Updated: Mar 15, 2021
The way we eat says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and what we eat plays a vital role in the relationship we forge with our beautiful selves. Given this, it's no wonder that many of us have a complicated relationship with food! We're inundated with advertisements depicting impossible bodies and being told that the only way to obtain our "dream bodies" is to get on this restrictive diet or partake in that obsessive fitness fad. We see the 'it girl' on our favourite TV show gorging on hamburgers and pizza while staying supermodel thin and we think there's something wrong with us when our body doesn't react the same way.
But the truth is, most of us know how to live healthily by eating sensibly and exercising regularly. Of course that will look different for each of us and just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's easy. But we're never going to find the answers in crash diets or at the bottom of a bag of potato chips.
It turns out that self-love is at the root of a healthy diet. When we take better care of ourselves, we're less likely to binge eat. It makes sense: they call it emotional eating for a reason and if our emotions are relatively balanced, we probably won't engage in this kind of behaviour (you can learn more about this in my blog 12 Tips to Kick Emotional Eating for Good). But studies show that if we're burnt out or not sleeping well, we're more likely to reach for a bag of cookies to soothe our frazzled minds.
Does it work?
Of course not; we end up feeling sick and guilty. And it can feel like an impossible cycle to break.
There's a cyclical pattern between self-love, our emotional well-being, and the way we eat. How we feel affects what and how much we eat and in turn, what and how much we eat affects how we feel. It's no exaggeration that we are what we eat. Food is fuel for our bodies and the building blocks for our cells, but it also affects us on a mental and emotional level. You might find that some foods cause you to feel vibrant and energized while others leave you sluggish and foggy. Or perhaps you haven't made much of a connection between what you eat and how you feel, but I promise the more you tune into your body and pay attention to your diet, the more clear these connections become.
Most of us eat for many reasons other than sustaining our bodies. We eat for pleasure or comfort. We eat to celebrate or to grieve. We eat to numb ourselves or to savour a tantalizing flavour. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these reasons for eating, but it means that over time most of us have disconnected with our natural hunger. Becoming more mindful about what we eat can be as simple as slowing down, chewing thoroughly, and savouring each bite.
My journey to clean up the way I eat started about 11 years ago when I started my holistic nutrition studies. It hasn’t been a complete linear journey to say the least. I’ve taken my eating from one extreme to another. I initially restricted my diet to orthorexia nervosa extremes, wasted away to 105 lbs, and depleted my hormonal functions in the process. I then bounced to cycles of emotionally eating my way through a bag of chips, large chocolate bars, tubs of ice cream and gained 20 lbs. Today, I have a healthy balance where I primarily eat whole, natural and nutrient dense foods and when I don’t it’s because I have made a conscious choice not to so I don’t feel guilty about it.
Rather than feeling restricted by a healthy diet that goes to extremes, modifying the way I eat has introduced me to a ton of new foods. My diet is much more diverse now and over time my palate has changed immensely. Foods I used to love, especially candy, now taste artificial and sickeningly sweet. I still eat dessert, but now I generally prefer dark chocolate or a whole food, vegan recipe.
And when I do decide to indulge in a decadent slice of cake or over-the-top chocolate treat, I try to make sure it's the best possible quality. I savour every bite and don't make myself feel bad about it.
Some people decide to give up certain unhealthy foods completely or to eat 100% clean all of the time. I don't tend to be that restrictive (anymore). But it's all about figuring out the balance that works for you. Everyone's different and no one knows your body as well as you do. See what feels good for you and remember that even if you decide to set some rules, they don't have to be set in stone.
So, how can you too create a more loving relationship with food? I have eleven tips for you:
1. Focus on adding things in, rather than subtracting.
Do you ever find that when you tell yourself I can't have something, you generally want it even more. Instead of denying yourself, think about what healthy additions you can make to your diet. Adding 2 litres of water, a green smoothie, and large salad to your daily routine will do wonders for the way you feel, but start with whatever feels comfortable. You might feel inspired to make more healthy changes and over time your cravings will start to change.
2. Go on an elimination diet or do a total body clean up cleanse.
If you suspect you might have a food intolerance, experiment by not eating gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, fast food, or alcohol for 23 days. Or you can do a cleanse/full body reset for as little as seven days to boost your energy, reduce cortisol caused by elevated stress levels and in return burn more fat! Not sure where to get started? Contact me so we can discuss. I have a full programs that can guide you through it.
3. Keep a food diary.
Many of us are in denial about what and how much we're eating. Those 'occasional treats' might not be so occasional. Keeping track of everything you eat and how you feel afterwards, even just for a few days, will help you get a better picture of what your diet really looks like and how it's affecting you. To keep myself on track, I use MyFitnessPal.
4. Eat things you already like.
Trying to eat healthier doesn't mean you have to force yourself to eat kale if you hate it and you don't need to stock up on every superfood on the planet. Focus on eating more of the healthy foods you already enjoy and add in new things when and if you feel like it.
5. Choose your treats wisely.
Make them worth it. I used to mindlessly mow my way through milk chocolate bars, but now I much prefer a beautiful handmade dessert or a small piece of expensive dark chocolate. They're more satisfying so I eat less of them and even though they're not technically healthy, they're made with real ingredients rather than a lot of processed garbage, so I don't end up feeling ill after eating them.
6. Write your food philosophy.
Getting my thoughts down on paper is the easiest way for me to get clear on how I really feel about something so that I can tune out all of the garbage that my inner mean girl wants to throw at me. Write out a manifesto of everything you believe about food and eating and how you want that to manifest in your own life.
7. Replace your "trigger foods" with a healthier alternative. I can't be trusted around a tub of Sea Salt Caramel ice cream. I either have to forgo it altogether or accept that I'll eat the whole tub, which usually makes me feel ill. Instead, I opt for my homemade banana protein soft serve recipe (it’s on my blog at www.soulignited.ca) without that awful overly full, sick to my stomach feeling.
8. Plan your meals. I don't do this religiously, but when I find I'm slipping with my food choices, it's the first thing I do to get back on track. Having a plan for the week makes it easy to stick with eating foods I love, that also love me back.
9. Change your thoughts. Often we rationalize eating unhealthy food choices by saying that we don't have time for something healthier or we berate ourselves for having a treat. Try thinking about food differently. You could choose a mantra like, "Food is the fuel that helps me thrive." And when you eat something less healthy, make it a conscious choice and tell yourself that it's a pleasure you're choosing, not something to feel guilty about.
10. Clear out your cupboards. If there are foods you're trying to avoid or you're trying to makeover your diet, remove the temptation and make room for all of the awesome, delicious foods you do want to eat.
11. Fall in love with food. Self-love is all about romancing yourself, but it's easy for food to become habitual and for cooking new dishes to feel like a chore. Allow yourself to really enjoy food and create rituals around eating that make you feel good. Visit a weekly farmers' market to buy your vegetables. Challenge yourself to try one new recipe each week. Take yourself on a date to a restaurant you've been meaning to try. Plan a dinner party and invite your favourite people. Try a vegetable you've never eaten before. Make food fun and take the time to really enjoy it.
The ideas I’ve shared here are all things that have worked for me, but you might have other ideas. I'd love for you to share them in Say Goodbye to Your Inner Mean Girl Facebook group! Join me there today!
And remember that there are times on any self-love journey that we're going to need to ask for help. If you're struggling with an eating disorder, it's unlikely that you'll be able to deal with it all on your own. And you shouldn't have to! Confide in a friend. Enrol in counselling. But please, please, please don't suffer in silence.
We're all at different places on our self-love journey and no two people are going to have the same relationship with food. If there are changes you want to make, just take a small step that feels good for you. And if you need help with those habit changes, contact me today. I can help!