When we have a troubled relationship with food, eradicating it becomes our main mission.
With this common attitude, we don’t allow our relationship with food to teach us anything. We think it’s annoying, an inconvenience, the bane of our existence, a hindrance, a thorn we can simply pluck, a piece of popcorn stuck in our back molars, a ringing in our ears. We think that once we get rid of it, everything will be okay and we can finally start living our lives.
We want it to be gone in one full, quick swoop, as if we can do liposuction or a gastric sleeve (which you can learn more about at this link) on our problems. How awesome would that be? As much as I’ve wanted to get rid of and fix my own relationship with food and have tried everything to surgically remove it from my life through the years, I can tell you with certainty that it doesn’t work like that.
It’ll never work like that.
And wanting it to be like that is missing the boat on an opportunity that can provide us with the growth we need, the stepping stone to becoming a better, more aware human that knows how to take care of herself and deal with her shit with a level of empowerment that would not have been attainable had you not had the courage to dive into your lifetime narrative. This is brave, but not easy.
And this is the reason we diet. This is the reason we look to quick, 21-day quick fixes, because we want to deal with it FAST.
Again, it doesn’t work like that. If you diet and you temporarily feel like you’ve dealt with your relationship with food, you haven’t. It will resurface its head at some point and then you’ll have to deal with it again.
Why not deal with it once and for all? Why not let it teach you? Why not dive in with all you have and eradicate that muck and BS that has been the driver of your life for as long as you can imagine?
Telling someone that really healing their relationship with food will take time, sometimes a year or longer, including a potential time without weight loss, is terrifying and NOT popular.
Let’s consider the alternative, though. Continuing to diet? Continuing to sweep your struggles under the rug and to stay unconscious? If that’s you, okay, but, I’m gonna give you some tough love here: you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to become what you’ve always wanted to be. As you push out of your safe cocoon, with pain, learning, growth on top of some more freaking growth, you will not emerge the same person ever again, and you’ll never be able to go back to who you once were.
Having gone through this all myself, having dieted for two decades, and having worked really hard to heal my own relationship with food for years, I can tell you it’s not easy. But it is 100% WORTH IT. It took me about two or three years to feel really comfortable. I thought I had healed my relationship with food when I was in grad school and was at my thinnest, only for my issues to resurface again several years ago as I dealt with new food intolerances.
Today, I am in the best place I have ever been with food. With myself. With my body. Today, my choices are made from a desire to feel great in my body and my mind.
The thing is, when embark on a healing journey, it’s not an event like an on or off light switch, it’s a process. A timeline. Steps you must not skip.
I encourage you with all my heart to be patient with yourself and not rush as you are healing. Stay curious, stay open, stay flexible, and do not beat yourself up. Realize that your body image is not your self image, and one day, all of this will make sense and you’ll never have to deal with food drama or BS ever again in your life. Hallelujah.
Like Ram Dass says, “I want to eat it all.” The pain, the difficulty, the joy, the curiosity. Stay open and feast on what you discover about yourself.
Here’s how it usually goes down:
- You’re restricting, depriving, and mostly likely, bingeing as a result.
- You’re constantly looking for the next quick fix. The thing that’ll FINALLY work.
- You’re googling, listening to health & fitness podcasts, and reading wellness blogs to find the best diet out there.
- You’re not really enjoying your food.
- You’re thinking about food all day long.
- You long for the things you don’t allow yourself to eat.
- Social situations that involve food are anxiety inducing.
- You judge yourself and your body constantly.
- All foods are categorized as good or bad.
- You don’t trust yourself around food, so you must control everything and abide by rules.
- You aren’t necessarily listening to your body and not really nourishing it, either.
- You look to external sources to dictate what and how much to eat.
- You’re obsessed with losing weight, with having a smaller body, with what your life will be and the person you will become when you FINALLY lose the weight.
- If you’ve done the HCG diet, taken diet pills, reduced your calories, or eliminated a vital macronutrient, this is where you are.
- It also must be noted that if you’re exercising your face off to burn off your food, or to punish yourself, or you see food and exercise as a transactional relationship, then this is where you are as well.
FED UP/F*CK IT:
- You’re sick of dieting, once and for all.
- You’ve reached a limit and you’re tired of restricting and not feeding yourself well.
- You decide to take a chance and stop dieting.
- You want nothing more than to feel comfortable and not crazy around food.
- You know, deep down in your heart, that life can be better than one centered around dieting and restricting.
- I wrote all about legalizing here. It’s an integral step to healing.
- You have to take a leap of faith here by reintroducing and eating foods you’re scared of. You have to expose yourself to these foods so you know life will not end when you eat them, and you have more power than the food itself.
- You decide to eat it ALL. You might eat cake or ice cream for breakfast. You might eat more than your body wants. Do it. Experiment. See how these foods make you feel in your body, mind, and spirit. Try to be as mindful as you can, but don’t make that the goal. (If you have serious allergies or intolerances, obviously don’t eat the foods that hurt you bigtime).
- You might gain some weight temporarily, but a couple pounds in exchange for food freedom for the rest of your life is WORTH IT.
- You have zero rules. You’re having fun, and you feel free.
- Until one day you don’t. You’re feeling the effects of eating the foods you’ve restricted for so long, and long to feel better and eat nourishing, amazing foods you love that make you feel great most of the time.
ELIMINATION DIET (optional, but I think having this level of awareness around food is beneficial for everyone):
- If you have a history of eating disorders, tread carefully towards elimination diets. If you decide to do one, make sure your intentions lean towards learning about yourself as opposed to restricting and you’re working alongside a therapist.
- Doing an elimination diet will 100% reveal what works for you and what doesn’t. Even though lots of intuitive eating people tout eating everything in moderation, there ARE common foods that are allergenic to lots of people and frankly, you could live your entire life not knowing how good you can feel by eliminating problematic foods for YOU.
- Everyone is bioindividual. In other words, what works for me might not work for you. GET CURIOUS!
- Will you really live your entire life not really knowing if you’re living and feeling your full potential?
- The most common problematic foods are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, sugar, eggs, nuts, legumes, and grains. I’d also throw alcohol in there as well.
- I suggest doing a strict Whole30. They have their entire program for free on their site here.
- Read about my Whole30 experience here. I’ve done four over the past four years, and it has completely changed my life for the better, in more ways than I can describe. I am not the same person I was four years ago and I learn more with each experience.
REALIZING WHAT WORKS FOR YOU & REINTRODUCTION:
- After you do an elimination diet and you’re back to baseline of feeling amazing, reintroduce certain foods you love, strategically. Whole30 has a reintroduction schedule here.
- Spend as much time as you can evaluating and reevaluating what works for you & what doesn’t.
- Quick ways to tell if foods work for you?
- Digestion – bloating, constipation, etc. or not bloated after meals and having normal bowel movements?
- Mood – are you sad, depressed, foggy or happy and clearheaded?
- Skin – breaking out or clear skin?
- Performance & feel during movement & exercise – are you lagging, fatigued, hurting all over, or are you like a warrior, ready to tackle what comes your way?
- Sleep – having trouble sleeping or sleeping soundly?
- Energy – are you tired all the time, with energy slumps throughout the day or even & full of vitality?
- Keep a journal & take notes. Journal as often as you can, both about your physical and mental reactions to food, but also about your emotional relationship with food.
- PAY ATTENTION. Up your level of awareness.
FOOD FREEDOM: LIVING IT, DAY IN AND DAY OUT:
- Once you’ve reached food freedom, you’ve taken the time to discover what works for you and what doesn’t with utmost honesty.
- Food has lost its luster. Since you’ve taken the time to legalize foods and now see that the world doesn’t end when you eat them, they don’t have power over you.
- Additionally, since you’ve eaten the foods you used to long for, you realize food isn’t as special as you once made it out to be in your head, i.e.: angels don’t have to sing hallelujah every time you put something in your mouth.
- Social situations that involve food are easy and fun. You’re comfortable speaking up to friends/family or at restaurants about your specific dietary needs. You realize that eating with loved ones isn’t really about the food at all.
- You eat foods that work for you, and avoid what doesn’t work most of the time. You stick to the template of nourishing foods that make you feel amazing, and make deliberate decisions about your non-negotiables. I wrote about non-negotiables here.
- For example, I never eat gluten. Ever. I haven’t eaten it deliberately in four years, because after I eliminated it in 2012, my lifetime digestive issues were solved. It took me another two years to feel comfortable not eating it. It’s never worth it for me. I don’t really eat dairy, but sometimes, it IS worth it to me to eat REALLY GOOD dairy like cheese, nitrogen ice cream, etc. Make your own choices about what’s worth it to YOU.
- You’re constantly evaluating when it’s worth it to eat something that doesn’t work and if you actually want it. For example, eating triple creme cheese on vacation with your boyfriend is different than eating kraft singles by yourself the day before you have to give an important presentation the next morning. Both are fine, but one might be more worth it than the other. Note the difference.
- If you eat too much of something that doesn’t work for you and you feel like crap, you don’t continue to binge or want to diet, you simply move onto the foods that work for you, again and again.
- You know food doesn’t fix problems or quell negative emotions, and you’re able to pause and shift your energy towards other things besides food when you feel like numbing yourself.
- Exercise is fun & enjoyable.
- Foods are no longer good or bad.
- You realize there is no end-point. The journey is the point.
- YOU are able to guide yourself, take care of yourself, and love yourself through your food and exercise choices.
I must note that once you get to food freedom, it doesn’t stay there forever if you don’t continue to stay curious, keep a high level of awareness, and pay attention to your body. It’s also not about perfection, either. That’s never the point. It’s not black or white: it’s about living in the grey area. The area that YOU have created for yourself.
If you have any other questions about this process, feel free to ask me in the comments.
I wish you the best and that you honor yourself in every step of your journey.