July 22, 2024
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Ice Cream Shops and Intuitive Eating

My husband worked in an ice cream shop when he was in high school. It’s one of those “fun facts” or ice breaker tidbits he throws out when looking for something random and interesting to share.

Earlier today we were sitting and talking (as we tend to do on these very long Shabbatot) and I asked him what it was like in terms of eating the actual ice cream. “Well, in the beginning I went through every flavor. I needed to try them all, to the point that I couldn’t look at ice cream again for two months. But after that, I just had the ice cream whenever I wanted it.”

And that, readers, is the most natural example of learning to eat intuitively. Most people who hear me speak about being anti-diet have a tough time accepting that food can just be food. And in many ways, they’re correct: we have deep connections and associations to food that impact how we judge and see what we eat, and in turn, how we might view ourselves after eating these foods. This is the case in many areas of life: a smell, object or location can all have deep-rooted emotional associations or projections which may impact decision-making or how we feel when engaging with any of these items, places, etc.

And let’s not forget that for so many people, it is the fear of what food will do that interrupts our natural ability to eat intuitively. This fear is based on a lot of misinformation, societal norms and a multi-billion dollar diet industry. And so when people begin to wrap their minds around creating a better relationship between the mind and body, there is typically a honeymoon phase of anxiety and excitement, the act of dipping toes into eating with permission, and then a strong retraction.

At that point, perhaps the act of eating without as much rigidity feels overwhelming, or the fear of weight gain is strong. Above all else, people typically do not have a lot of trust with their bodies; for years there were a set of rules which were followed surrounding food and exercise and the body adapted to survive. Natural hunger and fullness cues may be long gone and certain foods have been placed on such a pedestal that these foods are typically binged on, followed by guilt, restriction and perhaps compensation. The fear of what one’s body could look like leads to a disconnection from natural cues and the ability to simply “be” around food.

And that is what the journey toward healing includes: food can be enjoyable, it can be fuel, it can be exciting and it can also just be food — something we eat, multiple times per day, without the loaded judgments or guilt or need for perfection or moral equivalence. But the way to achieve this is by immersing ourselves in actually eating. The usual response? “Oh no, I’ll never be able to stop.” I guarantee you, you will. However, it may take a bit of time and it may need to include learning distress tolerance tools for when this feels overwhelming.

My husband ate ice cream for what sounds like weeks straight. And then he naturally just didn’t feel the need. Picture anyone who might work in a bakery, restaurant, diner, etc. When asked if they enjoy the food, some people say yes, but many others say that they know they can have it at any time, so the appeal is not as prominent. This is how intuitive eating works: certain foods may take us back to childhood, be comforting or have a negative association, but overall the food is available and we have permission to eat and can therefore make choices based on actual hunger and interest. When we know we can eat the food that we may currently label as “bad,” then it really doesn’t hold power anymore and just becomes about whether it is accessible or if we are in the mood for this food.

This can sound so foreign to so many people. But it is absolutely possible to unlearn even decades of patterns. It is about unpacking expectations, fears and practical behaviors. And it is about trusting that your body can actually know what it needs and how to be around food but that you need to work with it, not against. So buy the scary food, let it sit in your fridge. And if you need extra support to get there, seek out that support. Life can be so much more rich, colorful, meaningful and delicious if food just took up a bit less space. There is help to get there and I can assure you, your life and freedom are worth it.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works in New York and New Jersey with individuals ages 18 and older who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Zucker is an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a metro New York consultant at Monte Nido. Zucker is honored to now serve on the board of Atzmi. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

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