Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you just ate what you liked, stopped when you were full, and didn’t think about food other than when you were eating it?
I had never really thought about it before, I just stopped eating when I was full. I hadn’t yet developed the baggage of dieting, the thought of wasting money, or stress.
Soooooo much has happened to me since I was 17 years old. I can’t even begin to get into it all, but it all led to a severely dysfunctional relationship with food.
But the thing is, I would venture to say that MOST of us women (and plenty of men) have a similar relationship with it. At least, most of the women I speak with each day do.
The road from childhood to adulthood is full of messages around food, and for some of us those messages may have even come from our parents. You might have been taken out for ice cream to cheer you up, or been forced to eat vegetables, or taught that it was rude to refuse food that was prepared for you. As an adult and probably even as a teenager, you were also bombarded with messages about dieting. So to undo all the damage you created with stress and emotional eating, you went on popular diets that each gave you a new “rule” about food. Don’t eat carbs. Eat carbs before a workout. Eat more protein. Too much protein is bad. Sugar is the devil. Eat fruits and veggies. Don’t eat fruit. Fat makes you fat. Fat is good for you. Eat all carbs before noon. Don’t eat after 7 pm. Eat only raw foods. Legumes are bad. Grains are off-limits.
You guys, this is insane. No wonder we are all confused and dysfunctional!
We have developed so much anxiety surrounding the food we eat that we think about food all the time! We label good foods and bad foods. We demonize entire food groups and create anxious situations every single time we gather with others, either because we don’t know how to refuse the food they are offering or we don’t want to but think we have to.
We kill ourselves with workouts and then eat tiny little meals and then wonder why we end up binging on everything in sight by the weekend. (ummm, hunger??)
Here’s what I want you to know about food:
Deprivation is the devil, not food.
Sure you might feel great avoiding all carbs for now. But if you really love carbs (don’t most of us!), when you’re sitting at a table full of others eating pizza, you’re not just going to stop at one slice. You’re going to eat the whole thing, because deep down you think it’s the last time you’ll be able to eat it so you might as well go nuts.
Think of deprivation as a pendulum. The more extreme you hold it back in one direction, the higher it will swing in the other. If you’re using willpower to stop yourself from eating sugar or carbs or fat or whatever it is you think you need to avoid, it will eventually run out and you will swing that pendulum to the other side full-force, and you start this cycle all over again:Let me get really vulnerable with you:
At one time I was a healthy eating fanatic. I had lost a ton of weight and gotten in great shape because of “perfect” eating. I wouldn’t allow one morsel of white sugar or white pasta or cheese or any other food I had cut out to lose weight. Friends began to ask why I was avoiding socializing with them. Family tried not to be insulted when I showed up with my own food. Others marveled at my insane willpower: what they didn’t see were the times when that willpower would inevitably run out and I would go on an equally insane food binge. I’d be “good” for so long and then I’d have a weak moment and be “bad”, feel bad about myself so I’d be extra “good” next time, until I wasn’t. And around and around and around we go.
You MUST heal your relationship with food if you ever want to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I was skeptical when my husband first introduced the idea of balanced eating after reading the book Intuitive Eating. I thought I couldn’t be trusted around sugar, because look how insane I behaved when I allowed myself one bite! I would go crazy! But I trusted the process and healed my relationship with food. I let myself eat “junk” food. And yes, at first, I ate a lot of it. It definitely wasn’t a time to be focused on weight loss or nutrition, and when I accepted that and accepted that I HAD to heal my relationship with food, I was able to make the connections I needed to make.
Slowly but surely the excitement of re-introducing all foods wore off. Because the junk foods weren’t going away, they became less and less appealing to me. I remembered that they hurt my stomach if I ate too much. I remembered that broccoli made me feel great and that the more I ate of it the less I would get sick. I could now have ice cream on date nights and just like I did in high school, stop when I was satisfied (and not feel the least bit guilty if that satisfaction didn’t come until the bottom of the bowl). I now maintain a balance of 80/20 – 80% nutritious whole foods, 20% fun foods. This mentality makes the lifestyle easy and effortless. And my body and performance results are actually BETTER than when I was going through the deprivation cycle because I am able to be consistent.
Consistency + Flexibility = happiness and results.
One of the biggest things I work on with my clients is handling situations that are out of the norm, like social occasions and vacations. They worry that they will completely undo all of our progress together in one evening, or one week. They think this because they have been told by “experts” that they must make special choices going out to eat. I can’t tell you how many of those weight loss reality tv shows I’ve seen where the trainer takes everyone to a restaurant and tells them what is acceptable to order (usually something like “grilled chicken, no butter, with steamed vegetables”, YUCK). You know what I think is acceptable to order? EVERYTHING. If you’re being consistent with 80% of your meals at home, then get whatever your heart desires when you go out. Because you’re “allowed” to do this, you WON’T overdo it. Just the mentality of knowing you can have what you want will put an end to the underlying feeling that makes you overdo it in the first place. You can make a decision based on rational thought, not underlying turmoil.
One or two dinners a week, no matter how high calorie, will not make or break you (You might step on the scale a couple of pounds up the next morning, but this is just water weight and will come right off in a couple of days). One week on vacation just enjoying yourself will also be ok. It’s the consistency of the rest of the week/year that gets you to your goals. And you CANNOT be consistent in the restrict/binge cycle!
There may be a time, like pregnancy, when you feel driven to follow more of a 90/10 lifestyle. As long as you are driven out of a desire to increase your intake of nutritious foods and not depriving yourself, this is absolutely fine. It’s the restriction mentality that breeds the food anxiety.
You’re not weak, you’re probably not eating enough.
I ask my clients to tell me immediately if they are experiencing cravings or hunger. Most of us have been taught to believe that losing weight or getting in shape means suffering, but that is not the case. If you are experiencing hunger and cravings and wondering why you just can’t stop eating or just can’t resist that muffin, it is literally your body trying to tell you “Please feed me!” But instead of listening to the body’s signals, we beat ourselves up for not being strong and for failing. You’re not failing, you just need fuel! Along with healing your relationship with food, you also have to heal the trust between yourself and your body. Learn to trust it when it’s trying to tell you something.
ACTION 1: For the next two weeks, try incorporating 200-300 calories per day of a food you really love into your daily meals. Choose something you thought was off-limits, like ice cream. Pay close attention to how you feel each day. If you’d like, leave a comment and share what food you’ve been depriving yourself of that you want to try and add back in.
ACTION 2: Answer this question: how would it feel to stop thinking about food so much? How would it feel to walk into a party and not be obsessed over how you’re going to eat or handle the situation, just knowing you can eat what you want? Write it down and feel free to also share your answer!