Improve your relationship with food by shifting your focus from deprivation to abundance
BY TORI RODRIGUEZ
“You can have more later.” Isn’t there such comfort in hearing that? There’s something about having a sense of choice and abundance that makes us tend to take only as much as we need or want.
I used to have a wicked sweet tooth, and when I was trying not to indulge, when I would finally “let” myself, it felt like it was my only chance to do it for who knew how long. “Get it while you can” was the message, which only served to create feelings of scarcity and anxiety around food. So I would eat way too much and then feel out of control and physically awful – energy crash, headache, and all-around ickyness. Over time, as I worked toward cultivating a healthy relationship with food, I learned about proper nutrition and the basic physiology of how consistently overeating, especially sugary foods, affects our insulin and blood sugar levels and pretty much every system in our bodies.
I began making choices rooted in treating my body with kindness (learn about the Health at Every Size approach HERE), paying more attention to how my body felt than to the rules my mind rehearsed – more of an internal versus external focus. When I gave up the restrictive approach and knew I could have more later of whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, because I was no longer constantly trying to “get back on track,” I began eating enough to satisfy but not enough to sicken.
Sometimes I would take myself up on the offer to have more, but just as often I’d forget about it or not want more when later came. I was surprised to discover that, given the choice, I rarely wanted as much as I once thought I did. The have-more-later approach allows me to pause and pay attention to how my body feels and make choices accordingly, rather than mindlessly inhaling half a cake and barely even tasting or truly enjoying it.
I’d venture to say that most of us have experienced deprivation – imposed by others or by ourselves – whether with food, love, acceptance, or self-expression. Start working toward awareness of what you’re hungry for, both with food and otherwise. Turn your focus away from rules and limits, and focus on adding the things that nurture you in whichever parts of your life where you’re not getting enough of what you need. If you’re strongly driven by “shoulds” and “should nots” with your eating, it’s highly likely you operate the same way in other areas.
Obsessing over rules keeps your relationship with food in your head – fixating on what you can and can’t, should and shouldn’t eat; what’s “good” or “bad” or “fattening” or not – instead of driven by your body’s cues. It makes you act on external factors instead of intrinsic ones, which is disempowering, ineffective, and can give you a sense of disconnection from yourself and others.
Try for the most part to make food and exercise choices based on a combination of what you know about your body (this is the priority) and what is known about how to achieve and maintain good health (and there’s much more to it than what or how much to eat or work out! Plenty of sleep, socializing, and relaxation, are also essential, for example). If you’re not clear in these areas, set out to explore both. Seek to empower yourself with knowledge, but don’t trust sources that shame you for your choices or generally make you feel like shit about yourself, and expect and embrace a trial-and-error process as you discover what fills you.
Move away from restraint and deprivation, and start thinking abundance, adding, expanding, enhancing, fulfilling, and satisfying. Instead of “eat less junk,” start with “eat more plants.” Guess what? You’ll inevitably eat less junk. This is a good metaphor for feeding your mind and spirit too – the more you get what you need, the less you’ll want what you don’t need. So instead of trying to subtract the junk, aim instead to add the nutritious stuff. But just as importantly, DO NOT fall into the guilt trap when you eat the junky stuff… that will just continue to feed the binge-shame-restrict-binge cycle.
Get to know your body by asking yourself (even if the answers aren’t readily apparent), “What really satisfies me, in terms of food and otherwise? How do I physically feel after I eat this? After I eat X amount of it?” Ideally, you’ll jot these notes in a journal so you can notice patterns over time. Approach it like a lifelong experiment to explore and find out how much and what kinds make you feel happiest and most alive, given your unique design.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between feeling bad physiologically – nausea, headache, bloating, lack of energy – and feeling like a terrible person because you ate something deemed “bad.” Start placing more emphasis on the former, and remember that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation – and in excess at times! Food doesn’t intrinsically have moral value, despite the media’s and many confused humans’ longtime tendency to frame certain foods as “sinful” and “bad” and something one “cheats” with, along with the common reinforcement of those views by family, friends, co-workers, and even the people who are supposed to be experts. I’ve seen many a fitness pro or dietitian promote these dangerous ideas.
In the process of unlearning deprivation, you may at first eat more than you need. But eventually, with the reassurance that you can have what you want or need at any time, you’ll come to trust yourself. Then you’ll realize there’s no need to overdo it, and the fear and panic will subside, becoming unnecessary. “You can have more later” is a powerful message. ♥