Trying to heal your relationship with food can feel like a mammoth undertaking, especially if it’s been dysfunctional for as long as you can remember.
I try to keep it simple.
For me, it comes down to three things:
“Am I hungry?”
This is the best place to start and the question I always return to if I’m feeling confused about whether I really want to eat something or not. If the answer is “no” then forget it, do something else, but reassure yourself that you will eat as soon as you feel hungry enough. If the answer’s “I don’t know” then you’re probably not hungry and it’s OK to wait until you are.
If the answer is “yes”, are you hungry enough to eat, or do you need to get a bit hungrier? This is important because, in learning not to overeat, the bodily signal that you’ve had enough is your greatest ally. And your body can’t give you the signal to stop eating if it didn’t give you the signal to begin eating in the first place.
“What do I feel like eating?”
This is the next question to ask yourself. Not “what should I eat?” or “what can I eat?” but “what do I feel like eating?” If you could have anything, what would satisfy you the most? Without judgement, without thinking about calories or fat content, what do you really want? Go through some options. Is it a bowl of pasta? A prawn salad? A hamburger? Or is it apple pie, cheese and crackers or some ice-cream?
Let’s say you’ve worked out what you really feel like is some ice-cream. You give yourself full permission to enjoy your bowl of ice-cream. Yes – bowl. There’s no need to wolf the entire carton – this isn’t your last opportunity to have ice-cream and you can always have more if you want it.
“Am I satisfied?”
As you eat, ask yourself if you’ve had enough yet. Has the taste of the ice-cream changed? Are you enjoying it as much as you were the first few mouthfuls? Do you feel satisfied? If the answer to the last question is “yes” then you’re done. Stop eating. Assure yourself that you can have ice-cream anytime you really feel like it, but you’ve had enough for now.
I know it can feel counterintuitive to sit down and enjoy a bowl of ice-cream when you’re overweight. It feels like you’re doing something desperately wrong. After all, you should be losing weight and the way to do that is to diet. Right?
But what has been your experience of dieting? Have you, like most of my clients, been on many, many diets and lost weight, only to put it back on again? If so, you’re not alone. This is the case for the vast majority of people who diet.
You may also be thinking “but ice-cream’s really unhealthy!” You may believe that you should cut out sugar or “eat clean”, but if your attempts to do so lead to bingeing then something isn’t working. Perhaps, instead, there’s a compromise to be had. Surely a bowl of ice-cream is better than repeatedly bingeing on enormous quantities of food because you feel deprived of the things you like? If you’re caught in the all-or-nothing dieting/bingeing hell then there must be some middle ground and it’s your job to find it.
And some days that middle ground might just be a bowl of ice-cream.
Right about now there may be a voice within you screaming: “ICE-CREAM! SHE SAID I’M ALLOWED TO EAT ICE-CREAM! WOO-HOO! BRING IT ON! PASS ME THE BEN & JERRY’S! I’M HAVIN’ ICE-CREAM Y’ALL!” Cut to you indulging in a 3-day long ice-cream bender using the justification “it’s alright, I’m healing my relationship with food”.
In which case, you need to have a conversation between the part of you that wants to hit the Haagen-Dazs hard and the part of you that doesn’t want to overeat and put on weight, and see if they can find a way through. Maybe some ice-cream, not all the ice-cream.
Let’s be clear: this is not about eating everything you want, it’s about eating exactly what you want when you’re truly hungry for it.
It’s about learning to listen to yourself and trust your instincts.
It’s having the courage to say “yes” to food you’ve previously only said “no” to.
Then it’s having the courage to say “no” to food because you’re not hungry or it’s not what you feel like or because you’ve had enough.
It probably feels a long way from the way you eat now, especially if your eating feels really out of control, but it’s a process. Be supportive of yourself and don’t expect perfection.
If you can work on looking after yourself emotionally, as well as normalising your relationship with food, you stand a good chance of ultimately seeing it as just that – food.
Not a treat, not love, not a reward, not a punishment, not good, not bad.