I used to struggle with food and have a love/hate relationship to it. I do not think my relationship to food was a “sane” or a “healthy” one, and I will give you some examples to prove it.
I would wake up, do my daily affirmations, stretch, go out for a jog, go to work, be productive in the office, and all of this while doing a day-count to see how many days I could go eating “healthy” and not overeating my favorite foods, which were cakes, cookies, pizza, etc.
Obviously, I would count up to day 3, or 4, and then, I would not be able to stop thinking about those cookies, or bread (or anything that was NOT on my meal plan), and regardless of the healthy meal plan I was following, regardless of how much I told myself sugar was bad for me...I just felt a huge urge to EAT. And then, I would go out to the store (because I was too scared of having my favorite foods in the house, and felt out of control around them) and, feeling like a criminal who was on her way to rob a bank, bought myself all those “bad” foods, and just ATE them.
I have to say, the first few bites were pretty great because after depriving myself of so many different foods, I had to honor that my body and brain really craved them...but after that few bites...I just couldn’t stop eating!
It was as if I was eating because I had to finish that whole bag of chips now, not even because I wanted them anymore! I felt relieved to be eating, but also, almost possessed and as if it was nice to not have to be “in control” anymore of my eating.
Guilt and shame
The next day I would feel like a failure, and with lots of guilt and shame, would start my day count of eating “healthy” all over again.
This went on for years and years until at some point I decided, trying to eat “healthy” was actually the most unhealthy thing I was doing for myself. It was only creating a sense of restriction, feeling like I was broken for over-eating, and it lowered my overall self esteem because it caused binges, over-eating, and my need to eat emotionally.
After years of research, I finally understood that there was nothing broken or unhealthy about me, and that there is tons of science out there proving that restricting foods or food groups, counting calories and dieting doesn’t work, and is the main cause of emotional eating episodes, weight gain (from yo-yo dieting) and binges.
If you can relate to this cycle, feel like food has too much power over you (like it did with me!) and want to have a healthy relationship with food and your body, I suggest you change your approach to what “healthy” eating looks like and redefine it in your own terms.
5 steps to help you have a healthier relationship with food
Here are some basic tips that will make you reflect, and allow you to heal your relationship to food in a more authentic way:
1. Work on genuine body acceptance and self love
Writing positive affirmations about yourself and your body can be one simple tool you can use to reprogram your brain so that you reach more acceptance and feel less triggered about your body’s shape or size. But before you even write affirmations, it is important to be aware of all your attachment to negative judgement regarding your body.
How many times in a day do you weigh yourself, compare your body to others, or think that you need to lose weight to be happy?
These beliefs are not useful in our path to healing and self love, and they can even trigger us to over-exercise, restrict, or over-eat as a stress response to not feeling comfortable in our own bodies. To work on authentic self love, it helps to take a break from social media so that you don’t find yourself constantly comparing your body to others, and write down a few affirmations about why you accept and honor your body for all it does for you.
2. Work on true acceptance of ALL your food choices
We don’t always realize how many judgements and black and white thinking we have about food. We might believe there are “good” healthy foods, and “bad” unhealthy foods, but what if food was “just food” and we get to make choices every day? Making peace with food and abandoning the idea of “good” and “bad” foods is one of the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a an approach to eating based on following your inner wants, desires, and hunger cues, instead of eating what external nutrition rules or self-help gurus say you “should” eat. This is the first step to start detaching from all the judgements we attach to our food.
To start healing, it’s important we become aware of our negative judgements around food such as “carbs are bad for me” or “sugar is the devil” etc.
We might also reflect on our extreme behaviors around food. For example, black and white thinking around food means that you either eat NO cake, or THE ENTIRE cake. It might mean that either you only eat “low-carb” or you go on a carb binge. Why? Because we judge and are not fully accepting of our food choices, so this triggers a stress reaction that can throw off our balance. We might also judge ourselves negatively if we don’t follow our meal plan, or if we overeat, but the more we attach to negative judgements, the more we give food power over us.
3. Focus on ABUNDANCE
Start approaching your food choices from a place of abundance instead of deprivation and restriction. How can you do this?
By allowing all foods to be in your menu, and stop attaching positive value to diet foods, and negative judgements to other foods.
Ask yourself, if food were just food, what would you WANT to eat today? Follow your desires and cravings, get in tune with your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals again, and challenge the negative judgements around food. The book Health at Every Size, by Dr. Linda Bacon, along with other books such as nutritionist Christy Harrison’s Anti-Diet are all diet-free approaches to healing your relationship to food.
The science behind the approach proves through research, that restriction and dieting are the main cause for binging, over-eating, and eating emotionally. This happens because our bodies are responding to restriction and deprivation by activating survival mechanisms that make us crave food intensely. If you can keep an open mind and practice new, non-judgmental habits, while not restricting, your brain and body’s survival instincts and stress receptors sending urges to overeat WILL turn OFF by themselves.
4. Don’t stigmatize or shame yourself for overeating or binging
Maybe you overate, or maybe you found yourself eating when you were not feeling hungry. Guess what? It doesn’t make you broken or in need of psychological help. The less you judge yourself or attach to negative labels (such as “oh my God, I just binged, I must be a food addict!”) the easier it will be for you to keep practicing these positive, non-judgmental habits.
Healing and restoring your relationship to food involves new practices and embracing acceptance of your food choices and food behaviors.
Trust that your body is an intelligent being, and sometimes a “binge” only means that your body is undergoing starvation mode after years and years of calorie counting and yo-yo dieting, (regardless of your weight or size) and is reacting to deprivation and restriction. So, what a binge might tell you is that dieting isn’t working, and that your body is in need of balance. That’s all it is.
5. Empower yourself through community
Find other like-minded people who can support you in your journey to heal your relationship to food. We live in a diet and health obsessed world where thin bodies are considered to be the “healthiest” bodies and so many gurus and coaches out there want to tell us what we should eat. Even at work, we might hear colleagues sharing their newest exercise and health food plan, and assuming that works for everyone.
You have a right to listen to yourself and your own body.
Trusting yourself and feeling empowered about your own food choices might seem scary at first, so it is important to find other like minded people who believe that dieting and restricting doesn’t necessarily equal a “healthy” lifestyle, and that you can have health at any size with positive, non-judgmental thinking and adding more health habits (such as exercise) to your life regardless of your weight or size.
I hope this jumps off your journey to defining what a “healthy” relationship to food looks like to you!