What is Food?
In the simplest of terms, food is a substance ingested to provide sustenance to the body in the form of energy and/or nutrients. Whether we realize it or not, each of us has our own way of defining food above and beyond its simple definition. How we define foods impacts our relationship with food. This relationship is unique to us, is in constant fluctuation and evolves with our lives. It's never simple or black and white. If our relationship with food were simple than there would be no "yo-yo dieting", no "diet industry", no "crash diets" and no "weight loss pills". Why? Because we would simply eat to provide our bodies with energy and nutrients without anything else playing a role in what we eat (or don't eat).
- Socialization. Something that is shared with family and friends while gathered around a table.
- Comfort. Many break-ups have been 'cured" by a slice of cake (or two).
- Inspiring. Seeing a plate filled with a thoughtful, locally-produced meal can promote change.
- Energy. A marathoner will consider their plate of pasta as fuel for their next 3 hour run.
- Nurturing. Think of your Grandmother's classic lasagna.
- Controlled. Every calorie counted. Every morsel of food thoroughly considered and measured.
- Punishment. The "I hate myself" (or "I'm stupid", "I'm fat", "I'm a failure" etc...) mentality has certainly pushed a few too many to polish off a meal meant for two.
- Confusing. If you can't keep up with all of the diet-fads and nutritional claims out there today, trust me you're not alone. "Eat this." "Don't eat that." "Detox your liver." "Avoid saturated fats." "Eat ALL the fats." "No carbs past 3 pm."
Do you see yourself in a few of these definitions? Maybe you have some of your own. We might even be a mix of different definitions throughout the week or month. Some of us start Monday with a controlled relationship with food and end with a "treat yo self" mentality by the weekend. Some of us are stuck in a punishment type relationship without even realizing it. Some of us are in a mouse wheel, scrambling from one diet fad to the next.
This is something that I've certainly thought a lot about. I've had to face a lot of these definitions and food relationships with various clients. Some of whom don't even realize that it's something their struggling with. I've found a few steps that I use and encourage with my clients to help them build a better relationship with food.
6 Steps to a Better Relationship with Food
1. Learn your food definitions
You'll be hard pressed to think of all of the ways that you define food, but try to work at becoming aware of them. The next time that you're face planting a slice of cake, ask yourself WHY? The next time that you have a carefully plotted meal of chicken and broccoli in front of you, ask yourself WHY? When you figure out your why than you can work to improve on what you're doing. A late night binge: do you need more food throughout the day? A bag of chips at work: do you need more energy-filled meals? A tub of ice cream after a "rough day": do you need better coping mechanisms?
The sooner that you can find the various ways that you define food the better. Don't stay oblivious to them. This is not the time for an "out of sight out of mind" mentality. You need to face your definitions head on.
2. Choose nutrition
This is one of the next places I like to start. Instead of throwing ourselves as quantities, portions and/or macros I like to instead encourage choosing foods that provide you with nutrition. Every food item that you eat is an opportunity to not only provide your body with the macronutrients that it needs, but also the micronutrients.
Take a look at the comparison of these two days. There is a difference in the quality of the food being eaten and therefore a difference in the nutrients being provided to the body. Food is your body's source for nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are used for sustaining life, promoting growth and repair, strengthening our immune system and allowing proper functioning of our nervous system (just to name a few!).
Choose foods based off of the nutrients that they provide your body. Aim for natural and as minimally-processed as possible.
3. Mindful eating
This is what then allows you to learn more about your body and the quantities of food that it needs. Mindful eating is a movement of sorts that includes many different aspects of food consumption. It encourages us to be aware of the relationship that we currently have with food and our reactions to food (helps to know your definitions!). This includes listening to our built-in cues that tell us what to eat and also when to stop eating.
Here is an example:
Ever noticed that when you sit down at a table to eat dinner you are far more satisfied than when you've eaten out of a Tupperware container while running around? I have! Being aware of this can help us create change.
Mindful eating takes things a step further and also takes into consideration choosing more sustainable food sources as well as global food security. You can find plenty of resources on this one with a quick Google search.
4. Get active
I'm not even going to tell you go to the gym. Just start moving. Take the stairs, go for a walk, ride your bike, hold a plank and do some squats on commercial breaks. The world of movement is your oyster! Why am I asking you to get active? Physical activity not only changes how your body uses nutrients, but also helps your body make better use of the nutrients. Physical activity has also been linked to improved mental health and confidence, which will help with improving our relationship with food. Physical activity may be the difference between you having a handful of chips or finishing off the bag.
5. Skip the cheat
Say buh-bye to cheat meals! "But! So-and-so lost 50 lbs and SHE had cheat meals" - yes, I know. Cheat meals can work, because well, science. There are scientific reasons (hello leptin!) for the cheat meals and that's what all cheat meal supporters are going to rely on to convince you to incorporate cheat meals. Here's the thing...
Cheat meals have a dark side.
Here is what I want to know: How is she doing now? Has she kept the weight off? What is her current relationship with food? Is food still something to be controlled and measured throughout the week and then gorged on for a meal on the weekend?
The truth is cheat meals can create a vicious cycle of eating insanely "clean" for the week and then binge eating for the weekend cheat meal. Want to know why people always post their cheat meal? They're obsessed. They can't stop thinking about their next cheat meal all week as they gnaw on raw broccoli. Everything they do (cardio, lift weights, eat broccoli etc.) is done in hopes of "earning" their next cheat meal. And if they don't? Watch out for a nasty cycle of restriction and binge eating to commence. The worst part? Everyone is doing it so it's "normal".
This is a topic I could absolutely write a whole blog post about. I'll consider it. For right now, do this: follow steps 1-5 and when you want a treat...HAVE THE DAMN TREAT.
6. Cut the guilt
Oh, the guilt. I've heard some people encourage others to "eat really bad" for a weekend that way they would feel guilty enough to then follow their meal plan. Oh brother! That sounds like you'll get sustainable results...naaawwttt.
Stop viewing food as "good" and "bad". Stop punishing yourself for a meal that "shouldn't have happened". You need to learn to move on. I repeat. Move on. You're going to make 100 "mistakes" in your lifetime when it comes to eating. The sooner you get over it the better.
You ate it. It's over with. MOVE ON.
The Journey Is Forever
Your relationship with food will constantly be affected by what you read in a magazine, what you see posted on Instagram and perhaps even those that surround you. Choosing to embark on a journey to an improved relationship with food needs to be met with patience and self-respect. Realize that you're not going to have all of the answers today and you're not going to be 'all better" by tomorrow. It requires time...a lifetime. Find what works for you and stick to it. I'm here when you need it!
Thanks for stopping by and reading. Hope you enjoyed the read! Feel free to comment and/or share.