Monthly Archives: September 2017

This is Why You Feel Like You Can’t Trust Your Body to Tell You When, What, and How Much To Eat

How much of this burger should you eat? Depending on who you listen to, it might be none, half or all of it. The best person to listen to for these kind of answers is yourself.

Have you ever thought to think about what prompts you to start or stop eating?

Is it thoughts about it being lunch “time”? Or maybe that it’s been 3 hours since you last ate? Do you stop eating because you are satisfied or is it because you think you shouldn’t eat any more?

When was the last time you ate a meal and stopped eating when your body told you to?

It’s very common for those who eat emotionally to feel challenged by knowing how much or when to eat. In fact, most of our society is a bit screwed up by this (so please know that this isn’t something unique to you – it’s not your fault)!  Let’s examine some of the social cues and eating rules that we’ve come to use day in, day out that override and confuse the physical cues that we already have in our body.

First, know that no matter what your current relationship or feelings around food, you were born with a body and mind that worked together that helped you determine when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.

If you’ve ever spent time around babies or small children and watched them eat, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t care what time of day or night it is, and they don’t measure out controlled portions of food. They don’t concern themselves with whether they’re eating too many carbs or fat. They eat when they feel hunger and they stop when they’ve had enough. They don’t overeat and they don’t worry about overeating. They respond to physical cues and sensations that are in their bodies that tell them it’s time to start or stop eating. They also have the amazing ability to communicate this need to the adults that care for them so that they can get what their little bodies need.

You have this ability inside of you still. I promise you do.

And the reason you may feel like you don’t is because of the way we handle mealtimes in our culture.

What went wrong isn’t that you “can’t control yourself around food”, it’s that you live in a society that dictates that you have to eat 3 square meals a day at 8am, 12pm and 5pm (or close to it). You have been trained to eat at roughly those times of day whether you are hungry or not because group meal times are a convenient and somewhat necessary practice of a productive society. Because of these regulated meal times we lose the ability to feel WHEN it is time to eat in our bodies. If you went to daycare or kindergarten, your first induction to group meal times likely happened there and it was probably a bit of an adjustment period (“snack time” in these little ones classrooms give young ones time to get used to more rigorously scheduled eating times than they probably had at home).

What went wrong is that we live in a society that has convinced us all that food is “dangerous”. It’s either dangerous because of how it’s produced (GMO, pesticides, factory-farming, antibiotic resistance, overly processed etc), dangerous because of it’s nutritional content (it’s too high in fat, too high in carbs, not enough protein, too high in calories etc) or it’s dangerous because it tastes good and we won’t be able to stop eating it.  All of this “danger” means we can’t be trusted to make good choices about food on our own.  So with the “help” of our government (remember the food pyramid recommendations? Lobbyists have helped to shape those recommendations more than science), well meaning doctors and dietitians, and profit hungry companies who saw an opportunity to get rich, we have come to rely on food labels, food scales, measuring cups, calories, point systems and more to tell our bodies how much to eat. We learned that we can’t trust our bodies to tell us HOW MUCH to eat and over time we had to ignore those hunger and fullness signals in place of portioned out and rigidly controlled food until we no longer knew what those sensations feel like.

What went wrong is that we live in a culture that encourages confusion, nutritional science studies can’t agree on what is actually healthy. Complicating things even more is if you look into who paid for many food studies, you’ll find some interesting conflicts of interest, such as in this summer’s coconut oil is bad study. Every food or macronutrient at one time gets hailed as miracle cure or made out to be a villain. Remember how huge kale was for awhile?? Then people heard about oxalates and kidney stones and the excitement went away. We listen to all the conflicting advice, we jump on bandwagons for awhile, find out the science was “wrong” get stuck and confused and don’t know where to turn until the next food panacea shows up. And the cycle continues.

I talk to a lot of women who say they don’t know what to eat anymore. They don’t know who to listen to for real and accurate information. They are making themselves sick over worrying about what to eat. This is no way to live.

We can’t change the way our culture handles food quickly. It’s something that is going to be running in the background silently (or not so silently) for a very long time, until more of us than not decide to do things differently.

If you want to reclaim your own natural hunger and fullness cues and you want to feel more sure of your decisions around food, then I recommend you start tuning out what everyone else says you should do (this includes me!) and start listening to yourself!

Here are a few ways you can begin to reawaken and connect with those cues you already have in your body:

  • When it’s an option, eat meal times without distractions. Don’t watch TV, read or look at your phone while eating. Try to take in your food not just with your mouth but with all your senses. Doing this helps our brain interpret signals from the stomach and recognize when it’s had enough. You’ll also eat slower and will get more enjoyment out of your food.
  • Play around with the times of day and how much you eat. Explore having smaller or larger meals and then not eating again until you notice pangs of hunger in your body. Note where you feel it and what it feels like. Note how much food you have to consume to make the hunger quiet down again. How much do you have to eat to feel satisfied? And where does fullness and too full come into the picture? What feels best? Play this game often until you are an expert in your own hunger and fullness signals.
  • Do the same thing with what types of food you eat. Notice how different textures taste and feel. Of the foods you like, what is it that you like about them? And what is it that you don’t like about foods you don’t like? Is it texture? Flavor? Bitterness? Or how it feels once it reaches your belly? Notice if some foods make you feel more energetic than others. Perhaps some make you feel comfort and others anxiety. Explore it all and be relaxed about it. Be Curious and take notes!
  • Walk away from calorie counter and diet apps. Scary at first, I know. But practice not using them. They’re not helping you tune into your body.
  • Do all of this without judgement about yourself. You’re not bad if you ate “too much”. You’re not good if you experience hunger frequently. You’re just a human who is trying to make their way in this world and food is not about morality. View these experiences as an internship where you are learning about your particular body’s needs for the first time.
  • Don’t worry about whether a food is “healthy” or “unhealthy”. All foods can be part of a nutritious diet (and healthy people eat all sorts of things). Use your best instincts (you smarter than you know) and aim for eating a wide variety of foods and include foods that you love. Tell other people to mind their own business if they put their own food beliefs on you.

You’re the best guide you’ll ever have. Listen and trust yourself and your judgement. It’s in the listening to everyone and everything else that got us into this confusion with food. You’ll find freedom in the expertise of being you.

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What Does it Mean to Have Food Freedom?

I want it all and on my terms.

There have been many years where the way I ate was most definitely a “diet”. My goal being to make my body smaller and lighter through food restriction.

Then there were several years where the way I was eating was still restrictive in a lot of ways even if weight loss was just a backup singer to the lead vocalist in the band of “health”. Sometimes I restricted that quantity of food I ate, sometimes it was the calories. Sometimes entire food groups, no dairy, no wheat, lower carb, no animal products, no processed food etc.

During these times, I referred to my way of eating not as a diet, but as a “lifestyle”. The goal of the “lifestyle” was to feel good, and to maintain and “insure” my health, but if my “lifestyle” way of eating was a TV show, there would definitely be some closed captions in parenthesis behind me, whispering shadily that my goal was still to become a smaller person. Make no mistake, the word lifestyle is a both a great way and a terrible way to describe eating like this. On one hand  it has to be a lifestyle in order for anyone to be able to eat that way. You have to have a certain amount of money, time and willingness to prepare food with both strange and time consuming ingredients. Your life has to take on a “lifestyle” where food becomes the most important thing . . . because if you live this way you won’t have time or room for anything else. But on the other hand, a food “lifestyle” is just another word for a diet. It is still restriction with a more appealing name.

Somewhere beyond that is where I am right now.

I’ve been playing with a lot of ideas, a lot of foods and really analyzing what I want my relationship with food to look like.

3 and a half years of coaching women on their relationship with food and I decided that I don’t want dieting, “lifestyle” diets and moral judgements around food to be included in my own.

I want freedom with food. I want ease and I want time and energy available to do other things.

Having food freedom means having more freedom in my life in general.

You may have heard me toss around the term “food freedom” or having “freedom with food” a few times over the last year or so.

But what am I really talking about? I know it’s confusing, especially if you’ve followed me from the beginning. My stance has evolved quite a bit since I started coaching. It is still and always will be evolving. What works for me one month may not be true three month from now. And because of that recognition I have really moved away from giving specific food related advice here anymore. I really believe you have to make these decisions for yourself and that no one can know what makes the most sense for you, but you. It should go without saying that f you have certain health conditions that require abstaining from certain foods, like celiac disease or monitoring your intake of certain macronutrients, like diabetes, that may be a different story.

So in case your food story is also evolving and you too want to leave dieting, lifestyle diets and food morality behind, let’s talk about what I mean by food freedom.

Food freedom is:

  • eating what I want, when I want. Sometimes it’s a burger and fries, and sometimes it’s fresh vegetables.
  • making my own decisions about what foods are good for my body instead of changing my mind every time a new half-assed food study comes out
  • being able to walk into any restaurant and find something to eat
  • being able to eat food that isn’t “healthy” and be completely fine with that
  • not feeling virtuous for ordering the fish or for eating light if I don’t have a big appetite.
  • not letting other people’s decisions about food affect my own needs and choices (this one takes some time/work)
  • not feeling like I have to explain or defend my food choices to anyone
  • not being worried about what other people think about what I’m eating or not eating.
  • trusting my body to tell me when I’ve had enough
  • deciding that it’s ok to have ice cream for dinner because that’s what I want
  • realizing that there are some foods that I don’t want to start eating again, because on revisiting them, they still make me feel like poop
  • being able to skip a meal because I’m just not hungry
  • eating after 8pm because I am hungry
  • trying new foods, prepared in a variety of ways, without needing to know the nutrition facts for the item first
  • not hesitating to order the thing I never “let” myself order when I was dieting (if it’s what I want)
  • choosing for myself whether to eat the same amount of meals each day or to eat whenever I want to
  • making only one rule around food and that is: I get to eat and not eat whatever the fuck I want
  • accepting that my body shape or size may fluctuate throughout the year (and keeping some flexible clothing sizes on hand so that I can feel my best whether my body size goes up or down
  • not making myself sick by worrying about what to make for dinner. One meal or 5 meals doesn’t make a big deal in the scheme of things.
  • buying a box of cap’n crunch because I haven’t had it since I was little and I want to feel that delicious crunch on the roof of my mouth. And then eating it whenever I feel like eating it
  • deciding that there is more to a healthy person than rigorously controlling one’s food intake within an inch of their life
  • is being able to say yes to something as simple as ordering pizza or having a beer without having to weigh the pros and cons of it
  • is revelling in and also not caring at all about food at different times

This is what I want from my relationship with food, and this is how I’m trying to live my life right now.

It feels less tiring.

It’s certainly a lot less work to go out to eat or to plan meals or to make food each week.

I still eat a wide variety of foods and I do have a preference for the types of foods that make me feel energized and comfortable most of the time (which often are traditionally “healthy” things) but nothing is off the table anymore at anytime.

“Food freedom” for me also feels more like “normal” eating for my husband. I don’t think I ever realized how my stuff around food affected him as much as it does. Even though I was always willing to buy or make whatever he asked for regardless of what food restrictions I was currently consumed by, he usually went along with it (because this girl is a decent cook and he’s easy going) but he told me a few months ago how awesome it is that he can say “hey can we have nachos for dinner?” and have me just say yes without even thinking about it or he can suggest some hole in the wall restaurant without me having a melt down about it not having the right kind of food on the menu. It makes me sad that I didn’t even realize that my issues with food made things not “normal” for him too.

I’ve put on a little weight during all this food freedom (to be expected when you stop restricting whole food groups) but I don’t really care. In a lot of ways, I feel lighter. I feel emotionally lighter for sure but even my body feels less burdened by the weight of carrying so many rules about food in it. And honestly, that is probably the best part of finding food freedom.

What does food freedom mean to you? Do you already feel that you have freedom with food or is this an area that you would like to work on yourself? I’d love to help you take steps towards finding your own version of food freedom when you are ready.