There are unspoken messages around food that show up everywhere we look. Our relationship with food is constantly being reinforced or challenged, which is just one of the reasons it’s so hard to get healthy. For decades, we’ve been conditioned to believe that losing weight and learning to live a healthy lifestyle has to do with our food intake and exercise. It makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us that we aren’t disciplined or strong enough to stick with a program. But that’s because living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight has more to do with our minds and how we think rather than with what we eat and how much we exercise.
Learning what foods nourish us and how to move our bodies in a way that energizes us is part of the equation, but when we ONLY focus on that and don’t consider how our minds are affecting our results, we’ll find ourselves on the diet roller coaster. So, to really understand what it takes to be healthy, let’s explore our relationship with food.
Here are a few common food messages you might be familiar with:
● Clean plate club: You can’t leave the table until your plate is clean.
● Dessert is a prize: You don’t get dessert if you don’t eat your veggies or if
you are “bad”
● Forced social eating: It’s rude to not eat the host’s hostess’s food at a gathering.
● Comfort food: It speaks for itself.
These are only a few of the messages around food that keep us overconsuming and addicted to food. When it comes to being healthy, there is one message that really gets people stuck, and it’s the idea that food comforts negative emotions.
Because we grew up in a society that views emotions as weak, most of us have been programmed to not know how to deal with challenging emotions. If you think about it, we learned how to navigate our emotional space from our parents, and most of our parents were raised in a time where the emotional needs of children were understood even less than they are today. That means your parents probably never learned how to deal with challenging emotions either.
Most people know what to eat, but they can’t seem to keep themselves consistent. People know they should exercise, but somehow, they find themselves on the couch. Instead of getting curious about why we don’t follow through, we bully and shame ourselves. Does that inspire change? No!
The truth is, information isn’t enough. We need to be able to get curious and look within to grow our internal understanding of what drives us to act or not. Instead of judging yourself for not making the right food choices, get curious. What did that food provide for you emotionally? If it were a solution to a problem, what would that problem be?
Upgrade Your Relationship with Food
If you want a new experience, you will need to make different choices. Let me be clear, some of those choices might not look like anything on the outside, but maybe it involves asking yourself more questions and adding understanding to your relationship with yourself instead of judgment.
To start, you need to let go of what you think you know about diet culture and the hidden messages. Instead, get curious and be the author of your own food narrative. You have two missions:
Connect with your body signals
Learn to nourish ALL your body needs
This might sound weird, but bear with me. How do you know when you need to poop? Just think about it. I’m guessing you don’t count the number of calories you’ve consumed, cross reference it with your hydration, and divide by your overall sleep and stress to figure out you’ll need 15 minutes at 2 p.m. When you’ve got to go, you know!
Yet, when it comes to our food, that’s exactly what we do. We look at the clock and tell ourselves it’s time to eat. As soon as we’re done with one meal, we start dreaming of the next. A major factor that impacts weight loss and healthy living is overconsumption. One of the main reasons we overconsume is because we aren’t waiting for our natural body signals, or we have synced our hormonal system to falsely release to indicate we are hungry. When you eat at the same time every day, your body will automatically start to send hormonal signals to make you think you’re hungry because it’s used to getting food at that time of day. But what if you consume 2,500 calories at breakfast? You won’t need lunch in three hours, but your body still might signal to make you think you are hungry.
STEP 1: Recognize the physical signals your body sends
Learn to listen to your body for how it alerts you to different levels of hunger and fullness. See if you can explain what your physical signals are for:
● Light hunger
Then, learn to eat at hunger and stop at satisfied. It’s the physical signals that truly know when your body needs fuel, which is what food is intended to be. Get curious when you’re eating and try to notice the physical symptoms you feel. Maybe you notice a lighter feeling in your upper belly or a belly growl, but it’s the difference between the physical signals and mental signals that alert you to what your body truly needs.
STEP 2: Learn to nourish all your body needs
We have a diversity of needs ranging from fun to connection to relaxation. Another way of saying that is we have all different types of hungers, such as a hunger for fun, connection, or relaxation. The distinction is important, as we typically satisfy any need with food because we recognize it as a hunger.
Many of us weren’t taught how to respond and cope with our emotional range, so we go to food. We use it to calm us, to celebrate, to numb us, and more. If you want to learn to live a healthy lifestyle, you need to learn to nourish what your body is truly calling for, which means you need to listen.
Our emotions hold key insights to what needs nourishment. When we feel sad that might indicate we need time to heal, and if we feel angry, that’s an opportunity to look within to understand where we’re feeling misunderstood or where we feel resistance. Just as we are signaled to know when we need to relieve ourselves, we are also signaled to know when we need to nourish our emotional space as well. Instead of judging yourself, take time to get to know yourself and understand that you have all the power to upgrade and retrain your emotional system to support you instead of shame you.
There’s a great quote that reads, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Our body loves to automate anything and everything it can, so learning to be curious with your emotional space and your physical signaling will likely be challenging. But it is that challenge that will allow you to break your conditioning, upgrade your programming, and be healthy. It’s the resilience to work through the challenge that leads to the change.