Improving your relationship with food is a little bit like cleaning your house. You think you’re making awesome progress and you’ve worked really hard, but every time you turn around there is another pile of junk to deal with! Who put this here? When did I acquire this?? How did this get here?
All joking aside, it might be helpful to think about our food relationships getting “better” as something like a long hike! You may spend some time in valleys and on several peaks. It’s not a straight line from A to B. There might be detours onto a different trail, occasionally it might feel like you are back pedaling (why is this trail going down again, when we’ve been going up for so long!?), there will be some gorgeous views if you’re lucky, but sometimes it’s cloudy out and there won’t be any view – you’ll just have to trust that it’s there. Sometimes it’s all you can do to just keep your eyes on your feet and pray that they keep lifting up off the ground to take another step in front of you. At the end of the day, you’re exhausted, sore and filthy and yet you feel proud of your tenacity and maybe even look forward the next hike.
I’ve stumbled a lot along the way. The women I work with have too. Sometimes it feels like you are still at square one. But other times, if we look back at where we were a year ago, 2 years ago, 10 years ago, we can see how much progress we really have made.
One thing I’ve been noticing lately is how different my thoughts around food have gotten. For so very long, it was almost impossible for me to enjoy a meal without first having calculated the calories in it. I’d look at menus before arriving at a restaurant, so that I could factor in what meal would fit in calorically with the other meals that day. Everything had to add up correctly and I would plan and adjust constantly so that it did. It felt like a game that I could never win. When I stopped religiously calorie counting, it was incredibly hard not to do the mental math automatically. I had memorized the calorie count and nutritional details of almost every possible food out there. It’s really hard to “unlearn” that but I’ve made a huge effort to put my mind on the quality of the food I’m eating and learning how to read my hunger and fullness signals. Sometimes I’ve had to essentially “hush” that part of my brain that wants to add up the numbers. A lot at first. But I do that less and less now.
My point is that the less I focus on how much to eat and whether or not I “should” or “shouldn’t” eat something, the more “normal” eating makes sense. By holding on a little less tightly to controlling it all, the hold food has had on me has loosened up too. I let go of what I thought I couldn’t let go of and by doing that, it’s letting go of me too. I’ve been finding myself making choices lately, that may not be the “healthiest” of foods but being able to enjoy them in a reasonable amount – without it turning into a binge, or beating myself up. Enjoying without making it mean anything more.
I’ve been compiling a list of surprising things that have happened along the way as my relationship with food has become easier. Things I wasn’t expecting or I thought wasn’t a big deal until I looked back at where I was originally and could see what a huge deal it really is.
For someone who doesn’t eat emotionally, hasn’t spent their life dieting or bingeing or overeating every night of their lives, this stuff must sound so stupid! But for those of us for whom, food has taken on a larger than life personality, this kind of progress is invaluable.
I feel like I have so much more life, so much more to give and so much more ability to connect with others now since my mind isn’t completely consumed by thoughts about food or my body. That doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do still, but holy crap, I have come so far.
I’m sharing my list with you, in case you want to know how different your life could be if you work on some of these things too. (Check out my Pay What You Can Coaching offer this fall if you’re looking to make some big strides in your own relationship with food).
Things That’ll Happen when You Stop Obsessing Over What and How Much to Eat:
- I can fill up my plate at a bbq or other social gathering without spending even 1 second worrying about what everyone else is thinking about what I’m eating. And I can watch others eat without wondering how the heck they can eat what they do and be as thin as they are. Really, I can eat and be present with the people I’m with instead of interacting with both our plates of food.
- If I want ice cream, I can eat a big serving of real full fat ice cream and be both satisfied and not have it turn into a downward spiral into binge-land. I don’t have to satisfy my craving with a fat free, fake sugar filled pretend version of the real thing (which only makes me want to eat more and more of it). I want it, I eat it.
- That being said, eating what I want and when I want it, now means I want less of the things I thought I always wanted. I thought that if I had certain foods at my fingertips all the time, then I would eat them all the time – but that was only the case when I was telling myself that I couldn’t/shouldn’t eat them. Telling myself it’s ok to eat these things if I really want them strangely enough means I usually don’t even want them or if I do, I can eat a serving or two and be done with it.
- Going out to eat I can order whatever I really feel like eating – which might be a salad or baked fish or it might be something really decadent. It used to be about ordering whatever the most indulgent thing on the menu was – since I viewed going out to eat as a time to “cheat” and I usually went overboard.
- Not going to bed really full is nice. I am less likely to binge or eat too much because I’m not spending half my week eating as little as I possibly can. I’m able to listen to and eat what my body needs.
- A chip is just a chip. A cookie is just a cookie. It’s not the doorway to weighing 400 lbs. A glass of wine does not equal gaining 3 lbs. An extra handful of nuts doesn’t mean I won’t fit into my jeans. It’s not a big deal.
- Eating too much is just something that happens occasionally. It is not the end of the world and it no longer ruins my day (or week). I move on instead of wallowing in it.
- Eating too little is no longer a badge of honor. I know I need more food to get through the day successfully so I feed my body appropriately – especially as I’ve started to lift heavier weights and go on longer hikes and bike rides. I just can’t do that stuff (and I enjoy it) if I’m not well fueled.
- Feeling strong and powerful in my workouts has become the goal and is now way more important than looking skinny or feeling thin. Do I look better because I exercise? Sure. But my size is no longer my focus. It’s barely even in the lens anymore.
- I regularly go into my closet and get rid of clothes that no longer fit. I no longer hold onto too tight clothes for the day when I finally fit into it again or onto too big stuff in case I gain weight again. I can live in my present body and not live in hope or fear of the future.
- Foods that I used to think tasted amazing actually don’t taste very good upon further inspection. This surprised me a lot! The texture of store bought frosting leaves a disgusting greasy residue in my mouth. Foods with artificial sweeteners taste too sweet and generally “off”. Cheez-its don’t really taste cheesy to me anymore.
- My weight is more stable. I go up and down a few pounds normally. No massive ups and massive downs. I know if I end up on the scale my weight will be somewhere in an 8 lb range (constipation, PMS, normal body fluctuations are much of that). As long as I don’t see anything way over or under that, I know I’m eating the right amount for my body. Having this data, while triggering for some, actually helps reinforce that what I’m doing is working for me right now. I know I can trust my body, because things are balancing out on their own.
What do you think? Can you relate to any of these? What has been the most surprising benefit for you as you’ve made progress on your own eating concerns? What habits and changes have been the most helpful?