet without feeling like they are having their hand slapped and being told NO. I’ll be writing about that later on in the series.

        I am really, really looking forward to this. I was just diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a couple months ago and it has hit every food and disordered-eating stressor I have. The highs, the lows, the random shifts I can’t seem to figure out, the new hunger cues, the rapid and persistent weight gain (which is of course objectively GOOD because I’m not peeing away all my nutrients anymore), the ever-looming threat of having to log all my food and present it to a doctor (soooo triggering) … I’m in the weeds right now. The more I try to care for my body, the more I end up abusing it in all kinds of ways.

        1. Sim Avatar

          OMG, this post has me in tears. I can so relate. I have type 2, and I feel the exact same way. When I was first diagnosed I just stopped eating for a while because it was all too hard. Then i went all legalistic and policed myself so hard I became suicidal. Now, I must admit, I’m at the other end and eat whatever I damn well please, and honestly, I flat out lie to my doctor about it. After 4 years I am still trying to find that balance. I wish you peace and mental health :)

      4. Drew Avatar

        “Add on, don’t take away” is a really, really good thing that I wish more people would think about. My friend doesn’t eat well (or enough), and it’s making him sick – always tired, usually sniffly, and susceptible to any bug going around – so he’s started to try to look into healthier eating.

        He went to a nutritionist, and apparently his entire session was summed up by him being told to avoid “the four devils” – white flour, white sugar, milk, and processed salt.

        When I pointed out that that’s about 90% of what he eats, he said he realized — CLEARLY he was supposed to replace them. When I asked ‘with what’, he said “oh, that’s next lesson”. A week away. After having been told that he doesn’t eat enough, then not to eat what he was used to eating. :|

        1. Alexie Avatar

          Milk is a devil?

          Even though humans have consumed it since Paleolithic times?

          That’s me damned then.

          1. KellyK Avatar

            You and me both. And when I was a kid it was “Drink your milk so you can build strong bones.” (My grandmother had osteoporosis. The logical part of my brain tells me that no food is magical, but if you mention older people breaking hips or getting shorter, you will probably see me pour myself a glass of milk within the next 5 minutes.)

    2. megaforte84 Avatar


      I know multiple people with Type 2. Every single one of them is sensitive to different foods – although cantaloupe seems to be the most common shared cause of Sudden Blood Sugar Spike.

      And there are sometimes clashes when two or more of them dine together, because of that and because different people metabolize sugar control medications differently.

      Even if Bob has told you that Personal Demon Fruit sends his blood sugar through the ceiling, you don’t get to judge him for eating it. For all you know, he’s recognizing the starting signs of low blood sugar, knows his calorie count for the day has been lower than his medication dose anticipates and is responding before his blood sugar can start crashing, or has adjusted his intake of food for the rest of the day or week to allow him the special treat – and in all those cases, skipping the known sugar hit will cause problems for Bob!

      It always gets to me when the presence of high-sugar items in the homes or grocery carts of people with Type 2 diabetes gets judged. It’s not always a sign someone isn’t trying to manage the condition. Sometimes those foods and drinks are, effectively, medication. I still remember when I first heard someone mention that sodas were being recommended to diabetics as raising blood sugar from low or dangerously low levels faster than glucose tablets.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I think it’s helpful for people to implement a default assumption that other people probably know how to feed themselves. Disease or no disease.

        Unless they’ve asked for your advice, butt out. It’s really inappropriate, rude, and totally boundary-breaching. I am so not down with that.

      2. Twistie Avatar

        Not to mention sometimes people with diabetes happen to live with people who don’t have diabetes.

        Mr. Twistie has Type II. I do not. I like a number of things that spike his blood sugar badly. I eat them. He doesn’t. We’re good.

      3. KellyK Avatar

        I remember hanging out with a friend with hypoglycemia who was crashing and being really deeply grateful that we found a working soda machine to get his blood sugar back up to normal. And it totally makes sense that a liquid would get absorbed faster than a tablet.

      4. flightless Avatar

        “It always gets to me when the presence of high-sugar items in the homes or grocery carts of people with Type 2 diabetes gets judged.”

        Wow, seriously. I feel like we should print up some cards with the URLs and phone numbers of various charities that need volunteer help, because some people apparently have WAY too much time on their hands!

        (I’m imagining also: Hey, you have the time and energy to critique my shopping cart? Why not help that mother-of-three over there carry her groceries out to the car?)

        1. KellyK Avatar

          I want some of those cards. (Not that anybody has said anything judgey to me at the store, but I really want to have them just in case.)

        2. Dani Avatar

          Does Codependents Anonymous have business cards?

    3. bananacat Avatar

      I have a friend who has diabetes (I’m not sure which type). Out of politeness I asked him if there are any foods that are really bad, so I can avoid them when picking snacks to share with our group of friends. He told me not to worry about it, so I don’t. In the past I probably would have worried anyway and tried to avoid things that are basically pure sugar. But he’s an adult and I trust him to know more about his body than I do. I bring whatever I want and if he doesn’t want it (for any reason, not just diabetes) then he just doesn’t have any. I’m willing to accommodate anyone who wants it, but I also need to accept when someone doesn’t want or need any special consideration.

      1. bananacat Avatar

        And my point is that I have this blog to thank for my change in the way I have handled this.

      2. KellyK Avatar

        I think that’s a really good approach. I’m happy to have people tell me their restrictions (everything from health to ethics to just plain preference) if I’m feeding them. But it’s really important to accept that they’re the one who gets to decide.

  3. sannanina Avatar

    Oh god, permission. That’s a hard one for me. I told you once that I gave myself permission by telling myself that I was allowed to have as much as I wanted of a specific food (in that case chocolate pudding) and that I was even allowed to binge. The last part was actually incredibly important – I can’t say that I fully believed it at the time (I am not sure I fully believe it even now), however, it has actually worked for me. During and after the rare binges that I still experience I feel much less guilty these days, and therefore much better to forgive myself and move on.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow, interesting!

      I find that permission is, consistently, one of the top 2 things that my clients struggle with. I’m still trying to figure out more ways of making it work.

      I think of it in the way I used to help myself fall asleep when I was having really bad insomnia – by telling myself “I don’t have to fall asleep. I’m just going to lay here and rest, even if I’m awake all night. I’ll still survive tomorrow even if I don’t sleep at all.” Because it’s true – a sleepless night is not going to kill me, or anyone. It’s the same with a binge. Is it incredibly unpleasant? Yes. Does it make you feel crappy? Yes. But is it LITERALLY THE END OF THE WORLD? Hell no. On the scale of Bad Things That Can Happen to You, it’s not even that terrible.

      The worry that it will happen, and it will be the WORST THING TO EVER HAPPEN is usually enough pressure to inevitably lead to it happening, in my experience. Just as, when I have insomnia, laying in bed, looking at the clock, thinking, “I MUST FALL ASLEEP OR ELSE” is pretty much a guarantee that I won’t sleep that night.

      1. Inca Avatar

        I wish I could find someone like you about those non-eating issues. The permission-thing resonates with me on many levels (just not food) and I think I need to hear this a time or thousand more. (I try to repeat it to myself. But when someone else is saying it… it’s still different. Even though it’s about my own permission. It’s weird. Lots of the insights are there, they just don’t fall through to the ‘I actually believe it’-level.)

        1. Indywind Avatar

          Inca, a good therapist/counselor type person can help support you in permissions about non-food things. It can take a little work to find one –you may have to try a few and fire them first–but a good one can help. Some other practitioners in supporting professions can also reinforce your permission to be yourself because you are just fine as you are; my yoga teacher is great for that (it still pays to be selective, there are jerks in every profession).

      2. KellyK Avatar

        That may be the key to pretty much everything–it’s not the thing itself that’ll get you, it’s the worrying about it. Worrying always makes it worse. Not that I’m always (heck, most of the time) successful in talking myself out of worrying, but it’s good to try to let go of worry as much as possible.

  4. Anna N. Avatar
    Anna N.

    This is a wonderful post. I’m a “picky eater” – there are many foods that I don’t like, some that I won’t even try – and a lot of silly people somehow find picky eating personally offensive. As if it has anything to do with them! It does not.

    When I moved in to my own apartment, I realized that I really could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I remember I sometimes ate until my stomach hurt. I think it was to prove to myself that I could do it and without feeling guilty, since there was nobody around to either physically or socially control what I was eating. I don’t do that anymore because I don’t need to. I know I can eat as much as I want. I don’t need to prove it to myself.

    Occasionally I choose to eat more dairy than I really should. It may give me a mild stomachache. I know this. My friends know I have a problem with dairy, too, but as AcceptanceWoman said, I don’t need people saying “should you eat that?”. It’s not their business. I like real chocolate or cereal or mashed potatoes enough that, once in a while, it’s worth it.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I totally think people get to choose “when it’s worth it” to eat things that won’t make them feel physically great. (Of course, this wouldn’t apply to something that gives you anaphylaxis or otherwise instantly kills you, but most things don’t fall under that category for most people.) For me, it’s soda – it makes me feel really drowsy if I drink it in the afternoons. But I love soda. So I just make damn sure I don’t drink in the afternoons I have to go to a meeting, because it is truly not worth it then. On an afternoon when I don’t have much else planned? Heck yeah.

      I’m also mildly allergic to beans – I get the swelling mouth and throat thing (yes, I know that’s a really bad sign, but it is always very mild, not anaphylaxis-level.) So I tend to only eat them when I know I’ll be in a comfortable situation after eating, and can take the time to lay down or otherwise relax.

      I really think the same can go for lactose intolerance, for things that make your blood sugar go crazy, or stuff that gives you a headache, etc. If foods you like do these things, then telling yourself “I MUST NEVER EAT IT AGAIN” is pretty much setting yourself up for either a life of deprived misery, or a binge. Instead, I like to think, “I’ll eat these things when I really want them, when it’s really worth it, and when I can take the time to pay attention and really enjoy them.”

      P.S. Just about the worst thing anyone can do to a “picky eater” is pressure, cajole, force, wheedle, or otherwise try to convince them to eat food they are not interested in. ZIP THE LIP if you are eating with someone who is picky about food. Let them find their own way.

      P.P.S. It’s also totally worth it to choose to get super-overfull on some occasions. Like a holiday, or when someone’s made an especially awesome dinner. Especially if you have time to lounge around and relax or take a nice leisurely walk afterward.

      1. Anna N. Avatar
        Anna N.


        THANK YOU! It’s incredibly rare to find someone who isn’t a picky eater (I assume you’re not) but “gets it”. I will try new things, sometimes, when I feel like it. Other picky eaters I know won’t, and that’s ok too. But the one sure-fire way to make me not remotely interested in trying is to keep putting on the pressure or guilt or anything like that. I have to deal with my pickiness every day of my life. They only have to deal with it peripherally for a brief time. They can just zip it, as you say.

        The funny thing about eating until over-full is that I really never do it at holiday meals or anything either, even when it’s socially acceptable to do so. It’s not deliberate, I just feel less hungry or want less food when other people are there. I think on the one hand it’s social conditioning but also when I’m alone I tend to eat while reading or watching tv, so I probably eat more without realizing it.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I’m not a picky eater now, but as a teen I was somewhat picky. Luckily people didn’t really bother me about it, and I eventually figured it out on my own. But I’ve worked with several people whose picky eating has extended well into adulthood, mainly because people continued to pressure them, or because they internalized it and learned to pressure themselves in a way that just set them up to resist eating as much as possible.

          I think I am sometimes distracted by the whole “holiday” thing or having other people around, and so in those situations I sometimes eat less just because so much else is going on. I make up for that at other times, though – e.g. whenever we have spaghetti.

          1. Courtney Avatar

            I second the “thanks” about the picky eater thing. I’m not a very picky eater, but when I don’t like a food, I can barely stand to be around it (much less eat it.) When I was about 12 or 13, I stopped liking eggs. I couldn’t stand the smell of cooked eggs, and the idea of eating something that smelled so bad to me made my stomach clench. The eggiest thing I could eat was french toast. (Even then, if some of the egg had seeped out during cooking to form bits of cooked egg around the edges, I had to cut that part off.)

            My mom didn’t give me much hassle beyond insisting that I be polite in my refusals to eat eggs. My stepmother, however, got on my case about it after a few months. She kept asking me to please just eat a little bit of eggs in front of my (much younger) half siblings, because they were refusing to eat eggs because I didn’t eat them. It frustrated me to no end. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t eat eggs in anything where I can smell them.” Looking back, all I can think is–why should I have been sorry?

            Whatever caused cooked eggs to smell bad to me went away around the time I was 20. I woke up one day to my roommate scrambling eggs, and it smelled really good. I made some for myself, and have been eating eggs ever since.

            But I still don’t eat Brussells Sprouts. Can’t make me.

          2. Twistie Avatar

            If you ever come to eat at Casa Twistie, the only question asked is ‘what don’t you eat?’ and I don’t have any need to know why.

            I’m not a picky eater, myself, but Mr. Twistie is, and I know any number of people with strong food restrictions, whether because of allergies, other health issues, or just plain pickiness. I can feed people around pretty much any restriction thrown at me. I kind of pride myself on that.

            Oh, and while I’m not a picky eater, I’m a damn stubborn woman and I know what pushing me does to my likelihood of agreeing to even the most rational things. I think that’s why I instituted the question.

            Of course, nobody trusts the question. They’re so used to being berated, ignored, mistrusted, or accused of all manner of horrible underhanded plots connected to the refusal of a simple food that nearly everyone either refuses to answer or hedges their list with assurances that they really, really are deathly allergic to something.

            Thing is: I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s an allergy, a religious restriction, a medical condition, or a personal squeamishness about food that’s a certain color or texture. If you tell me it’s off your menu, it’s not going to be served to you in my home. I want you to enjoy dinner (or whatever meal it may be), so I’m going to trust that you have your reasons and just cook something that isn’t on your verboten list.

            And if you don’t tell me what you don’t eat and find yourself faced with a table full of things you wouldn’t give a dog, well, next time answer the damn question so I know what not to cook.

        2. ako Avatar

          I’m a picky eater as well, and I know what you mean about pressure and guilt. My mom will actually poke food at people’s face in her “Just try this!” enthusiasm, and will push food at me, pester me about refusing it, and let out that little disappointed sigh when I end up not eating it. She also doesn’t understand that it’s possible to like food cooked one way and not another, or like all of the component ingredients of a dish and not like the dish. Unsurprisingly, when I’m visiting my parents, I eat far more restrictively than in any other circumstances.

          (I’ve gotten much better at eating a broader range of food, giving stuff multiple tries, and finding out that something I dislike when prepared a certain way can be really tasty when prepared a different way or with different ingredients – hummus and balsamic vinegar can get me to enjoy nearly any vegetable. However, there are a few things I consistently dislike, including a couple of incredibly common things, and it currently isn’t worth it to give stuff like broccoli and iceberg lettuce yet another shot.)

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I’m not really a picky eater anymore, but seriously? If people push food on me, even in a really mild way, I AM FILLED WITH RAGE. I think it brings me back to my picky-eater past.

      2. notemily Avatar

        Thanks for this comment. I have IBS and I’ve been struggling with the desire for dairy products for a while now. So far it seems to be: cheese is sometimes okay, baked goods made with butter/milk are sometimes okay, mashed potatoes are okay because the starchiness of the potatoes balances out the milk/butter; but raw milk and butter are NOT okay. Which is fine, because I can use soy milk and non-dairy margarine for those. But I really, REALLY miss ice cream.

        I’ve tried all the vegan substitutes and they’re just not the same. The coconut-milk stuff comes close, but you can taste the coconut, which isn’t one of my favorite flavors. So I’ve been missing ice cream to the point where I fetishize it and feel sorry for myself that I can’t have any. Which isn’t particularly healthy.

        So I’ve been considering trying some actual ice cream, on a day when my stomach feels otherwise fine and I have time to curl up with peppermint tea if my stomach starts to hurt. But I’m afraid of trying it because I don’t want something I love so much to be something I associate with pain and discomfort.

        Anyway, this comment helps me think about this stuff and know I’m not the only one who struggles with such things. Thank you.

        1. diane bluegreen Avatar

          have you tried frozen yogurt? i have dairy sensitivites similar to yours,but i love that stuff. i think it’s as good as ice cream (though all don’t agree and sometimes there are fewer flavor choices) and it’s not as filling. it seems to digest better than ice cream,though i do get a little gassy,but it’s worth it!

        2. KellyK Avatar

          If the starchiness of the potatoes seems to balance out the milk, I wonder if you could do something similar with ice cream, like a little bit of ice cream on top of a baked good that doesn’t have much other dairy in it? Or a nice starchy frut like bananas? I also wonder if there are flavors of coconut milk “ice cream” where the other flavor would overpower the coconut enough that it wouldn’t bother you.

          Though it’s pretty sucky that the only way to figure it out is to do things that might make you miserable.

        3. Jake Avatar

          I totally hear you on non-dairy substitutes just not cutting it. May I make a recommendation? Although in my experience the tubs of soy ice cream don’t taste like real ice cream, there’s a product called tofutti cuties, that are little soy ice cream sandwiches, that I find really do taste like regular ice cream sandwiches and are amazing.

          Obviously, I’m not expressing an opinion on whether or not you should eat dairy ice cream, but if you’re interested in this option you should know about it.

      3. KaralynZ Avatar

        OMG the lactose intolerance…

        Yeah. I developed it suddenly in my mid-20’s. This in a person who regularly drank two or three cups of milk a day. But even with lactaid pills, drinking it is no longer a choice that I make very often. It’s still my choice, but I know what will happen if I choose to have it.

        ice cream on the other hand…

        1. Anna N. Avatar
          Anna N.

          I’m not lactose intolerant, I’m casein intolerant (another milk protein) but I too developed it in my mid-20s and had to go from a diet rich in dairy to almost none over a very short period. I used to have cereal with milk every morning and yogurt and cheese all the time, and now all my favorite foods make me ill. It’s a sick joke the universe played on us.

      4. kittensnotkids Avatar

        THANK YOU, and Picky Eater Solidarity with Anna N. and anyone else. I don’t like much. What I like happens to be mostly a lot of starchy carby things, and lots of dairy. All of which I tolerate just fine. I know what I like, and what I almost certainly won’t like. The few things that sound like possibles I might try. But being a picky eater makes people weirdly aggressive and condescending, and cajoling, and it’s very upsetting. You know that one food you just canNOT stand? no matter who cooks it, or how, or when? Yeah: MOST foods are that for me. So stop guilting me or trying to get me to try something Iknow I won’t like.

        Food is so weird, and the way we interact around it is even weirder.

      5. Cairsten Avatar

        Heh. I am allergic to shellfish. At least, to US shellfish — stuff imported from back home in Trinidad doesn’t trigger it. And yet, I grew up on an island. Shellfish was a large part of what we ate, and I love it. So once every year or so, I shock and frighten my fiance by having the shrimp, or the crabcake, and eating until I feel the first symptoms. Then I stop and take the Benadryl, and I’m good for another year. I figure at some point he’ll get used to it.

    2. bananacat Avatar

      I’m also a picky eater. I have OCD and in my case it is linked to that. So one time a friend insisted that I try some jalapeno jelly with cream cheese on a cracker. In my OCD brain, savory food is never ok as jelly, and I’m really weird about dairy products in general. I said “No, thanks”, yet she kept insisting. Luckily I am a very stubborn person and we had the most polite argument ever, but eventually she relented. I’m sure that she and the others enjoyed it and I’m truly glad for them, but I just did not want to try that.

      I am actually trying to eat a wider variety of foods, largely because my regular diet has been so boring. But I’ve been through CBT and I know what works for me and how to introduce new things. Forcing it on me will always make it worse, and it’s best if I can do it while I’m alone. Luckily my mom has always been accommodating, and one of my brothers is going through the exact same thing so he understands. I have had some success at eating new foods, but I doubt that I will ever eat mayonnaise, which is the biggest problem that I encounter in restaurants.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        In my OCD brain, savory food is never ok as jelly

        In my non-OCD brain, savoury food is very rarely ever ok as jelly. It gives me the willies.

  5. Eve Avatar

    I’ve had a problem in the past with eating food I don’t want. Usually this is when I’ve made something for my lunch, and I get to work, and really don’t want that for lunch but force myself to eat it because I don’t want to go buy something instead. I always feel gross afterward. There’s something soul-killing about eating food I don’t want. Every time I do it, I tell myself, “I will not do this again.” Sometimes I remember, and throw the food out and get something else, and sometimes I forget.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Sometimes it is worth it to “make do” with non-ideal food, just so you can make sure you get fed. Eating not-ideal food is better than going without food altogether! But if you have the opportunity to get something more enjoyable, and you’re REALLY not into what you brought for lunch that day, I really think it’s worth going for!

      I got really resentful about yogurt after a while, because I kept putting it into my lunch bag far past the time when it had become clear that I was “off” yogurt for a spell. As a result, I didn’t eat it again for like a year because I was so irrationally pissed off at yogurt, just from having repeatedly forced it on myself. Whoops.

    2. Living400lbs Avatar

      I run into this too. It doesn’t help that non-“breakfast” foods are usually unappetizing to me in the morning, so I really have NO IDEA what I’ll want for lunch (or dinner).

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I think it can be helpful to make a log for a while of what you END UP eating (and actually enjoying) at lunch and/or dinner. It normally reflects the stuff you like to eat reasonably well on a regular basis. From there, you can start to plan for the foods that make up the basis of your diet, even at times when you don’t know what’s going to “sound good.” If you have a repertoire of foods that usually hit the spot, then you can plan to eat them ahead of time with a good chance that you’ll enjoy them when the time comes.

        I also find it helpful to note down any particular cravings that come up at times when it is totally impractical to get those foods, and plan to work them into my menu for the week or month. There is a good chance that you will still want them later.

  6. Rachel Avatar

    I think the concept of permission could be a huge one for me. When I go on a diet (or a budget, for that matter), I suddenly get irrationally obsessed with the things I’ve decided I can’t have. Like I’m a damn 3-year-old. It’s like I’m telling my braind, “You’re not the boss of me!” and then I ruin whatever I’m trying to accomplish, feel bad, cycle continues. I wish I had figured out how to eat what I want, in quantities that will suffice, but healthy food too, without going overboard and spiraling into crazytown. I know what food makes me feel good, I know what food makes me feel lethargic and blah, and yet I can’t seem to do what is best for myself. I think I need to give this “permission” thing a try…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I would totally recommend trying the permission exercise. It’s amazing how it can take the pressure off. There will be more lessons to follow :)

    2. ako Avatar

      One thing with permission – I spent years thinking it didn’t work, because I’d give myself fake permission. You know, “Eat whatever you want, but not too much pizza! Eat whatever you want, but you don’t really want to finish the whole bag of candy, do you? Eat whatever you want, but what you want should be lots of vegetables and very small portions of cheese and chocolate.” That didn’t work at all well for me, because I kept counting the “No, I really want to eat the entire chocolate bar” days as failures.

      Actual permission took several instances of cupcake-induced stomach aches before something clicked in my brain and I started getting good at going “The cupcakes are always there, I can have them whenever I want, and I don’t want them right now because if I eat them and a protein-and-vegetable meal, I end up overly full, and if I eat them and no protein or vegetables, I end up feeling weird and spacey. If I change my mind, I am totally allowed to get another one tomorrow, or five minutes from now, or whenever I want.”

      1. DessertFirst Avatar

        Fake permission — I still do this! Only for me, the refrain is always “Eat whatever (and/or as much as) you want/need, but be aware that you will one day weigh 300/400/500 lbs — because your natural appetite is not to be trusted and is out to destroy you.” Clearly, I have not yet discovered how to silence my “inner critic” so that I can eat in peace. It really sucks the joy out of food for me.

        1. DessertFirst Avatar

          I should add that I am already borderline “obese” (according to the BMI chart, which I realize is mostly bunk) from eating restrictively for decades, so I can only imagine how much more weight I’d gain if I truly “let myself go.” Sorry for sounding so negative, given that this is a positive, helpful, empowering post; I am just so tired and frustrated with trying to feed myself adequately — I can’t believe that at my age (early 40s) I am still struggling with this most basic skill.

          1. ako Avatar

            You know, when I “let myself go”, I ended up eating slightly fewer sweets and more vegetables in the long run. Because when I was constantly going “No this is bad” or “Better stop now, portion control!” or “Just this once, but you’ll have to stop eating like this”, I would crave the “bad” stuff with a “You can never have pizza
            again!” intensity. Letting myself eat whatever I want, and combining truly unconditional permission with thinking about how food makes me feel (and knowing that I am
            allowed to go “This will make me feel like crap tomorrow, but I really want it today”) now has me frequently leaving half a chocolate bar in the fridge in case I want it later, or eating one-eighth of a pint of ice cream and then putting the rest away because I don’t want any more, and because if I change my mind or decide I want more tomorrow, it’s still going to be there and I am still going to have permission to eat it.

            It wasn’t an instant thing (it took a certain amount of “I WILL let myself eat the food I want, and trust that I will eventually find a point where I genuinely want to stop.” , and I do have times I eat more than sweets than a doctor would recommend, but it turns out I am not filled with an uncontrollable urge to eat a constant supply of fat and sugar, which will spiral hopelessly out of control if I don’t
            continually nag myself. And I’m guessing you aren’t, either.

          2. DessertFirst Avatar

            What you say makes a lot of sense. I guess I need to trust myself more, and be more patient and non-judgemental with myself as I try to reverse years of restrictive, disordered eating (and exercising). Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  7. karelys Avatar

    I read your blog long ago and then I started my journey to eating normal. No joke. I wish I could express the difference it has made in my life.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I wish I could express how happy that makes me :)

  8. Kaz Avatar

    I think the thing that made the permission thing click for me was really disability. I have a lot of problems with eating that are based around disability – as in, I regularly run into problems where I’m hungry but most food possibilities (or, sometimes, sadly, *all* food possibilities) are out of the question because I don’t have enough energy. Ever since I moved out of home, it feels like part of my brain has been dedicated to “how am I going to manage to eat tonight?” (as in, not what I’ll eat but *whether* I’ll eat) and I’ve spent years working out strategies and trying ideas to make sure the amount of times the answer to that is “uh, shit, constellation of circumstances – I don’t think I’ll be able to. Going to bed hungry it is” is as small as possible.

    And I think at some point I just got angry at the world for loading all the bullshit we have around food on me when I was already dealing with that. For giving me a tiny food-judgemental Kaz in my brain that sat there and went “frozen pizza? Not good! Not healthy! You ought to be eating vegetables!” when my chance of managing anything with vegetables was approximately zero and the fact that the frozen pizza was even there was a triumph of my determination and planning skills because a few years ago it might have been nothing. For giving me a voice in my head that wanted me to think nothing would be better. Well, screw that, said I. Priority number one is that I eat, because eating is kind of important. Priority number two might have been eat healthily (or, after some reading of fat acceptance stuff and your blog and such, eating intuitively), but since I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop struggling with priority number one it’s best to not even bother setting up more.

    …which isn’t to say I’m perfect, and in fact this post is very well-timed – a few days ago I tried a low-energy idea for a meal and ended up totally unable to eat it because for some reason something about it made me gag. I’d been kicking myself over that for ~wasting food~ and for not having a ~proper reason~ for disliking it (sometimes I get totally disgusted by some food for no reason I can figure out). But, hey, totally irrational or not I didn’t like it and instead of beating myself up over that it’d probably be best to chalk this up as something that didn’t work and move on.

    I admit reading this blog is sometimes depressing for me, because I don’t think I’ll ever manage intuitive eating. It just feels as if a necessary prerequisite for that is that your stomach can trust that you will give it food when it needs it, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to manage that. But other things are very useful reminders and work for me as well!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Priority number one is that I eat, because eating is kind of important. Priority number two might have been eat healthily (or, after some reading of fat acceptance stuff and your blog and such, eating intuitively), but since I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop struggling with priority number one it’s best to not even bother setting up more.

      Wow, thank you so much for adding this. Also, the next post will be about figuring out ways to feed yourself regularly. This is REALLY hard when you have a disability that involves mobility or energy limitations, but it can be done. And you are totally correct that stuff like frozen pizza needs to be taken off the forbidden list, ESPECIALLY in these situations.

      For people who have a hard time getting to the kitchen for food (or standing up for long periods of time to make said food), or for people who are nauseous upon waking, like in pregnancy, I am a BIG fan of keeping a “snack box” in one’s room within easy reach. Fill it up with anything shelf stable and tasty – little bags of chips, granola bars, those cracker-and-peanut-butter packages, sturdy fruits, dried fruit, nuts, juice boxes, candy bars, etc. One less barrier to getting food in the stomach when you just need to eat SOMETHING.

      Eating ANYTHING trumps not eating, every damn time.

      The bottom of the hierarchy of food needs is getting enough food, period. Until you can do that, you need to lay off on the pressure to do anything else. So don’t beat yourself up about not being able to do “intuitive eating” or whatever – I promise you that most people, even those who don’t have a disability, have a really hard time just getting fed on a regular basis.

      1. Kaz Avatar

        *nods* This is actually stuff I’ve been thinking a lot about – in particular, decent emergency food supplies and ways to avoid having to live solely off frozen pizza and other ready meals when you have these sorts of energy issues. There are various tricks and shortcuts that people don’t often mention, I think because it’s not “proper” cooking – for instance, the amount of things you can do with just a microwave. (Cooking potatoes, forex.) Or recipes where you can actually omit stirring or change things around so that you don’t have to heat something on the hob beforehand (I’ve been investigating slowcooker recipes and a lot of them are guilty of this). A friend and I keep tossing the idea of creating a cookbook for disabled people back and forth, because we think there’s an honest need there and what exists seems to be along the lines of “cure your arthritis with mahi-mahi filet and yogi berries!” or “cook lobster bisque for your autistic child!”… we spent an amused and bemused afternoon looking into these ones.

        For people who have a hard time getting to the kitchen for food (or standing up for long periods of time to make said food), or for people who are nauseous upon waking, like in pregnancy, I am a BIG fan of keeping a “snack box” in one’s room within easy reach.Fill it up with anything shelf stable and tasty – little bags of chips, granola bars, those cracker-and-peanut-butter packages, sturdy fruits, dried fruit, nuts, juice boxes, candy bars, etc.

        Thanks! This is actually something I keep meaning to do but always end up putting off, or when I do try I don’t put in enough effort and end up either eating it beforehand or making it inaccessible if I’m low-energy or using things that make me despair (…dry cereal does not a good emergency food make, you will discover upon your fifth day living off it. Nor, for that matter, do raw tortellini, although that wasn’t really planned.) You have some good ideas in that list. :)

        And re: intuitive eating it’s less beating myself up (…now) and more thinking about how nice it would be if I could manage that. As it is, even with all my strategising I’m not sure I’ll ever be secure enough on the “enough food” level to be able to move beyond it, and the idea of intuitive eating lives firmly in the imaginary magical world where all my problems vanish and I can finally do all of those things that have always eluded me because of their energy cost.

        1. Twistie Avatar

          Kaz, I think your cookbook idea is brilliant! A lot of us never stop to think about how mobility and energy issues restrict options in the kitchen. But questions of dealing with large, heavy amounts of food, energetic time to cook in, or stirring/chopping with limited hand function would make a huge difference in what’s feasible in a kitchen.

          If you ever do decide to do this, I’d love to participate in whatever way you’d find useful.

          1. notemily Avatar

            I agree with this! I love the idea of a disability cookbook.

          2. KellyK Avatar

            I also love the idea and would like to participate if you decide to do it.

          3. Rose Fox Avatar

            Hi! I have an arm disability and I can’t do much stirring, chopping, or dish-washing. I still cook a lot and love cooking. I’d absolutely love to contribute recipes and tips to your cookbook if you decide to make it a reality.

        2. Mercy Avatar

          I’m also working on this (feeding myself on low-energy or high-pain (or both) days) –too often for my tastebuds’ liking, I wind up falling back on tortilla chips for one meal during the day (well, I say meal, I’m basically eating something every three hours or so as per a suggestion on this website in an earlier post, and it works SO MUCH better for me for remembering to eat than trying to have set mealtimes did!).

          I discovered a new can-cook-in-microwave trick a couple of weeks ago: bacon can be cooked in the microwave! So I don’t have to stand over the stove to have something that’s warm with protein! yay! That’s not chicken nuggets! double-yay! (I got SO SICK of chicken nuggets, you would not believe…)

        3. Kathy Avatar

          Michelle, I absolutely love the snack box idea. Also I have fibromyalgia so I get the energy level thing. Can I make a shameless plug for my blog, Chronic in the Kitchen – here is the about page:

          I try like heck to keep the recipe prep time down but don’t always succeed.

          And Kaz I don’t brown my meat or anything before putting it in the slow cooker. If you decide to do a cookbook, count me in. I actually pitched Chronic In the Kitchen to a publisher and they rejected it and told me it would make a better blog. I am toying with self publishing it.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            Shameless plugs are totally welcome here – especially stuff about eating and disability!

        4. Cairsten Avatar

          Hrm. Most of the slow cooker recipes that tell you to brown meat? You can get by without browning it, if you don’t mind reddish-coloured or pale meat and can do without the caramelization flavours. For a stew or soup, for instance, where the main flavour isn’t just the meat in any case, throwing the meat in without browning will in no way ruin the dish. For anything that recommends you to cut things up small, if the things are ones that soften up anyway during cooking, take off any inedible skins and then just toss them in. You may need to cook them longer, but crockpot cooking is very forgiving.

        5. Courtney Avatar

          If you can operate a microwave, there’s these frozen pasta meal things that are cooked in the microwave, in the bag they come in. You don’t even open it before putting it in the microwave. They’re on the expensive side for a primary meal, but you can get all different tastes and stuff into your diet those times.

          Opening the bag is probably a little more involved than frozen pizza, because it comes out hot and then you have to dump it out. You have nothing to wash except whatever you eat from. It’s brilliant. There’s microwave steamer veggies, too, some with sauce, and all of these are frozen solid so they last for ages if you can’t manage to eat them.

          …er. assuming your supermarket has such conveniences. I hope so!

          I often eat the skillet version, brand name voila, which involves stirring and watching a thing on the stovetop for 10-15 minutes. No chopping though. It’s true I don’t always have the capacity to even do that, but the result is way more Real Food TM than any of my other insta-foods.

          Also also, there’s what I call food pellets, the dinty moore things. They can be hard to open but I bet a sharp thing would do it, if you have the strength or leverage to puncture, and they microwave for 90 seconds. You supermarket may also have microwave pasta in the asian foods aisle; there’s versions that don’t need water added, although they all seem to need “cut open bag” and “be careful with hot thing from microwave.”

      2. synj_munki Avatar

        Oh, I keep a snack box in the night stand!

        Mine contains Triscuits, Saltines, Mini Lorna Doones, Barbecue Sunflower Seeds, individually wrapped Rolos, and little water bottles.

        Everything is small or resealable, so I can eat as much or as little as I need.

        Sometimes I just wake up hungry (not thirsty, Hungry), and I’ve learned from experience that if I don’t address it quickly, it will escalate to “gnaw arm off” and on to “barf-inducing stomach knots.”
        it’s also handy when i wake up with migraines; simple carbs really aid in serotonin production (which I lose either before or during a migraine and makes it worse), and they help with the queeziness and listlessness I get. plus, y’know, a little drink to wash down the meds.

    2. notemily Avatar

      Your comment describes me with uncanny accuracy. I constantly worry about what I’m going to do for my next meal. If I end up getting fast food or delivery, I berate myself for wasting money when I could make something at home. If I make something at home out of a box, I berate myself for not cooking. But I hardly ever have the energy to cook properly, so I’m trying to not beat myself up so much because it’s more important that I eat SOMETHING than whether or not it’s a home-cooked meal.

    3. sapote Avatar

      Kaz, I tend to fall back into quantitative nutrition (how much calcium does something have? Is there a good amount of protein?) rather more than I’m proud of, and I was actually really surprised when I read the side of a frozen pizza box. The brands that have real cheese are often pretty high in protein and micronutrients, for what it’s worth. Since then I’ve not been fighting myself on the frozen pizza front so much.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I use the USDA Nutrient Database to shock myself about how much “nutrition” is in just about everything I eat. Therefore legitimizing food as…food. Instead of poison or useless filler, like Certain People Who Shall Not Be Named Lest I Provoke An Internet Sh*tstorm of Epic Proportions would have us all believe.

        It’s using “nutritionism” for good instead of evil. Imagine that!

        1. sapote Avatar

          It’s amazing how much the quantifiable properties of “bad food” and “good food” are not that all-fired different. After years of believing that donuts were actually some sort of magical fat-making uberpastry from hell, I read the back of a Krispey Kreme box. … Apparently a donut is about equal calorically to half a peanut butter and banana sandwich.

          And then I ate a fucking donut, irate that I’ve been scammed for so long into believing there’s something super special about them. It wasn’t the best pastry I’ve ever had, but I enjoyed it all the same.

  9. Jennifer Avatar

    Thank you again Michelle for your common sense attitude towards eating. I commented on your last blog post about how I’m in a treatment program for eating disorders and the approach I’m being taught there is the exact same thing you share on your blog. (btw, anybody in Minnesota/Western Wisconsin – check out the Emily Program for eating disorders, they’re excellent!)

    As I work towards learning to intutively eat and become healthy again, I’m constantly, literally jaw-droppingly, “I can’t believe this is happening” astounded at the amount of f*cked up attitudes we have towards food in this culture. It is so pervasive that it is easy for me to get discouraged at times. Thank you for being out there as one of the few voices in support of making sure food is just that… and eating nothing more than something we all have to do in our own way. I post a link to your blogs on my facebook page now and share with the whole world your (and mine) viewpoints on food and eating. Most of the time I get a “that’s nice” and the look like “you’re going crazy” reaction from people. While I’m still learning and practicing with giving myself permission and re-establishing trust with my body, I can’t imagine living any other way now. Once you’ve seen the light, all the crap surrounding food and ways to eat in this world just seems ridiculous and completely claustrophobic!

    As a RD, I’m going to keep using my “expertise” as a platform to make this world more food, eating and body size friendly!

    Amen sister friend, keep preaching the truth!

  10. Julia H. Avatar

    There is so much truth in this. I’m reading “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole, and part of it is devoted to making peace with food–essentially giving yourself permission to eat anything without judgment. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but little by little it’s making a difference.

  11. Natalie ._c- Avatar
    Natalie ._c-

    I was never obese, but I read Overcoming Overeating many years ago, because my problem has always been more WHAT I eat than how much I eat. I am a moderately picky eater, and left to my own devices, will eat only one food for a meal. I have also suffered from Major Depressive Disorder since childhood, and when I am depressed, I binge on carbs and sweets. Which wouldn’t be such a problem, except that I have insulin-dependent diabetes, and binged myself into a coma that almost killed me last year, because I wasn’t taking enough insulin. Having a disease where eating as much as you want, whenever you want can kill you is a real problem.
    Since the coma, I have gotten pretty serious about low-carb, and I manage pretty well while at home, but when I’m out to a party or a restaurant, it all goes down the tubes. Put it in front of me, and I eat it, unless it’s something I really don’t like, such as strawberry or raspberry anything. I have not yet found a way to give myself permission to eat at times like these without my blood sugar going way out of control. Taking insulin is just not that exact a science. I would appreciate your insights!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow, that’s a tough one! I’ve seriously never heard of anyone bingeing themselves into a coma – I’m really sorry you went through that. That’s awful. I know that eating with diabetes can be a scary proposition, but I do believe that permission is for everybody, including people with diabetes.

      The thing I think of when it comes to diabetes is “add on, don’t take away.” Meaning, if you’re going to have high-carb foods (even, gasp, sugar!) you should eat them in mixed meals, with OTHER foods. You need to be eating carbohydrate in the presence of protein, fat, and fibre. These things will help to moderate the flow of sugar into your bloodstream and make your BG more stable overall.

      I also think that, since permission can actually prevent bingeing, it’s especially important if you’re one of the rare people in a situation where bingeing on certain foods CAN actually hurt you. If you need to give yourself permission to have sweets, do it, just tell yourself you’re going to have sweets together with some nuts, or alongside your dinner.

      I think being low-carb does work for some people diabetes, but in your case I would guess that it’s setting you up to go a little nuts at parties and restaurants. That’s probably because you’re one of those people who really enjoys carbs. And even people with diabetes need a certain minimum level of carbohydrate in their diet. It allows your brain to function, and prevents your body from catabolizing muscle tissue.

      I would really recommend seeing a RD to get some help reintroducing carbs into your regular diet in a healthy way. You might also find it helpful to read this position statement on using an eating competence approach (which is basically structured intuitive eating) with diabetes:

      If you’re in the US, go to and do a search for a dietitian in your area. You can select what specialties you want them to have – I would recommend selecting for eating disorders AND diabetes. RDs trained in eating disorders are far more likely to take a HAES approach, even if you don’t have an ED.

  12. Karissa Avatar

    I go through periods of really fixating on a certain food, like a particular brand of chips or fried eggs with cheese, whatever. Usually it’s not a health food. (I’m not crazy, just possibly mildly autistic?) I feel pretty guilty about these food fixations… sometimes I’ll feel super hungry but the thought of eating anything except for my food fixation makes me actually nauseous, and the thought of eating what I actually want makes me guilty, so I end up not eating.
    A thought that’s been repeated through these comments is that eating SOMETHING, even if it’s not a health food, is better than eating nothing… and I’m going to try to remember that next time I’m resisting. Thanks to everyone.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Everyone goes through food phases. It’s natural. It’s part of how humans get variety in their diet, over the long-term. It’s totally okay to go with them. It’s also good to check in after eating and notice how those foods make you feel, physically and mentally. If you feel good, not run down or ill or fatigued, then you’re probably getting what you need.

  13. papu morgado Avatar

    This is so wonderful. I’m in the end of the program but still having a step by step in a nutshell that covers all the basics is what I really need right now. And permission is still a challenge for me so I guess I need a gentle reminder about that. Thanks :)

  14. Beauzeaux Avatar

    “Ever see a toddler spit out strained peas against his mother’s best efforts?”

    Something I learned many years ago. There are three battles you CANNOT win with a small child and making it into a contest will guarantee that you will fail.
    1. What and how much to eat.
    2. Potty training
    3. Sleep
    You can offer food but you can’t make a kid like it. You can put the toddler on the toilet but you can’t force them to use it. You can put a kid to bed, but you can’t make him/her sleep.
    Only later do we absorb the culture’s messages about what and how much to eat.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      “You can lead a horse to water, but…”

    2. KaralynZ Avatar

      I’ll admit it drives me nuts sometimes, but part of my is fiercely proud of my two-year-old for being so sure of his wants and needs. And he’s finally able to tell me what he wants to eat most of the time now, which is even better.

      It astonishes me that he can be given a food he loves, take two bites and be done. That’s all he wanted/needed. I strive to eat more like he does.

  15. Kim Avatar

    I love your blog, and really appreciate this post. It can be so hard to eat what you want, and I think that’s totally crazy. I’m still working on it!

  16. TropicalChrome Avatar

    I’m glad you talked about permission NOT to eat, because that was one of my greatest hurdles. I ate whenever food was offered, even if I wasn’t hungry, even if I was already stuffed and eating more was going to make me hurt in ways I didn’t want to hurt, because if I didn’t eat when the food was there, who knew when it would be available again? (Not because of lack of resources, we had the food, but pretty much all the disorderedness you talk about, we had it.)

    It took years and one of those lightbulb over the head moments to realize “you know, if you don’t want to feel this way, you don’t have to. You can choose differently.” It sounds so matter of fact, but the heavens opened and the angels sang. It took awhile to get used to making different decisions – it’s scary how many of our decisions are because that’s what we’ve always done – but I am a much happier camper now.

    The other thing I’ve given myself permission to do is be wrong about food choices or amounts or not eating the way I wanted to. I’ve worked hard to stop from thinking of those events as “failure” and reframe them as “data to learn from – now we know one more thing doesn’t work like I wanted it to”. (By wrong I mean “I really wanted to do something else” rather than “noooo, you ate TEH EEEEVIL”. As you’ve said, food is just food.)

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I ate whenever food was offered, even if I wasn’t hungry, even if I was already stuffed and eating more was going to make me hurt in ways I didn’t want to hurt, because if I didn’t eat when the food was there, who knew when it would be available again?

      I am going to talk about how to deal with this exact problem in the next post. It basically comes down to eating regular meals – that way, you are assured that “next time” is coming, and you even know when. Then you can relax and truly eat the amount you want NOW, without having to worry that if you make a mistake and undereat, FOOD WILL NEVER COME AGAIN.

    2. KellyK Avatar

      The other thing I’ve given myself permission to do is be wrong about food choices or amounts or not eating the way I wanted to. I’ve worked hard to stop from thinking of those events as “failure” and reframe them as “data to learn from – now we know one more thing doesn’t work like I wanted it to”. (By wrong I mean “I really wanted to do something else” rather than “noooo, you ate TEH EEEEVIL”. As you’ve said, food is just food.)

      I really liked this. Thinking in terms of failure is really not helpful for me, and it makes it hard to want to try things.

      Today I learned that trail mix may contain fat, starch, and protein and therefore all the minimum components of a meal, but it is not a sufficient breakfast, even if I eat as much of it as I want. An hour later my stomach was all grindy and unhappy. Still kind of is, actually. But lunch is coming and I have the chance to rectify that mistake (hopefully without making myself stuffed or sleepy).

  17. Jadelyn Avatar

    This is timely for me. Because I’ve got to this point where, outwardly, I *seem* to just eat what I want when I want. But inside my head, there’s a cacophony of excuses going on. This morning, I did my weekly grocery run, and my usual routine is to stop at the in-store cafe (which makes much better espresso drinks than the S’bucks a few storefronts away) after I’m done and get a coffee to take home with me. I get it made with whole milk and whipped cream, because I like it best that way. But I’m standing there, ordering from the skinny girl behind the cafe counter, feeling like I need to justify my choices – yes, the fat girl is getting a large mocha with whole milk AND whipped cream, how decadent! BUT. I only do this once a week. It’s a special treat! It’s not like I do this every day or anything. Please don’t judge me for it… It drives me nuts that I do this. Still. Always.

    So when I read this post and it ping’d my “Listen to this you need to hear it right now” radar, I actually grabbed a marker from my desk drawer and wrote “I’m allowed to eat this and I can have as much or little as I want” on my hand. I see it every time I reach for something – like the coffee I was still drinking when I read this – and I’m going to keep rewriting it whenever it wears off for a little while (thankfully, I work from home so there’s no one to pry about what I’ve got on my hand, except my husband when he gets home, and he’s used to my eccentricities like this). See if maybe some ongoing exposure helps to push me past my inner guilt-chorus.

    Thank you for putting it so simply and so adamantly.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m glad you did this. So many people won’t write the note or make the sign.

      You eat what you eat because you’re an adult who gets to choose what she eats. No justifications necessary.

      I have a big sign on my fridge that says “Eat food. Stuff you like. As much as you want.”

      I also have one that says “Do not preach to others what they should eat. Eat as becomes you, and be silent.”

      1. Jadelyn Avatar

        I want that second one on a t-shirt to wear to EVERY SINGLE RESTAURANT EVER. ^_^

        1. unscrambled Avatar

          I’d like it posted gigantically in every grocery store.


      2. Ellie Avatar

        After reading these comments, I made the note and stuck it in the box with my insulin! :D

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Awesome :)

          I know Type 1 can be really really hard, especially if you’re insulin sensitive and have a lot of random lows. But you do have one advantage, and that’s being able to monitor your glucose to find out how food affects you right away, which in a geeky way, is sort of an interesting science experiment.

          Variety and balance really come together to create the most important parts of good nutrition for diabetes. A balanced meal (containing fat, carb, protein, and hopefully fibre) is going to help prevent massive blood sugar swings. And wide variety is going to help ensure that you’re not getting too much or too little of any one micronutrient. These things are way more important in the long run than having a big list of “forbidden” foods, or forcing “healthy” foods you don’t much like on yourself.

          I hope things get easier for you soon!

          1. Ellie Avatar

            But you do have one advantage, and that’s being able to monitor your glucose to find out how food affects you right away, which in a geeky way, is sort of an interesting science experiment.

            YES. I had always secretly wanted to be able to get a blood glucose meter, and while this is certainly not a price I would willingly have paid to get one, I’m sure as heck not going to scoff at the silver lining! Now, if I could just get all my friends and family to go along with my “but I wanna see what yooooooour sugars are, c’mon, just a little poke” cajoling …

      3. KellyK Avatar

        I’d like to tape the second one on our office fridge. And on my fridge at home. I do have a “Get out of diet, free” Community Chest card on my bulletin board at work now.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          A good one for workplaces is a sign that says “THANK YOU FOR NOT TALKING ABOUT YOUR DIET.” My favourite fridge sign ever!

          1. Dani Avatar

            There have been times when I wanted one that said “SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT HOW FAT YOU THINK YOU ARE” for all the cubicle walls. I bet somebody on Etsy could doll that up and make it all pretty and Designed for me.

  18. Orodemniades Avatar

    I recently gave myself permission to eat whatever I want on Sundays. It’s my day off and that’s when my mom comes to visit – and she eats foods I try to avoid (due to food sensitivities and InstaWeightGain). But, on Sunday I can eat all the wheat and sugar I want – I have Monday off, so I can recover. I find as time passes I eat less and less of it, which is great. You wouldn’t think a mere muffin would make such a difference, but it does.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Which foods do you find cause you problems (I’m assuming wheat and sugar?) That’s a royal pain in the arse.

  19. Rachel Avatar

    This reminds me of something from when I was in primary school. We had this wee boy over who was my friend from class and lived round the corner from us for dinner. My mum made a roast chicken and he cried. Eventually we worked out he’d been looked after by this nanny person for the last couple of months who’d been forcing him to eat *everything*. As a result, he totally had this great scrambled mess of issues in his brain about food. A few months ago he would have LOVED something like that but this time around Mum just let him eat some raw carrots, which was all he wanted. He was SO relieved – I still remember how relieved he was. Poor little boy :(

    I on the other hand am grateful that my parents never forced me to eat anything. They were always encouraging about food, including offering me bribes like “if you eat the spinach, there will be dessert” but if I was just like “NOPE.” about something they’d eat it for me :3 I had no fears about trying anything, because I knew if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be forced to eat it. I remember other kids parents being astounded at how much stuff that “kids aren’t supposed to like” that I’d eat happily – I wonder if that was related…

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I can almost guarantee you that your willingness to eat more foods was related to the lack of pressure you experienced growing up :)

      1. Rachel Avatar

        Oh and I forgot to say how much I liked your article! How remiss of me ._. Because it was awesome and really hit the nail on the head for me! :D (Especially after the “But that chocolate will make you fat” incident last night at the supermarket with my flatmate… (I ate the chocolate anyway :D))

        1. Michelle Avatar

          I just ate a bar of chocolate, but I was already fat :)

          1. Rachel Avatar

            Chocolatey-high-five ^_^ I hope it was super delicious :D

          2. Aine Avatar

            I just ate a bar of chocolate, but I was already fat :)

            This ^ is made. of. WIN.

    2. Twistie Avatar

      I bet it was related, Rachel. I was the kid who always requested spinach for her birthday, and I think a lot of it was that my brothers and I were allowed to enjoy or not enjoy whatever foods we were presented with. The primary restriction was that we weren’t allowed to make a huge fuss about not liking something since there were others at the table enjoying it.

      To this day, I’m willing to give nearly anything a try, I’m able to simply stop eating anything that doesn’t appeal to me, and I don’t poke at people enjoying foods I don’t.

      Mr. Twistie, on the other hand, seems to have gotten much the same food rules as that poor little boy. He’s fifty and he still apologizes profusely if he can’t eat every single bite of food on the table, even when I seriously overcooked… or intended there to be leftovers for me to munch on the next day. It’s also been only the last couple of years that he’s gotten more adventurous about food. I think it’s largely because he finally recognizes that if I cook something and he doesn’t want to eat it, or dislikes the first bite, I’m not going to do anything untoward. I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and say ‘that’s more for me, then.’

      It’s amazing how powerful the permission to say ‘no’ can truly be.

    3. Aine Avatar

      That reminds me of a story my grandfather used to tell- someone, I think it was the housekeeper/nanny- used to make him finish everything, even his dessert. Once they had tapioca pudding, which he didn’t like, and wouldn’t eat, and they made him have it for breakfast when he wouldn’t eat it the night before. My mom grew up never tasting it because he wouldn’t have it in the house as a grown man.

      1. flightless Avatar

        There’s an awful story like that in one of Maxine Hong Kingston’s books; their parents would keep bringing out the food they’d refused to eat, same plate meal after meal, it absolutely sounded like child abuse to me!

  20. Mitzy G Avatar
    Mitzy G

    I adore this website and this series of articles.
    I remember when I was in middle school and went to dinner at a friend’s house. Her uncle was visiting (she lived with her grandmother) and he became incensed when I said I did not want hominey when it was offered. He dished me up two huge tablespoons of hominey and insisted I eat it or I couldn’t go home (he said)! I was amazed as my parents never MADE us eat anything! If my mother served something, we were asked, reasonably, to try one bite just to see if we liked it. To this day, I do not know why this adult man decided to engage in a battle of wills with a child he had never laid eyes on before, but I ate no hominey that day. I sat there for three hours refusing with tears running down my face, till my mother came to get me. She was so angry, she threatened to tell the police he had held me against my will! I still hate hominy.
    What is wrong with people!!?

  21. Sara Avatar

    Oh, permission. The word itself carries a lot of connotations, mostly negative. I have been working on giving myself permission to do the right thing for my body, mind, soul, spirit for five years now. You’re right; this is no easy task. I appreciate this candid, supportive article. I plan on reading it out loud to my intensive outpatient group (for my eating disorder; have to edit out the words “fat” and such because that shit is quite touchy in this fragile setting). You have this unique and beautiful ability to be perfectly blunt while also being so nurturing and supportive. What a lovely thing. This article made me wish I could call you, shake your hand, take you out to a non-disordered lunch, and thank you. I love the mantra and the idea of saying that before meals. I’m constantly on the hunt for new ways to combat the intense anxiety and guilt that I feel before every bite I take. I’m sick of this shit, and I plan to practice saying these more positive-self-talk-therapy-shit. I am saying that so I am held more accountable to this commitment. I am currently in a mindfulness-based program where we set an intention before every meal (“I am using the support around me to meet my body’s needs”; “I plan on eating this meal so that I can move forward in my recovery”; etc.) and this is an excellent addition. Your real-talk-no-bullshit approach to nutrition is refreshing. I’ve said that before, but it deserves to be said again. Your comment about living in this society where we are expected to follow the rules (“only this-many calories today! Gotta get in shape! Blahbbityblahblahblah!”) is so very true. I do not need to eat or take or do anything that manipulates my body while forgetting that proper nutrition is okay, normal, and in fact, healthy! Who would have thunk it?! Society/the media preys on our fears to make a quick buck and these heinous and selfish acts leave us feeling empty, unable to eat normally as nature intended, and love ourselves and trust that our bodies are capable of figuring itself out WITHOUT our desperate efforts to control it. This whole thing is ridiculous. Thank you for highlighting the craziness and putting it so plainly and perfectly: I am allowed to eat and I am the only one who chooses. Absolutely amazing. Much appreciated! xoxo

  22. KellyK Avatar

    You do not have to clean every plate in sight because someone, somewhere in the world, doesn’t have enough to eat. You are not the Human Garbage Disposal, and you can’t solve world hunger by eating leftovers.

    I love this part.

    It’s great to be grateful for what you have and to acknowledge that lots of people would be thrilled to eat the pizza you just burned, or the carrots you made too much of, or that thing your mom made that you can’t stand. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat it. You can pitch it and still be grateful that pitching it is an option.

  23. ako Avatar

    Would I recommend that you eat something that will cause you immediate death or illness? No, of course not – but that is not my choice to make. It is yours, and only yours.

    This is where a lot of people lose their ability to understand the permission thing. Time and again, people hear this and respond with “You can’t go around telling everyone with diabetes that they should eat buckets of sugar! That’s irresponsible!” Which is weird, because a lot of people grasp the difference between thinking someone should do something and thinking someone should be free to do something in most areas, but when food comes up, anything other than continuous pressure to eat “good” food is taken as equivalent to advocating for the least healthy possibility.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, I agree. This is where a very fine, but very important, distinction needs to be made.

      The point is, if a grown-up adult with diabetes decides to eat a bucket of sugar, neither I nor anyone else can stop them. Why? Because it is truly their choice to make, and only their choice.

      Would I ever recommend someone do this? OH MY GOD, of course not. You can educate people about what certain food will do to their bodies under certain medical conditions, but you cannot make their choices for them. Unless you’re going to strap them down and tube feed them against their will for the rest of their life, you have no say in what they actually do with that information.

      The best thing to do is not try to find a lot of sneaky ways of wresting that choice away from adults, but in helping them to use that power of choice to enhance their own well-being. You start that process by symbolically handing the choice BACK to them, because it’s been undermined and taken away by health professionals and public health messages and popular diet messages in a million ways for years and years, by saying “It is your choice what to eat. No one else gets a say.”

      That’s what I’m doing here, in this post, and on this blog in general. Before we can talk about any of the nuances of nutrition for health reasons, I need to be writing from a baseline assumption of autonomy. Or else it’ll be the same BS pressure message all of us have received about nutrition for pretty much our entire lives. And obviously, for most of us, that isn’t helpful.

      Along the way of learning how best to feed themselves, adults are going to make mistakes – that’s just part of the whole learning process. Luckily, in most cases, nutritional health (even in stuff like diabetes!) is a long-term proposition, not an “I-must-eat-perfectly-at-every-meal” type of thing. And making mistakes is not only okay in these situations, but sometimes even necessary.

      I feel like the people with celiac disease who made the best transition to a healthy, gluten-free diet have mostly done so with the help of making mistakes that gave them a visceral, immediate lesson about why they truly do not want to eat gluten. Rather than just having a dietitian lord over them with the pronouncement YOU WILL NOT EAT GLUTEN AGAIN, EVER, OR ELSE. Without that, I don’t feel the dietary changes are based in the same kind of true personal choice or long-term commitment.

      1. ako Avatar

        Luckily, in most cases, nutritional health (even in stuff like diabetes!) is a long-term proposition, not an “I-must-eat-perfectly-at-every-meal” type of thing. And making mistakes is not only okay in these situations, but sometimes even necessary.

        Exactly. The chances of dying from any particular meal are fairly small, and the stuff that can kill a person if they eat one meal’s worth is nearly always the sort of disease-or-poison situation that can’t be avoided by sticking to someone’s “good” list, and usually can’t be predicted by the individual person who’s eating the food.

        The best thing to do is not try to find a lot of sneaky ways of wresting that choice away from adults, but in helping them to use that power of choice to enhance their own well-being.

        Conventional wisdom on how to develop good eating habits is pretty much the opposite of how things work for most people I know. A lot of people think it’s a really good idea to assume that the person they’re talking to has nutritional needs perfectly described by the latest “How to diet” magazine article, knows nothing whatsoever about nutrition and health, is naturally inclined to a diet consisting of nothing but sugared lard, and responds to external pressure and guilt by cheerfully doing what they’re told.

        Almost no one I know can get a healthy and well-balanced diet by sticking exclusively to the “good” lists (especially since the “good” list is ever-changing, often contradictory and uses inconsistent criteria to judge food). Of all the people I know, the ones most likely to get basic scientific facts about food and nutrition wrong are precisely the people who think they’re in a position to advise everyone else. Everyone I know (and nearly everyone I’ve heard of ) actively desires to eat some fruits and vegetables some of the time and has a “This is enough, I don’t want any more” point when it comes to fat and sugar. And the vast majority of people of my acquaintance dislike and resent other people piling on the pressure to get them to do things.

  24. diane bluegreen Avatar

    do you have any suggestions for someone who doesn’t always have the money to afford the food that she wants and in the quantities she wants? how does one incorporate the basic attitude with those limitations/circumstances? any thoughts or hints?

    for example,i have a hard time affording veggies,which i mainly eat in frozen dinners because of not having the energy to cook or prepare (i live with chronic and often severe depression) and i want to eat them,but mac and cheese and bread and all sorts of things are much cheaper. and if i don’t eat enough veggies i get constipated. sorry,i know i sound like a mess. just looking for ideas! thanks.

    1. Joy Avatar

      I think it sounds like the issues is more the lack of energy for preparing food than money. Are you sure that eating real food would be more expensive than frozen dinners? Now that we eat only whole foods we’ve found we spend about the same or less than we did when we bought more prepared, packaged foods.

      Crock pots are a really good solution for being too worn out to cook. You can get dinner started before you are tired for the day, or the night before if you have trouble getting started in the morning. With a crock pot you can use cheaper cuts of meat since they’ll cook longer, and other cheap ingredients like beans and have them turn out fantastic. You can also do very, very simple cooking, like throwing a whole chicken in there. Then the next day you just pull the meat off and you can just eat it or use it in other dishes like chicken salads, enchiladas, etc.

      Throw the carcass back in with some water and you’ll have broth. Then you can use that broth later – just throw some carrots or other cheap vegetables in it and heat it back up for soup! You can make even cheaper soup with bones. Most people don’t want them, so butchers sell them cheap.

      Another time saver/energy boost might be to try once a week or once a month cooking with a friend. You can stock up your freezer with individual portions, and only have to do the cooking it once in a while. Having a friend show up to cook with you is a great motivator. Better yet, cook at their house so you don’t need to go crazy cleaning first.

      To save time and make things easier on yourself, whenever you cook a meal, you can make twice (or four times) as much. Then you can put that in the freezer or fridge for later.

      Saving money on whole foods is easier when you buy larger quantities. A buying club can help with that if you have them in your area – you get the price break without having to buy as much for yourself.

      Food dehydrators can be great for preserving foods for easy snacking later. We buy whole boxes of fruit in the summer and dehydrate the fruit. Add that to nuts and you have a great snack. We also make really cheap beef jerky by seasoning ground beef then putting it in the dehydrator trays.

      Buying in season is also a huge money saver on veggies. To make the most of it, you can preserve them pretty easily. Lots of them are surprisingly easy to pickle using fermenting methods. Basically you put them in a brine and let them sit. Wild Fermentation is a great book that tells you how for all sorts of vegetables. We’ve discovered sauerkraut, cucumber pickles, pickled asparagus, dilly beans, beets, etc are all really easy to make and much better tasting than what you get in the store. Ferments take very little time to get started, you just have to remember they’re there!

      I’ve found that eating higher quality food and sticking with nutrient dense foods rather than a lot of carbs has really helped my moods. It may be that if you start eating those sorts of things your depression will get a bit easier to live with.

      1. Mercy Avatar

        ummm… to me, a lot of your suggestions are a lot of work even for a high-energy day!

        1. Joy Avatar

          Maybe so… only you know what is reasonable for you. Also, the idea behind many of those suggestions is to make the most of a high energy day so that you’re all set for the no energy days.

          I think it’s important to
          1. Validate your needs – it didn’t sound to me like you were saying you “should” eat more veggies – it sounded like you *wanted* to eat more veggies and felt that was what you needed in order to feel better, which you want to do.

          2. Identify the true barriers to having your needs met. It may be cost, it may be lack of energy, it may be lack of access, it may be lack of freezer space, it may be lack of time, it may be something else entirely… but until all those things are named accurately, solutions aren’t going to address the true cause of the problem.

          3. Figure out some solutions and try them out.

          4. Accept what you can do. I think this article and the comment below are all about being gentle with yourself and I totally agree that’s crucial. I think it’s the place to start and the place to end and should go along with everything in between. In my experience, though, if I feel like crap because I am not succeeding in meeting my needs I a) still feel like crap b) I have less capacity to be kind to myself. Being kind to yourself will help prevent that feeling of being crappy from getting worse and worse, but it won’t make legitimate health issues go away on their own. I think these things all have to work together.

      2. ako Avatar

        I know that whether fruits and vegetables are cheaper depends a lot on local circumstances. I’ve been places where, when you factored in transportation costs, fresh fruits and vegetables cost noticeably more than living off cheese and starches. I’ve also been places where fresh fruits and vegetables were substantially cheaper, and I could eat six meals of homemade vegetable pasta for the same price as one meal worth of mac and cheese. So it certainly can be a money issue.

        (That being said, one money-saving tip that often works for me is looking for places that have bulk bins. Sometimes, even relatively pricy places will have surprisingly cheap beans and whole grains if you check the bulk section instead of buying individual bags, and I’ve picked up bags of herbs and spices for sometimes as little as a tenth of what buying a new jar costs. Between that and picking up relatively cheap vegetables, it’s sometimes possible to get really inexpensive high-fiber meals. Sadly, it’s not always possible to find a place with a bulk section, but if there is one that you can get access to, it’s worth checking out.)

    2. ako Avatar

      I don’t know what’s available where you are, but in a lot of places I’ve found it’s possible to get cheap bean and lentil soups (either heat-and-eat or the kind where you add boiling water), which are a good way to get high-fiber meals without having to put in any more effort than it takes to make frozen mac and cheese.

    3. Michelle Avatar

      Diane – I think when it comes to permission and not being able to afford all of the food you want, the goal becomes to give yourself some slack for doing the best you can do in the situation you’re in.

      There’s a lot of shaming that goes on around eating stuff like mac and cheese (or even canned veggies instead of frozen or fresh, which is just ridiculous), because it’s easier and cheaper than a lot of other things.

      I think the place for you to start, when you really don’t have access to a lot of different foods due to either financial or energy constraints, is to remind yourself that the food you CAN eat is perfectly good food, it is nutritious, and it is giving you what you need from it. Even if you’re not always getting enough fibre, your basic nutritional needs are being met. And if you are eating *regularly*, that is way more important than the type of food you are eating.

      I hear you about the needing veggies/fibre thing – my digestive tract is really picky about this. It can be helpful and easy to just add a handful of mixed frozen veggies, or canned veggies, into your mac and cheese. I am not big on fresh vegetables unless I know I am going to use them THAT DAY because otherwise they will just go bad in the fridge. I also know that, for the amount of time and energy I have, it is far less likely that I will clean and cut up a head of fresh broccoli than that I will eat a bag of frozen, pre-cut broccoli. These are trade-offs that may be worth making, even if the price is somewhat higher for the frozen item (and there are always sales.) I also buy bags of frozen strawberries when they are on sale, and I often put them in a cup with applesauce on the side of whatever I’m eating. It’s easy, it’s yummy, there’s nothing there that will go bad before I get around to eating it, and it adds in some fibre and some more vitamins to what I’m eating. Raisins are another handy, fibrous thing to keep around, and they tend to be cheap.

      When I was in one of my tightest food-budget situations, I basically ate bananas, bulk oatmeal, milk, tuna salad on whole wheat bread, green salad, beans and rice. I made big batches of rice and beans on the weekends and then frozen individual portions for reheating during the week (because my energy levels were very low.) I figured out the ideal way to cook the oatmeal in the microwave. I sort of splurged on pre-prepared salads (though they are pretty cheap here) because I knew that, realistically, cutting up a bunch of greens was NOT going to happen.

      I hope this helps – I know the situation you’re in is very difficult, and no one here can give you advice that will fix it. But reminding yourself that the food you have access to is good food, that you can make it work for you, and that you are doing a good job feeding yourself in a tough situation, can be very reassuring. When you can take some of the pressure of yourself in this area, you’re able to focus your energy on what you CAN do, which options you DO have, rather than just feeling bad that you don’t have the energy or money to eat The Perfect Diet.

      1. ksol Avatar

        In college living on my own in the late 1980s, I was down to $10 a week for food — I ran it through the inflation calculator and it came out to about $20 in today’s dollars. I discovered that I could buy a bag of lentils, a pound of rice, a bag of onions and a jar of beef bouillion and eat for days and days and days. That, and tuna casseroles made of nothing but canned tuna, a box of mac and cheese and a can of cream of mushroom soup (at the time, you could buy all 3 ingredients for under $1.) Also ate quite a bit of popcorn when you bought it in bulk instead of microwaveable bags so it was cheap, cheap, cheap (of course you still can, and I still do). Whenever I could, I’d sell plasma and splurge on braunschweiger so that I’d have enough iron in my blood to qualify for selling plasma again.

        Was it ideal? Well, no. But it was better than nothing. Do what you gotta do to survive and f*k the food police.

    4. diane bluegreen Avatar

      thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your thoughts and encouragement. it is much appreciated!

  25. Joy Avatar

    I’ve been struggling with this lately. I’ve always been someone who ate whatever I wanted and felt fine about it. I truly believe that’s extremely important, and very healthy. In fact, when I had kids I decided that I’d never restrict their food choices. I figured if they ate a bunch of crap they’d feel like crap and decide not to do it any more.

    That backfired when I got divorced. In my house what was available was mostly pretty healthy, but I ended up with a kid who would just not eat for the 3 or 4 days she was with me, then go back to her dad’s and binge on sugar (cheesecake, pie, milkshake, popsicles, french fries, and one bite of gardenburger was a typical day). My other kid ate pretty well at both houses, because he was drawn to more protein foods.

    However, over the course of the past year we discovered our son has celiac disease (and is very sensitive to cross-contamination), plus other food allergies. In addition to making our home extremely gluten-free and no longer eating anything but whole foods prepared in our kitchen, we’ve been on the GAPS diet for 8 months (the kids’ dad went along with it) and it has been really good for all of us. Fortunately the kids were old enough that they were able to agree to try it. Our daughter has Tourette’s, mood issues, and is extremely small for her age, so she hoped it might help, and our son really felt horrible from his celiac disease and wanted to heal.

    But the strictness of our new eating habits has resulted in emotional issues around food that I’ve never dealt with before. I recently wrote a blog post about “cheating” on the diet:
    I struggle with whether to give myself permission to eat whatever I want – I find that I feel much better with big lines in the sand. If I see something as truly off-limits I can go on without thinking about it. If I have permission I am constantly debating whether to “cheat” or not, constantly reminding myself of how crappy it will make me feel to convince myself not to have it. Some days I feel very at peace about all this… other days not so much. I try to just move on when that happens.

    Our daughter who was so picky before is now a great eater and is really happy to just eat anything she wants from what is available. She doesn’t tend to think about what isn’t “GAPS Legal.” She has noticed some improvement from the diet, but not as much as our son. Ironically, our son, who really feels awful if he accidentally gets some gluten or foods he’s allergic to still mourns not getting to be normal and eat whatever someone else has (though he is very careful about the diet all on his own).

    I like your assertion in this post that no one gets to tell you you have to be healthy, eat healthy, or decide what healthy means for you. I wonder where you see that intersection when dealing with children who have serious health issues that are diet related.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow, very interesting story.

      I think when it comes to children with therapeutic diet restrictions, at some point they have to be the ones who make the choice about what they eat. In my opinion, most kids, aside from those with a really compliant personality, won’t continue on into adulthood not eating certain foods just because “Mom told me not to.” They really truly have to make an autonomous choice about why they eat or don’t eat whatever it is in order for it to be integrated into their adult lives.

      But when they are still children, and still in the food environment dictated by the parent, of course it is much easier to just never offer them food that is off-limits for their condition. They still get to choose what to eat of whatever is available, but the big decisions about therapeutic diet have already been made by the parent. As they get older and start eating in non-parental environments, and becoming more independent and making choices for themselves, they will need to have a good internal understanding of why it’s important to avoid X food, but also the freedom to make their own choices about it. If it’s not something that will kill them outright, then they may even choose to eat that food a few times and learn what the natural consequences are when they do.

      However, I am NOT an expert on childhood feeding – I would recommend you ask my friend Katja, who blogs at

      1. Joy Avatar

        Thanks Michelle,
        I’m very interested to follow that blog :) I thought it was ironic that the current post, though, is about how just not having it in the house doesn’t work. That seems to be the main solution for us at the moment.

        I do think, though, that maybe it’s more that not having it in the house can’t be the whole solution. That core concept that everyone chooses and has ownership over what they eat is more important.

        We facilitate that choice by not making a lot of other food choices easy to make. If we had it in the house it would be a much more difficult situation.

        My kids are 11 and 12 so they really are faced with situations where they can make other choices all the time. We just got back from a few days visiting family, including numerous potlucks involving cakes, candies, and all sorts of other things we don’t eat and that were not prepared in gluten-free kitchens. They go to sleep away camps, classes, friends’ houses, gatherings in restaurants, birthday parties… if the choice wasn’t theirs, there is no way they’d continue on the diet.


        1. Michelle Avatar

          I do think, though, that maybe it’s more that not having it in the house can’t be the whole solution

          Totally agree with you there.

  26. Samantha Avatar

    Eating whatever you want when you want it really does become difficult when you’ve got allergies/sensitivities/intolerances. I’m gluten intolerant (badly enough that even a couple croutons will give me severe stomach pains and gastric distress), legume intolerant (similar to the gluten, a couple of beans will do me in, but I’m still fine with haricot vert and peas) and mildly lactose intolerant (goat cheese seems to be fine so far, but a large glass of milk will make me queasy and a full bowl of ice cream will give me stomach pains). I always knew about the legumes, but the lactose and the gluten are relatively new to me (1.5 years and 8 months free, respectively). That means that I had 20+ years to get used to eating both wheat-based things (like bread) and dairy before I really couldn’t handle it anymore.

    I’ve found that a couple of things have been really good for me in terms of keeping up a good relationship with food without causing myself physical or emotional pain. First of all, I remember how my triggers make me feel. I’ve had a couple of accidental encounters with gluten since going gluten-free (seriously, who puts flour in horseradish mustard?!) and spending 2-4 days with pains, cramps, digestive issues and other fun things is almost never worth the taste of a piece of bread or a big bowl of ice cream. Secondly, I try to figure out what it is I want about the evil gluten- or dairy-filled thing and then substitute for something that won’t kill my system. If I want crackers and cheese, I sub cucumber slices for the crackers and use goat’s cheese. If I want a mindless snack granola bar, I sub in a fruit-and-nut bar. For tortillas, I use lettuce wraps. The only one I haven’t figured out is bread, and unfortunately most of the gluten-free breads are almost as hard on me as the regular stuff (no, I can’t explain my digestive system – it’s screwy). Still, I keep a loaf of the best of the gluten-free stuff in the freezer and when I’m really craving bread and can’t find anything that will sub for it, I find a good day to feel off and have a half slice of the gluten-free bread. Normally, that kills the craving because it makes me feel sick enough not to want anything even remotely like what I ate to get sick, while still keeping me functioning. Unfortunately, I still can’t indulge in my cravings for fresh sourdough bread (and I can’t afford to be incapacitated for 2+ days), so I stay away from bakeries so that temptation is at a minimum. I also allow myself most of my other cravings when I desire them and I usually only have/want a little of those (like my typical two spoons of ice cream) so that they don’t bother me. I also find that when I let myself have a little without letting myself gorge or binge, but still tell myself that if I want more in an hour, I can have it, I generally don’t want more because I’ve satisfied the taste craving and can then remember and prevent the fall out from eating the amount that would make me sick.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Haricot vert? You are so cute, my fellow Canadian. And thank you for telling us what it’s like for you.

      I think these steps –

      First of all, I remember how my triggers make me feel.

      Secondly, I try to figure out what it is I want about the evil gluten- or dairy-filled thing and then substitute for something that won’t kill my system.

      …are brilliant.

      1. Samantha Avatar

        I hadn’t realized that haricot vert was a Canadian thing (or rather, something that Americans don’t say, at least).

        I just wanted to say thanks for writing this blog and all your tips. Despite generally having had a good relationship with food, I’ve found myself struggling more and more with social food situations. Even within my family, people are sceptical at best about what I avoid and I’ve been caught with no option but not to eat or to eat something that will make me sick. Of course, there’s commonly also guilt from whoever made the dish that I can’t eat – like yesterday when my sister-in-law kept asking if I really couldn’t try just one small serving of the scalloped potatoes she had made, which had flour in them. Part of the problem is that my fiance doesn’t eat the foods I can’t eat in solidarity but can be guilted into trying bites of this and that so they presume that I must be the same. Still, it makes me appreciate my side of the family, where if I can’t eat the food, I just don’t eat and nobody says anything about it – at least then I’m not feeling guilty AND hungry!

  27. Zaftig Zeitgeist Avatar
    Zaftig Zeitgeist

    A few weeks ago I’d made something for dinner, and put the leftovers in the fridge. The next day I mixed the leftovers with spaghetti, and when I’d finished there was still plenty left, but I couldn’t face eating whatever it was (I can’t remember what it was I made) for a third time, and I remembered something I read on this blog and just threw the leftovers in the bin. I still felt slightly guilty at Throwing Good Food Away, not in the starving-children-in-Africa way but the Make Food Last Because We Don’t Have Much Money way, but I’m fairly sure one dinner won’t break the bank.

  28. Ashley Avatar

    “You do not have to eat anything you don’t like, don’t want, or aren’t in the mood for. No matter who is pushing it, who thinks it’s for your own good, or what magazine says it’s the new superfood. You do not have to.”

    THANK YOU. Back in June I was working with a popular “holistic nutritionist” in Toronto who gave me a meal plan that included quinoa in like 75% of my recommended meals. I’ve tried quinoa a bunch of times, prepared in numerous ways, and I just flat out don’t like it. So I asked her if I could substitute brown rice for quinoa. She
    got a little annoyed at me and basically told me that I could use brown rice, but that it wasn’t as “healthy” as quinoa and maybe I should give it another chance, I wasn’t cooking it right, etc.

    Why didn’t she just accept that I didn’t like quinoa? I felt like she was imposing her diet (she eats buckets of the stuff) on me. So I stopped working with her (for among a few other reasons too).

    1. ako Avatar

      Back in June I was working with a popular “holistic nutritionist” in Toronto who gave me a meal plan that included quinoa in like 75% of my recommended meals. I’ve tried quinoa a bunch of times, prepared in numerous ways, and I just flat out don’t like it. So I asked her if I could substitute brown rice for quinoa. She
      got a little annoyed at me and basically told me that I could use brown rice, but that it wasn’t as “healthy” as quinoa and maybe I should give it another chance, I wasn’t cooking it right, etc.

      This is a perfect example of why I hate the purity-obsession that has tainted a lot of health food advocates. It’s bullshit perfectionism, which encourages “It only counts if I eat the absolute best choice” thinking while using a definition of “best” that’s built as much on trends and pseudoscience as it is on actual fact.

      They’re both grains. They both have advantages and disadvantages when compared to each other (for instance, quinoa is higher in iron, and brown rice is higher in manganese). They are both nourishing foods that offer many health benefits. And “brown rice isn’t good enough, you still fail” is incredibly discouraging when trying to develop new eating habits.

      If, for example, there was an objective reason for her to recommend quinoa over brown rice, she could have said so, and discussed things like whether the recommended diet had enough protein without quinoa and some possible ways of adding it. But a nebulously-defined “healthier” and “better” means there’s no room for considering options or developing strategies, only for falling more and more in line with someone else’s idea of virtuous eating or being declared bad for not adhering to it strictly enough.

      1. Ashley Avatar

        Well, looking back, I can’t blame her. She went to the Institute for Holistic Nutrition or something like that. So her understanding of nutrition and food is somewhat different than others.

        You hit the nail on the head – she didn’t really give me much room for my way of eating. It was all aligned with her concept of “healthy eating” which gave no consideration to my economic situation, time to prepare all the meals she suggested, etc. She told me there were foods I needed to give up, despite my having no issues with those foods. Oh and all of this was done over the phone.

        I could go on and on. It was definitely an experience that contributed to me feeling even more insecure about the way I eat.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          It was probably the Institute of Natural Nutrition (just a guess.) I took a continuing ed. class from someone who went to school there once, many years ago, before I started my nutrition degree program. It was truly bizarre – all about food combining and non-evidence-based weirdness.

          1. Jenny Avatar

            I’ve been noticing this cottage industry over the past couple of years of mostly young affluent white women jumping onto the “holistic health coach” or “certified holistic nutritionist” bandwagon.

            While I think that bringing more attention to the food we eat is usually a good thing, I have serious issues with their lack of evidence and science based education as well as how they use terms like “registered” “certified” and “board certified” to convey their so-called expertise (to potential clients who take those credentials at face value)when in fact the agencies granting these credentials are often bogus or directly associated with a particular school.

            Many of these holistic nutritionists are really into things like body/liver detoxing, eating loads of “superfoods,” juicing, etc. These things aren’t necessarily bad and I enjoy a good green juice myself a few times a week. But they make it seem like unless you eat the same way they do, you’re not doing it right. They confuse people – “can I eat melons with bananas?” “does juicing greens really release more of their enzymes than if I were to eat them in a salad?” “Do I have to give up white potatoes forever?”

            Moreover, they rarely take into account (probably because they’re typically affluent white women) the costs, both in terms of money and time, it takes to eat the way they prescribe.

            Sorry for this rant. But I wish someone (maybe you Michelle) could explore the ramifications these so-called nutritionists have on the public, particularly young women. I’d also be interested to know what feelings real nutritionists and dieticians have for these new so-called health educators. Do they make your job easier or harder?

          2. Michelle Avatar

            It’s an interesting question. And I have to point out, for other people reading this, that I’m not considered “real” by the establishment any more than any other self-titled “nutritionist,” because I haven’t done a dietetic internship, though I do have an accredited degree (and a load of real-world clinical experience) in dietetics. That’s another rant for another day, however.

            As far as whether the people I consider to be involved in apocryphal or non-evidence-based nutrition stuff goes, I think it’s the natural result of society (and the free market) “filling a vacuum.” That vacuum is the promise that food can be used as a cure for conditions that actually have nothing to do with nutrition. The vacuum is, in part, caused by the fact that nutrition is a relatively young science, and beyond stuff like, “Eat fruits and veggies, try not to get a lot of saturated and/or trans fats, but do get enough “healthy” fats, eat some whole grains, get some calcium either from dairy or alternatives, get some protein and starch, and strive for the widest variety of foods you can tolerate, preferably spaced out over the day in regular, predictable meals”, there’s not a whole lot of Super Exciting Magic Fairy Dust to be found in nutrition recommendations. But people *want* Super Exciting Magic Fairy Dust (understandably! we want to feel like we have a lot more control over our bodies and our health than we actually do! life is scary and uncertain!), someone is going to provide it, and because it doesn’t exist in the science, they’re going to have to go outside science to get it.

            The people who go to such practitioners are probably not going to be interested in my approach, evidence or no. So I don’t really feel like I’m having people “poached” from me or whatever. I don’t feel very threatened professionally by this school of nutritional thought.

            What does bother me, however, is taking advantage of a population that doesn’t have a strong general understanding of science, and potentially hurting people who do need real nutritional answers for certain health conditions, or who put off seeking evidence-based medical approaches to diseases because they are undertaking what will ultimately be a futile nutrition project (see Steve Jobs, who undertook a course of dieting for a few months immediately after being diagnosed with a quite treatable form of pancreatic cancer, thus putting off having the surgery that would have been an effective treatment, which possibly led to the cancer to becoming more serious than it might otherwise have been.)

  29. Ashley Avatar

    One last thing – as a side effect of working with that holistic nutritionist and still regularly visiting her website and twitter feed (even though I know I shouldn’t), is that I feel really guilty nearly all day most of the time for not eating as perfect or as clean as her. Its like she never eats junk food or anything like that. Its all green smoothies, fancy vegetable dishes, quinoa, etc. Everyday I start out with intentions to eat “good” but then I eat something that I feel I shouldn’t (although intuitively I know that I can) and I feel bad for the rest of the day. I want to lose 40lbs, but I don’t know what to do now with this constant guilt. Its like she triggered this fear of eating anything non-organic, non-processed, etc.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Ahg, that’s awful! I understand the desire to lose weight, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of your mental health.

      No one eats “perfectly.” Because there’s really no such thing. I think you’d probably enjoy reading this series of articles:

      And also this:

      1. Ashley Avatar

        Thank you so much! I recently bought the Health Food Junkies book by Dr. Bratman and it really helped me recognize some issues I was developing. And I’m going to read more about Ellyn Satter’s site this weekend. I really appreciate you passing along this information! I’m looking forward to your next post.

  30. Kath Avatar

    All I have for you Michelle is… thank you. Just a great big “thank you”.

  31. Irisa Avatar

    Thank you for your fabulous post. Today I was having one of those manic days at work, stressed to the max and didn’t get to the cafe in my building until after they were packing away the leftovers from lunch. With a 10 minute break, one of the only quick things I could get was some hot chips. Taking them back to my desk one bloke over the partition piped up saying “who’s got hot chips?” I ‘fessed up and he turned around and said “ah, sprung!” Like I was doing something illegal or something. After delving into the fatosphere for the past few months I turned around and said “sprung? why sprung?” He didn’t know what to say to that! I had given myself permission to have hot chips and no one was going to take away my enjoyment of eating every morsel.

    I wonder if he’ll say the same thing when I get my usual lunch of a turkey and salad sandwich?

  32. Cairsten Avatar

    My personal bugaboo, I’m realising lately, is that I go grocery shopping with what I “should” buy firmly in mind, denying myself even a look at the “bad” stuff because my funds are so limited — and then, half the time, wind up not eating at all because the “good” stuff I bought myself is so unappealing to me. Case in point: I currently have almost two dozen pouches of salmon (for the protein) that I can’t bring myself to eat because the dill they’re packaged in is so overpowering. And I’ve not so much as touched a chocolate bar in four months, despite really and truly wanting a Lindt bar. Only the grocery store sells them. If I go to the grocery store, it is for grocery shopping, with grocery money, and I feel like buying a Lindt bar with it is wasting it. I have other troubles where my eating intersects with other people’s beliefs about what I should be eating, mind you — my food is “fair game” for everyone in the house even though they never supplement my food money, and they feel free to take things out of my pot or off my plate on the assumption that however much I prepared is more than I should be having — but this one is entirely my problem, and I’m not sure yet how to get around it.

    1. Courtney Avatar

      Can you set aside five percent of your food budget for fun food, that you guard against moochers? I don’t know what your budget is, that might not be enough to buy a candy bar every week, but maybe it is every other week?

      Because really… a lindt bar you eat is better than five pounds of salmon you won’t touch.

      As for the salmon, have you tried washing it? That might cut back some of the overpowering dillness. Or if that doesn’t help, chopping up a teeny bit at a time into some other food, so the dill is complementary instead of dominant, maybe.

      I give you permission to tell those people “NO. This is *my food*. Get your own food!” Or to say “That will be $3.” I give you permission to stand firm against their bullshit. I give you permission to refuse to explain or apologize! It is *your food*. It may take a while to train them out of their terrible habits, and they will complain because they’re used to stealing your food. But it is not okay for them to steal your food.

    2. Wysteria Avatar

      One thing my dad always did when I helped with the grocery shopping, and one thing I always do for myself when I help me with the grocery shopping (pronouns aside, I like to reward myself for taking care of myself) – every time I do the shopping, I get myself one treat that isn’t on my shopping list. Just throwing that out there in case it appeals.

  33. Natasha Avatar

    Thank you for this. In my case, family has been the main force trying to make me feel guilty about my food choices.

    My sister and I both realized that neither of us likes to eat in front of our mother because you can essentially feel her judging you based on what you eat, how much of it you consume, how rapidly you eat it, etc. It kills the joy of us all gathering together for a meal (which rarely happens now as we live far apart and are all busy).

    I have a condition known as hypoglycemia and in me, it’s caused by my body producing too much insulin, which results in chronic low blood sugar. I didn’t realize this until recently and spent many years simply assuming that everyone felt like shit after eating, that the dizziness, nausea, sluggishness, spaciness, hot flashes, etc. were all just a part of the human condition. After I was diagnosed, I spent several months figuring out what foods work best to keep me feeling healthy, happy, and balanced. Now that I’ve figured it out, I’m very strict about sticking to those foods because my over all quality of life has improved so much.

    My mother in-law, though, resents my new food choices (which did result in me losing 70 pounds – I wasn’t going for weight loss; I was going for stability and balance.) When we are together, she constantly tries to get me to eat foods that I know my body does not like, contending that I should “cheat” on my “diet.” No matter how many times I try to explain my reasoning behind my food choices, she continues to pressure me. It’s quite maddening, actually.

    While I’m strong enough to deflect both my mother and my mother in-law’s judgments, I hate how so many people try to use food as a tool of either manipulation or of demonstrating their supposed superiority. Sometimes it’s best just to eat alone (or at least with people who aren’t obsessed with other people’s food choices).

  34. […] a whole bunch of worse stuff on the inside. And because the fabulous Michelle Allison (she of Fat Nutritionist fame) wrote this fabulous post, that made me realize there actually IS something helpful that we […]

  35. Dada Avatar

    Thank You for this post!

    Since reasently, I have been a person who ate what I wanted, when I wanted, and I never had any problems with eating. Or at least, I was never dissatisfied with my eating. Only thing that used to bother me with eating was people who admired my eating for being “healthy” when I was just eating what I wanted and what made me feel good, especially if they simultaniously envied me for being thin. Healthy eating has become to be considered a moral issue that somehow makes some people better than others, and I’ve always disliked that.

    But recently I’ve encountered some problems with sugar, namely yeast. So I tried to avoid sugar for some time, and then decided that I can eat some sugar, only not as much as I used to. So I left out sugar in coffee, which was easy, and I don’t drink juice with lunch anymore. But I think that somehow this “no sugar”, or “less sugar” diet has been producing a counterreaction of wanting chocklad, candy and other sugary stuff more, making it more important part of my life than it used to be.

    Also, this is not made better by people, like my mother, who has for years been worried about my weight/thinness, even though I have never been anorexic and, as said, have been eating intuitively, regularly, often, and actually more than most people, for my whole life. It’s just that my mother has somehow found this new way to be worried/controlling of me (even though she used to have the same weight and eating habits, as I do, untill menopause). So when I go to my mother’s place and say that I don’t want this sugary thing, or I don’t want that candy, she gets all worried and I wind up eating things that I don’t want and that are bad for me just to make her happy. Also, when I spend a whole week with her on vacation, she endlessly comments on how often I want to eat, since she and her husband eat much less regularly than me and I get an aching stomach at their place waiting for our common meals, and then I feel “difficult” when I want to eat lunch _and_ snack _and_ supper and snack again.

    Then I’ve noticed that when I go and meet my father (they are divorced) in a caffé, he comments on my choice of cake, and says it’s a “calor bomb”.

    I think my point is that people use eating and commenting on eating as a device to controll people, and that our culture is so obbsessed with eating that it’s really difficult for anyone to just eat intuitively and say yes, when they want to and no, when they don’t.

    So thank you again for this post.

  36. […] I love this series on how to eat by the Fat Nutritionist. One thing that jumped out at me very strongly was the idea that we have permission not to even try to be healthy. When we start to untangle and accept the emotional issues that bind up our size, health, and intrinsic worth, we open ourselves up to being able to enjoy food, enjoy movement, and make choices that are good for us as whole people and as a society. […]

  37. Sarah Avatar

    So I hear you about permission. I also hear you about the limited storage of glucose for our brains.

    My question/comment is this: people TORTURE me over not wanting to eat more than once or twice a day (you know, the “frequent small meal” Nazis). I understand that supposedly our brains need frequent meals but my body DOES NOT WANT THEM. I’m not underweight–in fact, I’m curvy–and I want to do the best thing for myself physically but it’s hard for me to understand why I should force myself to eat when I’m not hungry…especially that hideous thing that people are so militant about, BREAKFAST. LORD HOW I HATE BREAKFAST. I want to listen to my own body and eat according to my appetite, but I get no end of abuse over this so can you please give me some ammunition? And what about the glucose thing? Am I actually doing harm to myself? Would appreciate some clarification. Thank you.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      ….I would think you are fine. Yes, the amount of glycogen we have is measured in hours, but it can be up to like 20 hours (if you really carb load, and if I’m remembering correctly.) So if you’re eating enough to feel satisfied and happy between meals without starving or getting desperate, I would think you are fine.

      People vary. A lot of people just don’t want to eat “small, frequent meals” even though they need them, because they feel guilty about needing them. But if it’s not a guilt thing with you – if you just don’t need them, you just don’t. Some people are like that.

    2. ksol Avatar

      My DH is like that — on weekends, he’ll not eat all day, then eat more than a gaggle of teenage boys for dinner. He’s healthy. He’s happy. Works for him.

      I think so often the “shoulds” of eating come from what works for some people, that they then try to make into a universal.

  38. Susan Avatar

    You know, it’s funny, because if you have the permission to eat what and when and how much you want – then you don’t feel the urge to gulp down any unhealthy (and forbidden) food around you any more. My son convinced me of this. He is five and loves sweets. And now, shortly before Christmas we have cookies everywhere. Lots and lots of cookies everywhere, and even in a bowl on the table. The first two days he was eating away that stuff like mad. Then he stopped. It’s everywhere, I don’t stop him to eat this – so where’s the point in stuffing himself with cookies? So he is not interested. He eats one or two a day. That’s it.
    So when the concept works for a five-year-old, it sure will work for grown-ups. I am so sick of reading and hearing of “good” and “bad” food. It’s all rubbish. I now eat what I like and – guess what? – I started liking salads and veggies and even wholemeal bread I hated as a kid.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This almost exactly describes my recent Christmas-cookie-baking experience. I baked them because I wanted to eat them, and I ate a lot of them for the first two days, since I hadn’t had them all year and I was excited. Now I’ve had my fill, and either have one or two, or just don’t even think about them at all.

  39. Keira Avatar

    I usually use, “I’m a grown up and can eat whatever the hell I want”, when I’m reminding myself about permission to eat.

    It comes from when I first moved out of home, and bought coco-pops during my first grocery shop. People generally frown upon sugary cereal, and some of my friends, and housemates were no exception. I remember using the words above with a housemate.

    In the time since then, I got on the “growing up means not eating sugar” bandwagon, and eventually jumped back off again. The thing that reminded me was eating a meal I wasn’t that into, so I could get to the dessert. It just meant I got too full, spent more cash, and ate more than I needed to. I decided I could just eat the dessert, it would be better for me overall. Since then I have been using the “grown up” line with good results.

    Grown ups can totally eat cake for lunch if its what they want. :)

    I don’t actually want to eat sugary cereal most days of the year, but I still find that it really helps to have some on hand when I fall out of the breakfast eating pattern.

    1. Keira Avatar

      I should mention that I know that line it sounds silly and a bit petulant, but that’s why I like it – It makes me laugh :)

  40. Yoyo Avatar

    I love this.
    People look at me as a bad eater all the time (I’m overweight and has been all my life), and it’s hard to explain, every time, that I look the way I do even though I love foods that are considered healthy (veggies, chicken and fish, turkey etc) and hardly eat at all anymore. Perhaps now I can get my head back on straight and start to enjoy food again.

  41. Kathy Avatar

    I have been trying to practice this. But, man I’m struggling w/ “permission” myself permission to eat what I want, and as much as I want, is very scary. Do people go “overboard” once they give themselves permission after years of “denial”? (I have been eating sweets of some form or another almost every day since before Christmas.) I feel out of control.. Telling myself it’s okay to have these foods and that it’s okay to eat as much as I want is, on the one hand, enjoyable and, I notice on the days that I do this vs. restrict my eating, I have more energy, etc. BUT, OTOH, it’s also freaking me the hell out.

    Is this common when you first begin this practice?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It does happen, yes. There can be an adjustment period where you go a bit overboard, until you really believe yourself about permission.

      I’d also caution you to make sure that there’s not a sneaky lack of permission somewhere in the background that is scaring you – saying to yourself, “Well, if I keep eating like this, I’ll just have to go back on a diet/cut back/etc” can be enough to scare the bejeezus out of you and set up what I think of as The Last Supper Phenomenon.

      If some part of you believes that Monday morning is coming around the corner, and the other shoe is going to drop, then you won’t reeeeally believe that you have permission, and your eating will continue to be out of control.

      You need to keep feeding yourself reliably, following your preferences, and work on calming and reassuring yourself. Remind yourself – you can have this. You can have as much of it as you want. There will never again come a point in your life where you WON’T be allowed to have it.

      Another good way to do this is to give yourself a bit of structure around your eating, within which permission can happen. This can help with “panic eating” episodes. If you catch yourself eating in a panicked way, give yourself permission and make a deal with yourself – “Okay, I’m allowed to eat this food and I can have as much as I want. But I’m going to sit down, and eat calmly and attentively until I feel done.” Take a nice deep breath, compose yourself, and eat.

      This can help to get a grip on the “out of control” feeling – you still have permission, you can still have whatever and however much you want, but you have to eat it in an orderly fashion.

      1. ksol Avatar

        I know I went through that adjustment period, but am definitely getting through it to where my eating is more normalized. For example — I’m still working on the modest-sized box of chocolate truffles I got for Christmas. I know I could have sat down and eaten them all in a hurry (I had permission!), but there was no need to. Enjoying them now when I want them with not one iota of guilt.

        When I first started giving myself permission, I definitely had some days when I went overboard. It was a learning experience — I learned it wasn’t necessary and my body didn’t like it much.

        Trust the process. The world tells us that we’re inherently out of control — not just on food, but on many other things. I believe we inherently want good things for ourselves and others and if given the freedom and opportunity, exercise good judgment.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          When you say it’s a learning experience, it totally reminds me of how, when you’re a kid going trick-or-treating, you can learn pretty quickly that eating your candy all in the same night actually isn’t all that fun!

          Well, I mean, it is at first, but then after a certain point you feel sick and don’t enjoy it anymore. It’s a critical learning experience to have, in my opinion.

          1. Kathy Avatar

            That’s where I’m at now with the desserts after having a dessert almost daily for the past little while, I am starting to feel I’ve reached critical mass with them and can put them aside now. It was fun and enjoyable to some degree to eat them but I’m done now. I’d rather concentrate on other foods now.

  42. […] to stop. As I read what little I could find about eating in more, I found an interesting article (here) about how the first step is to give yourself permission to eat. And really, I don’t. I […]

  43. Jam Avatar

    I realise this is an older post but wanted to comment. I found this site today and this article was exactly what I needed to hear. I have recently become a lot more confident in my body and who I am, but I think I still have a slightly messed up relationship with food. And after reading this…I think I struggle with permission. I never even thought of it this way. But now I do, I realise that a lack of permission is really ingrained into my personality when it comes to food.

    I grew up in a house where you had to eat everything on your plate. So I started eating the ‘worst’ foods first, and the nicest bits last, to have a nice taste at the end. Also, my dad also used to make me try things I didn’t like occasionally. I hate tomatoes (something about the texture, I can eat tomato sauce fine). I remember sitting at the table once as a child, and not being able to leave until I ate a bit of tomato. I think I sat there for a couple of hours crying until I ate some.

    To this day I struggle with leaving food on my plate (even if I am uncomfortably full), and find it really difficult to eat the nicest bit first and leave the rest. I’m 24 and I still can’t leave things I don’t really want on my plate, I stuff it down at the start of the meal, completely unconsciously, to get it out of the way. And I still can’t eat a tomato or mushroom. I have only recently started trying new vegetables again (and am happy to say I actually like most of them when I feel like trying them myself!)

    I also have problems saying no to certain foods even when I don’t really want them, because I think I won’t be able to have it later. But that all stems from my own lack of permission too I guess. If I am round at someone’s house and they have an box of chocolates for the guests, I feel such intense pressure. I set myself a limit – I can have two, because that isn’t greedy, people won’t think bad of me. But the real thought in my head is that I want to eat them all. Like, ALL of them. But now I think about it, I don’t really want all of them. I just want to eat them all because I do not give myself permission to buy certain foods myself, so it’s like…this is my only chance to eat it. Somehow in my brain there is a rule that says: You can’t go to a chocolate shop and buy a box of fancy chocolates for yourself!! Those are for other people, or presents, or guests! What would people think? (Replace chocolate with most ‘bad’ foods and I probably feel the same).

    Maybe this comment seems a bit rambling – I guess what I am trying to say is that this post was really really enlightening for me. I could relate it to my own experiences very well: so thank you for writing it :) I had never thought about my food issues in this way. And I love that you said ‘as little as I want’ too. I really needed that. I have no doubt I will struggle a bit with this. But I have written the note and will say it before my dinner.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks for leaving this comment – it’s a very familiar story to me, and I think you would get a lot out of reading Ellyn Satter’s stuff on how parents raise children to be good eaters:

      Many parents, even well-meaning ones, break the division of responsibility in feeding at some point, and it can leave their kids to grow up feeling pressured and confused about eating.

      You absolutely have permission to eat as much or as little as you want – you even have permission to waste food if you don’t like it.

  44. Rachel Avatar

    I know this is super old, but it is saved on my reading list o my computer’s sidebar. I forgot how huge permission was and today I woke up PISSY and decided I was going to “structure” my eating to take care of that- I couldn’t control the muggy GLOOMY weather, and I couldn’t snap out of my own mugginess, but I could sure sock it to my appetite. Oh, did I mention today was “Potluckpalooza” at my school? An entire day of delicious food and games? Guess who hardly spent ANY time there? Me. Why? Because I would have to eat if went there. So I sulked and I was depressed and mad and couldn’t figure out why because I ate “enough,” so I should be fine, even if it wasn’t what I wanted; it was an adequate amount so my body needed to stop whining- I didn’t “need” the rainbow sprinkle cupcake that was calling my name, I needed fuel to do my homework. So I went on telling my body NO! and hating everyone until, luckily, I realized what was going on and got a friend to go out for chinese with me, (one of our favorites). A good conversation and on good, (and large for me, might I add ;), meal later and the college isn’t in danger of being torched to the ground and I am reminded how much permission really affects me.
    I recently had to choose between maintaining my extra-low body weight and living my life. Some days come and go, like today, where I opt to hole up in my room “safe” from food and therefore isolated from LIFE. But those days are fewer and farther between, thanks LARGELY in part to your blog. I appreciate you very much, Michelle, so thanks again for this one! “An oldie, but a goodie,” as they say… whoever “they” are. ;) I intend to join one of your learning to eat groups ASAP, but unfortunately the whole college student income thing isn’t going to allow it in the incredibly near future… so I hope you plan to keep them up for a little while! :)
    Thanks again!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks Rachel! And what you wrote is such a perfect description of how we often deny ourselves permission in the attempt to look at food as only fuel, and strip it of all its pleasurable, social, and symbolic meaning. Our bodies might be fed, but something else is starving as a result!

      Thanks again.

  45. […] first and most important of her habits is permission. She has a few long entries on the subject of permission, I suggest you head over there to read […]

  46. […] How to Eat in a Nutshell – Lesson One – Permission You don’t have to count calories, or Points, or measure portions out and leave the table feeling hungry. You also don’t have to get so full that you feel uncomfortable, just to assuage someone’s insecurity about their cooking, or their guilt for being an absent parent, or whatever. […]

  47. marni Avatar

    Wow, I’ve been giving myself permission for about a week and have found it liberating. I am deliberately not thinking ‘what have I eaten today’ so I can figure out what I’m
    ‘allowed’ yo have. I’ve also taken a break from the gym to heal some injuries I’ve gotten from overdoing it. The healing feels great. I can walk down the stairs in the morning without pain!

    The catch? Last night I experienced my first anxiety attacl in YEARS. I assume letting go of such strict control has a lot to do with it, but I can’t quite figure it out. What was all that food preoccupation taking the place of?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This is a really good question to ask yourself.

      For me, I suspect it had something to do with the loss of my independence at that time in my life.

  48. […] to what I said in and earlier post about listening to The Fat Nutritionist and giving myself permission to […]

  49. […] How to eat, in a nutshell – lesson one: Permission. And most importantly, keep in mind that for many adults it’s taken years – decades even – to get as fucked up about food as we are. Getting back to a peaceful relationship with eating is also going to take some time. Be gentle with yourself, and the other people around you who are struggling! Tags: Body, Diet, Dieting, Fat, Fat Acceptance, Food, Health, Nutrition, Weight Loss […]