What is Food Flexibility?

  Jan 23, 2019  |  #Intuitive Eating

The idea of food flexibility comes up often in client sessions. It can be a very hard transition to go from the idea of following a strict, rigid meal plan to just having complete freedom with eating.

And I don’t necessarily recommend going from one extreme to another. There are many vital pieces in the middle, which are an important part of the process. Experience plays a significant role in learning how to establish food flexibility, too.

Food flexibility is going to look a little different for everyone. In my opinion, it can also be a buzz word that you hear people throwing around without explaining it.

With intuitive eating, you hear alot of, “reject the diet mentality,” “give yourself permission,” and “honor your hunger.”

You also see people promoting foods from sandwiches to ice cream, and showing you how “all foods fit,” but never really explaining how to get there.

What does food flexibility mean? How to get to a point of unconditional permission to eat in Intuitive eating

Reviewing Some Intuitive Eating Principles

Incorporating intuitive eating and getting to where you can acknowledge and accept that all foods are neutral (not good nor bad) takes time and a huge mental shift.

You have to acknowledge what diet culture has done to you, physically, psychologically, emotionally. What have you missed out on from it?

What foods have you not allowed yourself to eat? Secondly, you must understand the biological nature of our bodies – to get food. We are not meant to restrict or avoid foods we enjoy.

Any form of restriction (whether physical, psychological or emotional) increases the likelihood of a binge, and disrupts trust with your body.

It’s not natural to try to manipulate our weight below the set point weight that our bodies naturally want to be at.

You have to become conscious of your food rules, and really dig into why they are your “food rules.”

How did they start? What power do they hold over you? When was the last time you went against one? How did that feel?

Ditch the Food Rules

Then, you have to give yourself permission to “break” and challenge those rules. To color outside the lines and live in the gray. Imagine a life where health isn’t black and white and foods aren’t “good” or “bad.” A life where you could order a salad if you TRULY want a salad, but also feel competent and emotionally okay ordering a burger if you want a burger. You don’t compare your food to your friend’s, and you don’t eat less on days you don’t exercise. The body will outsmart compensation eventually.

What does food flexibility mean? How to get to a point of unconditional permission to eat in Intuitive eating

So, Where Does Food Flexibility Fit In?

Food flexibility encompasses ALL of these things. When you have a flexible relationship with food, it’s okay to eat more or less on some days because your body eventually gets the balance it seeks. Your body does A-ok if you go through the day without any vegetables at all. Similarly, it survives if you ate a little too much dessert last night. Our bodies are SO capable of handling these situations because it’s life and it’s not meant to be perfect. Your body is very resilient!

Another example – You can go out to eat without looking at the menu ahead of time. You have trust in yourself that you can find something on the menu that you genuinely enjoy, and you’re also excited to bond with friends socially over food. It takes a mental shift to understand that food can be part of enjoyment. A flexible mindset about food allows you to eat food as just “food,” not as an extreme focus on “proteins,” “carbohydrates” and “fats.” Because friends, when you really tune in to what your body is saying, you will gravitate towards a variety of foods.

What does food flexibility mean? How to get to a point of unconditional permission to eat in Intuitive eating

The biggest question I hear from those seeking food flexibility is the fear that they will just crave “treats” all the time. This fear is warranted. Again, it can be scary to give yourself full permission if you haven’t done that before. And it’s completely normal and natural to eat more of these foods at first. Think about it as the body’s way of re-aquainting itself with these foods. Remembering what they taste like. Savoring the flavor. Your body wants more because it’s been deprived so long. Chances are, you’re not going to overeat kale because you haven’t restricted kale. Your body is okay with that food.

Once your body habituates to these fear foods, they become just like any other food. In other words, the more we are exposed to a food, the less enticing and exciting it becomes. You realize you can have them when you want them, but you probably don’t want to be eating them everyday. Think about it – if you aren’t allowing yourself to have that fear food, you’re going to keep thinking about it and craving it.

What does food flexibility mean? How to get to a point of unconditional permission to eat in Intuitive eating

When you embrace a flexible relationship with food, the minute details don’t matter. The overall big picture does. It works itself out and you don’t have to spend your time worrying about it.

Being flexible with food is going to have an impact on your overall health and stress levels. Think about it, if you’re not stressing about food, there is so much more brainpower to spend elsewhere! A hyper-focus on health, or foods, is not good for our health or well-being. I will add that it’s also difficult to focus on your body messages if you are stressed out.

Looking for more Intuitive Eating posts?

How to meal plan while eating intuitively

Embracing Food Flexibility

Coping with Diet Talk

What you want to eat vs. What you think you SHOULD eat


Do you have any habituation experiences to share? 

6 responses to “What is Food Flexibility?

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  2. It’s SOOO true that you have to make those ‘off limits’ foods FREE, YUMMY foods that don’t have the guilt associated with them; it’s important that those foods become normal. I would love to come to a point too of going out to eat and that being totally normal and easy to do; that’s a goal for this year!

  3. It’s crazy how after I started reading all of your posts, I tend to have desserts around way more. I have a little something most nights and don’t feel like I need to eat it all at once. Love it!!

    Although as a picky eater, I’ll probably always have to look at a menu before going out to eat. At least it’s just to make sure there’s something I’ll enjoy and not because I’m obsessing over food right?!

    1. Love hearing that, Maureen! And I think intention totally matters – if you’re going into the experience just looking ahead of time to make sure they have foods you like, that sounds like a different mindset.

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