When you have a problem with food, just the thought of eating can provoke fear and anxiety.
- ‘Is this the right amount of calories?’
- ‘Will I want to keep eating more and more if I have one?’
- ‘Is it healthy or clean enough?’
- ‘Will this food make me fat?’
- ‘Am I hungry enough to warrant eating this?’
Clients will sometimes say, ‘I wish I could eat a pill everyday that would provide the right number of calories, nutrients, everything my body needs, so I don’t have to think about eating anymore’.
You can understand why this may be so. Possibly eating doesn’t induce pleasure anymore (only elicit pleasure on the secret blow-out, which is heavily laden with guilt soon after).
What if you could possess this magic pill? Would it solve the problem and bring food and body happiness?
I wonder if the magic pill holds the same allure and promise as the fantasy perfect diet.
Perhaps it would never translate into a working reality? You might become bored? You might feel that you were missing out on a valuable part of living, as you brought your pill along to the birthday meal or family picnic?
Isn’t food meant to be about nourishment?
To be tasty and enjoyable?
To bring about pleasure and satisfaction?
To be about sharing and bonding with others?
I think of some of my own food memories - interwoven into the fabric of my life. These are memories that I would choose to keep.
- Large, gooey hot cross buns at Easter baked by my Grandmother
- Gorging on wild blackberries on the farm in autumn
- Sunday evening teas with cakes, cherry scones and coconut pyramids
- Fish and chips with tons of salt and vinegar after a happy day at the seaside
- Sticky, pink candyfloss at the fair
- Roast dinners with the family and with whoever is dropping by
- Celebratory birthday meals at favourite restaurants with loved ones
Of course, it hasn’t been all plain sailing. There are memories I would choose to let go of, when food anxiety preoccupied the moment and distracted from life.
It would feel a loss not to have these memories though. So how can you begin to feel at peace with food, letting go of the judgement and fears that hinder this relationship?
5 ways to finding your peace with food
1. Set aside time to plan, eat and think about the foods you would really like to eat. Make this a priority. Our lives often become so busy, that we eat on the run, miss meals or eat processed microwave dinners; because we make these choices when tired, frazzled and over-hungry. You can keep it very simple. If you feel overwhelmed, start with breakfast and concentrate on this first before you take the next step.
2. Work to let go of rules around food. The dieting mindset is incredibly powerful and will drive you to overeat as a backlash against deprivation. If you begin to allow foods in that you have previously forbidden, they will begin to lose their allure. This takes time, practice and patience to persevere with, but ultimately will bring greater food freedom.
3. Eat foods you actually like. Not only eating the ones that you feel you ‘should’ eat. Which textures and tastes appeal to you? Seek out quality flavours and enjoyment from food by making active choices. Try not to treat your body as a dustbin by mindlessly eating whatever is in front of you. You may fear that you will only eat cake or some other ‘bad food’ if you relax your rules. In reality, this effect is short-lived. As you tune into your body more, you will find that you don’t desire cake at every meal.
4. Sit down to eat. When you eat, do this slowly and mindfully. You will be more likely to enjoy the experience and gain true satisfaction. Eating on the run or at the cupboard door or in the car rarely brings the same gratification.
5. When you are not hungry but you want to eat, think about what it is that you need? Maybe you rely on food as your main source of pleasure? This is an easy trap to fall into when life is hectic. Perhaps you need to explore other ways of taking care of and being kind to yourself? This might take some experimentation and to begin with, nothing may seem as rewarding as food.
If you are reading this, feeling very stuck and hopeless in a negative relationship with food, this could be the time to seek out some support through counselling.