Is following the latest diet trends and being overly careful about what you put in your mouth the best approach to eating and self-care?
I often feel that my clients know more about nutrition than I do. And most probably, it is true. Many of them spent the last 10, 20, 30 or more years following the latest wellness trends, seeking the "best" or the "healthiest" way to eat or to lose weight, learning about various supplements, nutrients and ways how to manipulate their body to "perform or look" their best. But does this mean they have a healthy relationship with food?
What even is a healthy relationship with food?
Is it eating only healthy foods, omitting everything that is not "good" for you or labelled as junk food? Does it mean being overly conscious of every bite you take in order to take better "care" for your health despite how you enjoy what you eat? Or is it following the best advice from experts that has been "proven" to help many others without a consideration how does that make you feel?
You see, I used a lot of "quotations" to bring awareness to the languaging that is nowadays often used in correlation to "healthy eating" or healthy "lifestyle."
We don't use the word diets anymore. Now we are following rather wellness lifestyles such as keto or intermittent fasting or stocking up our pantries with protein powered, superfoods and promising eternal health and better weight management. We are becoming overly conscious of every bite we take and living in omnipresent fear of taking one wrong or extra bite that would ruin all the effort.
But is this type of obsession healthy? Is this chase after the "perfect" diet (ok, I will stop with those quotes now) really making your life better, easier, healthier, or is it actually causing more harm than good? I see women living with the guilt of not trying hard enough and fearing they will gain more weight if they let themselves loose.
The problem lies in our way of perceiving eating in an All-or-nothing manner; we feel like if we don't get it right, we are getting it wrong. So, therefore, if we don't eat only good food, we are bad, and therefore we don't care for our health enough.
We live on the pendulum swing, swinging from one extreme to the other because not one person can sustain extreme life permanently and will eventually swing into the other extreme to compensate or rebel against strict rules.
I am talking about binge eating, emotional eating but also about overeating and stress eating. They are all on the other side of the pendulum.
And If we will keep this pendulum swinging for long enough, we might even reach as far as eating disorders and mental health problems.
Let's stop this swinging and see what actually is a healthy relationship with food.
You may ask if you will simply eat what you like will you end up eating only chocolate, chips and cookies because this is all that you want right now. So what's healthy about that?
You see, you feel like eating only these types of food because you are currently on the one side of the see-saw. You know they are "not allowed" or "bad" for you (I am doing it again, am I), and therefore you can eat them only if you have a good reason to do so or if you swing to the other side because you already f* it up so what does it matter now.
The truth is that all these foods, those you label as healthy and unhealthy, all those superfoods and junk foods, all those yummy treats and detox juices, are all living side by side in the middle of the swing. They are all hanging out together in one big melting pot in the middle of this pendulum swing, and when you stop swinging from one side to the other, you will find that you always have a choice, but you also can choose whatever you wish anytime you wish at any amount you want to.
That will take away the emotional charge from those foods, either bad or good, and what you will be left out is food, that you like or that you dislike. So that's the time when you can finally choose based on what feels good. Based on what you want to or like to eat at that given time instead of shoulds' and shouldn'ts'.
You will be able to decide if you want to have ice cream for dinner as your main meal or if it would feel better to have it as a dessert. You could choose to have poached eggs with bread for breakfast or pizza for lunch because that is what feels good for you. But you could also choose a nice salad because that is what would make you feel better in the heat of the day or soup to warm yourself up from the outside chill.
But how you can stop swinging from one side to the other when you have been doing it for way too long and are afraid that you will get stuck on the "unhealthy" side of the swing forever.
First of all, look how we got you swinging so high in the first place.
And that's where intuitive eating therapy comes in. Looking at where you started and working in retrospective, unlearning habits that constrict you and keep your pendulum swinging and creating a new flowy flexible way of living that is based on your communication with your body and your mind rather than following rules and guidelines for the rest of your life.
Looking where you've started with the first simple diet; possibly just wanted to fit in some dress at high school or after your first baby. And you initiated the subtle, gentle swing. The second time you tried to lose weight, you add another rule, the third time you tried a different approach, and now you are swinging nicely from one side to the other. Every new diet, new "healthy trend" that applies a new rule to your eating such as "carbs are bad", "no more food past 6 pm", "no food before 2 pm", "eat less and workout more" will also give your swing the power to reach higher and higher. And soon before you know, you are swigning like a pro, from diet to binge.
But in all that speed, you barely notice going through that middle ground, where you are actually happy. You forgot how it is just to just enjoy food, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. It became a fainted memory and a desperate wish.
How to find your balance.
It might feel impossible to stop swinging; there is too much force and too many rules to keep you in motion. So how you can stop and settle nicely in the middle? The same way as you started, take down the rules one by one and gently slow down until you are steadily cruising in the middle.
One at a time.
That's how you will be able to nurture yourself back into a healthy relationship with food where all food is allowed, but not all food is preferred.
You'll get to decide based on your hunger and fullness cues when to eat and when to stop, and based on your personal preferences, what food will satisfy you and brings pleasure and joy from consuming it.
Food is more than a tool to an excellent looking body. More than a way how to keep yourself healthy. Food is a connection. Food is love, food is care, food helps us feel better, and food helps us create memories.
But food can be scary and can hurt us when we live on the edges of our pendulum swing.
Today, an unhealthy relationship with food is widely accepted as a norm and not seen as something that could cause severe physical and mental health problems. After all, we all eat unhealthily sometimes, don't we? So as long as you'll try hard to be good, there is nothing wrong with it.
In my opinion, the risks from an unhealthy relationship with food are underestimated and often overlooked.
What we perceive as unhealthy relationship food could be eating sweets or junk food or having a second helping of a dessert. But what indeed is an unhealthy relationship with food is about something else. It's the always present fear of every bite you take, an obsession to get it "right" every time, the anxiety that feeds from constantly checking the scale and how our clothes fit. All lead us into the vicious cycle of dieting and food restrictions linked with enormous stress, guilt, and weight cycling.
It's important to say that it's not just food rules that keep our pendulum swinging but also trauma we can carry through life that harms our relationship with food and our body.