Changing Our Relationship With Food
For years I battled for control over food and my body, and used food to medicate myself against loneliness, anxiety, boredom, and anger. I ate to take the edge off the rejection and disappointment I felt in my relationships and I ate to squash down the fear inside me that I wasn’t good enough.
I struggled with food, body image, and self-esteem. I know the optimism of starting a new diet, trying desperately to stick with it, the self-sabotage, and the feelings of failure and self-disgust when I “failed” to eat right.
But I escaped the cycle of using diet, weight, and fitness level to define my sense of self-worth.
It’s Not Really About the Food
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we can see it’s not really about the food at all. In fact, the foods we’re eating are completely secondary to the way we actually feel about ourselves.
I don’t deny that food choices are important – at the physical level, food is the very foundation of who we are and chronic poor choices can lead us to devastating illness. And the industrial food system in this country is wreaking havoc on our health and the environment.
But what I’m talking about is how our relationship with food reflects our relationship with ourselves.
How Are You Treating Yourself?
To truly get to the root of your relationship with food, you can’t just look at what you’re eating; you’ve got to look at why you’re eating and how you’re treating yourself and your body.
The stories we tell ourselves about food and the relationship we have with it can either be empowering, or destructive.
I believe we can change this relationship, and the story we tell ourselves about food and how we relate to it. We can develop a holistic approach to healthy eating.
Changing Our Relationship to Food – Where Does Your Food Story Begin?
“Mama!” Alina’s little voice carried up the stairs to me early one morning.
“Yes Alina?” I called back to her.
“When are you coming down?”
“In a minute, I’m getting dressed,” I answered.
I could hear the sound of things happening in the kitchen – eggs cracking on the side of a bowl, dishes moving, and a happy humming from my littlest girl.
When I came down a little later, I found a bowl of eggs waiting to be scrambled in the pan, a bagel waiting to go into the toaster oven, a washed apple waiting to be sliced, and a cup full of my favorite loose herbal tea waiting for hot water. The table was neatly set.
“I saved the dangerous part for you,” she informed me.
I smiled to myself. By ‘dangerous’ she meant cooking on the stove and using the toaster oven. “What are you having for breakfast Alina?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she replied as I started the stove for the tea and eggs.
“Want to share this bagel with me?” I asked.
“Oh yea, sure!” she answered enthusiastically.
At seven years old, Alina shows an admirable level of confidence and independence in the kitchen, and I am touched at the joy she expresses in performing the nurturing act of making food for her mama.
But I worry for her and her future relationship with food. Will food simply be a way to fuel her body, or will it become the enemy as she struggles with maintaining an ideal body size?
I am careful with the language I use and the values I share with my children, but as they become older, they are exposed to our cultural standards for beauty and health, and the messages they receive will not always support true health and a positive body image.
I want my children to love themselves and their bodies unconditionally. And I want them to understand food is an important part of our lives and goes beyond putting something into our mouths three or more times a day. Food has the power to heal our bodies and our souls, connect us to one another, provide comfort, and is part of our collective humanity.
Finding Balance – A Holistic Approach to Healthy Eating
I invite you to look at food differently. I ask you to enjoy food as a way to nurture yourself, and those you love. Sometimes we nurture ourselves by eating foods that our bodies need to function at their best, to feel strong and healthy. And sometimes we need foods that connect us to our culture, to one another, or that simply bring us pleasure.
Start with the positive. As I wrote in Designing a Life You Love, if we spend too much of our energy focused on what we don’t want, how we will get more of what we do want? The same goes for food – if we constantly limit ourselves, attach judgement to our foods, and connect our self-worth to what we eat, we can never feel true contentment and satisfaction.
Strategies For a Holistic Approach to Healthy Eating
Stop the Hate
It’s time to stop with the self-hate. Until we learn to quiet that negative and often cruel inner voice that tears us apart, we can never have a truly healthy relationship with food. Pay attention to the critical voice that attaches judgements to your self-worth based on what you eat or how much you weigh. Replace those thoughts with compassion.
The first step in change is creating awareness, the second step is changing the habit.
We submit ourselves to a lot of mental crap, set unrealistically high standards, and flog ourselves for not being perfect. Learn to love yourself unconditionally – you are good enough, just as you are.
Let Go of the Guilt
Stop punishing yourself for eating “forbidden foods”. Once we acknowledge that food is not the enemy – we can learn to enjoy what we eat without the guilt. Eating can be a pleasurable, sensual experience, and this experience is part of being human.
But when we attach labels and guilt to our choices, or when we use food as a way to relieve emotional discomforts, we set ourselves up for a vicious cycle. Developing awareness of why we are making choices around food can lead us to a better understanding of what is really going on.
These choices may be as simple as wanting the pleasure of a particular food, or as complicated as filling an emotional need. And sometimes, that’s okay, we just need to acknowledge it and give ourselves permission.
Giving ourselves permission to enjoy food is incredibly empowering. Let go of the guilt, and enjoy your food.
Honor Meal Time
This extends to the process of preparing your food as well. Taking time to feed ourselves and those we love is wonderful thing, and can bring us great pleasure if we take the time to notice. When my three children were younger and all homeschooled, a big part of our days were spent preparing simple foods together.
Working together in the kitchen with the youngest ones washing fruit and arranging vegetables on a plate, sitting at the table, lighting a candle – these were the simple ways we honored our meal times together.
We don’t have to wait for special occasions or serve fancy foods to celebrate meal times. Choosing our favorite mug to enjoy a hot cocoa and lighting a candle at meal time are simple ways to enjoy our food and honor our meal times.
Let Go of The Labels
There is no perfect way to eat. We see images of fit, healthy, happy people who eat only Paleo. And others proclaim their health and lives were changed when they switched to eating only raw foods. Fat used to be the evil that caused obesity, heart disease, and cancer. But now we are informed that, well, actually, it wasn’t the fat, it was the simple processed carbohydrates and sugars. Or maybe the high fructose corn syrup. Or maybe if we only eat the right fats, we can enjoy good health and lose weight?
Learn to let go. Let go of the labels – vegan, vegetarian, paleo, raw foods, and all the other strict philosophies. Let go of the dogmatic approach and the chatter bombarding you about your food choices.
Instead of following the rules created by someone else, develop a way of eating that works for you.
I encourage you – listen to your intuition. Trust your inner wisdom.
Stop multi-tasking when you eat. Put away the smart phone, tablet, step away from the computer, and get out of the car. Slow down and pay attention when you eat. Notice the colors, aroma, and taste of your food. Take your time. Listen to the cues your body sends about hunger and fullness.
Remember that eating is a way to nurture yourself. Take time and give your full attention to the act of eating. Great joy can be found when we slow down.
If you truly want to change your relationship with food, start by changing your relationship with yourself. Love yourself and your body unconditionally.
Let go of the self-hate, the guilt, and give yourself permission to be you. Eat to nourish that incredibly complex, amazing, miracle that is your body.
Find balance. Avoid following rules determined by others, and discover what works best for you.
Above all, remember to be gentle, loving, and kind to yourself. You might just discover your amazing inner strengths.
I know food is a sensitive topic and I am so grateful for you to share your insights in the comments. Your words may be the one thing someone needs to read to inspire them to take action to end their war with food.