In the past week I have had 3 conversations with people who are close to me regarding their relationship with food. More specifically, the way eating something “bad” causes feelings of guilt and failure. And so I thought it would be a good topic to dive into, if only because I truly believe building a healthy relationship with food and losing the feelings of guilt association is the key to not only happiness but being the healthiest you and (if it’s on your wish list in life) maintaining a healthy weight.
For a while now I have personally been working on wrapping my head around a new mindset and it has done wonders for me. And along the way I realized that so many ‘helpful’ tips out there disguised as being healthy living tips are geared towards weight loss, and not towards a happy, healthy satisfying life.
I think the biggest thing is the mentality of having self control and the willpower to eat in moderation. True, this mentality will help you lose weight, and may make you physically healthy..but not happy. Or if you’re part of the unlucky bunch (like myself) it will also make you mentally unhealthy and mentally exhausted. Because it truly is exhausting having to constantly being wondering if you’ve eaten too much, or if you need to eat more, or if you’ve had too many treats or not enough or whatever it is. And during this entire process you lose the most important part of what’s important.
Trust in yourself.
We trust other people every single day without giving it another thought. We trust the driver behind us will stop when we do, we trust that the bank will process bill payments, we trust the woman at the cash register to scan our items correctly..and how many of you actually count your change before shoving it back in your pocket? Because we trust that the cashier is going to do her job correctly. Yet we choose to not trust ourselves, and trust our own instincts and in the process forget how to.
I say it often, and it’s something that I will probably continue to say, encourage and reinforce for the rest of my life, and definitely into my professional life.. Listen to your body. Your body knows what it needs to function efficiently. Your body does not care what time it is, how many calories you’re allowing yourself that day or anything other limitations we are so quick to place upon it. What your body does know is this: when it’s low on energy, vitamins, minerals and any other nutrient required for it to work to it’s best it will let you know. When we’re needing something, we get hungry.
The other day I was on the phone with my girlfriend, and she said something which stuck with me and actually got me pretty fired up inside. She said, I’m so used to being hungry. And it’s true. We live in a society where if you’re not on a diet, not obsessing about your weight, not wanting to lose weight or some other body insulting activity, well then.. clearly you’re flawed. Or a liar. Because everybody wants to be skinny. And if you don’t? Well then, you should probably get on board. Yet in a culture so obsessed with losing weight and hell, supporting a multi billion dollar industry… we’re the fattest we’ve ever been. And more importantly, the most unhealthy.
I like to use babies as a reference point for what I’m going to point out. Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time around a baby, or small children would notice something rather quickly. What does a baby do when it’s hungry? It cries. What if a baby is crying and you try to feed it, yet it’s not hungry? It pushes away and continues to cry. What does a baby do if it’s not hungry and you try feeding it? Spits out the food. We’re born with the knowledge of recognizing when our body is hungry for nutrients and when it is hungry for something else – whether it’s attention, affection, stimulation, whatever. Yet as we get older we push aside this natural instinct and instead decide that the executives at Jenny Craig (or any other weight loss clinic) actually know our bodies better than we do and decide to believe that their one plan fits all diet is in fact the key to happy ever after.
So we go on a diet. We go hard, and strong for a week. Or maybe a month. Or maybe years. Either way, we give it our all. We cut out all the ‘bad’ foods, and are strict with our diets. The scale goes down and we become happy. Or not. Because we’re so fucking hungry we throw the diet out the window and rebel against it. We eat, and eat, and eat. And eat every little thing we’ve been depriving ourselves of for the entire week/month/year. Hell, we may not be hungry anymore, and there’s an even greater chance we don’t even actually want it.. but the feeling of deprivation is no longer there and psychologically it feels damn good rebelling against well… society. It’s like a big middle finger to the dieting world.
But then you wake up one morning and feel guilty as hell. Why? because you ate an entire box of oreos? Or ate a Big Mac? Or hell..maybe you ate both. Everyday. For an entire week. Whatever it is, it causes you begin the diet cycle..which leads to depriving yourself..which leads to the rebellion and the binges.
Another friend asked why he feels guilty after he had just finished a fast food meal. And I told him the same thing. We’re trained to think that way. Do you think 70 years ago when people were a lot less weight infatuated and the diet industry wasn’t quite so booming people felt guilty if they had what might have been considered a ‘treat’ back then? Hell no. They got excited about it. They got excited that there little taste buds were getting something different.
For the past year or so I have been really focusing on learning to listen to my body. And in this process I have realized many things.. I don’t actually like a lot of the junk food I used to eat. But I did it because on a ‘cheat’ day, well hell… I’m going to eat anything and everything I might possibly want in the next 6 days. This lead to a lot of over eating and unsatisfied meals.
It’s a funny thing, but when you learn to listen (because really, it takes A LOT of time, effort and energy to truly learn to let go of any fears about food you might have and instead let your instincts regain control), you realize what your body actually craves and wants are the things that are of a nutritional value. I can honestly say I crave apples. Or I crave a big bowl of vegetables.
Sure, sometimes what I’m craving is something sweet, or sugary or of very little nutritional value, and guess what? I eat it. And I enjoy it. And I don’t feel guilty about it. And damn, is it satisfying to me. And then I’m good to go. It might be days, or it might be weeks or hell, even months before I want whatever it is again.
I have learned to no longer think of foods in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Yes, some have a nutritional value, and some do not. But I believe that all food is meant to be enjoyed. We’re meant to savor what we’re eating and man, that sure is hard when all you feel is guilt. I’ve also realized that like a bad rebellious teenager, when something is off limits, I want it more. When nothing is no longer ‘bad’, it tends to lose it’s appeal.
I’ll admit: when I first swapped to this mentality of eating what I want, when I want.. I had a good week or two where I did not eat so wonderfully. But then the reality kicked in, and I started to think, “okay..do I actually want this or am I just eating it because I can?” I realized that with the mentality that I could in fact have it tomorrow, or the next day, or everyday next week if I wanted.. I no longer wanted it. With the thought of it no longer being off limits a thing of the past, I was comfortable passing it up.
When I was in a place so wrapped up in how much I was eating, there would be days I would go to bed freaking hungry as hell and wake up with stomach pains I was so hungry. Other days, I would be eating because I felt I had to, despite not feeling one bit of hungry or desire to eat. Now? some days I eat a ridiculous amounts of vegetables and fruit and whole grains, with maybe not as much protein. And some days I eat limited fruit and tons of protein. One day I might eat oodles, and the next not so much. Because I’m no longer preoccupied with hitting a calorie limit, or checking the boxes off. And the truth is that in the big picture, it all works out.
It’s not this mentality of moderation that we need to learn, it’s the mentality of listening. Of reprogramming our brains to realize we’re smart. We know what our bodies need. It’s a process of regaining the trust in yourself which has been lost. When you can do that, you gain such a positive feeling about yourself and you quit being so damn hungry all the time.