Women are inundated with the expectation to control most aspects of their lives, from their weight to their feelings to their relationships. We all know control is iffy, if not impossible, but what’s the alternative? If you think it’s to let everything go to hell, no wonder you don’t want to let it go
Unfortunately, trying to control everything, as understandable as it is, has some nasty downsides. If you’re reading this with your shoulders up to your ears or an achy jaw from gritting your teeth, you know the stress this can cause. When things don’t work out and slip past your grasp, you blame yourself. For some, this leads to serious anxiety or depression, and for others, it just makes them miserable. For many women, trying to control and restrict their food intake just leads to binges- which makes them try to restrict again, and the cycle continues.
This is why I love the idea of full permission. When clients are struggling with trying to control, limit, or restrict something, we take a look at what might happen if they gave themselves full freedom.
I like to explain the full permission aspect of Intuitive Eating to clients by talking about birthday cake. In the Intuitive Eating book, they tell the story of Molly, who freaking loved birthday cake but didn’t let herself eat them, “except at a party and power through two or more pieces” (p.84) so quickly she barely tasted them. When she decided to give herself full permission to eat, she let herself actually taste the cake and realized that they weren’t actually tasty. Now she often turns down cake.
A lot of people look at me like I have two heads here. “Ok, that might have worked for Molly, but I am just going to eat Hot Cookie and sushirritos till I get bloated and miserable.” We all have our personal “birthday cakes”- foods, activities, people, or ideas we are sure will destroy us, but we crave them anyway.
It’s true that listening to our cravings and desires can be overwhelming and terrifying. However, if we can lean in to full permission we can learn to trust our bodies and minds. When we let go of restriction in a safe, thoughtful way, it is totally possible to feel confident and relaxed.
Keep reading: I’ve come up with a 7-step plan so you can feel satisfied and calm right away.
How Restriction Makes You Miserable
You might not notice how you’ve been restricting in your life- for some of us, it’s the air we breathe. And for a few of us, this works just fine. For most of us, however, restriction can slowly take over our minds. We stop trusting ourselves to make our own choices and start obsessing about it. If we’re restricting food, we might spend too much time figuring out calories or missing out on social events that involve food. For a lot of us, restriction will lead to a “pendulum swing” in the other direction toward binging due to complex hormonal processes. If that’s the case, you can end up feeling super ashamed and isolated and like you’re the only one who “can’t control” her eating.
Restriction is not just about eating, though. When you ignore your internal signals for anything, you reinforce to your subconscious that you can’t trust yourself and need to manage everything. So you don’t listen to that still, small inner voice when it says to not get into a friendship with someone, or when you get excited to take a creative risk in your work. Instead of relying on your innate inner guidance to nudge you in the right direction, you end up overthinking and scrambling to keep everything in control like Lucy in the chocolate factory: “Ethel! I Think we’re fighting a losing game!”
How Giving Yourself Full Permission Will Help You Find Ease and Confidence
Even if you’ve spent your whole life over-thinking and controlling your body and your life, you can teach yourself to trust your gut. With a little experimentation, you might discover that you do have an innate sense of what you need to nourish yourself and grow.
When you choose to give yourself full permission, there is a possibility for so much more ease. Instead of fighting against yourself, you can relax into your own decision-making skills. You can show up in your relationships with confidence, knowing you made the right choice. You feel like yourself, rather than someone walking around trying to be someone. To put it more simply: you can be present.
How To Let Go of Restriction and Give Yourself Full Permission: Seven Steps, and Yes, There IS a Catch
- The concept of full permission can be big, overwhelming, and anxiety-provoking, so let’s start with just writing a few things down on a piece of paper or the notes app on your phone. Make a short list of at least 7 things you deny yourself. There are probably several foods you think of as “bad,” so write those down first. What kind of things do you avoid because they are “unhealthy”?
- Once we’ve got those down, let’s expand to things a little more abstract. What else do you not let yourself indulge in or take advantage of? You might be “restricting with time, money, or relationships. Here is a brief list of things clients have worked on:
- Taking a sick day from work, or skipping a social event to rest
- Rest days from exercise
- Hot baths
- Asking for help from a spouse or family member
- Asking your boss to give you less work
- Doctor’s appointments
- Appearance self-care like haircuts and manicures
- Take a few deep breaths and feel your body wherever you are. Feel the places where your body touches the floor, chair, or other surface. In my therapy sessions, we always find a way to get in touch with your body because that’s a place where you know what you need on a deeper level.
- Don’t worry- I’m not going to encourage you to go for that whole list at once. We want to give you a really manageable experience here. So now that you’re feeling your body, read through that list. As you imagine eating those donuts, drinking that enormous sugary latte, or skipping yoga for a nice long nap. But what happens in your body? We’re looking for things that feel expansive- you can take a deeper breath or relax your shoulders a bit. That is a good sign that inviting this “bad” thing into your life might actually be nourishing. With all of them, you’re probably going to have anxious thoughts- “but that’s so much sugar!” or “If I skip yoga all the time I’ll lose all my fitness.” That’s fine. We’re looking for something that gives you just a touch of anxiety- so you have a bit of a challenge.
- In session, once we’ve picked a food or behavior to “give permission” to, we come up with a mantra that feels really empowering.You may need to play around with the wording a little bit to make it feel like “you”- when you’ve found it, you should feel a tiny bit more confident, solid, and present. Some ideas are
- I can have as much of [food] as I want, whenever I want.
- It’s okay to ask for help- others will tell me what their limits are.
- There’s a beginning and ending to everything- resting today doesn’t mean I’ll need to rest every day.
- It may help to set a period of time where you experiment with this freedom before you reevaluate. In therapy, we often use the natural schedule of a week between sessions- but you can make it a day, an hour, a month- whatever feels like it will allow you to learn and grow without getting too scary. This doesn’t mean you’ll go back to restricting after that time- but that you’ll check in with yourself about how it’s going.
- Here’s the catch– whatever you’re doing, give yourself permission to do it, mindfully. Remember that example about Molly and the birthday cake? It wouldn’t have worked if she just plowed through a birthday cake. She paid attention to what it tasted like and what she felt like during and after eating. That mindfulness gave her clarity to decide whether it was really right for her. Full permission, without mindfulness, is just a binge.
So, How’d your break from restriction go?
I hope you were able to get a small taste of what life can be like when you let go of that need to control yourself. This exercise was designed to stretch your capacity just a little bit. With time and repetition, you really can replace fixation on control with trust in your body. In therapy with me, we work together to build mindfulness, come up with strategic and manageable homework, and find ways to make you feel really brilliant and confident.
I offer free 15-minute phone consultations Bay Area folks considering starting therapy.
Book a free call today– I am so excited to help you find your freedom.