3 Mindful Steps to a Healthier Relationship With Food

3 Mindful Steps to a Healthier Relationship with Food“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” –Albert Einstein

My Story: Being Out of Control With Food

For years, I thought that my struggle with weight and food was about finding a way to control it.

I was on a journey to find the perfect set of rules for what and how much to eat. I wouldn’t have to think about food, or have a relationship with it. But with each attempt to control food with the latest and greatest diet, I eventually found myself feeling more and more out of control.

By my mid to late teens, my behaviors escalated to what we now know to be Binge Eating Disorder. Not everyone gets an eating disorder, but my story of healing may resonate with anyone who struggles with emotional eating.

My effort to control food was really about my fear of being out of control with it.

Healing My Relationship with Food

You can’t strong arm food and expect to find peace with it. Feeling out of control with food brings a great deal of shame in our culture. Especially as one who struggles with weight, I couldn’t imagine sharing with anyone what and how much food I could eat when I was alone.

My binges may have started out as nurturing, something I thought gave me pleasure, but turned into a form of punishment. It wasn’t until I began to shine a light on my secret did I come to understand it.

I came to understand that bingeing for me wasn’t about the food, but the state where the food could take me.

Healing had to take place within the context of two relationships: the one with myself, and the one with food. The two were deeply and dysfunctionally intertwined.

The food wasn’t my problem: it was what I was doing with it. Food nourishes our cells, gives us energy and is the life force for our very existence.

There is a threshold when food stops being just food and becomes a process for numbing emotions, escaping thoughts and generally avoiding anything I was afraid of.

“Of course!” became my trademark phrase that signified to me that my behavior was completely understandable given my life circumstances up to that point. It helped me disengage from the fear and judgement within me by adopting a kind and compassionate inner dialogue.

1 Use Mindfulness to Ground in the Present

Mindfulness enabled me to recognize when I was crossing the threshold from just food to Never Neverland.

This empowered me with choice: I could go on that ride and wake feeling worse than I started, or I could shift my routine to better meet my needs.

Fear resides deep within my brain; most of my stress is created by my own thinking, and not because there is a tiger in the room. Nonetheless, I am a fear-based individual and I need to take great care to disengage the fear in order to maintain equilibrium and prevent the fight, flight or freeze mode.

Because my fear is an internal process, through mindfulness I needed to externalize and ground myself to all the pleasure available to me in life.

To help myself, I developed something called “my favorite things”.

It took me back to when I was a child playing the sound track to The Sound of Music, singing at the top of my lungs and dancing without a worry, no shame. It is quite simple and not all that expensive.

Raindrops on roses and pink satin sashes…snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…I had to get out of my head and into my life. I make a point to spend moments each day with those favorite things to gaze at, smell, hear, touch and even taste.

Grounding to my senses calms me like nothing else and is my “go to” self-regulator.

2 Allow Yourself to Make Choices About What You Eat

Coming back to food: my relationship with food was riddled with restrictive thoughts and rules that created more fear and feelings of deprivation.

No good relationship is based on fear, so I practiced looking at it objectively, without judgement. I began to pay attention to what I liked, or didn’t like, and how foods made me feel. I focused on the quality of food, rather than the quantity.

If I don’t like something now, I choose not to eat it. Choice is quite empowering. When you are focused on what you “get to have” or the rules of what and how much you can have, you just eat it because that’s all you get until the next ration.

My inner dialogue repeats to me, “you can always have more, there is always more food…” This disengages my fear of not getting enough and deactivates the stress around eating.

3 Learn to Respect Food (And Yourself)

Another powerful shift came when I began to respect food.

Being mindful of where it was grown, the ingredients and thought that went into making it and its healing and restorative power in the body.

Eating it in a mindless, stuffing fashion showed disrespect for the food and for my body. Staying wide awake while eating allows for noticing the pleasure of eating and how that diminishes as we get closer to satiety.

What used to feel comforting — feeling really full — feels regrettable and limiting to the activities to come. The key for me is to have a level of self-awareness of when food begins to take on a role that is more than food and begins to enter into a process of altering my state of consciousness.

Adjusting to “Normal Eating”

Eating emotionally still happens; it is part of normal eating. Using food to as a self-regulator or to punish is not an option anymore.

Once you enter an understanding of what you’re doing, it’s hard to return to it. It becomes an act of choice and I choose to live life rather than escape it.

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