During my greatest points of struggle with my eating disorder, there were several eating behaviors that I avoided entirely to the point where I would actually say that they repulsed me. I went to great lengths to ensure that I kept a regimented eating and workout schedule so as not to stray from my allotted calories and, therefore, my curated comfort zone. 

Throughout my recovery process, I have grown to learn, relearn, and continue to remind myself that many of the behaviors that repulsed me are not only normal, but they are ones that bring joy, nourishment, and contentment, and connection. I spent a long time feeling like I needed to justify any time I would “break a food rule” to both myself and others. I spent an unlawful amount of time coming up with reasons and excuses for just about anything I did or didn’t eat. This is something I learned was actually robbing me of my autonomy, joy, and self-esteem. 

Below are some of those eating behaviors that DO NOT need justification – to yourself or to anyone around you. I hope this serves as a comforting reminder to you, as it did for me, that you never need permission or validation for what, where, and when you eat.

9 Eating Behaviors You Never Need to Justify

1. Eating Breakfast [not just coffee!]

Coffee in the morning is great. It brings me a lot of joy, too. And I used to cap my morning breakfast off here. The caffeine will hold me over until lunch. If I was really hungry, I would grab a rice cake or a small handful of grapes. And I would even justify these micro-breakfasts with things like I’ll take out a pump of syrup in my shaken espresso to even out the calorie count for today. But here’s the thing: you do not need to rationalize, justify, or account for eating breakfast! Your body deserves to be nourished in the morning with more than just your morning coffee.

2. Snacking Between Meals

Nope, you don’t owe anyone (including yourself) a specific reason for wanting a snack to bridge the lunch-to-dinner gap. If you need a snack, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. And this is not something you need to give an explanation for. I remember saying things like,  “I had a small lunch, so I just need an apple to get me to dinner” when I was eating around other people. For one, you don’t owe anyone information about when or why you are eating (ever), and for two, you simply don’t need a set reason for eating that snack.

3. Eating “Unhealthy” Food and Not “Burning it Off”

 Remember, you do not need to “earn” the calories that you eat, so eating something that is societally scoffed at and labeled as “bad” is not a ticket to a more intense workout (or a workout at all). I enjoyed french fries with a meal the other day and was happy to later realize later that I hadn’t thought anything about it other than the fact that they tasted good. That’s been one of the most liberating things about recovery for me: working to not only avoid justifying eating behaviors, but realizing I simply think less about my eating habits in general.

4. “Having Seconds” at Mealtime

Not all that long ago, this would have been a huge no for me if it were anything other than spaghetti squash or cauliflower rice. But our bodies are wise and know exactly what they need. It’s okay to honor your hunger and nourish yourself with an extra serving of whatever it is that you’re eating! You don’t have to justify this act of self-care or worry about societal expectations. When you embrace the freedom to have seconds, you begin to break the chain restriction has on you and rewire your mind to trust in your body’s signals. So enjoy the seconds – guilt free.

5. Eating dessert or snacks after dinner

 I had a “no eating after dinner” rule for myself for a long while, and in the few times I “broke” this rule, it took a mental battle to do so. I justified eating a *tiny* dessert with the fact that I had worked out twice, eaten a small dinner, planned to work out first thing in the morning. Anytime I broke the rule, I needed a justifiable reason for doing so. Exhausting to say the least. Through recovery, I have battled with myself to shake free of this arbitrary rule that I had internalized from diet culture.

6. Having your favorite foods often, not just “as a treat”

Our favorite foods are often our favorite foods for many reasons. They hold memories, evoke joy, remind us of people and places we think of fondly. You don’t have to label them as “forbidden” save for special occasions. If you want to, allow yourself to eat and enjoy these foods regularly, share them with people you love, and do so without the need to provide a reason!

7. Skipping a workout (or two or three) simply because you aren’t feeling up to it

Okay, so this isn’t necessarily an eating behavior, but it was closely linked to my own eating behaviors. If engaging in movement is something you are doing out of obligation and with dread, that is information to consider before continuing. Diet and “wellness” culture will retort with, “but, discipline! Do it tired, do it angry, do it anyway!” and on the other side of recovery, I disagree. The heart behind this message is that movement is a “punishment,” which creates a muddled and confusing relationship with working out. So, if you are one who enjoys exercising, wonderful. And if you have periods of time where you need a break or don’t want to do it, also wonderful. No explanation needed.

8. Eating more, less, or differently than those around you

 You are out to brunch with some friends and one pondered only egg whites and dry toast, the other ordered the vegan breakfast hash, and yet another ordered the *harvest health bowl*  – some mixture of grains and vegetables with just a bad of balsamic vinegar for flavor. Lovely. You feel the pressure to order something similar, but what you really want is the french toast, sausage (normal sausage– not turkey sausage), and eggs.

You feel the need to justify your order with, “I had a long run this morning,” or “I won’t be able to eat all of this! I’ll take a lot of it home,” or my personal favorite, “I won’t need to eat for the rest of the day after this!” But, you know what I’m going to say: Don’t say it! Fight the urge to justify your food choices whether you are at a restaurant, at home, on-the-go. If the french toast sounds good, get it! If the egg whites and toast sound good, get those! And if you want to eat all of your meal, please do. If you notice you are full after half, that’s great, too.

9. Eating for pleasure or social connection

My eating disorder did not allow me to eat for any other reason than to physically function (and I wasn’t really doing that all that well most of the time). But eating for pleasure or social connection is one of the greatest joys food can bring. And, despite what our eating disorder tells us and diet culture reinforces, it isn’t one we need to “earn.” Eating as a way of connecting to others is something we simply get to experience and enjoy; dinner with friends, social gatherings with family, celebratory cake at work – whatever it is, being able to make a decision to participate (or not) that is not rooted in an effort to avoid the food or rooted in a need to justify the behavior brings decreased anxiety and  increased enjoyment for these social events!

Nourishment, Connection, and Enjoyment Free of Justification

You have picked up on the mantra by now: your eating decisions do not require justifications or caveats, or outside validations. For me, there was a lot of healing that needed to take place for me to actually believe this, and there is an equal amount of healing that I have experienced in practicing it. As you continue through your day, weekend, summer, try to remember that you do not need to justify the way you nourish your body – even to yourself.

Embrace the freedom to engage in eating behaviors without justifications, and let’s collectively work to let go of the societal pressures that dictate which of these behaviors are “normal” or “acceptable.” Trust your instincts, honor your hunger, and enjoy the pleasure and connection that food can bring. You can continue to foster a healthier relationship with food by believing that you are worthy of nourishment, connection, and enjoyment without the need for justification.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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