Relationship Advice From a Food Nerd

I am a self-proclaimed food nerd. I love to geek out on the theory behind why diets work or don’t work. I want to know the best way to eat, how to optimize performance, decrease aging, increase energy, eliminate disease, and live a fuller life. This didn’t just come to me. I had to fix my relationship with food and, in the process, access skills and knowledge that could be shared to help others do the same. What have I learned in the hundreds of hours I have spent pouring over this topic? Eat more vegetables, don’t eat sugar, drink clean water, avoid toxins, move every day, and get adequate sleep. Simple as that. The rest comes down to your relationship with food. Therein lies the challenge.

Do you constantly think about food? When you fly or go on long trips do you worry about where your next meal will come from? Do you often settle for convenience food or fast food because that is what is available when you’re hungry? That used to be me. So I get it, sister! I remember a particularly long road trip that took us through upper Michigan where I thought I was going to starve. I used to get terribly “hangry” if I didn’t eat and made sure I always had snacks. If I happened to get caught short, watch out. Now, if you applied these sentences to a relationship with a person, do you think you would have a healthy relationship? It sounds kind of needy or clingy to me.

The quality of our relationship with ourselves is key in most relationships, including our relationship with food. It’s about how worthy you feel. If you feel that you are worthy of the extra effort it takes to eat well, you will be more likely to spend a little extra money on fresh vegetables, extra time on home cooking, and extra effort on meal planning. Of course, the opposite is also true. Many people feel the quality of their food isn’t worth the extra money, time, or effort. Additionally, rewarding yourself with food is more likely to happen if you don’t feel good about yourself. People who love themselves and have a self-care practice are less likely to reward themselves with food and feel guilty later.

Dialing up your sense of self-worth is where it all starts in any relationship. Do you let food push you around? Do you go back to the same food time and time again even though you know it isn’t good for you? When that happens do you get angry at yourself or feel guilty? Maybe you punish yourself at the gym later. Let’s unpack those tendencies and look at them closer. Why do these food patterns keep coming up? Are they triggered by time of day, certain events, social pressure, or lack of sleep? When you can identify the causes of your cravings or weaknesses you can see them coming and reroute yourself to make better choices. You are worth the effort. Sometimes all it takes is awareness. Be mindful of your choices and understand that you do have a choice. When you make the right choice, don’t forget to feel good about yourself. I congratulate myself every time I drive past the McDonald’s down the street.

Let’s talk for a minute about emotional eating. Do you turn to food when you are feeling empty, sad, or bored? This is not a good relationship strategy. When we need to fill a void within ourselves the most obvious thing we can think of is to eat. What better way to fill a hole than to put something in it, right? The problem is, food isn’t always what we are hungry for. What we are truly hungry for might be connection, wonder, wisdom, or well-being. Satiating this hunger with food is not going to work for long. In fact, it may have the opposite effect by adding guilt to what you are already feeling. The next time you feel a craving coming on, or find yourself staring into the fridge like the meaning of life is in there, ask yourself, “Why?” After all, it isn’t what to eat that is the mystery, it is why. What are you truly hungry for? A more fulfilling career? A supportive relationship? Sleep? It probably isn’t that late-night cheesecake.

People can afford to invest their time and money into what they deem worthy. If you don’t think your health is important, you won’t want to invest in it. For example, in college, I was on a steady diet of Ramen noodles and frozen peas (because even then I thought I needed a vegetable). That’s what I could afford. I was tall and skinny, I didn’t need to spend money or time worrying about food. Of course, I bought cute shoes, went out with my friends, and took road trips to Colorado, so I obviously had the money. I just didn’t find healthy food important. Fast forward to today, I am very interested in maintaining my weight and slowing down the aging process. Now food is very important. I skip buying the cute shoes and allocate more money to healthy food.

Think your relationship with food isn’t all that important? Consider that eating is literally the most intimate activity that we can engage in. More intimate than sex even. What we eat literally becomes what we are physically and who we are mentally. It doesn’t just go in one end and come out the other. We use it for energy, structure, hormones, and neurotransmitters just for starters. Every bite of food is a hormonal experience. It changes our chemistry and our very being down to the cellular level. I would much rather my brain, skin, and bones were made of quality building blocks than cheap imitations. I mean, I have to live here for the rest of my life, after all.

What about when you went all day with the kids and didn’t lose your cool once. Or you endured a long day of meetings. Don’t you think you deserve that cookie or pint of ice cream after all the great things you did today? Hold up, sister! You are not a dog. You do not need to be rewarded with food. Dial up your self-worth and congratulate yourself for your accomplishments. Celebrate your wins. Just not with food. Do you know what I do? I look at myself in the mirror and say, “You rock! I know what you did today, (then I list all of the great things I did). You are killing it! Keep it up! You are the best!” Don’t worry about getting a big head from patting your own back. Self-love is healthy. Lay it on thick!

What if you have a co-dependent relationship with food? One in which you obsess over each bite and feel guilty if your food choices weren’t on point. When everything you eat has to be healthy and in perfect proportion, this is not a healthy food relationship. It’s called Orthorexia and it is an eating disorder. I have a tendency to be a little over-zealous with my diet and exercise routine. Therefore, I purposefully don’t count calories, log my food, count macros, or weigh anything. I have general guidelines I follow in order to stay on point and I allow myself to cheat on occasion. Basically, I make sure that 2/3 of my plate is non-starchy vegetables (with grass-fed butter) and the other third is split between starch and protein. I also practice conscious self-forgiveness and mindfulness. If I over indulge I recognize that it happened, admit that it was fun, then move on guilt-free. Like having a bit of cake at a birthday party or a few chicken wings at a Superbowl party. This is a balanced, healthy food relationship.

In my experience, most people know what they should eat. It is their relationship with food that is lacking. If you are thinking about dinner while you are still sitting at the lunch table, your equilibrium is off somehow. If you continually give in to late night cravings (guilty!), we need to look into that. When a relationship is rocky, a person is more likely to give in to food pressure, feel guilty about giving in, and then give up on the whole idea of healthy eating. That is when she settles for good enough and accepts the extra pounds, digestive discomfort, or brain fog as something out of her control. It’s good enough for who it’s for. Doesn’t that sound like a dysfunctional relationship?

If these are issues you deal with on a regular basis, I can help. My job is to guide you down the sometimes rocky path towards wellness. Wellness, to me, is a whole-body experience and your brain is part of your body. It is connected, after all. Emotions and mindset have huge rolls to play in how well we are both physically and mentally. The mind-body connection has been downplayed for way too long. It’s time to pay attention.

If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. Thanks for reading!

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