Take a moment and be completely honest with yourself right now. Do you have a healthy relationship with food? Do you ever suffer from guilt after eating? Feel out of control? Well, I used to feel all of it. If you have been following my health month focus these past few weeks, you’ll know that I had a binge eating disorder, hated myself and was verging onto obesity. Two years later, and I’m the confident, happy woman you see everyday on this blog.
I spent most of my teenage years feeling out of control with my food and my weight, then I had an epiphany moment at the doctors and I was determined to make a change. It was difficult as I was completely alone and chose to not seek out professional help. I felt that I had an inner flame and accompanied with my first for knowledge and determination to get better, I believed that I could do it all on my own. Guess what? I did just that.
The journey to overcoming an eating disorder, loving yourself and having a healthy relationship with food is not an easy path to take. However, it is entirely possible because I am living proof and today I am sharing all the wisdom and advice I can give you, to help you make the change too.
Don’t eat to move the scale
I hate to sound like another airy-fairy health preacher but trust me when I say this: dieting never works and focusing on the scale is a huge mistake! It can become so detrimental to not only your progress but your mental health; the number — so inflexible and stark — can be an instant emotional trigger. That number has the power to resurrect old habits and obsessive thought, even after months of treatment and progress. Often when we ‘diet’ and focus on losing or gaining weight to move the scale, it’s coming from a thought process where weight isn’t neutral. It is everything.
Whether you realise it or not, weighing yourself means judging yourself, and that judgment can affect how you eat, dress and interact with others. You are literally choosing to allow a few measly numbers dictate who you are and like I have previously mentioned on my body confidence post; you are more than just the numbers you see on the scale.
The scales are not a doctor. It gives you one piece of information, rather than a whole picture. In fact, the average person can fluctuate around 5 pounds during the course of a mere one day. If you are dehydrated or have a change in hormones, your weight will fluctuate. So what’s the point of holding so much importance on something that doesn’t even tell you the truth?
You can’t keep the promise to reclaim your health and sanity around food, whilst still staring at those numbers. It will simply never work.
Living by the scale, isn’t living.
Don’t do ‘cheat days’
This was undoubtedly the worst advice I had been given when I was looking to make a change with my lifestyle and eat better. Perhaps this does actually work for some, but with someone that had a binge eating disorder, it was like a ticking time bomb that blew up every week. It is completely detrimental.
So many people from the health community advised on having a ‘cheat day’ or a ‘cheat meal’ once a week so as to prevent you from feeling deprived, boost metabolism, and increase chances of success with a diet. The problem is that you are categorising every food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Instead you should be looking at it all as food and some will give more nutrients, others less.
What happened to me, is that I would eat really well for the first six days and then on that seventh when I’d have my allocated ‘cheat day’, I’d ruin all of my hard work by binging the whole day on terribly unhealthy food. I was just feeding my problematic binge eating and it caused me to see healthy food as something that couldn’t be truly enjoyable because they weren’t my ‘treat’.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘cheating’ does not raise your metabolism and I find it ridiculous that this is something people are claiming otherwise. Moreover this way of approaching food is giving you the ‘dieting’ mindset and never have I seen someone effectively diet. Yes, they may loose weight
but it is often driven by vanity instead of a desire to be healthy. You’ll never love yourself this way because you haven’t created a healthy relationship with food. We’ve been taught since we were children that cheating is bad; Don’t cheat on your exams, don’t cheat on your boyfriend, don’t cheat on your wife. Cheating is a character flaw, and so you are a bad person if you cheat. Undoubtedly at one point the thought: “if I am going to eat cheat meals, then I am a bad person,” will arise and you’ll be left feeling guilty about that double cheeseburger you’ve just shoved down your throat.
If you’re going to have long-term success and remain healthy for the rest of your life then it’s in your best interest to remove the term “cheat” from your vocabulary. Instead of ‘depriving yourself’ all week while eating healthy until you can cheat on the weekend. Look at it as making a conscious decision to enjoy something unhealthy once in a while. Choose to eat healthy goods 80% of the time, find a way to enjoy them and don’t do it with an end date in mind. You’re not eating well until holiday, the weekend or bikini weather. You’re eating to be a better you, to give your body the nutrients it needs and occasionally choose to eat unhealthy foods, and do so with a smile on your face, not guilt hanging over your head. There’s no dieting or cheating, no starving and bingeing, no being faithful and then cheating. Find a way to love your normal routine, composed of mostly healthy foods, that also happen to taste delicious and find enjoyment in occasionally eating something that is not as healthy.
Focus on nutrients not calories
I know this can seem quite hypocritical as I recently shared that I used an app to track my calories when on my weight journey. To be clear, this was to teach me portion control and understand how much my body needed to function, gain muscle, loose weight, etc. It helped me control my eating disorder and stop binging. However, my main focus was always on my Macros (protein, fat and carb percentages) and my Micros (vitamins & minerals). The moment I felt confident that I fully understood what my body needed and most importantly could recognise my eating disorder and emotional turmoil over actual hunger. I stopped immediately because I knew how dangerous calorie counting could be and I was adamant I wouldn’t trade one eating disorder for another.
When you count calories you risk a destructive obsession that is much harder to break than you think. When you shift your focus to nutrients you are creating a healthy relationship with food by appreciating all the amazing things your body can do because of those highly nutritious and delicious foods.
Calories are calories but the nutritious factor is what makes all the difference. For instance, a medium sized banana and chocolate chip cookie have the same amount of calories but I don’t have to tell you how much more nutrients the banana will offer your body over the cookie. The cookie has little to no nutrition as thus, considered an empty calorie meaning that yes, they may provide us with energy initially, but the calories are used very quickly for energy so we aren’t able to store much for later. To put it simply, you will end up needing more cookies to make you feel ‘satisfied’ over the one banana. Not only are you not feeding your body the nutrients it needs (the whole reason we are supposed to eat in the first place), but you are more likely to end up overeating to compensate on your lack of nutrients.
Of course, this is not to say you should never have a cookie. Everything in moderation! but it is wiser to chose foods that are nutritious most of the time, but be flexible and indulge in pleasurable foods without guilt on occasions. I can assure you that those ‘pleasurable foods’ will be considerably more blissful when you eat it in moderation.
Don’t keep problematic food in the house
It’s quite simple really; if you have an abundance of chocolate chip cookies and piles upon piles of freshly baked brownies sitting in your cupboard, then the temptation is probably going to win. Once you’ve bought it, you’re going to have to eat it because I can assure you that from the very second you’ve purchased that creamy chocolate bar, it’s going to be calling out your name until you’ve devoured every piece. Moreover, if you’re like me and you despise waste, you aren’t going to want it to be chucked away along with your money.
Solution: If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.
The temptation is far easier to overcome in the shopping aisle as it is when you’re sat on your couch only 5ft away from the kitchen. Then, if you really want it, you have to go out specifically to get it. This results in one of two scenarios: either you won’t be able to find the motivation or energy to go out and get it or by the time you’ve made the journey to get your desired food, you have gained more perspective and realise that ‘need’ is actually a ‘want’ and you choose to be stronger and wiser for not giving into your detrimental temptations.
Eat when you’re physically hungry
Learning to understand hunger takes time. You may think you are hungry but unsurprisingly a lot of us don’t actually know how to tell. Centuries of evolution has resulted in humans being less instinctual and with food so readily available hunger isn’t really an issue. (I am aware those who are reading my blog are living in a first world country.) The fact is, many things can masquerade as hunger and have you reaching for a snack before you realize you don’t physically need one. We use food to entertain, distract, comfort, and calm us so it can be very easy to become disconnected with our stomachs. Here is how to prevent the confusion:
Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Don’t eat watching the television or snack whilst playing on the computer game. Your brain is too distracted to register the food you are eating. Instead eat with the intention to fuel your body with care and with enough attention to recognize how foods affect your body. This will help you you reconnect with your instinctive signals of hunger so you can manage your eating naturally without restrictive dieting or obsessing over every bite of food you put in your mouth.
Identify Your Triggers
A lot of eating is caused by habits. We can learn to associate various situations with eating even without realising. This could be mealtimes, a particular place or activities such as watching a sports game, movie, or TV show. Craving are caused and when a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating doesn’t satisfy it. It can result in a downward spiral that is hard to escape. The best way to tackle this is to be more aware of every time you are eating and recognise when and what is causing it. From there you can start asking yourself, “am I hungry?” and begin to connect with your body.
If you are unsure, check out this list of symptoms to identify hunger.
Skipping breakfast, or any meal for that matter, in attempts to loose weight is really just starving yourself. When you skip the most important meal of the day, you make yourself vulnerable for Low energy, bad moods, low blood sugar and overeating. Besides giving us an energy boost so that we can take on the challenges of the day, the morning meal is said to help jump-start our metabolism, prevent us from overeating, and improve our concentration and performance at work or in school. Are you really willing to trade in a high quality of life for missing a few mouthfuls of food? Is this the life you truly want to live? The truth is, constricting yourself and skipping meals isn’t sustainable and it is highly doubtful, you will ever find happiness approaching food in this way.
Check out my healthy breakfast recipes for some ideas and make sure you are eating enough every day.
Allow yourself to enjoy food
Eating shouldn’t be a chore, a burden, a source of pain or unhappiness. Letting go of food guilt and eating what you want is the healthiest food move you can make.
So many of us have bought into this myth that if we eat the ‘right’ foods in the ‘right’ amounts, we will achieve the ideal body shape. The thing is, it’s all in your head. If you don’t learn to love yourself on your journey, you will never be happy with what you see in the mirror. Obtaining this ‘perfect’ beauty standard we are constantly being fed won’t suddenly make you feel better about yourself. I know because I’ve seen it first hand and it made me adamant to learn ultimate self-love because I was very aware if I didn’t it wouldn’t matter if I lost that weight or not. I’d still feel like the ‘fat’ girl, inside. A part of self love is respecting your body and treating it with the care and compassion it deserves and this isn’t achievable without nurturing a healthy relationship with food.
Practice the aforementioned steps and advice I have given you and that gut-wrenching, self-destructive food guilt will fade away. Take control of your life. You deserve to live a happy one.
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Where do you stand with food? At the other end of the battlefield or stood side by side as an ally?
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