In our health and diet obsessed culture, it may come as a surprise that enjoying food is actually something to strive for. However, pleasure and joy should be a regular part of the eating experience if a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body is the goal.
Research suggests that eating disorders may be more prevalent among those with food allergies compared to the general population*. Whether you are worried about eating healthy or worried about going into anaphylactic shock (or both), being anxious about food may limit your ability to enjoy food and feel satisfied.
When the satisfaction factor is compromised it often leads to overeating, low psychological well-being, and body dissatisfaction. All risk factors for developing disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Satisfaction Factor with Food Allergies
What is it & Why it matters
It can be hard to honour the satisfaction factor while trying to navigate the nutrition noise that exists around us. We are constantly inundated with (sometimes conflicting) messages about how food can help us promote good health. At the same time how it can contribute to disease. As a result, we come to fear certain foods while glorifying others.
We may even get the message that if a food is satisfying or enjoyable, it probably isn’t good for us. This is because the types of foods that generally bring comfort and satisfaction also tend to overlap with the category of foods that are demonized as health-robbing.
It’s not surprising that one of two things happens:
- The majority of our food choices are made based on what we think is good for us. Not what we actually enjoy or find satisfying.
- We indulge in the foods that bring us pleasure and suffer through a side order of guilt.
Full is not the same as satisfied!
Being full after a meal is different than being satisfied. Fullness describes a physical feeling and the quieting of hunger pangs. Satisfaction relates more to our emotional selves, describing the joy and pleasure derived from eating.
The reality of our food environment makes it easy to get stuck thinking in black and white. It’s either good for you OR it will make you sick. It either tastes good OR it’s healthy. As with most things, the truth doesn’t lie in the extremes, rather it’s somewhere in the middle.
Always Safe, Often Healthy, Sometimes Satisfying
Depending on your allergies, safety might mean an unbalanced and unsatisfying meal of plain chicken because the mashed potatoes were made with cream and the green beans were sprinkled with slivered almonds. Sometimes, the healthy choice is the safe choice. Like when you have to eat plain fruit for dessert, while everyone else is enjoying German chocolate cake and you’re left feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. Other times the safe choice is packaged and highly processed. You feel forced into eating something you wouldn’t otherwise choose. Even if this option tastes good, the guilt you are left with makes it hard to feel satisfied.
It can feel like a constant trade-off between safe, healthy, and satisfying. In a perfect world, food allergy folks would be able to check all three boxes. The reality is ‘safe’ always gets priority, usually followed by ‘healthy’, leaving ‘satisfying’ to fall by the wayside more often than not.
Scarcity Mindset: Safe and Satisfied
Living with food allergies often means that safe and satisfying foods are hard to come by. This kind of scarcity makes it so that when you find a new safe option that is also satisfying. It’s easy to overdo it out of excitement, and you may even feel a little out of control.
Feeling out of control
This out of control feeling can cause anxiety about the amount you are eating. The anxiety can then be compounded by further food guilt and anxiety if the new safe and satisfying food is one that diet culture cautions us against consuming for fear of its implication on our waistline. Just like that, joy can disappear. Worse yet, you start to believe that satisfying foods are no longer safe because you can’t control yourself around them.
It’s completely normal to overdo it when finding new safe and satisfying food. You are crossing over from a scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset (two extremes). It will take some time and continued exposure to the new and exciting food to correct the course and find balance.
Restricting access to new exciting food will only keep you feeling deprived. In order to feel like you can enjoy a new, safe food, you need to be able to trust that you can have it whenever you want. At first, you’re going to crave it all the time, but this will change if you allow yourself to have easy access to the food. It’s not a lack of self-control or willpower, it’s exposure that will help you enjoy these foods in moderation and feel regulated.
Mindful eating can also help you decide if you actually like this new option, or if you’re just excited by having another safe choice. Pay attention to the taste, smell, sound, texture, mouthfeel, appearance, and temperature of the food. Try it a few times before deciding on the satisfaction factor. Just because it’s safe, doesn’t mean it’s tasty or that you enjoy it.
5 Ways to Find Satisfaction with Food Allergies
The following tips and suggestions can help you honour the satisfaction factor while staying safe and promoting a healthy relationship between food, mind, and body.
- Learn to cook – Making foods yourself that you’ve never been able to try in an allergy-safe way can be a fun and rewarding experience. Remember, you deserve to enjoy your food!
- Ask yourself what looks good – next time you are out to eat, go through your regular routine of asking what’s safe, then do another scan asking yourself what looks good. If you get lucky and one of your ‘looks good’ picks overlaps with a safe pick, absolutely go with that one! If you’re not lucky, make a point of either making your own allergy-safe version at home or seek out an allergy-safe version from another shop or restaurant.
- Embrace compromise – when the satisfying choice isn’t the safe choice, try to determine what qualities and characteristics of the satisfying food you are craving and do your best to match those. For example, if a chocolatey, cakey brownie sounds like it would hit the spot but isn’t a safe option, can you find a safe option that is either chocolatey or cakey?
- Find pleasure beyond your plate – sometimes the allergy-safe substitute isn’t that good! In these instances, ask yourself how you can derive pleasure from the eating experience beyond the food in front of you. Added sauces and garnishes can go a long way. In addition to music and lighting, and of course company and conversation.
- Check-in with your fellow food allergy folks and be on the lookout for satisfying allergy-safe products, restaurants and shops. There’s nothing like the feeling of discovering a local allergen-free bakeshop or chocolate you can have that’s safe and satisfying.
- Being able to enjoy foods that satisfy you is integral to a healthy relationship with food, mind and body. Living with food allergies can sometimes feel like a constant trade-off between safe, healthy, and satisfying. You can usually check one or two boxes, however, it can be challenging to cover all three bases.
- I encourage you to remember the satisfaction factor as you navigate life with food allergies. To challenge any beliefs held about foods being either satisfying OR healthy, or satisfying OR safe.
- Food can be satisfying AND safe. Food can also be satisfying AND healthy! Feeling satisfied with your food is part of normal, healthy, balanced eating. Your relationship with food, mind, and body will be in a much better place because of it.
- “Discover the Satisfaction Factor” is principle number six in Intuitive Eating, an evidence-based framework for developing a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body created by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
More Intuitive Eating Guides
- Understanding Food Fear and How it is Related to Food Allergies
- How to Challenge Your Food Rules and Reduce Food Fear with Food Allergies
*Increased prevalence of eating disorders as a biopsychosocial implication of food allergy. Barbara Wróblewska, Anna Maria Szyc, Lidia Hanna Markiewicz, Magdalena Zakrzewska, Ewa Romaszko. PLoS One. 2018; 13(6): e0198607. Published online 2018 Jun 26. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198607
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Alida is a Registered Dietitian and food allergy girl who is passionate about helping you master healthy living. She loves simplifying nutrition science into realistic strategies. She works with clients to find Food Freedom.