When you think about relationships, what comes to mind?
Common definitions I’ve heard throughout my career as a trainer describe relationships with people you lean on for emotional support, or the energetic or emotional connection between people.
But we also have relationships with items, concepts, and beliefs, right? Let’s start with your relationship with time. Do you ever find yourself thinking, “There’s never enough time to get it all done?”
Do you ever think to yourself, “I wish I had less time?”
I’m going to guess that less people resonate with the second thought, but my point in including it is to highlight two different ways of relating to the concept of “time”.
One implies a lack of, which naturally might make you feel stressed or anxious, whereas the other thought implies an excess of, which might lead you to feel bored or unmotivated.
Another way of thinking about time is to consider your ability to manage it. Are you always late or are you always early? How do you know when someone respects your time? Answering these questions will teach you a lot about your relationship with time.
Ok, so we can agree we all have some kind of relationship with time, whether we constantly feel like we have too much or too little...NOW let’s talk about food!
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
When you think of food, do you get excited or depressed?
Are you always thinking about what you get to eat next?
Think about this: from the time we are babies, food is used as a method to soothe us. When we were fussy, our parents assumed it was one of three things: we were sleepy, we needed a new diaper, or we were hungry. Sound familiar?
But that method of using food to fix our bodily problems came with an unforeseen price: it instilled a pattern in us to use food to deal with other urges that have nothing to do with physical hunger. Many of us tend to turn to the fridge when we’re feeling restless, anxious, upset, or even overstimulated. That’s because we (those of us from the U.S., anyway) have been conditioned to think these urges can be quelled with food, just like when we were babies. Make sense?
Now, fast forward to adulthood and think about the experiences around holidays and birthdays. What is the most common staple among celebrations? FOOD!
Thanksgiving is one holiday that we celebrate by seeing just how much food we can consume before we need to unbutton our pants (LITERALLY!). Birthdays too. Especially as adults, those get-togethers often revolve around food; whether that be a dinner party or going out for a fancy meal. You see, when something good happens, we are conditioned to celebrate by having a “treat.”
Think about the other end of the emotional spectrum too: what about sadness or grief? If you have ever lost someone close to you, you probably found a lot of love and support from others, in the form of flowers and food. I can attest from personal experience that when I broke a bone, people would shower me with food! Not just any type of food, but the sweet stuff.
These are loving gestures, but notice how the conditioning continues throughout our lives to crave unhealthy food when we feel pain, grief, or sadness.
I can go on and on, but at the end of the day the fact remains: we are conditioned to crave food to manage emotional stressors. Not only that, but one of the main ways we experience relationships with other people involves food!
Having worked in the health industry for over a decade and having struggled with weight and food myself, I get it. It’s not easy! What I hope you can begin to understand is that you can go on any diet, but until you look at your relationship with food and heal that relationship, NO plan will work, and you will inevitably bounce back.
98 percent of people who lose weight end up gaining it back within six months.
That’s because they don’t consider the relationship they have with food.
STEP 1: QUESTION YOUR HABITS
There is no way I can go into full detail about how intense our relationship with food is. If I did, this would be a novel, and I would lose you by the second chapter 😉. But I also don’t want you to walk away thinking, “Great, now I know I have a messed up relationship...Thanks for just pointing that out!”
If you are serious about change and want to understand more about your specific relationship with food I encourage you to sign up for a coaching session by clicking HERE!
So where do you start? Like all areas of change, you need to become aware before you can change anything. Consider the following questions:
How aware are you of the food choices you are making?
Do you plan your meals or consider what you have a taste for?
Do you cater more to what tastes good or what makes you FEEL (physically) good?
When do you find yourself leaning towards unhealthier food?
What emotions do you feel when you eat?
Is there a specific time of day that you gravitate towards unhealthier foods?
Answering these should help give you a baseline for understanding how conditioned you are. Consider your stress management techniques as well. Those can tend to be big factors when it comes to eating for emotional support.
STEP 2: WALK DON’T JUMP
When it comes to weight loss, muscle gain, or just being healthy, we aren’t very patient. We tend to make declarations like, “I’m going to be healthy from now on!” And we try to change all our lifestyle habits at once to “be healthy”.
What happens next is something you probably have experience with...results are slow, change is hard, and comfort is easy. So, we find ourselves right back where we started. Then the negative self talk kicks in (that’s my least favorite).
Being healthy isn’t easy, there’s A LOT of conflicting information - enough to keep most people inactive because they don’t know where to start.
Once you’ve gained some awareness by answering the questions above, pick ONE small habit to focus on. Maybe it's trying to exercise once a week, maybe it’s drinking more water, maybe it’s going for a walk after work because that's when you tend to gravitate towards unhealthy food.
Whatever it is, start SMALL. Being healthy isn’t going anywhere, so don’t try and force healthiness into your life, make it work with your life.
The best part about actually living a healthy life is that your body adapts to make it easier to be healthy. Trust me. I used to survive on a diet of chips and queso and pizza and I claimed salads hurt my stomach…it’s funny what 10 years will do.
So, walk before you jump and slowly build in the healthier habits. It really does become easier.
STEP 3: HUNGER AND BALANCE
Our bodies have a diverse level of needs that can sometimes come across as different types of hunger. And, due to the chemical reaction food has in our body, it is very easy to let food solve our problems. However, it doesn’t really solve the real problem, it’s more like putting a BandAid on it.
If you recall my example above about the habits that were ingrained in us as babies: Babies cry, seeking some kind of connection, and the response is often Food. That response can create a code in your brain that tells you when you want connection in the future, food will work. We do this with an abundance of emotions and that’s because we’ve misunderstood the role emotions play in our life. We have been conditioned to avoid “bad” emotions and only lean into the good ones. But how we cope with the “bad emotions” will say a lot about the role food plays in our life.
Because our body has multiple hunger triggers it is important to create balance in your life. Too much of anything will make your body feel a deficit. Consider the fact that when things are going well, we start to anticipate “the other shoe dropping.” As if good has a cap on how good it can be!
Therefore it is important that you balance work, life, play, stress, relaxation, fun, spirituality, love, connection, vulnerability, etc. When one thing is out of balance we tend to focus on it because it feels like a problem and our brain is programmed to “fix” problems (oftentimes with food).
When you are considering changing your habits, recognize the balance of where you spend your energy, or - how much time you spend thinking or doing certain activities. Be aware of thoughts, like, “I need to,” “I should,” or “I have to”….they are not yours. Those are conditioned thoughts placed in you by society. You don’t HAVE to/NEED to/ or SHOULD yourself into doing anything.
BUT if you want change you can CHOOSE to shift your balance in a different direction to where you are feeling more complete.
STEP 4: LOVE
This was an element of our relationship with food I grossly misunderstood at first. Let me demonstrate. Imagine you’ve had a really long day. Your boss yelled at you over a major screw up and you got in a fight with someone important in your life. You reach for pizza to help lessen the discomfort of your feelings, only to find yourself beating yourself up even more two hours later for even having the pizza…..sound familiar?
My clients come to me for some type of change, and so often their current method of achieving that is judgment of themselves, shame, and bullying...no wonder they haven’t changed.
These emotions don’t spark motivation or inspiration, they make you want to hide and reach for the food that created them to begin with. Change NEVER happens from a space of hate or negativity. Change happens from a space of love, compassion, and understanding for oneself.
Some of you might not believe me that this is important, but I urge you to consider what do you have to lose? You’ve tried the negative route and haven’t gotten anywhere. So what do you have to lose by being kind and compassionate to yourself?
Shifting how you relate to food is challenging work. To be honest, shifting anything that was programmed into you before you had your frontal cortex up and running (anything before age 7) is hard work. But you are not in it alone. I encourage you to take my suggestions to heart and go ONE STEP AT A TIME.
Remember: you are one of billions who struggle with change to your behavior, lifestyle, or health. Having a community of like-minded people makes following through easier. And guess what? I am always here to lend a helping, judgment-free hand. But you are the only one who can choose a different course.
Believe in yourself! You are more capable than you know!