Most of us have been in this situation; we want to lose weight (for several reasons) or be a specific size in clothing, then end up joining the diet circus. We restrict specific foods, food groups, calories, and/or even overexert out exercise programs. We lose the weight, but then go back to our old habits, ending up regaining the weight and maybe even more. And here the cycle continues. Aren’t you tired of this? Wouldn’t it be more rewarding if you did not have to obsess with food, calories, or exercise; enjoyed and felt comfortable with your body, and ate what you wanted, whenever you wanted it? This is where mindfulness and intuitive eating come into play. To begin this journey, we need to pull together some tools to use along the way and begin with small changes.
Build a Nutrition Support System
Eating is a survival mechanism. It is NOT a choice. If we do not eat, we could die. So why are we constantly contemplating not eating? Hello diet culture. The beast who swoops in and steals you away, creating drama and putting insecurities into your brain when you did not grow up with these thoughts or images. If we want to make food choices that support our health and make us feel good, why do we stick with diets and not collaborate with each other?
To get a support system, you need to do one thing. Ask. Explain why you are doing this and how it is going to make you feel about yourself. Most will be happy to help and support you along the way. You may need to set boundaries around food, depending on your variables. Setting these up will be important for you to help your support system know what to say and how to say it, or not say it at all.
Get yourself a dietitian. For most of us, our relationship with food goes way beyond diet culture and pushes into habits and behaviors. Why not improve your support team with a dietitian who can be there consistently with support, encouragement, and accountability to help you understand and explain your specific nutritional needs to help you change your behaviors and create long lasting habits? These changes take time, not overnight or a week like crash diets claim they can do. It could take weeks, months, or even years. But isn’t that time worth it if it makes you remove fear and distress of food and allows you to love yourself?
For many of us, throughout the day and even at night, we eat alone. Is this by choice? Others eat with friends and family, even our pets. We are social beings, so it makes sense to want to share this daily event with others. Eating with those on your support team will help you practice and implement mindfulness and encourage intuitive eating through their communication with you.
Identify Diet Culture
Do you know what diet culture looks like? It has many faces. From fad diets to supplements, meal services, models on TV, and social media posts from friends and family. It is everywhere. Start by identifying where you hear and see these. Then, notice how they make you feel about yourself. Do you start thinking about parts of your body, how your clothes fit, how you look in the mirror, what foods you should or should not be eating, feeling down about yourself that you are not perfect or not doing the diet right? Notice how diet culture is like a bad significant other. It treats you bad, yet you keep going back to it and it becomes a cycle. Stop the cycle! It is diet culture’s fault, not yours. It preys on you to make money and that is how it keeps surviving.
If you want to remove diet culture from your life, then you need to act and physically remove it. Stop looking at those ads on social media; follow body positive or intuitive eating blogs, posts, magazines, etc.; talk to family and friends and let them know their comments are unacceptable and how they make you feel. This is another time to set up boundaries.
Once you start removing diet culture, take note on how you start to feel. Better? I bet! Food, bodies, and the thoughts and feelings around them become neutral. We put less pressure on ourselves to be this ideal image that is not even possible.
Talk to Yourself
For our brains to stop pushing all those negative thoughts and feelings on to ourselves by the witchery of diet culture, we need to challenge what we say to ourselves. Stop the good vs bad food routine. Food is food. Tell yourself one positive thing about every food you eat. No negative comments allowed!
Stop the should vs should nots. Telling yourself you should or should not be eating something only makes you want it more and then if you fight against it, you end up rebelling and eating more than you would have it you just ate it in the first place.
Find the real reason you crave a specific food. We are emotional beings, and we eat based on our emotions. Ask yourself if the food you crave will truly help you feel better or move you through that feeling. Food is not the only thing available when we are bored, sad, mad, or happy. We all have thoughts that turn into emotions. If you find yourself always reaching for the pint of ice cream when you are feeling down, ask yourself if there is another option out there that can help you move through your feelings that does not involve overeating that pint of ice cream. If we just give ourselves a little time to sit with those emotions, they pass. They are only temporary. Using food as a band aid usually ends up making us feel even worse because of how our bodies feel after we ate all that food.
Eat Mindfully and Intuitively
It is true, we constantly have twenty things on our minds to do, phones in our hands or at our ear, driving, working, managing children, etc. So, eating and only eating as just one thing to do is highly underrated. How can we just eat when there are so many things to do? The problem: we do not put our food as a priority. Yes, we can think about it 24/7, but when we do the actual preparing, cooking, eating, and clean up, we multitask, and do not fully concentrate on it.
Changing this focus and allowing yourself the time to look, smell, taste, and enjoy the food, allows your body to tell you when it has had enough, or what it needs more of. This focus opens the door between your brain and stomach and helps you listen to the messages they are giving out. This practice helps you naturally reduce portion sizes while still eating your favorite foods.
Putting it All Together
Improving your relationship with food and body is demanding work. It is ongoing and challenging. However, it is possible and doable! Reaching for your supports, actively removing diet culture, challenging your self-talk around food, finding other ways to cope with your emotions without using food, and taking the time to eat and do nothing else are big keys to your success. Start small, one step at a time and soon your body will start to thank you by feeling better, being more energized w, and having more self-confidence.