There is so much noise about food in our world, have you noticed that? It’s a basic human need and we’re programmed to find ways to take on board the nutrition we need to thrive. We’ve done something right, we’re still here and living longer than ever before. There are challenges though and we’re rapidly creating an environment we’re not biologically very good at dealing with – Deliveroo on speed dial anyone?
Our mutual appreciation of our complexities as humans and the importance of honouring feelings, brought Rosie and I together. It’s common for food and feelings to collide and I work with many women for whom traditional dieting is not working. They feel disconnected from their bodies, confused as to what they ‘should’ be eating and a sense of feeling out of control around food. Traditional dieting can create a perfect storm between our emotional and physiological needs which is hard to unpick on your own. To find out more about breaking up with dieting and how I support people to do just that, take a look here and join my email list here for tips to support you to nourish your body and mind, as well as to hear about any masterclasses and courses running. As a bonus you’ll receive a free ebook on gaining clarity with carbs.
Here’s the thing, we will never have a purely functional, rationale relationship with food; it’s meant to be a rewarding behaviour, so we’re prompted to repeat it. But there’s something about the language we use around food these days – that those who appear to stick to regimes they claim offer some sense of nutritional superiority – take some sort of moral high ground.
Food is not supposed to have a moral value attached to it. All foods have the ability to nourish us in different ways, and only we get to decide what is the right balance for our bodies and our health and wellbeing. Nutrition is one voice in the crowd that supports us to look after ourselves and live our best life.
In truth, dieting can cause our food relationships to become skewed. It’s all smiles and encouragement…. as long as we stick to it. There’s the before and after shots, but not enough talk about the after after. This can lead to lots of negative associations with food and how we view our bodies or sense of self-worth.
It’s eye opening to realise you can care for your health without drilling down to numbers on a scale. That you can approach your daily habits with a desire to be compassionate and curious about what drives your choices. Optimal wellbeing also goes hand in hand with a need to have a flexible approach to eating; rigidity and rules often only serve to give us reason to judge ourselves. Repeated dieting has been shown to increase levels of anxiety and depression and lower self-esteem.
Following a more intuitive framework cultivates self-compassion and a desire to nourish and nurture ourselves on our own terms, whatever that means for the individual. It’s based on ten guiding principles which serve to reconnect the body and mind when it comes to food and address the toxicity of diet culture. It’s a self-care framework, that is weight-inclusive and evidence-based, allowing a person to go on their own self-paced journey to honour their body and understand what it needs from a physical and psychological perspective.
The principles are:
- Rejecting diet mentality
- Honour your hunger
- Make Peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with feelings with using food
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Respect your body
- Exercise: feel the difference
- Honour your health: Gentle Nutrition
But what do these all mean and how do you apply to you. Let’s look in more detail at some of them:
Reject the diet mentality.
At the heart is rejecting the belief that when a diet fails, it’s you – you’ve failed to follow it, you’ve lacked the will power. It’s your fault.
It’s none of this – the diet has failed you because it was never destined to work in the first place. Repeated dieting creates many metabolic adaptations – it’s not straight forward, but when a diet plan stops you listening to your own body or makes you believe you can’t trust it, you will inevitably lose your inner validation, and constantly seek others to tell you what is right to eat – which the diet industry relies upon of course.
Honour your hunger.
Chaotic, sometimes emotional eating can be a daily occurrence for many of us. But when dieting below our body’s fuel need, it is impossible to work out what is physiological versus emotional hunger. If a biological cascade has been put in place to get your blood glucose levels up, no amount of will power or stubbornness will override that, and the healthy snack you convince yourself will satisfy you, just won’t. This is primal. It’s not rationale human stuff.
With excessive hunger, comes the flood gates analogy – where we then proceed to eat beyond the point of fullness, in an amalgamation of guilt, frustration, desire, fulfilment, ‘what the hell’ mentality.
Make Peace with Food.
Forbidden fruit is so much more appealing. Following a set of rules, designed for weight loss, by someone else, can initially feel like a relief. Oh, thank goodness, someone else is going to tell me how to do this, because I haven’t a clue. But in trying to ignore desires for certain foods, they suddenly become the only thing you can think about. Thoughts of food fill your head all day, every day. Removing this pressure to conform, or avoid certain foods, has the opposite effect of what you’d think. I can have that food as often as I want. What a relief, but do I really want it as much as I thought I did, now I know I can have it, all the time?
Challenge the food police.
We are our harshest critic, and the story we put on repeat in our heads, can make us feel awful. And we listen to it – all the time. How exhausting. This needs exploring.
Discover the satisfaction factor.
We’re supposed to feel satisfied and content when we eat. But it’s not just the food, it’s the environment too. And often these two things aren’t put together very well – the most satisfying foods, are consumed quickly and yet we’ll pick over an unappetising salad for hours.
Feel your fullness.
How your body recognises and responds to hunger and fullness is largely controlled by your genes. You are born with an innate ability to recognise when you are satisfied, but this quickly disappears when others start to control how much you’re ‘allowed’ to consume. It is possible to relearn this.
Depriving your body of calories can in itself trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Working out if there is a true connection to food as a coping strategy for other emotions, is very difficult, when the body’s drive to eat is so strong.
Emotional eating is never the issue in itself, it’s the coping mechanism (and we all have those) in some form. Food provides a plug perhaps, to those feelings we are trying to suppress, but ultimately unless those are dealt with and worked through, the emotional eating will never fix anything. This takes time, and permission to be curious and compassionate.
Overall, we have to approach things with respect to your body – all bodies are deserving of the same treatment and dignity. Moving it in a way that feels good, honouring health with a varied diet that supports both your physical and mental health, is all possible. No diet book holds the key, you do.
Laura Clark RD
Registered Dietitian/Nutrition Consultant