You want to cut out gluten, dairy, or sugar? Relationship With Food.
You want to lose 10, 20, or 100 pounds? Relationship With Food.
You want to eat more vegetables? Relationship With Food.
You want to stick to that diet everyone is talking about? Relationship With Food.
No matter what change you want to create, if you would like to change your eating permanently it is time to take a look at your Relationship With Food.
In other words, what are your beliefs about food? What do you consider to be good and bad? What triggers negative self-talk and what triggers self-approval? Sustaining change will be much more efficient and accessible if we peel back the layers and take steps toward unlearning and relearning our individual food beliefs. Let’s get started.
Aside from nutrition, energy, and physiological fullness, what does food do for you?
First, let’s identify your slippery slopes with food. Keep in mind that some categories overlap with each other and take note of what applies to you:
For many of us, food may do a little bit of everything and become a universal coping strategy. Many of us find ourselves using food to cope daily. We are not failures because we fell into the easy, accessible lure of food-related coping. And, no matter how daunting the task may seem, we can ALL pull ourselves out of unhelpful habits (yes, even you!).
For this next step, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE ANY BIG CHANGES! Instead, I suggest you insert a few pauses and observe yourself.
Pause for 30 seconds or more:
During Pauses, and in general, focus on the following questions or whatever feels helpful:
During the process, many of us will notice labels of good/bad, unhealthy/healthy spinning in our minds as we judge ourselves and the food we are eating. Notice this. Is there space to observe as though you are a scientist? You are here to collect information not to praise or condemn your behavior.
Journaling about your experience during this step is highly recommended. One helpful process is getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable as you face your relationship with food. We need to learn how to endure the emotional pain that accompanies self-judgment while also inviting a gentle inner perspective.
(P.S. You are worthy and capable regardless of what you’re eating, how much you weigh, or what you’re struggling with).
The magic question: What can I do to cope effectively without food?
Well, there are various approaches. My favorite is to insert new coping strategies or exploration strategies into life, into our routines, BEFORE we make any life-altering diet changes. Here are some coping strategies/routines to try out:
There are so many coping strategies and routines that may be helpful; it is impossible to cover everything. Educate yourself with other options. Watch documentaries, work with a therapist, read blogs by people with similar goals/values. More than likely, this process takes experimentation and customization. Adjust your expectations--a quick & painless fix is unlikely to exist (and, it is helpful to grieve the loss of the quick & painless fix to promote acceptance).
From here, begin making the changes you imagine could be helpful. Some people like to make all the changes at once, while others benefit from focusing on one behavior at a time (e.g. eating a protein-rich breakfast while waiting to change other meals).
Sustaining change is not usually easy, and it is never perfect. If you have any perfectionistic tendencies, this is the time to challenge unrealistic expectations and acknowledge the complexity of what you are working toward. Changing our diet requires so much effort and a reorganization of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It takes time.
Most importantly, what are you changing for? Sustainable change will be more effective if you take this deeper. Get layered with this. “I want to be thinner” is only one layer of how changing your diet can change your life.
Even if your appearance stayed the same, what other benefits do you see?
Return to step one. How can you get your needs met more deeply instead of using food as a temporary fix? Disrupting maladaptive coping and implementing adaptive coping will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Return to step two. What has self-observation revealed about how you feel when eating your current diet? Are you sluggish? Does dairy make you gassy and groggy? Do raw nuts seem to lead to headaches? Does tomato sauce give you heartburn? Does nighttime snacking disrupt your sleep? Alternatively, which foods make you feel energized and light?
Keep in mind: acceptance leads to change. Take the leap to accepting where you are at and you will find that change flows from there.