Evaluating your relationship with food
Published in In Fitness And In Health
I take a small bite from a cheesecake that looks like it came straight from Katy Perry’s California Gurls, Candyland-like video. My taste buds are dancing, ohh so sweet and soft, quite the perfect treat for a night with friends around.
Fast forward 5 minutes after the sweetception, I am thinking how many calories have I ingested during this party? How many hours in the gym will it take to burn off all this deliciousness? I should stop eating. Well, the damage is already done, I could as well eat and drink more. What are we doing now? Why is everyone laughing? I will take one more bite. Oh, I am so stupid…
Does this sound familiar? Might even sound like a normal thought pattern. Well, is not, but that does not mean that you should feel guilty for it. Considering how we’ve grown up, there is no surprise so many of us have a complicated or even toxic relationship with food. Who even considered that there is a relationship that needs to be understood, improved, and healed in this case? Food was just fuel, but then it became a pleasure, then comfort, and later on guilt.
I have my ups and downs with what I am eating, and while I am all for a healthy diet, meaning a lot of unprocessed food and a tiny bit of more processed foods. Obviously, this ratio does not work as often as I would like it to be, but I am trying to prioritize foods that will give me more energy.
How many ‘miraculous diets’ have you tried as a teenager? I can vouch that I’ve tried at least 5 of the most popular back then, and I would keep trying them every year even if they always failed me. And I’ve continued as an adult as well. Counting calories became an obsession and stress. I would plan my life around that, not caring about the quality of the food as long as it was low in calories. From only meat to fully vegan, I’ve tested them all, without understanding that what I eat should give more than a feeling of being full in my belly, and sometimes my heart (emotional eating).
So you see, it’s still complicated, but I can vouch that most diets are scams, and anything that you need to do for a limited time, especially if it has extreme restrictions, will regress as soon as you stop doing it. Your diet should be how you eat in general, not the exception you make a few times a year.
Once I’ve understood that I went down the road of ‘there is no bad food’, ‘no guilt trip after a meal’, ‘I am listening to my body.’ Except that I was using these only as an excuse for my chaotic eating habits. I was trying to shut the guilt, but your body & brain kind of know when you are not believing yourself. While those statements are true and part of intuitive eating, they can also do harm instead of good, masking the problem.
So, I’ve started smaller, like any relationship that had its hardships, it takes time to heal it and to learn to set boundaries. Sometimes, the bad moments will come up again, sometimes it will be peace for a long time, but now after all that happened you know its patterns, you know that a difficult moment won’t ruin all the healthy ones. Here is what I am doing on a regular basis, to have a better relationship with food:
1. Delete The Calorie Counting App
I get that for some counting calories can be a valuable insight for improving their diet, and I am not against it as long as it is used in a sustainable and objective way. But, if you find yourself being controlled by these numbers, the same as I was, I strongly recommend stopping. Delete that app, nothing bad will happen, think of it as a break for starters. Then, try to check less and less the labels for how many calories something has, just enjoy the food.
2. Learn About Nutrition
You don’t need to be a certified nutritionist to make wiser food choices every day. Of course, if you feel like you need help, going to a nutritionist is always an option, but make sure they understand your needs. Learning some basics about food will make you more objective about your food choices. For instance, you will know when to eat more protein based on your day, why you might crave sugar, or what will give you more energy. There are a lot of free resources, here is one course that helped me.
3. Trail & error
If you tried a lot of diets as well, you might be confused about what type of foods have the best effects on you. We all thrive on different types of lifestyles and eating habits. Meat or no meat, a little bit of sugar or zero sugar, fasting, more fats, more carbs, and so on, how to even choose? You need to test and observe, and it will take some time, but if you practice observing your cravings, energy levels, and moods after eating certain foods you will realize what works for you. There is no universal diet to ensure maximum health, performance, and wellness, you need to find your own. Try to be objective, and look at it as an experiment. You don’t need to follow the rules as for a traditional fad diet, all you have to do is to make small changes, such as having a vegetarian day or two, and see how you feel, or add more protein to one of your meals, eating more often or having your meals a bit more spread out, you get the idea. Writing down the foods that made you feel worse versus the ones that made you feel your best will help as well (not as a food journal, you don’t need to log everything, just the foods that seemed to have impacted you more than usual).
I think you’ve heard too much about meal prepping, but it can help so much. I am not very good at this, so I am not prepping my meals as often as I would like, but when I do it, everything is easier. When I do it I like to cook several things that I can mix and match during the week. For instance, I will bake some sweet potatoes and vegetables, cook some rice, prepare some meat and also some vegan version for that, I will chop and peel some raw vegetables to have at hand for snacks, and maybe make some chia pudding. In this way, I can easily create different meals during the week. If you want some inspiration I recommend this youtube channel for meal prepping.
5. Ritualize eating
Eating while watching something fun is one of my guilty pleasures. If it happens every now and then during movie nights it’s fine, but for me, it’s almost every day. I’ve started to focus on eating at the table with no distractions, but I am still struggling with this one. We’ve become so automatized that we are not even aware of when we are eating. Eating should be one of those pauses and recharging moments during the day, same as you would approach a meditation session, by going to a quiet place, where you can sit comfortably. Somewhere down the line, we’ve forgotten that feeding our bodies is like a meditation as well. I am focusing on having one mindfully, ritual-like meal every two or three days, aiming to do it every day. You can start with the time of the day when you have the most time for setting the table, creating a mood, preparing your food, and enjoying it (with or without company).
I am far from a perfect relationship with food, and I don’t think that anyone has that, and that’s the beauty of it. Same as with everything in life, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but progress towards something healthy, which brings joy and good memories.