When we are babies, we associate our parents with love, and with their love, the nourishment they provide for us. As children, we may be rewarded with food, or maybe punished by taking it away. We may be taught to clean our plates, and taught that over stuffing ourselves is preferable to wasting food. As adults we may use food to comfort ourselves when we are down, or reward ourselves for a job well done. For those enmeshed in the diet culture, food may incite a myriad of emotions.
Although, biologically speaking, we only need food and drink as basic nourishment to fuel our bodies, we, as a culture, have expanded the use of food far beyond that. We learn to use it in many ways other than its actual purpose. As a result, our bodies are fed inappropriately, and we overfeed or underfeed ourselves, convinced that trying to morph our bodies is somehow a more logical answer than getting in touch with our bodies and finding the balance in which they function the best. We are taught that each passing diet fad is a “better” way to eat, and that by eliminating entire categories of macronutrients we will finally be able to turn our body into the body we have wanted for so long. We have hammered it into our heads that strict rules for health, like the BMI chart, must mean that being “obese” means being in very poor health, and that it is likely more of a character flaw than anything to blame, and that one must just buckle down and try harder.
Try to break away from all of the Netflix food documentaries and the Pinterest “nutrition” articles, and think about this. Your body is actually a highly-intelligent, self-driven machine that knows what it wants to eat, when it is hungry, and when it is full. If we can actually get in tune with these signals and are able to follow them, our bodies will find the balance they crave and will become the size and shape that they were intended to be. No two bodies are identical, and trying to have someone else’s body is futile – it is already taken, you only get the one you were given.
So many of us have gotten so far away from the signals of our own bodies, trying so hard to silence the hunger cues, or feeling that a sense of hunger is somehow a triumph over will. Consider that feeding your body appropriately will actually help you to think about food less. If you are constantly hungry throughout the day, your brain isn’t being fed properly, and will focus on food in an effort to get its needs met. If you allow yourself to eat what you crave in an appropriate way (an appropriate portion at an appropriate pace), or decide to eat it at the next appropriate time instead of making foods off limits, you take your focus off of those foods you are craving. If you respond to the signals from your body, it will stop sending them, and you can decide what to do with all that brainpower that is left over.
How do you get back in touch with the hunger and fullness sensations in your body if you have moved too far away from them? I would suggest seeing a RD (registered dietitian) who is eating disorder informed (it will help them be more sensitive to eating concerns) and getting on a sort of meal plan. Typically, the clients I see are on meal plans that consist of three snacks and three meals daily. After you get used to being on this pattern, your body starts to anticipate when it can expect food, and gets in sort of a rhythm. Then, when it is meal time, you should start feeling hunger. Concerning fullness, you want to shoot for being about 80-85% full, with the idea that it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your body has the food that is in your mouth right now, so about 15 minutes after you are done eating, you should be closer to 100% full.
The most common complaint I hear about being on a meal plan is that it feels like you are eating all day. It’s because you are, and you are supposed to be. It is incredibly common for my clients to tell me that they “eat healthy” in the morning – which means that they restrict their food intake and only eat very low-calorie foods that often are not rich in fats or carbs. Then, when in comes to the afternoon or evening, they have been trying so hard not to eat the “unhealthy” foods that it becomes too much and they end up eating something they didn’t really want to be eating, and sometimes in an amount much greater than they had intended. If you are eating throughout the day, you are appropriately full on the things you crave, so there is no need to overindulge later.
Speaking of foods you crave – what about dessert? Dessert is just food. If your authentic self likes the taste of sweets, you should allow yourself about desserts. Again, it is important to consider “loving limits” and having about a maximum of an average of one serving per day. If you struggle with this idea, consider having dessert with dinner each night. If you find yourself waiting until the end of the meal to eat your dessert because “it is the best part,” you may want to try “eating in the round” – having a bite of each of the dishes on your plate, as well as a bite of dessert before going back and having a bite of each again. This reinforces the idea that each of the bites is just food.
I can already see the eye-rolls from the iron-clad diet fans out there, but consider how much of your life, and your free time you devote to your food and your body. What would it be like to take some of that back? What would it be like to accept and respect your body for the incredible machine that it is, instead of rejecting it and constantly fighting it to change? What would it like to be at peace with your food?
If you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, please seek help. They can be deadly serious, and are not your fault. Please see warning signs and symptoms here or call 1-800-931-2237 for help.