Diets are trust stealers. Not only do they strip away all joy associated with food and eating and lead to feelings of deprivation and food preoccupation, they destroy our ability to trust ourselves to make our own decisions about food. They teach us that we don’t know what’s best for our bodies. They tear away our confidence, leaving us constantly questioning, “Am I making the right choice? Choosing the right food?”
It happens over months and years. Slow and steady. Diets take one small piece at a time. Until eventually we wind up feeling lost, confused, overwhelmed, and unsure of every bite. We don’t necessarily remember getting here. And we don’t know where to turn next.
Part of our mission at Green Mountain at Fox Run is to help women restore that stolen trust. Trust in themselves to make decisions about what, when, and how much to eat. And trust in their bodies, that their bodies can and will communicate their true needs. All we need to do is relearn how to listen.
I say relearn because every one of us knew instinctually how to do this at some point in our lives. Just think about babies and toddlers, or even preschoolers: When their bodies need nourishment they cry (or whine) until they get it. And when their bodies have had enough, good luck trying to get them to eat more. Young children also instinctually know what their bodies need to eat: One day a 2-year-old might eat nothing but bread, but the next all she wants is fruit or cheese. Getting back in touch with this body-based intuition and relearning how to listen to it is a process that takes time. It takes practice. And no doubt, it takes a lot of patience. Here are some tips to get you started.
4 Keys to Rebuilding Trust Around Food
1. Let go of the need to “get it right” and embrace curiosity and experimentation.
Diets teach us that eating is all about “getting it right.” Choosing the “right” food. Serving the “right” portion. Eating at the “right” times. Even though the “right” food for one person’s body might not be right for ours, the “right” food may not be the one we want or like, the “right” portion might not be enough to satisfy, and the “right” time may not be when we feel we need or want to eat. The “right” way to eat may have nothing to do with our bodies’ actual needs! Staying stuck in the “get it right” mentality reinforces, time and again, that if we make the “wrong” choice we are failures.
By shifting our focus, and instead approaching food and eating occasions with curiosity, we can cut out the pressure that is created by the need to “get it right.” We reset our expectations so that they are purely a matter of data collection, not success or failure.
After all, to figure out what does work for our bodies, we also need to know what doesn’t (hence the next key).
2. Know that not every eating experiment will turn exactly as planned!
Treating each snack and meal as an experiment, an opportunity to gather information and learn eliminates failure as an option. Sure, not every eating experience is going to turn out exactly as we planned, but the data we collect from those experiments are really, really valuable.
We take that information, we fine tune, we adapt, and we try again. Judgment and shame don’t have a role in this process. Experiment after experiment, we learn what works for our bodies and what doesn’t. Over time, we begin to cultivate a way of eating that meets our needs, that nourishes our whole self, mind, body, and soul.
As you experiment you will likely have experiences that leave you feeling unsatisfied, still hungry, too full, or feeling unwell. You will also have experiences that leave you feeling tremendously satisfied, comfortably full, and feeling energized and great. And, you’ll have many experiences that land somewhere in the middle. It’s all part of the process—a necessary part of the process.
So, when you find yourself labeling these did-not-go-as-planned experiments as failures, try to reframe them and see them for what they are—learning experiences— stop and ask yourself “what did I learn here?” and move on.
And just how are you supposed to go about reframing your thoughts and moving on? Well, that has a whole lot to do with key #3.
3. Quiet your inner critic.
Rebuilding trust is hard work. And you may have all sorts of experiences leading you to believe that trusting yourself around food again is just not a possibility.
“As soon as I open the bag, I take just one bite, it’s all over with.”
“History doesn’t lie, and my history tells me that if I eat certain foods I will always lose control.”
These are common beliefs that may have become so deeply ingrained in us that we just can’t imagine another way. We can blame part of this on our inner critic—that voice in our heads that reminds us of all the times we’ve failed before, that fills us with guilt and shame, that creates feelings of fear around food, that ultimately makes the idea of trusting ourselves around food, all food, seem inconceivable.
Quieting this inner critic is an essential part of rebuilding trust. And this might take some time, depending on how long it’s been around and how much power it’s amassed in that time. In fact, this is something we at Green Mountain at Fox Run see as being so important to the process of changing eating behavior that it is infused throughout our entire program.
In short, it’s about:
- Noticing your inner critic when it starts to make its voice heard;
- Interrupting the inner critic and shifting your attention elsewhere (e.g., to your breath, to a nice scene in your mind);
- When you’re ready, engaging your supportive voice, and replacing that critical message with something more positive or constructive;
- Repeating this over and over and over. Eventually, you will build up your supportive voice and your inner critic won’t be so intrusive.
- Give yourself permission to eat and experiment.
In order for your body’s true messages to come through loud and clear, it must begin to trust that you’ll listen! This can’t happen if you’re still restricting or refusing to give it something it wants because that food is somehow “bad.” This means you need to have permission to eat what you want, when you want, and as much as you want. Sound a little scary? Think you’ll go crazy and eat constantly and never stop? It’s okay to feel that way. It’s normal to feel that way. But let us reassure you that won’t happen. Ultimately, rebuilding trust requires us to let go of the rules. Because rules only serve to reinforce the idea that we can’t trust ourselves. It is all of these rules that keep us caught in a tug-of-war with food that we just can’t seem to escape. Permission really is your way out and the path to whole health and balance.
A little structure at first can help you let go of some of that fear. For example, maybe you don’t bring all of the foods you don’t trust yourself around into your house today. Maybe you don’t bring any of them into your house at all at the beginning.
Start small. Maybe choose just one food you want to work on neutralizing. One food you want to trust yourself around again. Then what? How do you actually start to trust yourself again? Well, there are many strategies that are helpful for giving yourself permission to eat, but here is one set of steps you might take.
- Select the food you want to start practicing with. Let’s use ice cream for this example.
- Instead of bringing it into your house, give yourself permission to go out and get a dish of your favorite ice cream.
- Sit down at a table and practice eating it mindfully. You notice how it tastes, how it makes your body feel. Let judgments pass through, like clouds passing through the sky, noticing when they appear, but not giving them an opportunity to linger.
- You give yourself permission to do this, to experiment with ice cream, as often as you want.
- When you get comfortable eating ice cream out, then maybe bring a small amount of ice cream into the house. When you want ice cream, you scoop out a dish.
- Sit down and practice eating it mindfully. Notice how it tastes, how it makes your body feel.
- After you’ve finished, pause. If you want more, scoop another dish and repeat the steps 5-7.
- Practice this over and over again.
You might find yourself wanting these foods more often than feels comfortable at first. That’s normal. Stick with it. Eventually, these previously forbidden foods will begin to lose their power.
Remember, rebuilding trust takes time. It happens one bite, one meal, one day at a time. But you are capable of healing your relationship with food and your body and restoring trust. Immersing yourself in Green Mountain at Fox Run’s mindful eating, moving, and living program can support you in the process. If emotional or binge eating complicates your relationship with food even further, our Pathway Program through the Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating will help you more deeply explore the roots of your eating behavior, to understand the role food has been serving in your life, and move toward food freedom and peace.