Adventures with Nutella (and Other Fear Foods)
'It's complicated' doesn't have to be your relationship status with the foods that scare you
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I normally do a roundup of interesting reads (and listens) on Mondays, but this week I am trying something a little different and sharing a glimpse into the state of my own diet recovery work. The more we can shine a light on our own diet behaviors and thinking while making the transition to intuitive eating, the easier we can move past them and discover food freedom.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with Nutella from my first spoonful in high school.
I discovered the spreadable chocolate-hazlenut-y goodness in the early ‘90s at my friend Heidi’s house. Her parents were native Germans, first-generation immigrants and free spirits. They were the parents that didn’t care about underage drinking, so of course, this was the house our group would spend our time at. One day, I spied a jar of Nutella on the kitchen countertop and asked, Helga, whoa, what is this? I had never seen spreadable chocolate, but since I already had a chocolate addiction, I had to try it. After one bite, I was hooked. Every time I went to Heidi’s house, I had to have my fix.
Nutella wasn’t a common grocery store item in America back then, but it had been as common as peanut butter for decades in Europe, where it began as an “austerity recipe,” born out of World War II rationing in 1950s’ Italy, where chocolate was in short supply but hazelnuts were plentiful.
It wasn’t until college that I was able to find Nutella on my own, and then it stuck with me for years.
It was one of my first “trigger” foods, one of those foods everyone told me was bad, and that made me want it more. It was so good, I never wanted to stop eating it. Because no one else around me seemed addicted to it, I thought I was the only one with a Nutella problem. Did I dream of Nutella? No, but I painted with it—or at least, that’s what one of my college roommates accused me of after I finished prepping my bread and Nutella breakfasts.
I had the same problem with Nutella as I had with other rich chocolate desserts. Whenever I had access to them, I would eat them for every meal until they were gone, my own form of binging.
I didn’t understand why this was—or what to do about it—until I started intuitive eating, a non-diet approach to eating that involves listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
One of the 10 core principles of intuitive eating is to make peace with food. Until you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you’re going to remain locked in battle with food—and yourself. As authors Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole describe in Intuitive Eating:
“If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binging. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.” —Intuitive Eating
Last Supper eating is a version of the “diet starts tomorrow” mentality that so many of us are familiar with. I was having a free-for-all until the food was gone, and then I was back on the wagon. What this also did was continue to reinforce the forbidden aspect of these foods and created intense feelings of guilt and shame when I ate them.
This is the kind of bargaining behavior that happens when we’re trapped in diet thinking, and it keeps us locked in a cycle of restricting and binging. When we’re reacting to these sort of mind games, we’re not listening to our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues.
I stopped buying Nutella, because I saw it as a food that I couldn’t control my behavior around, and my last taste of Nutella was probably six years ago—until last week, when I brought a jar of it home from the grocery store.
Over the last few months, when I passed it at the grocery store, I wondered what would happen if I ate it now.
Now that I’m a year into intuitive eating and feeling more confident around food.
Now that I’ve stopped demonizing foods.
Now that I’m more attuned to my body’s needs.
For about a week, I’ve had it off and on for breakfast on a croissant, and here’s what I’ve learned:
It’s not as satisfying as I once thought it was.
It doesn’t fill me up. Even with its higher fat content, it leaves me hungry within a couple of hours.
It’s so rich that it’s hard to eat a full slathering of it on bread, so I can’t usually finish it.
Unlike in the past, I don’t feel the urge to eat it for every meal, but I have noticed I still feel the need to finish the jar so that I can be done with it forever.
So there is some work to do on why I feel the need to finish the jar, but for someone who didn’t feel like she could control herself around this food, this is progress.
While I decided to experiment with Nutella, I felt reasonably confident in the outcome, because one of the best things that's happened with quitting diets and embracing intuitive eating is that I don’t spend time or energy obsessing over food in the same way I used to. I don’t have bad feelings about food or myself when I eat them. This is food freedom.
Now, it’s your turn. Are there certain foods you’re still struggling with in your diet recovery? Are there any you’ve made significant progress with? Let’s keep the conversation going!