creating a healthy relationship with food
Recently I received a lovely message from a woman on Instagram that resonated so much with me, I had to expand more on the topic here on the blog. She wrote, "I struggle with sweets, that is my biggest nemesis. I noticed that recently you mentioned intuitive eating a few times, would you consider doing a blog post about this? I binge eat and evenings are worst for me, when if I get hungry and cranky I reach for unhealthy options or 'solve' my emotions with food."
I’m sure we can all relate to this in some way or another. Reading this was a mirror that I saw myself in. What she describes is exactly what my relationship with food was like years ago, and something I can easily slip back into when I'm not taking care of myself. Food is the ultimate pleasure. It is fuel, it is life, it is a way we bond and connect with others, it is magic. It breaks my heart that this gift has a disordered relationship with so many of us, especially women. We are bombarded from a young age with so much information about food, the way we "need" to appear, what foods are "good" and which foods are "bad", counting calories, and so much more. In addition to that, we compare what we eat to what others eat- in real life, and in perfectly curated Instagram accounts. Macros, "abs are made in the kitchen", "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" low fat, high fat, paleo, vegan, keto, high carb, low carb, cleanses, skinny teas, I could go on and on. It all becomes so overwhelming. So stressful. We try to fit ourselves into these "ideal" boxes with all these restrictions without taking into consideration what WE need as an individual. Without thinking and feeling into it, tuning in to how food makes our body feel.
Obviously everyone's experience with food is highly individual and I can only speak from my own experience. It's long and complicated and if you want, I can write another blog post about my health and self love journey, but suffice to say, I had an extremely abusive relationship with food essentially my entire life. When I became pregnant with Vincent, for many reasons I began down a path towards healing that relationship. And now I'm in a place where food is an ally, not an enemy. I had a LOT of work to do with self love to get there. A LOT. A lot of issues with shame, coming from a religious background, especially around self worth. I’m still working on myself every day. But now I love myself. And it feels so good. I invite you to work towards the same thing. You are worth it. For further reading here, I highly recommend this article. While healing my own wounds here, the first thing I realized was that:
YOUR DIET IS NOT EVERYTHING.
I see this often, in myself and in others, where we think: "If I eat healthier, cleaner, refine this, cut out this, THEN I will start to feel better. THEN I will be happy, then I will feel good, then I will stop X (overeating, undereating, lose weight, gain weight, feel confident...)". And of course, yes, the starting point I believe is good...eating as many whole, unprocessed foods as you can will definitely rock your health in the best ways. At the same time, food is only the tip of the iceberg with wellbeing. Your body, just like everything in this world, is more complicated than that, and it's a good thing!
I remember years ago coming across this company, Sakara Life, and they had an online blog. What they talked about was this "pyramid" of health and that through working on many different areas of your life, you work on wellness: "Balance equals health and true clarity comes from creating balance in all aspects of your life." The categories are: food, love/sex/companionship, body +movement, home base (a person, emotional or physical place where you feel safe and open), create/discover/inspire, and "take flight"- nourishing every area of your life. Realizing that you are more than your diet, more than your actions, more than your thoughts was revolutionary for me and opened up my path to heal my relationship with food.
Dig deep and truthfully open up and examine WHY you are out of alignment. Which areas need care + attention and shifting in order to come back into alignment? Which ones are being neglected and which are having too much attention focused on them? I’ve found that when I can adjust these things is when my relationship with food naturally rights itself. Being honest with myself, surrendering and doing the work was, in truth, the most important part for me. Here’s some more helpful tips too to guide you back to a healthy relationship with your food.
i. practice gratitude, love and appreciation in all aspects of food- purchasing, growing, preparation, eating. This has been one of the biggest aspects for me! Take pleasure an joy in each moment. Search out the best produce to use, try out new things, and feel a deep appreciation for being able to experience them. Before eating, pause and reflect on your gratitude and find things to appreciate. It can be about the food or about your day, but focusing on the things that make you feel good will bring more positivity. Also, try not to eat when you are sad or angry, as your body has a hard time receiving and digesting food in these times. If at all possible, eat with others to share the joy together, sharing food is a huge pleasure in my opinion.
ii. eating in sync with the area and the seasons whenever possible. This puts you more in touch with the earth, your own area, and is healthiest as far as fresher and appropriate for your own environment. For me, it feels so rewarding and deepens my gratitude even further, especially being able to talk and connect with those who grew my food for me. This approach is often more sustainable and cheaper, too.
iii. replacing empty foods with whole ones. For example, try a date + tahini, an apple with almond butter, black rice cooked in coconut milk with mango, chia pudding, or a simple piece of fresh fruit instead of a processed sweet treat. You'll be more satisfied since you are giving your body much more nutrition that way.
iv. recognizing triggers and being aware of emotions. For example, for me, when I eat gluten, it makes me feel just awful, and it makes me crave more gluten, and other foods I'm normally not interested in, like sugar. Also in this vein, learning how to sit with the emotions and feel into them without judgement instead of letting them control you. For example, are you truly hungry or are you eating because you feel anxious, fearful, lonely, sad, angry or otherwise? Are you eating to avoid the discomfort you feel from an emotion? Recognize this without feeling upset about it or judging yourself. It simply is. Sometimes just recognizing this is enough, sometimes you need to break a pattern, by changing the situation or talking about it- whether in your journal or with a friend. Be open to discussing and and be truthful with yourself.
v. mindfulness when eating. When you are eating or preparing or selecting food, be fully here. Be present and focus on the sensation of touching the food, the texture, the flavors, the smells, the sounds. When you are eating, focus on each bite and chew thoroughly. If eating with others, talk about the food and share your thoughts! The kids love to do this and see the similarities and differences we all experience even when enjoying the same dish.
vi. practicing self love. Affirmations, rituals like making tea, herbal infusions, tonics, matcha, coffee, dry brushing, gua sha, yoga, meditation, setting aside time to be alone, time to create, and above all practicing acceptance of who you are.
vii. focusing on eating whole foods, meaning as much unprocessed as possible, as much of your food plants as possible. It's really that simple- let your body guide you from there as to what it needs. After eating, reflect on how the food made you feel and make adjustments as necessary.
I encourage you to implement some of these practices slowly into your life. Don't get overwhelmed. Add a little at a time. Don't be swayed by outside knowledge, all you need is already within. And remember above all, that you have the power- we create our own experience.