My old self, lived in a space of restriction dieting. Holidays were exciting, as foods that
were classified to be treats, now had permission.
While I was in a spin class this week; I listened as the instructor encouraged everyone to make sure they turned up to Friday and Saturdays classes (Christmas Eve Eve and Eve), so they could earn their Christmas extras. My heart broke. I still feel so many emotions while writing this blog for you.
This mindset, is a true product of the diet industry. The phases like “I have been really good, so I can… eat XYZ; or I have worked out, so I have earnt….XYZ” are examples the diet industry give us; to keep us on the diet rollercoaster way of living.
In this moment at the spin class, I realised how much my journey has changed. I used to live in a space where my every day food was so restrictive, that I could not wait for the holiday season to overeat. But today, I don’t feel like this, as I don’t feel I live in a place of restriction. When the holidays come up, it’s just about the holidays coming up. It’s not about eating the foods I have been missing out on, because today, if I feel like a brownie, I eat the brownie and move on. This way of living, I realise more and more, means I now don’t look forward to the holiday season, as an opportunity to run away from my “weekday” lifestyle.
Holidays are a time for connection. I am honestly looking forward to seeing my family, not what I am going to eat or drink. This is a very different place to the what the diet industry presents.
Understanding your relationship with food
Before we can start working towards a positive relationship with food, it is important to talk about the signs of what a sabotaging relationship with food could look like. The tell-tale sign that your relationship with food could be improved on, is if you feel any type of shame, guilt, stress, or fear regarding the foods you eat.
These feelings are all too common around Christmas time with people feeling like they must “prepare” by going on restrictive diets so that they can go “all-out” and then vowing to themselves that they will start a new diet in the New Year to lose any weight gained.
Even though this is common, it is not healthy mentally, emotionally, or physically. The relationship change occurs, when over time you can eat food free from the feelings of shame or guilt or without a diet punishment mentality, but rather see food as food; and how you feel after eating certain foods. This requires a lot of patience, and you need to be kind to yourself through this journey because it will not be easy.
(To know more on self-compassion; I have a video chat on this very topic with a clinical psychologist, as I feel like self-compassion has become a buzz word, but how do we actually do it?).
So, how can you restore your relationship with food?
A positive relationship with food involves giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods that make you feel good physically and mentally. No foods are strictly off limits – and you don’t feel guilt upon eating foods that are typically labelled “good” or “bad”.
I will be honest and say that getting to this point is not going to be easy – it will be a journey full of ups and downs. But don’t wish the ups and downs away; as it’s in the steps we learn about ourselves.
A positive relationship with food involves welcoming all foods in moderation, eating foods that you enjoy, not allowing food to control your life and knowing that the foods that you eat do not define you as a person.
You are your own person who has their own history with food, your food preferences and you have every right to navigate this journey in a way that suits you. This journey will probably be different to the next persons, but it usually involves the following things: removing the guilt around food, listening to your body, welcoming all foods in your diet, and stopping justifying your food choices.
Remove the guilt around food
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is one sign of a positive relationship with food.
When we create rules around when we can and cannot eat – we are setting ourselves up for failure as usually this results in hunger, feelings of deprivation and a fear of food.
Whether you had a slightly bigger lunch than usual or had a few extra snacks or didn’t exercise as much as you usually do, you still deserve to eat when you are hungry. No matter what is going on your body deserves food.
Listen to your body
Your body knows what it needs in order to keep it running efficiently. Which is why it is so important to listen to your body and respond to its hunger cues. It will tell you what it needs. If you try to ignore these needs, it will find ways to keep on reminding you – like a growling stomach, constant thoughts about food or headaches.
The first key to listening to your body is being able to detect when you are getting hungry. We want to tune in to your internal cues of hunger rather than eating because it is a specific time of day. Ask yourself if you feel hungry – Can you feel your stomach grumbling? Does your stomach feel empty?
The second key is being able to know when you have had enough. You don’t need to finish your plate, there isn’t a food storage in our homes, and there will be more food available tomorrow. Your body isn’t a garage bin, and you eating the food doesn’t solve the worlds global issues. Trust when you are content with the amount you have eaten.
Welcome all foods into your diet
We are constantly being told that certain foods are “good”, and others are “bad” through books, new celebrity diets, television shows, the internet, and the government. Saying a food is “bad” gives it unnecessary power. Yes, some foods are more nutritious than others and can contribute to improved health. But, eating a single food is not going to miraculously override every other food you have eaten.
When we label a food as “bad”, we put it up on a pedestal and create a moral value around that food. But, what even makes a food bad? Did the mars bar do something wrong today? No. Equally, a food doesn’t have a moral value, it is just food. A foods ingredients list cannot change your identity or value. I am not a bad person because I ate a mars bar, and neither are you.
When you allow all foods into your diet – you will be better able to control your intake, as you know that these enjoyable foods are always available. However, when you restrict foods and believe that they are a “treat” or a “reward”, you are much more likely to over do it.
Once you start to let these foods back in and they are removed from the pedestal we once put them on, you will notice your cravings for them will start to diminish.
The overindulgent mindset
“It’s Christmas (it’s Friday, it’s Tuesday, it’s Easter….. so I am allowed to overindulge / binge”.
Can I say this overindulgent mindset is often coming from an unmet emotional need. My question to you, is “What emotion are you trying to stuff down by this overindulging/ binge like behaviour?” and then, “How are you hoping to feel from doing this behaviour?”
When we go into the holiday season with the mindset of – “I am going to let myself go; I am going to drink lot’s of wines; eat what I want….”, we are suppressing a feeling and/or trying to feel another feeling. What feeling are you looking to have when you do this behaviour and what emotional need is not being meet in your everyday life to get you to this point?
We want to look deep into this emotional need, rather than trying to suppress it by food. When we eat emotionally, no amount of food will ever satisfy a root that was ever coming from a place of hunger.
Stop justifying your food choices
Most people are constantly giving themselves or other people an explanation for their food choices – “I am having chocolate because I had a bad day” or “I have to eat a salad because I ate badly today”.
I think sometimes we all need the reminder that eating food is normal and healthy. Skipping meals, restricting foods and being anxious about what to eat and what not to eat is not healthy.
We all need to eat – and we are all allowed to eat whatever and whenever we want. Not just “because it is Christmas” or because we say things like “the diet starts in January” or “I didn’t eat lunch today”. You are allowed to eat simply just because you are hungry.
By respecting your need to eat and giving yourself permission to eat foods that you enjoy and are satisfying you will find more peace around food.
So, instead of giving a reason for the food choices that you are making, allow yourself to eat the food that you feel is best for you at that very moment. Give yourself permission to eat this Christmas, and always only eat foods that make you happy or make you feel good or satisfy you. Don’t eat out of pressure. Honour your body with the food choices which are right for you and how you will feel afterwards. Often, us women, let ourselves down first, engaging in a food or drink consumption so we don't look different. If you personally don’t want to drink this holiday season; be okay not to drink.
The bottom line
Your relationship with food is personal, unique and requires regular work to keep it healthy. Even though sometimes it may feel impossible to fix your relationship with food – it is possible to get to a point in which food no longer controls you.
As you begin to work on this, remember that food is not inherently good or bad. When we label foods it gives them power, which means you’ll most likely want them more.
Having a positive relationship with food firstly starts with welcoming all food with no restrictions, seeing the value in food beyond calories and remembering that the food we eat cannot define us a person.
Accredited Practising Dietitian
Womens Health Dietitian
Specializing in hormonal health (PCOS, endometorosis, period health) and Food Relationships
Blog written with the help of fellow dietitian Makayla Zok; dietitian at Nicole Barber Dietetics.
If you want to develop a stronger relationship between food and yourself, I would love to support you. This relationship I believe in; as it's a game changer to how you show up to your world.
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