Food shouldn’t be the enemy. Food shouldn’t be stressful. But it can be for lots of us. I know it used to be for me! My thoughts revolved around food from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed and it was freaking exhausting. I lived like that for years, obsessing about everything I ate, thinking about everything from how many calories it had to how long I’d have to workout to “burn it off.”
Luckily I found my way out. I found a way to love food again and let it just be what it is- something that’s meant to nourish and something to enjoy- instead of allowing it to continue as a major stressor in my life.
Check out the questions below to assess your own relationship with food. If you find that it might not be as strong or positive as you’d like, keep reading for my tips on how I changed my relationship with food from one of stress and obsession to one of love and ease.
- Tell yourself I “should” or “shouldn’t” eat certain foods?
- Fell like failure when you don’t eat the way you think you should?
- Feel the need to “work off” the food you ate through exercise?
- Try to abstain from eating certain foods?
- Try to not eat past a certain time at night even if you’re hungry?
- Eat emotionally on a regular basis?
- Continue eating past the point of satisfaction on a regular basis?
I used to do all of these things. All. Of. Them. Here’s how it would go for me:
I “should” eat veggies and lean protein but I “shouldn’t” eat carbs/candy/donuts/chocolate. When I would eat the “shouldn’ts” I’d think I effed up so I would work out excessively to “burn off” the calories I ate. Then I’d resolve to use stay away from those foods 100% because again, I shouldn’t be eating them in the first place.
My kitchen would “close” at 7pm which only drove me to crave the “shouldn’ts” so out of deprivation and restriction I’d binge my face off which meant I ate past the point of satisfied on a very regular basis.
I’ve worked really hard at improving my relationship with food from the one above to the one I have now. Now I don’t have any food rules. I don’t really even think about food except when I’m hungry and when I’m eating it whereas in the past, food used to consume my thoughts- What would I eat, when would I eat it, how many calories did it have, was it “ok” to eat, how long would I have to run to burn off the calories…it was freaking exhausting.
If this sounds at all familiar know that #1, you’re not alone and #2, I’m going to walk you through the exact steps I took to improve my relationship with food in hopes that it will help you, too.
My 6 strategies for improving your relationship with food
>> I began eating things that made me feel physically and mentally good. When I was in binge-mode I’d eat foods that would wreak havoc on my stomach to the point where I was getting coupons at CVS for tums because I bought them so frequently. So I began eating things like flavored Greek yogurt, oatmeal, peanut butter, dark chocolate with sea salt, pizza…all things that were once on my DO NOT EAT LIST.
This did two things for me. First, it took away the feelings of restriction and deprivation (good for the mind) and second, it served as a reminder that these foods were around anytime I wanted them and I could literally have them anytime I wanted since I was no longer restricting myself. This meant I didn’t have to eat to the point of discomfort and “get it all in” before my “diet” started again (good for the body AND mind.)
>> I stopped punishing myself for what I ate with excessive exercise. When I would eat a food that I considered less than ideal, I’d have to work it off. I thought I could negate the “bad” calories by running or lifting or spinning to excess. I was using exercise as a punishment and started resenting it because it just wasn’t fun anymore. When I set out to change my eating habits, I began seeking out balance with food and in turn that brought back my love for exercise.
If I ate pancakes for breakfast, I’d prioritize protein and veggies for lunch. If I was having pizza for dinner I’d have a couple slices and wait about 20 minutes before I went back for more to give myself time to decide if I was actually still hungry. If I had a day where I just ate like shit all together, I understood that tomorrow was a new day, I could pick up right where I left off and get some fresh foods in.
Once I got this down, I started to enjoy exercise again because it was no longer a punishment. I exercised in a way that felt good for my body. I didn’t have to worry running 7 miles to burn off calories, I could simply go out for a run and enjoy it or skip the run and opt for yoga. No pressure, just enjoyment.
>> I changed how I thought about food. When we eat a food that we think we shouldn’t, what usually happens is something like this:
“I should have eaten that! Why did I do that? Why can’t I just stick to the diet? I’m out of control. I’ll never get this right.”
I’ve heard this (and said it) countless times! Until one day it hit me- I realized that everything I ate was a choice. I chose to eat the pop-tarts, I chose to sneak the extra slices of birthday cake, I chose to order the nachos and margaritas…I couldn’t blame anyone or anything but myself. I was choosing all of it! This was a HUGE slap in the face and was one of those “why didn’t I think of this before!” moments. OF COURSE it was my choice. So I could choose to keep eating and feeling like shit, or I could choose another way. I chose and began practicing a more balanced approach.
>> I let go of perfection. NO ONE eats perfectly- not you, not me, not Jennifer Aniston- because perfect eating doesn’t exist. Let go of that need to be perfect because you never will be. The best you can do is your best and if you’re making the best choices you can make in that moment, your best is good enough.
>> I stopped comparing what I ate to what other people were eating. I was BIG on the comparison game. Have you ever seen the celeb diets in Us Weekly? They’ll use a star like J.Lo and put her diet on the page so that fans can eat like her AND look like her, too! I call bullshit. Your body, my body and Jennifer’s body have totally different needs. Your body has totally different needs from mine, your sisters, your mothers, your best friends, and your partners…their nutritional choices and needs have absolutely nothing to do with you or yours.
Pretty cool, right? Because if what other people eat is none of our business, that allows us to keep our eyes on our own paper, tune into OUR body and give it what it needs.
>> I began respecting and loving myself. Guys…THIS is THE SHIT. I’ve put this body through A LOT OF SHIT. It’s clear to me now that all the diets, restrictions, bingeing, over exercising myself to injuries, etc., was all because of the fact that I didn’t respect myself or my body. Once that changed, it was SO much easier to decide to feed it well. Yes, sometime that means eating pizza and drinking wine (yay!), however, the majority of the time I want to give it the stuff that will make me feel energetic and alive. I’ve learned to listen to my body because I know it will tell me exactly what it needs when it needs it. All I have to do is listen. Respect yourself and your body enough to give it what it really wants. It’s just dying for you to listen.