"I've worked through so much, everything else in my life is so great now, but ugh.. food (or weight/body image/etc), that's the one area I can't seem to get under control."
How many times have you wondered or thought that? Do you struggle to figure out why everything else in your life is so great but you just can't get past the fight with food or your weight? You're not alone.
My life’s work is spent talking to people who have spent years (decades even) struggling with dieting, their weight and food. I see first hand the damage that's being done by control our food intake.
Whether it be for weight loss or attempts to eat just healthier -- so many of us are spending decades in that endless cycle of waking up every morning with the intention of "being good", controlling every morsel and eating perfectly according to someone else's definition of what's healthiest or best for our bodies.
And we always believe all their claims, don't we? All diets and rules.. they all claim the same thing. They're the answer to our everlasting perfect health, happiness and the perfect weight. If we just force ourselves to eat what they tell us to eat, and stop eating all the stuff they say is bad. They all do that.
They all claim they and they alone are the quick and easy answer to all our problems -- kill our cravings and carb addictions, heal our metabolisms, balance our hormones, insulin, microbiomes, etc, etc etc. Don't worry, they'll tell us exactly what to eat so we can achieve magic state of perfect health and being... and we won't even have to think!
How awesome is that?! I even used to be one of the people saying it -- because I believed it. In some ways I still do. I still believe eating balanced meals of whole, unprocessed foods is, in a perfect world, the "best" way to eat for most people. And like I did, most people who are trying to give their best weight loss or healthy advice have the best of intentions.
I saw how much better I looked and felt (physically) when I was "good" and ate "perfect" -- when I was strictly adhering to the rules and eating several meticulously "clean", balanced meals everyday. And when it was completely destroying me mentally, I thought it was just me. It was just my fault I was screwing up and couldn't stick to it because I was weak and pathetic. I thought.
But I don't anymore and I don't believe anyone should ever be telling anyone else what to eat anymore because well for one, no one can even agree and their rules keep changing. The nutrition world is full of insanity, misinformation and experts all arguing with each other over who is right and who has the most perfect study to back up their claim.
It's INSANITY that we have to stop getting sucked into.
Because I've seen the damage it's doing to almost everyone who gets those messages and why it's causing that damage.
At first, I thought it was just me that it was destroying mentally, but then I started noticing the same patterns in almost everyone else. Perhaps not to the degree of full blown eating disorders like me, but it's creating some very disordered eating patterns and messed up relationships with ourselves and food, in a huge majority of people, nonetheless. Because that's the message we're getting isn't it? That happiness, a healthy body and feeling better about ourselves is always just the next miracle diet away. If only we could just be good and stick to them.
But ...that's if we were ever able to actually stick to any of them -- which we almost never can. (Click here for more on why you struggle to stick to diets, it's actually not your fault.)
And everyone else always knows better than we do, what our own bodies need and what we're supposed to feed them. Heaven forbid we trust ourselves to decide.
I get it because I lived it, too.
But we don't even realize, that's all a huge part of the problem. I know I keep harping on this but I will never stop shouting this from the rooftops until food rules are dead.
The diets, food rules and restrictions -- they're teaching us to not trust ourselves. And how can you have a good relationship with yourself if you don’t trust yourself?
Food is one of the most complicated and intrapersonal relationships we have with ourselves. Like air and water, food is literally life giving and the decision over what we put in our bodies is one of the only things in our lives over which we, and we alone, have complete control.
So if we don’t trust ourselves to make this most basic life choice for ourselves everyday, how do we trust ourselves with anything?
And how can you have a good relationship with yourself if you don't trust yourself and if you're always judging yourself for "screwing up" and eating "bad" things? I know, I ask annoying questions. I get that a lot. ;)
I was hospitalized for bulimia at one point in my life -- basically, because I couldn’t stop eating. I’m not kidding. I was literally put in the hospital to have my food consumption controlled because I got so bad that my therapist determined, I couldn’t be trusted alone with food for awhile. I mean, perhaps he had more clinical reasons for admitting me but that to me, was exactly how it felt.
And I cannot even begin to express how damaging that was to my relationship with myself… one that was already pretty destructive, I might add. I mean, it’s been over a decade and that paragraph is the most I’ve ever even talked about being hospitalized.
Do you know how it made me feel? Weak, pathetic, stupid, completely untrusting of myself and my own ability to make this most basic of human decisions for myself -- and DEEPLY shameful. I mean, I couldn’t even feed myself! What kind of stupid, horrible person can’t even be trusted to feed themselves?
That’s a bit of an over the top example to drive the point home but I’d be willing to bet you know exactly how it made me feel about myself. I'd be willing to bet you’ve felt all those same things, on some level, at some point.
Isn’t that exactly how we all feel whenever someone else tells us what we’re “supposed” to be eating to fix our “weight problem” or “get healthy” but we keep “screwing up” and eating things that makes us feel terrible?
Getting hospitalized magnified all those emotions by about a thousand for me but all those things are what we all feel, even if just it’s a result of “falling off track” again for the hundredth time because it sends us the same message, every time we “screw up”.
Why am I so weak and stupid that I can't just eat what I'm supposed to eat and stop eating bad stuff? We think.
I’m so stupid, why’d I do that again? I feel like crap now, why do I keep screwing up & doing this to myself? I’m such an idiot. We think.
We spend our lives searching for things (diets, jobs, relationships, enlightenment, etc) to make us happy/feel better about ourselves but no matter how many different areas of our lives we feel like we “master” or “heal” or “fix” or whatever… there’s always this one nagging area that we still struggle with and just can’t figure out why…
I’ve really gotten to a good place in my life with everything, it’s just this food thing… I just can’t seem to manage that and don’t understand why.
Here's why: Because no matter what else you master in your life, if you’re still falling prey to food labels, rules and restrictions in an attempt to “eat healthy” or “lose weight” you are setting yourself up for failure, setting yourself up for continuing to “cave” (read this to learn why) and eat “bad” things and you’re setting yourself up for continuing to feel shame over all of it (read this for more on food shame)
But you don't even realize it because that’s what we think we're “supposed” to be doing. We’re “supposed” to be eating "right" ...to be eating "good" things and not eating those "bad" things, right?!
I think this is especially true for those of us in the health/wellness helping industries because we feel like we’re supposed to be perfect. We feel like we’re supposed to be the epitome of mental and physical health, healthy eating, perfect body weight, etc. That makes us extra bad if we eat something bad or struggle with weight because gosh, what kind of example is that setting? How can we help other people if we’re still struggling with food?
Here's the thing though, food rules, restrictions, and judgments creates shame. Read more on that here.
And as long there is guilt and shame around food, there will always be a struggle.
No matter how much work you do to build a loving connection with yourself, if you’re following all that work with any amount of guilt, shame, judgement or distrust in yourself over what you put in your mouth (or weight, body, etc), you’re going to have a strained relationship with yourself.
And as long as you have a strained relationship with yourself, you’re going to have a strained relationship with food.
Pardon the pun, but they feed off each other.
Food rules, labels and restrictions destroy our relationship with food by creating cravings, obsessive thoughts, and auto-pilot eating as discussed in the ebook. Having a terrible relationship with food, damages our relationship with ourselves by creating the shame, guilt, distrust I already spoke of and outlined here. And to bring the cycle full circle, having an unhealthy relationship with ourselves further damages our relationship with food because when we have a terrible relationship with ourselves, we don’t WANT to make healthier food choices – we punish ourselves with food.
The two relationships are inextricably linked.
No matter how enlightened or perfect the rest of your life becomes, there will always be a nagging sense of distrust and shame bubbling under the surface and driving that dysfunctional relationship cycle as long as you're trying to adhere to someone else's food rules and aren't trusting yourself to make your own choices. Every hour you spend working on loving yourself gets instantly erased with one “you’re so stupid, why’d you screw up again and eat that? You were supposed to be good today.” thought over food or “god, I gotta hide this fat stomach” thought over your body.
Stop trying to follow food rules and someone else’s definition of what you should or shouldn’t be eating (or what size you're supposed to be for that matter). Connect with and listen to YOUR body so you learn to feed it what it wants and needs to feel its best. It’s really smart when you quiet all the outside food rules noise. Cognitive eating is designed to help with this process or feel free to contact me if this resonates with you and you need some help navigating it all.