If we are honest with ourselves, most, if not all, of us have a pretty dysfunctional relationship with food. We love it. We hate it. We break up with it, vowing never to see it again, and then we see it at a party and it looks so good.…all of the sudden you’re back together again. You tell yourself that this time will be different. But each time it ends, your self-esteem gets a little more fragile and you’re left wondering where you keep going wrong.
I know this sounds a little silly, but isn’t it also a little scary how true it is?!? WHY DO WE DO THIS?!
If you pay attention to the fitness world at all, you’d think nutrition came down to just what you eat, right? Diets, nutrition articles, and blogs are all about what food this celeb eats, what food that celeb swore off, which 5 foods to avoid for a flat tummy, the evils of sugar and french fries and soda, top 10 super foods….there’s even a whole series of books called Eat This, Not That.
The biggest problems with this are 1) trying to make something universal that is actually really individual, 2) chances are if you read more than one diet book or nutrition article, you’ll start hearing contradictory things about which foods are good and bad (which just gets really confusing and frustrating), and 3) because of some people’s strong convictions, it’s created a kind of morality based on what foods you do or don’t eat.
So without really realizing it, we start mentally assigning foods to the good or bad category. But the minute you put a food into the bad category it becomes forbidden fruit. The worse it is for you, the more you want it. The longer you deprive yourself of it, the stronger the cravings become and the more out of control you feel. Until you eventually give in. You binge. You feel terribly guilty. You make the next attempt even more strict in order to make up for it, and the cycle starts over. And now here we are, in this highly dysfunctional relationship that we just can’t seem to break free from.
So here’s the tough love part: it’s not food, it’s you. 😉
Let me explain by giving you 2 examples:
Guy #1: In a documentary called Supersize Me, gains 25 pounds and his health severely deteriorates while eating only McDonalds for 30 days.
Guy #2: Science teacher decides to do an experiment of his own and loses 56 pounds and improves all his blood markers eating only McDonalds….FOR 6 MONTHS.
WHAT THE WHAT?!?
It was the same “bad” food, so what made the difference? Well, Guy #1 decreased his exercise, had to say yes if they asked if he wanted his meal super-sized, and had to eat the entire meal. Guy #2 increased his exercise and had his students plan out his meals so that they always totaled 2,000 calories/day and hit a number of nutrient requirements as well.
The moral of the story: Food doesn’t make you gain weight. Behaviors do.
We’re going to get to the behavior later, but I’m starting here because this really has to do with our mindset towards food. What you think determines what you do.
Repairing our broken relationship with food will help with the behaviors to come. And it’s also SO friggin’ freeing!!! 🙂
I was at a nutrition seminar back in May and the speaker said something that really stuck with me. He said that he believes that the guilt we associate with food is far more detrimental than the food itself. He then asked how many of us had ever gone out to eat with a loved one and had a great time and enjoyed a decadent meal, but left feeling guilty because of what we ate. We all raised our hands.
It was eye-opening and saddening to realize how much shame and guilt I carried around because of food. How much we all do. Eating was given to us to be a pleasure with a purpose – to nourish our bodies. I see no other reason for taste buds. Somewhere along the way, though, it’s become more of a lose-lose situation for us.
Go to a party and eat something that’s not “on the plan” and you feel guilty.
Go to a family event and don’t indulge and you feel left out.
Give up, stuff your face with everything you want and then you feel miserable both physically and emotionally.
This false morality of “I’m good if I eat these foods and bad if I eat those foods” has done us no favors. In order for this relationship to work, we need to make peace with ALL food. And it starts with understanding and believing this truth:
Food is not the enemy. It is not good versus bad. You are not virtuous or sinful based on what you ate today. It has no actual power over you. It’s just food. Sure, there are foods that make your body feel better than others (and that is highly individual mind you). But it’s still… just food.
Isn’t that a freeing thought?!?
Or are you more like me and thinking, “I can’t think this way or I’ll for sure just let myself go and live on Lucky Charms and pizza!” ? 🙂
This is where I’m going to ask you to trust the process. Start small by dropping the guilt and allowing yourself to just enjoy food again. In other words: Have the pizza. Enjoy the pizza. Move on with life. Have the salad. Enjoy the salad. Move on with life. Ate a little too much? OK. Noted. Moving on.
I think you’ll be surprised by how these things actually level out as you take away the good and bad categories. Over time, the urge to binge will fade because you’re no longer coming from a place of deprivation, but from a place of I can have this whenever I want.
More importantly, instead of making decisions based on what you think you should be eating, you can actually start choosing based on what your body is telling you. You do have a choice! Food is not in control. You are. There’s no better expert on you than your own body. Trust it!
“Experts agree that we were born with the ability to eat based on our body’s cues. But often, we train ourselves to ignore what our body is telling us because it doesn’t fall in line with what we feel like we “should” eat—or what others are telling us we should be eating.”
(Excerpt from The Hunger Solution e-course)
Ever find yourself searching through the pantry for something to munch on when you’re not even hungry?
How about at a party, throwing back food while thinking, “Why am I still eating?!”
Anyone struggle with eating at night? Even after a nice satisfying dinner??
I’m always surprised by how often I catch myself wanting to eat when hunger is nowhere to be found. From my own experience and talking with friends and clients, I don’t think this is an uncommon problem, but it is a problem.
So I’ve come up with this SWEET method, which is a 5 step process to taking control back and learning how to combat emotional eating. I call it the SWEET method 🙂 and here it is….
Stop – set the utensil or food down, walk away from the pantry, whatever it is that you’re doing, stop.
Wait – give yourself a wait time 15 minutes before you eat anything else.
Exhale – just breathe…. and remember that it’s just food and it’s not going anywhere
Examine – why are you eating?
Treat – treat yo self….by treating the real issue
When we are in the moment, whether we are already eating or we’re just feeling the craving, it can be really hard to just stop. So the first 2 steps are really just about taking a moment to slow down and giving yourself some time away so that you can think clearly. What I want to focus on is the last 3 steps.
Let’s just be honest, it’s really not about the food, right? It’s not. How do I know this? Because 99% of the time, the struggle is with food that is often sub-par and always readily available at the drop of a hat. Yet it’s been placed up on a pedestal so high that we’ve begun to believe the lie that food is so powerful that it has some sort of control over us!
It’s just food.
This is the time to take a deep breath and remind yourself of this truth. Take it to God, lay it down and ask him for help.
This is the big question right? WHY AM I EATING? If you want to improve your relationship with food, I think this is an important question that needs to be answered. Then, even if you decide you are going to indulge because it’s a special day and you’d like to enjoy a little cake with everybody else, at least you are making a conscious decision. All too often, I think we’d prefer not to think about it at all. So instead we get stuck in this cycle of mindless eating, then beating ourselves up for it.
Take the time to dig a little deeper and start gaining awareness of why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it’s not about the food, then what’s it about??
Here are some possibilities…
- Relaxation: maybe eating is relaxing or it allows you to take your mind off of all the stresses of the day and therefore, relax
- Comfort: for a short time, food can definitely feel therapeutic and comforting
- Procrastination: anyone else ever find themselves procrastinating by eating? No? Just me then, I guess. 😀
- Boredom: eating is an easy and enjoyable distraction
- Reward: food is often a means of celebration or reward
TREAT the real issue.
When we know the real issue, then we can treat it. Each time we treat the real issue, we feel a whole lot better both mentally and physically and food loses a little bit of power over us.
“The secret to change is to focus your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ~ Socrates
Instead of just trying to fight the urge to eat, replace it with something else. Take some time to build a list of solutions that you enjoy. For example:
- Relaxation: bath, nap/bed, walk, journal, read
- Comfort: talk to a friend, pray, meditate
- Procrastination: Just get it done! You know you’ll eventually have to do it, so you may as well just do it now. You know you’ll feel better once you do!
- Boredom: (some of you are like, I wish!! 😉 ) read, puzzle, walk, dog training, insert your hobbies
- Cravings: two of the most common triggers for cravings are stress (too much exercise or deprivation, not getting enough sleep, or not managing stress well) or habit (craving something sweet just because your body is used to it)
- For stress, identify what the cause is then go from there
- For habit, both mint or cocoa are really helpful for easing cravings
- Mint: gum, tea, or brush your teeth
- Cocoa: a few squares of dark chocolate, these protein balls, or hot cocoa (1-2 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder to hot water or milk, sweeten with stevia or xylitol to taste)
- Reward – this is a big one…it’s all about the mindset
- Prayer: as a believer, I believe this is the #1 way to combat emotional eating. At the heart of emotional eating is turning to food for things that only God can truly help you with friend. Don’t ever overlook this. He is here. He wants to help you.
- Change your perspective: A lot of us feel like we deserve a reward for choosing to exercise or eat healthy because it’s hard, but I’d argue that it’s even harder to be unhealthy. A shift in perspective would be that health is a reward and leads to many other rewards as well.
- Instead of pinning or putting up pictures of hot bodies, find deeper, more meaningful inspiration for being fit and healthy
- Practicing gratitude:
“What does gratitude have to do with finding peace with cookies? A lot!When we think about what we are grateful for, and survey all the luxuries we have, it helps combat the feeling that we are being deprived, or living a life that is lacking in some way because we choose to pass on some treats.
The more we focus on what we don’t have, the more we feel lacking, wanting, craving.
As it pertains to this habit, there is certainly room to view it from opposing perspectives. We encourage thinking about it as choosing your favorite treats, savoring them and enjoying the experience. (Not limiting, withholding, or focusing on what you are not eating).
Focus on the abundance you have and not what you lack.” ~Georgie Fear
So there it is: Stop, Wait, Exhale, Examine, Treat the issue….pretty sweet, right? 😀
The fact is that sweets are not going anywhere. We can not just avoid food or cut it out of our lives entirely. Therefore, we must learn how to live with it. Hopefully, we can do ourselves one better and learn how to keep it in it’s proper place & enjoy it in the way God intended.
The reasons we’ve been told to eat every few hours make sense in theory:
- It keeps the metabolism up by adding fuel frequently.
- It prevents a drop in blood sugar which prevents hunger from getting out of control.
- It prevents overeating.
It makes sense to me which is why I practiced eating this way for a number of years (you can read about it here), but the problem is that the theory doesn’t exactly hold up….
The Truth About Metabolism
First of all, your metabolic rate is actually determined by how much you eat in a day, not how often. In other words, you can eat 1800 calories in six meals or three and your metabolic rate will be the same.
Secondly, preventing a blood sugar drop can be done another (dare I say, easier) way. When you eat frequently throughout the day your metabolism burns primarily carbohydrates instead of fat. This is fine as long as you continue to eat frequently. However, the minute you try to go longer without food and your body runs out of carbs, your blood sugar plunges and your body sends whatever signals it needs in order to get more food ASAP. (i.e. shakiness, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, uncontrollable hunger and cravings, etc.)
Eating fewer meals actually causes your body to switch to burning fat primarily. Not only does this stabilize your blood sugar but, when fuel starts to get low, the body can simply tap into it’s storage sites for more fatty acids, thus easing the body into a more gradual hunger without all the nasty side effects. 😀
Thirdly, for most people struggling with weight gain, the problem is at least somewhat caused by overeating. The fact is, no matter what the quality of food is, if you’re eating more than your body is using it will gain weight. The the more often you eat, the more opportunity there is to overeat.
Getting Comfortable with Hunger
The prevalent “frequent feeding” theory might explain why Americans have become so averse to hunger while most cultures still cultivate it. In other cultures, they don’t eat as frequently and, from a young age, kids are taught that hunger between meals is a good and natural thing to feel.
“From the French perspective, Le Billon reports, hunger between meals is a good thing. It produces good eaters, teaches kids self-control and produces discipline around eating.
Alternatively, as a sociologist who coaches parents on teaching their children to eat right, I can safely say that American parents go to great lengths to make sure their kids are never hungry. ”
– Dina Rose, Do Kids Need to Snack?
In my 9 years in the business, one thing that’s been confirmed over and over again is that we’ve completely lost any resemblance of a what a healthy relationship with food and our bodies looks like. Long-term sustainability has been exchanged for the illusion of quick fixes and the mind-body connection has been completely drowned out by 30 day diets and calorie counters.
I want to help you break free from this craziness and get lasting results which is why I’ve come to believe that the first steps to cultivating a healthy relationship with food is to learn how to work with hunger instead of fearing and avoiding it. I can’t think of a better way to start learning self-control around food. Not only does it allow us to stop obsessing over food and enjoy it more, but it also helps with fat loss and builds an important mind-body connection…
Learning to Trust Yourself
I don’t like the lie that we should avoid hunger because once we are hungry then we can’t control ourselves. That’s just silliness. Food can’t actually force it’s way into your mouth. You are in control. Waiting until you’re hungry to eat is a simple way to teach your body and brain this. But just like anything else, this discipline has to be practiced. If you never practice then it will feel like you can’t control it! But the more consistently you practice, the easier it will get. I promise. 😉
Also you don’t need a calorie tracker or scale to tell you that you’re eating too much. You’ve got a built-in system specifically designed for this purpose and it’s actually a lot more accurate than calorie counting! Your body will let you know when it’s ready. The absence of hunger means it doesn’t need anything.
“Preventing hunger prevents weight loss.…Eating only when you’re hungry is the number one lifelong skill you can learn for leanness, and in forming a healthy relationship with food.” ~Georgie Fear
Live and Enjoy Life (and Food) More!
Food quite simply becomes more enjoyable when you’re hungry. It’s the same reason that resting feels better after hard work….it’s just more enjoyable when your body actually needs it.
Eating less often also means less food obsessing and more time to focus on other more important things. Plus, when you do eat, you can actually eat to satisfaction. 😀
You Can Do This
It takes time to find the balance. Start small by trying to eat only 3-4 meals without any snacking in-between. Give that a few weeks. Once you feel good with that then you can start adjusting amounts to get to where you start to feel hunger about 30 minutes before your next meal.
I know it’s kinda scary and you won’t get it right every time, but give yourself permission to trust the process. You can trust your body to let you know what it needs! Just take it one meal at a time.
Your body is by the far the most qualified expert on what YOU need! Before worrying about alll the other stuff, start by learning how to listen to your body and to honor what it’s telling you and you’ll be way ahead of the long-term health and fat loss game.
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of self discipline.”
~2 Timothy 1:7
When it comes to nutrition, most people used to say that there are two major components but now I believe there are really three. 🙂
- Quality of food
- Quantity of food
- Relationship to food
When I first started training, I talked a lot about quality. In fact, I focused almost solely on that with my clients (and myself, for that matter). We discussed macronutrients and what foods are best within those categories and substitutes for the ones that weren’t… oh yeah, we covered what type of food to eat aaall the live long day. This is because, for many years, all I was taught is that I needed to focus on quality. “Quality over quantity.”
But guess what. Most of my clients still really struggled with their eating and, therefore, achieving their health and fitness goals. The thing is that most of us already know what we should be eating. We get bashed over the head with it everywhere we turn these days. This food good, that food bad. Quality, quality, quality.
Now before anybody starts throwing a hissy fit, let me clarify: quality is important. I’m absolutely not trying to say that it’s not. HOWEVER, it’s not everything. In fact, in my 10 years of training experience, I have found that focusing on quality alone – or even just elevating it above the other components – tends to cause more harm than good. So let’s talk about why quantity is just as important.
First and foremost, the simple fact is that no matter what the quality is, if you eat more food than your body can use, then you will not lose weight. That’s just how the body works.
Second, when all three components of nutrition are not taken into equal consideration, we begin to lose a balanced perspective on each of them and misunderstand their relationship to each other and to our nutrition overall.
Let me show you what I mean:
Between our American portion distortion and the common habit of eating mindlessly, quantity tends to go right out the window.
When we think quantity doesn’t matter, it leads us to ignore a really integral part of the eating process: the natural hunger & fullness cues that we receive from our body. These things exist so that our body can communicate with our brain about how much food it needs. But if quantity isn’t important then why even pay attention to it, right?
Most of us have gotten to the point where we rarely feel hunger anymore. Pay attention to it for a couple of days and you’ll probably be surprised at how many times you eat when you’re not hungry. I know I was. 😛
Our food relationship
When quality is everything it creates an unhealthy relationship with food, even to the point of orthorexia. Orthorexia is an obsession with eating foods that one considers healthy. This is an unhealthy obsession that involves fear or guilt or worry, to the point where it negatively affects one’s quality of life.
Nobody eats 100% “high quality food” all the time because nobody eats perfectly all the time. When a food is either “good” or “bad” (“right” or “wrong”), it leaves no room for a healthy balance. There’s no room left for a guilt-free thought or action like: “I like this food, so I’m going to enjoy it” and then simply moving on with life. What usually results is other disordered eating habits like feeling out of control around certain foods or binging.
What’s most interesting is that even with the heavy emphasis on quality in our culture, we still have a huge problem with weight and eating disorders. When quality is the only focus, the other two deteriorate and usually end up bringing food quality down with them. This often leads to years, if not a lifetime, of struggle with food and eating habits. Yet, so many are very afraid or even hostile to the idea of taking a step back from quality to focus on something else for a time.
I get it. I was too for a long time. But eventually, I had to start looking at the situation honestly and be willing to step outside the box and try something different. Because what we’re doing right now is not working.
So where do we go from here? Here are a few suggestions:
**Know that quality isn’t everything and it’s OK to not focus on it all of the time.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you that if all you eat are donuts, your body’s not gonna like that and it’ll let you know so. What I do need to tell you is this: You won’t blow up like a whale or instantly get heart disease from eating a donut every once in a while. Healthy eating, just like every other aspect of health, should enhance your life. Don’t let it become a burden instead.
If you’ve been focusing on quality for some time now and not getting the results you want, then maybe it’s time to focus on something else. (For more on improving your relationship with food, I’ve recently talked at length about it here and here.)
**Increase your awareness of portion sizes
I do not believe you need to measure and weigh and count every little thing that goes into your mouth, but it’s good to be aware of what a proper portion size is. Most of us tend to have a slightly skewed perspective because….
As one of my friends said when she saw this chart, “I think I would cry if they gave me a 3 inch bagel!” Ha ha! Um yeah, I want the Panera Bread cinnamon crunch bagel and I want the whole thing. 😀 Again, it’s just something that’s beneficial to be aware of. From time to time, I like to check in on my portions using my hand as a guide just to see where I’m at. Like this graphic from Precision Nutrition…
**Learn to tune back into your body
I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but that’s because the benefits of this practice are so very worth it. Here’s the thing about the calories in, calories out idea: our body handles different foods differently and it’s needs change often and without warning. Try eating only when you’re hungry and you will find that there are days where you can seriously throw down and other days where you need very little.
The coolest part about it is that, with some practice, you can actually figure out a lot about what and how much your body needs without any outside help. When those needs change, you will feel it.
If you’re eating too much, you won’t be hungry for your next meal.
If you’re eating too little, you’ll get hungry too soon.
If you’re not getting the right amount of fiber, you’ll have cramps or gas.
If you’re feeling tired in your workouts, then you might need to up your protein intake… or your sleep.
Yep, those last two have to do with quantity and quality.
See, I’m not against quality. 😉 To improve overall health and body composition, you will eventually have to look at that aspect. I have just found that the other two not only need to be addressed, as well, but are often a much better place to start when trying to improve health through nutrition.
So I’ve been going through a pretty big mindset shift that’s really altered my concept of “healthy eating” and how I relate to food. I gotta say, it’s been a total game-changer in the best way possible. I think a lot of these ideas have kind of been floating around in the back of my mind for some time now, but there were a few missing links that made it so I couldn’t see the whole picture. When I finally did, it instantly resonated with me and made so much sense! I’m so excited about it and have so much to say about it that I’m writing my 3rd blog in a row on the subject! (Here is part 1 and part 2 to read for yourself if you’re interested.)
The biggest takeaway for me has been that in becoming so completely focused on what we eat, we’ve lost sight of all the other aspects that make up a truly healthy relationship with food – which in my opinion, instead of being called “healthy” or “clean”, should just be called normal eating.
On the one hand, I knew that strict diets didn’t jive with my concept of what healthy eating should look like. On the other hand, when it comes to food and body image, the black and white thinking is so prevalent that I didn’t realize just how much of it had still imbedded itself pretty deeply in my own mind. That’s what recently came to the surface and allowed me to fill in some of the missing links.
So for part 3, I just wanted to share how it’s been going since this “shift” occurred along with some of the insights I’ve already gained. Changing the way you’ve thought about something and consequently what you’ve been practicing for years doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process, but wow, it’s been an extremely freeing and exciting one.
“I believe that the guilt we associate with food is far more detrimental to us than the food itself.” ~Dr. Eric Cobb
Fully letting go of “good” and “bad” categories and the guilt associated with certain foods is going to take time. But so far, I’m finding that it’s helped me with two really big mindset hurdles:
1) True abundance
The abundance mindset is the mentality that says, “There’s always more where that came from”, whereas the scarcity mindset says, “There will never be enough”. Allowing myself the option to really eat whatever I want WITHOUT GUILT takes away any lingering feelings of the scarcity mindset or the urge to put certain foods up on a pedestal.
2) Owning my food choices
We put so much guilt & pressure on ourselves when it comes to the way we eat, myself included. This truth was big missing link for me. Once I had this piece and realized how it had impacted my own choices and others, I’ve adapted to it pretty easily. Not only is it incredibly freeing for me, but I think it’s important for people to see me eating normally and owning it. No comments about “being bad” or “cheat day” or what I “should” get. I know what works for me, what I can get away with, what else I’ve had that day, as well as how I’m feeling, and that means that sometimes you will find me digging into a salad and other times it’s pancakes and eggs. I don’t need to explain my choices to you and I want you to know that you don’t need to explain yours to me. I don’t eat perfectly and that’s OK.
Aaahh, the sweet taste of freedom…nom nom nom. 😀
Taking a break from what and focusing on how and why
If you read part 2, then you know that for a while I got caught up in what this professor or that magazine was saying is best and I basically put aside any signals from my body in favor of what I thought I should be eating.
I have always been a naturally slow eater, so I’m pretty good at that how. However, during the last few months, I’ve been practicing tuning back into my hunger signals and eating only when I’m actually hungry (which is my why). What this looks like for me is a lot less snacking, but more enjoyment of the meals I do eat because I’m actually hungry for them. Whodda thunk?? Duh. 😛
Finding the balance
The idea of no longer feeling guilty about any foods is so incredibly freeing that it can be easy to swing all the way over to the other side of just eating whatever you want, whenever you want. BUT, just like how viewing healthy eating as black & white and constantly restricting yourself and feeling guilty is not freedom, eating out of compulsion isn’t either.
Moderation is freedom from extremes…. and guilt, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still discipline involved.
I’m not completely ignoring the what. After all, I’ve put a lot of time and work into focusing on that and building habits around that. But I’ve also spent SO MUCH TIME thinking about the what that I’ve found a much needed mental break by easing up on it for a while. I can eat anything I want, but only when I’m hungry and I must stop before I’m full. That’s what I’m practicing right now.
So to be completely transparent, I had pizza 3 times last week and I enjoyed it guilt-free every time (mostly…like I said, work in progress. ;)).
According to this study, when you eat foods you enjoy, you feel more satisfied! I’m pretty skeptical of most studies these days, but this one sure seems to just make sense, right?!
Appreciating my body
As I talked about in my last blog, the illusion of the perfect body lends itself to unsustainably strict eating practices. I honestly believe that the best way to improve your health (whether it be your body or diet) is from a place of love and not self-loathing. Plus, I can’t stand the idea of spending my whole life only being able to appreciate my “bodies” from the past and never my current one. So here are a few of things that help me fight for contentment now:
*Become an expert in all the great things about your body and what it does for you. Do not allow yourself to talk bad about yourself. Seriously, stop that and start a running list of why your body rocks!
*Fight comparison. When I say fight, I mean it’s on. It’s an all-out war and your health and contentment are at stake. If you’re not fighting it, you’re losing.
*Remember that your identity and worth are so much more than the outer shell. My $0.02? You were made in the image of the almighty God – which makes you beautiful. And you are worth so much that He sacrificed His son in order to save you. Remind yourself of this every day.
I saw this blog the other day where different health professionals were defining normal eating. So to sum up, here’s mine:
Normal eating is enjoying food in a flexible way so that it enhances your body, mind, and life…
…which means sometimes having more and sometimes having less, sometimes having the treat and sometimes not.
It is free from guilt, idealism, and extremes, but not discipline.
It is listening to and honoring your body by feeding it when it needs to be fed and stopping when it needs to stop.
It’s being able to enjoy a wide variety of foods while owning your food choices because you know that food does not define you.
It’s knowing and believing that food is just food.
Nothing more and nothing less.
That’s my definition. What’s yours??
“Healthy eating” isn’t about only eating “healthy” food. It’s about having a healthy relationship with ALL the food you eat. ~Angela Doll Carlson
For the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a healthy relationship with food looks like and why it is so important. After doing some reading on it, I’m amazed at all the things I’ve never really considered and I’m seeing the connection between how we relate to food and many of our most common food struggles.
The thing is that food is not in and of itself a moral issue and yet, “we’ve convinced ourselves that the definition of healthy eating is black and white—and that we, by association, are either virtuous or sinful, depending on what we’ve eaten recently. Never mind the fact that this completely ignores what else we’ve eaten that day, what we will be eating, what our specific medical conditions are, and what our individual health goals are.” (Robin Hilmantel)
In all fairness, it’s hard not to think this way when every diet and magazine has a list of good and bad foods and every food zealot out there acts like you are an idiot or a terrible person if you do or don’t eat certain foods. I’ve definitely been guilty of this kind of black and white thinking. While this way of thinking might not seem like that big of a deal (in a lot of ways it feels easier), in the end it leads to a number of issues.
Here’s why I think we need to get rid of this way of thinking and why it’s actually NOT easier…
1) The all-or-nothing mindset
I think we can all agree that the all-or-nothing mindset does not serve us when it comes to building healthy and sustainable habits. Yet, so many of us struggle with it!!
This idea that you’re either on or you’re off based on whatever makes the good list in your mind makes each meal and everything you eat seem like a big deal. We start thinking that we are always just one meal away from failure. In other words, no matter how well you might have eaten the rest of the day or week or month, most of us can easily get completely thrown off by one bad meal or day.
No one is good at handling that much pressure and stress day in and day out, every time they sit down to eat, without eventually cracking. When the stress becomes too much, we go “off” our perfect plan until we get sick of how we feel and/or look, at which point we go back “on”, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of binging and depriving.
2) Focusing only on what
Here’s the thing: what you eat isn’t as important as we’ve all made it out to be and how you eat is more important than most of us tend to believe.
The human body is an awesome thing. It’s incredibly smart, adaptive, and resilient. It was built to survive. It only makes sense that it would already come with a built-in system that’s really good at letting us know how and what to eat. Unfortunately, instead of listening to our body, most of us eat based on what we’ve heard or think is “best” and have completely lost the ability to tap into the natural signals our body is sending us.
Because guess what….there is no one-size-fits-all! Our bodies are different and therefore, can handle different things. All we have to do is be willing to pay attention.
“In fact, experts agree that we were born with the ability to eat based on our body’s cues. But often, we train ourselves to ignore what our body is telling us because it doesn’t fall in line with what we feel like we “should” eat—or what others are telling us we should be eating.” ~Robin Hilmantel
This leads us right into number 3….
3) Food guilt
“I believe that the guilt we associate with food is far more detrimental to us than the food itself.” ~Dr. Eric Cobb
For most of us there is a huge amount of guilt and shame that goes along with eating and food choices.
When I became a personal trainer, I noticed that people were all of the sudden starting to pay more attention to what I ate. Some were just curious, while others were definitely judging. But then I realized this wasn’t just a problem for trainers. Everybody was paying attention to what everyone else was eating and debating between what they wanted versus what they thought they should get, then feeling the need to explain their choices or comment on other people’s choices.
This is the good or bad list coming into play again. It creates this severe lack of self trust, so that we’re either choosing things based on what we think the people around us will approve of or we feel guilty about what we got. Since guilt and enjoyment can’t really co-exist, most of us have lost that true enjoyment that should come from eating.
This is not the way it should be, and yet, it’s the norm for most of us. Health is supposed to enhance our lives, not make it more burdensome. This is why we need to start changing the way we think about food.
I hope this stuff is as eye-opening and fascinating and helpful to you as it is to me. This stuff is so prevalent and there’s even more to it that I can’t wait to share with you guys, so check out part 2 (about one the biggest reasons we struggle with food) and part 3 (my experiences with a new way of thinking about food and my definition of normal eating)!