I want to eat grilled cheese.
But I should eat a salad…
…with no dressing.
Or, am I supposed to eat lots of dressing because fat’s good for you now?
There’s fat in grilled cheese.
Probably the wrong kind of fat though, right?
What if I had half a grilled cheese and a salad with no dressing?
But I really don’t want salad.
Why can’t I just want salad!?!?!
Sound familiar? This used to be the kind of conversation that went on in my head at least three times a day. And, I’m guess that this is the kind of conversation you’re having in your head pretty regularly too.
It’s exhausting, right?
For many of my clients, their relationship with food is a constant struggle. They worry about what they should be eating, what they shouldn’t be eating and how they’re going to stay on track.
Every birthday party and dinner out becomes fraught with anxiety around the temptations they’ll encounter that threaten to derail their hard work. They start diets on Monday, fall off the wagon on Friday and spend Sunday beating themselves up about it while reading about another diet.
If any of this is hitting home for you, here are three ways that you can begin to change the way you approach eating in order to finally find some peace with food.
Get Present and Listen
The most powerful tool you have at your disposal when it comes to sticking to a healthy approach to eating is mindfulness. Too often we eat without thinking. We eat in a rush while doing a million different things from working to driving to watching TV to scrolling through Facebook on our phones. Because of this, we miss all the cues that our bodies are giving us about what we should be eating and when we’ve had enough.
This means that you’re making choices about what to eat in autopilot, and when you’re making food choices in autopilot, you’re usually making bad choices.
So, before you eat, take a moment to connect with your breath and bring yourself back to the present moment. Then ask yourself a few questions. First, are you actually hungry? When we’re not being mindful we are very vulnerable to confusing other needs for hunger. For example, you may get the urge to eat, but turn inward and you find that what you really are is stressed, tired, bored or sad – physical, emotional and spiritual needs that food will never be able to truly satisfy.
If you inquire and find that you are indeed hungry or thirsty, think about what would best nourish your body right now. It’s probably not a soda or a bag or chips. Your brain may be nagging you for those foods, but if you really get quiet and listen, your body is likely asking for something else.
Eat from a Place of Love
When you’re regularly over-eating, or choosing foods that are devoid of nutritional value, you are not eating from a place of love. Those urges and cravings tend to come from a place of fear, worry, overwhelm, sadness, loneliness, anger or another feeling that you’re attempting to avoid or numb with food.
Instead, try to purposefully eat from a place of love – even if it feels awkward at first. When you find yourself thinking about what to eat for dinner or planning your meals for the week, come at it from a place of love.
Love for yourself and your incredible body that’s worked so hard for you every single day of your life.
Love for your future and all the amazing things you want to accomplish with your life.
Love for the people you cherish that you want to continue to show up for and connect with fully and completely.
When you begin to eat from a place of love, you automatically start to reach for the foods that will nourish your cells, fuel your spirit and enrich your life.
Let Go of the Meal
If you’ve spent much of your life fighting with food, you may have noticed that the fight doesn’t end once the meal is over. In many ways that’s just the beginning. After you eat a meal that you’re not proud of, you immediately start beating yourself up about how badly you feel, how weak you are, how you’ve failed (yet again) at staying on a diet.
Instead of obsessing about what you’ve just eaten – no matter what it was – try releasing it. Let it go. If it wasn’t a great choice, take a moment to objectively think about what went wrong. Were you eating when you weren’t hungry? If so, why? Were you mindlessly binging on food to address an emotional need? If so, what are you really craving and how might you fill that need next time with something other than food?
But that’s it. Once you’ve probed around in there a bit (carefully avoiding the negative self-talk), learn from that experience and then let it go. There is nothing to be gained from beating yourself up and every meal or snack is a new opportunity to make a better choice.
Eating shouldn’t be a battlefield. Food should be a pleasure, not a source of pain and anxiety. Work on using these three steps every time you eat and watch how they begin to ease and lighten your relationship with food.