Why do so many people have a love-hate relationship with food?
One the one hand, food brings pleasure and flavor and enjoyment. Food can love us, in the sense that it provides us with all the nutrients and building blocks our bodies need to function well physically, mentally and emotionally.
On the other hand, there is an obsession with food, especially in regards to our weight, that uses up SO much energy and head space, and takes us away from fully enjoying our lives.
There’s a notion that “if my body was perfect, if I were my ideal weight, if I could JUST CONTROL MY EATING…..then life would be great.”
I used to feel and think this way.
I dictated so much of my self-worth and whether I felt “successful” that day based on what or how I ate, and how my body looked. I was incredibly disconnected from my hunger, and only used my head or the calorie count for the day to determine whether I was “allowed” to eat more.
If I did eat an empty calorie food, I would have so much guilt about it and obsess about it that often the guilt prompted me to binge eat. The disgust I felt from that would make me either cancel social plans, or go anyway, but my mind would be so preoccupied the whole time about how awful I felt and how much regret I had.
I thought that controlling food and dieting WAS a healthy relationship to it…. that’s what all of the magazines were telling me to do! I had so much fear that if I didn’t control it, I’d gain a bunch of weight and feel horrible about myself.
During grad school, I lived with a Brazilian girl who I observed with amazement at how much peace she had around food and eating, and maintained a healthy weight without “trying”. She was a beautiful example for me of what a healthy relationship to food and body looked like.
It seemed so foreign to me, though, or something that was just not possible for me. I realized that food was controlling ME; it was an incredibly dysfunctional relationship and needed to change, I needed to create a love-love relationship to food, but I had no idea how.
Over time, I DID create a more loving relationship to food and my body. I now have that same peace as my former roommate with what and how I eat. Eating well is no longer a “should” but a “want”. I no longer use food to cope (most of the time ;)). I no longer agonize over what I’m eating, I have so much more freedom with food than I thought possible. (by the way, I’m leading a group in Seattle teaching women just like you to do the same!)
The thing is, when we create that space to have more freedom, we in turn create more freedom in our lives to engage in things that light us up and bring us passion and fulfillment.
So what IS a healthy relationship to food and how do you get there?
Here are some elements:
- You have a nutrition “template” that you follow, that provides some structure, while not being completely rigid or restrictive. There’s freedom within that. For my former roommate, she grew up eating whole nutrient-dense foods, so it was simply how she had always ate. For a lot of us recovered dieters or who grew up eating processed foods, having some evidence-based guidance can be helpful until it becomes second nature.
- You let your body tell you exactly what it needs, and you honor that (which takes some trial and error of eating things with curiosity and seeing how your body responds–you use that information to guide your future choices)
- You are keenly aware of when you are hungry and when you are satisfied, just like knowing when you need to go to the bathroom, and you honor it . Meaning you eat when you’re hungry and it’s easy to stop when you’ve had enough.
- You’re in tune with your body rather than your head about what to eat. This is a skill that takes some practice (why using a template can initially be helpful while you “train” yourself). You are aware when your body needs some protein, or greens, or something fatty. Or all of the above. It’s almost as if your cells are talking to you.
- “Should” is not part of your food vocabulary. Neither is “good” or “bad”.
- You eat whatever you want of foods that you know will make you feel your best, in whatever quantity your body tells you it needs. This requires strengthening our intuition muscles, and comes with practice.
- You allow yourself to eat pleasure foods, and savor them, without remorse.
- You occasionally allow yourself to use food for comfort. However….
- Food is NOT your main coping mechanism for dealing with stress, anxiety, tiredness, boredom, sadness, anger, fear or any other discomfort. You skillfully respond to those emotions in productive ways like breathing, walking, journaling, yoga, meditation, a good cry, a nap, finding engaging hobbies, connecting with someone, finding pleasure through massage, music, movies or novelty….to name a few.
- You have uncovered any underlying limiting beliefs that cause you to self-sabotage and have created new mindsets/ways of talking to yourself that lift you up. Many times there’s a subconscious belief, perhaps that you’re not deserving, or you don’t want attention, or you’re waiting to be your ideal weight to like yourself. Deciding to not only to like, but to LOVE yourself NOW will actually facilitate a healthier relationship to food.
- When you eat, you eat mindfully—exploring the tastes, textures, chewing, bringing awareness to your mouth, having a glorious experience & giving yourself permission to be satisfied.
- You’ve addressed any physiological imbalances that may contribute to compulsive eating –this could be from things like a less than optimal gut ecosystem or hormone imbalances. If we’re not absorbing the nutrients from our food, we’ll find that crazy urge to put more food in our mouths, even if we just ate a meal.
Just like a relationship with a significant other, our relationship to food and to our bodies requires some investment and work—and just like the rewards that come with other relationships, so too can we find fulfillment and happiness with our relationship to food and our approach to eating.
I’m leading a live 6-week group in Seattle that’s going to jumpstart this relationship and I would love to have you as part of it.
There are only a few spots left so sign up now!
If you are out of the area or unable to attend, I will also be launching an online version of this in the coming months. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION & TO REGISTER.