Eating Is Not The Enemy: Repairing Your Relationship With Food

By Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP

Many women have a rocky relationship with food – almost as complicated as their relationships with other people. We often personify food, holding it up as a hero or villain. Add to that the fact that women have been conditioned to believe that some foods we need (like healthy fats) are to be avoided at all costs, and the issue becomes even more complex.

As women struggle with their ideas about food, we are realizing more every day that nutrition is our best chance at being healthy. Food provides information to every cell in our bodies. And the information a cookie provides is vastly different than the message broccoli sends. The phytonutrients in plants provide positive data to the DNA in our cells, which makes a difference in our skin, hair, nails, energy levels, and overall long term health.

Understanding this is the key to making changes. It’s time to stop feeling guilt about eating, and start learning how to enjoy it. Changing the way you feel about food will take time. Try thinking of food as a friend and mentor, and it just might become one of the best friends you’ve ever had. You don’t have to do it alone – we are here to support you in the path to a new relationship with healthy, whole foods. Let’s start with a few tips to help you love what you are eating – and yourself for making healthy choices!

  • Create new traditions. Many of our habits are born out of family tradition or cultural norms. And so many of these center around unhealthy foods. Baking with children or grandchildren is great fun, but it’s really the feeling of togetherness that we love. You can bake a healthy treat and enjoy the same quality time with family. Or start a new family tradition – go for a hike, pick apples, or volunteer to help others.
  • Try the “cookie experiment”. Experience the different messages different foods send to your body. For a 3 o’clock snack one day, eat a cookie. Write down how you feel – satisfaction levels, cravings, and energy – for the next 3 hours. The next day, eat an apple and some cheese, or carrots with guacamole, at 3 o’clock. Again, write how you feel over the next 3 hours. Compare your observations, and keep the difference in mind next time you reach for a quick sugar fix.
  • Don’t make food your “fix”. Dr. Pam Peeke, author of The Hunger Fix says that we all have a fix, “an entrenched habit that’s so comfortable, it feels like a hug or an island of calm.” For many women this fix is some type of food, but it doesn’t need to be. Peeke recommends finding “healthy fixes” that are “productive, positive habits associated with feelings of pride, happiness and achievement.” For you, this might be yoga, hiking, running, dancing, playing a game with your children or grandchildren, painting or drawing, or making something – a craft or even a healthy meal or snack. There are so many options available – choose a couple and turn to them when you need comfort, instead of turning to the cupboards for an unhealthy snack.
  • Hit the pause button. Often, eating isn’t about hunger at all. You might be bored, stressed, or on emotional overload. Colette Baron-Reid, author of Weight Loss for People Who Feel Too Much, discusses the complex emotional reasons people eat. “We turn to food to feel grounded in our own physicality, separate from the confusing jumble of emotions we’re experiencing,” she writes. Though it isn’t easy, the key is to find new ways to get yourself grounded quickly. A few deep breaths or a quick visualization of something you love can help get you there. Then you can make a real choice. You can discover what you are really craving – maybe sleep, comfort, or love – instead of defaulting to food.
  • Eliminate Temptation. If you have trouble resisting a bag of potato chips, don’t keep them in the house. Avoid the grocery store if you are in a tough place emotionally – wait until you are feeling better, and you’ll be far more prepared to leave the cookies on the shelf.
  • Take your time. Even when you find yourself needing to eat by yourself or on the go take a few moments to really experience and enjoy the food. Sit in the sunshine, eat slowly and pay attention to each bite. Enjoy the smell, texture, and taste of your food rather than rushing through the experience. You will feel much more satisfied when you are finished.
  • Embrace Cooking. It’s not as scary as it might sound to cook with fresh ingredients. You are worth the time it takes to prepare a delicious meal packed with seasonal vegetables. Spend a little time choosing great recipes, planning your meals, shopping, cutting and preparing the food. Allowing yourself to experience the food from store (or even better, farm) to table can help you appreciate what you are eating so much more.

Taking the time to build new habits, find new recipes and create new traditions isn’t always easy.  But you are worth it! Putting great things into your body will help you love it more – inside and out!

References:

Baron-Reid, C. 2013. Weight Loss for People Who Feel Too Much. Harmony Books, p. 28.

Mayo Clinic Staff, Gain Control of Your Emotional Eating. 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342

Peeke, P. 2012. Are you caught up in a cycle of emotional eating? Prevention, 61-66. URL: http://www.drpeeke.com/data/files/ PVWI12_HUNGER_FIX.pdf.