Despite what years of marketing, diet culture and media have told us, food has no morality. We’ve been coaxed into believing what we eat, and what we do with the energy we gain from it defines us as individuals. While yes, eating a certain way may land you in ill health, it still does not define who you are.

A murderer may eat nothing but salads and a humanitarian nothing but McDonald’s. Although both are seemingly unlikely, the serial killer would still be just that, despite the number of salads they had eaten. So why do we so often base our self-worth on what we’ve eaten and how much of it? 

The Forbidden Fruit Effect

This is where ‘morality’ comes into play regarding diet. This is particularly prevalent when it comes to ultra-processed foods, or UPFs. The way that larger corporations position themselves in the market is typically as highly palatable and desirable options. In contrast, the way the very same products are positioned in the media, is more demonised, creating a rhetoric where delicious, convenient food is the pinnacle of poor health, and more nutrient-dense food is boring and laborious.

This is pinned as something known as the ‘forbidden fruit effect’. Originating from the Old Testament tale of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit effect describes the phenomenon whereby something becomes exponentially more desirable when we know we ‘can’t’ have it. The serpent tempts Adam and Eve with an apple from the Tree of Knowledge – despite being told by God they cannot eat it. They give into temptation and are exiled from Eden.

This can translate through to many of life’s scenarios – romantic relationships, saving money, and, of course, diet.

The Forbidden Fruit Effect and Food

The forbidden fruit effect manifests as the infamous intense and all-consuming cravings we get in bouts of restriction or dieting. Where all you can think about is that average burger you had a friend’s birthday last year, the ice cream on holiday with your family over the summer, or even just the Christmas chocolate gathering dust at the back of the cupboard.

Because these foods have been epitomised as heavenly foods, but ones we ‘can’t’ have, the temptation to eat them is almost obsessive. This often results in prolonged restriction for hours, days, or even weeks, until the temptation becomes too strong. Then, we end up eating far more than we would have consumed had we just eaten the thing when we first craved it.

But unless you’re well-versed in the realm of Intuitive Eating, knowing how to tune into your body’s needs versus your mind’s desires can be challenging. The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating is greatly helpful in learning to identify these differences. Be warned though – embracing intuitive eating may be bumpy to start with, as its primary focus is to reject diet mentality, allowing yourself to learn to trust your body’s natural signals around food. This, over time, essentially dampens the impact the forbidden fruit effect has on your food choices, allowing you to choose options that nourish and satiate you, rather than just one or the other.

We’ve listed some tips below that can help you start to reframe your mindset when it comes to food and the forbidden fruit effect:

1. Focus on what you can add to your diet, rather than what you can take away

If you have a strong craving for something, that’s fine – you should honour it! But aim to incorporate other items into what you’re eating to make it more satiating. For example, if you’re craving ice cream, try to pair it with some fruit or nuts for a fibre boost, to make it a more filling meal.

Check out our blog on how to eat healthily every day.

2. Pay attention to your cravings

Sometimes our cravings are physical needs, e.g. if you’ve not eaten for a while and feel a hunger pang. But sometimes it’s a response to the stimuli around us, for example, a TV or bus ad, or an Instagram reel. While these are still valid cravings, it’s not so much a need – just a desire. 

3. Focus on how different foods make you feel

No – that doesn’t mean eating foods based on whether you’ll feel guilty or not, it means tuning into how your body feels after eating certain things. Do you feel energised or lethargic? Satiated or still hungry? Nourished or a little flat? Honing in on the foods that make you feel your best can aid in combating the power the forbidden fruit effect can hold, allowing you to enjoy your food guilt-free, and nourish yourself in the best way possible!

As contradictory as it may seem, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat everything is the most impactful way of navigating the forbidden fruit effect. Although it may seem daunting and counterintuitive, allowing yourself to eat everything**, and making honest decisions about what you’re eating, is the best way of nourishing your body with what it needs, and finally making peace with food for good.

**Note, this does not apply to those with eating disorders or going through recovery.

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