When I took my first, tentative steps into the health and fitness community, I was obsessed with calorie content, yet thought eating a adult-sized bag of sweets for lunch was ok because they were labelled “fat free”.
I thought exercising on an empty stomach was the best way to lose weight and count calories. I started a new faddy diet at least once a month. my choice of drink was Lucozade. I was confused, I didn’t understand food, and I had a very unhealthy relationship with it.
Three and a half years on, and I understand better how to fuel myself before and after exercise, but I’m still regularly confused by the information I’m bombarded with. And more than that, like many women, the way I’m told I’m “supposed” to feel about the food I want to eat, is something I really have to work hard to keep in check.
My problem starts with the advice about what we should be eating. And it then enters a new level of turmoil because of the way different foods are labelled as “good” and “bad”. I’m uncomfortable with the concept of naughty food, bad food, treats and cheats. Some days, I feel like I’m meant to be eliminating everything except cardboard.
I’m confused, guilty, and frankly tired of it. I just want the facts. Instead, my food options are being served to me with a shift dollop of emotional baggage.
Carbs are bad.
It’s not healthy for our body or our mind to consider food in such a simplistic manner!
The National Obesity Forum, in an opinion paper they released this week with the Public Health Collaboration advised that after 20 years of eating diet and lite versions of everything, we should actually be eating fat and now avoiding low-fat foods.
Less than a day later, national newspapers and even the government suggested this was in fact terribly dangerous advice and following it will do nothing but fuel the obesity crisis we’re facing in the UK. It’s a shame really, because the actual crux of this opinion paper was “eat real, whole, nutrient-rich food, and stop eating weird, processed crap”. Which is pretty sensible advice.
Thankfully, I’m surrounded by people who have healthy and guilt-free relationships with food. Recently, my friend Sophie was explaining how she’s worked really hard in the past couple of years to be able to just eat food and enjoy the experience of eating food. It sounded pretty obvious at first, she it was only when she explained further, that what I realised she was articulating so many feelings I regularly experience.
She explained how as she bit into the food on her plate, she’d spent years thinking “I shouldn’t really be eating this”. And she felt like this after years of magazines and adverts telling her that certain food was “naughty” or “bad”. She’d hit the nail on the head – the act of eating is so laden with emotion, that it’s often a miserable experience for women.
As she talked, it dawned on me how often I caveat the act of eating with thoughts like “I’m going to the gym today so it’s ok” and “I’ll just eat a slice of toast for dinner”. And this is despite feeling like I’ve got a far healthier relationship with food than a lot of people I know!
As Sophie talked, I wondered how many women exist in this sort of relationship with food.
Step away from real life friends and into the internet. This is where the consumption of food gets really miserable. We’re now subject to a slew of unqualified social media celebrities with lithe figures spilling their elimination diet secrets…and we’re lapping it up.
Eliminate acid, eliminate gluten, eliminate sugar, eliminate taste and texture and you too can be clean on the inside.
The messages are so complicated, so contradictory, so divisional, so emotional, that every bite of food we take becomes our dirty little secret.
We eat to exist. It’s an instinctive act that’s become shameful, confusing and far more complicated than it should be. So, how do we get back to instinct and just goddamn eat? How do we re-train our brains when we’ve been taught that every meal comes with a side-dish of emotion?
1.Deprivation is Futile
Don’t deprive yourself from something you want, because you are guaranteed to obsess about that thing to the point where when you finally get your hands on it, you’ll binge, and that means dealing with the cyclical emotional rollercoaster that a binge brings.
Instead of avoiding something altogether, just exercise moderation as to how you consume it.
2. Moderation and balance
And on that note of moderation, just apply a bit of common sense to your food intake so you’re consistent across food groups. So, you’ve eaten some sugar today. That’s fine. Don’t go crazy on it… have you also eaten some vegetables, grains and protein?
3. Take Responsibility
You’re not stupid. You know what’s processed and what’s not. You know what’s going to cause a spike and then a slump of energy. You know what gives you tummy ache. Take responsibility for what you put in your mouth. Care about your body, the vehicle that keeps you alive, and nourish it thoughtfully.
4. IF YOU’RE GOING TO EAT IT, THEN EAT IT!
If you’re going to eat something, then make peace with that. Then eat the thing you’ve decided to eat, and enjoy the experience. Whether it’s a crunchy carrot, some salty bacon, a gooey brownie or a juicy strawberry, it doesn’t matter. Think about it before you reach for it, and think about why you’re eating it. Because it tastes nice? You’re hungry? You’re bored? The first step is absolutely to be aware of why you’re about to eat what you’re about to eat.
5. Eat Consciously
When you eat it, do so mindfully. Taste it, touch it, smell it and feel it in your mouth. This is how we teach babies to eat solid food, and as soon as we can read how bad everything is, we forget the instinctive pleasure of food that we learn as infants. Pay attention to what’s you’re eating. Enjoy the juciness or crumbliness or chewiness. Don’t get distracted from the food in your mouth by counting it’s calories or wondering what you’ll have to do later to repent.
6.Listen to Your Body
When you’ve eaten something, sit with the feeling of digesting it. Remember what you ate, and just really tune into your belly and see how it reacts over the course of the next hour, or maybe two. Do you get bloated or uncomfortable? Do you feel sated? Do you crave more of the same thing? You can tell a lot about what you want versus what you need by doing this little exercise after every meal for a week.
At the end of the day, you need to eat to survive. And it can also be intensely pleasurable, if you let it. So why the hell would you make an act of survival such an all-consuming, guilt-inducing, confusing, minefield?
Nourish your body. Show it respect and care. And if you’ve made the conscious decision that you’re going to eat something, then JUST EAT IT. Eat without shame, and try your best to enjoy the pleasure of eating while wholly immersing yourself in the experience.