Drop the “Diet” & Find Peace at Mealtime
By Brooke Seiz, Nutrition Therapist
What do you feel when you think about food? Desperation? Sweet content? Guilt? Nurtured? Or maybe you’ve spent all day planning the next big diet…. Perhaps these questions make you squirm in your seat. But don’t stop reading yet, because this is the beginning of something completely different. Let’s ditch that awful word ‘diet’, and create a new relationship with the foods we eat. By changing the way we think about food, we can create lasting changes in our health. So from here on, let’s drop the diet and learn to choose foods that will positively feed both body and mind.
Food choices that we make on a daily basis are just that… choices. We can make choices that enhance our day, or put a damper on it. However, the foods we choose to eat are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We might think chocolate cake is ‘bad’, but eating a piece of flourless chocolate cake, consciously in the company of good friends, can be just fine. You can decide kale is a ‘good’ food, but joylessly forcing down a bowl of steamed kale while driving might cause an upset stomach.
What we eat is important, but equally important is how, why, and where we eat.
The main problem with dieting is that we spend too much time choosing what we eat. Many common food plans may be inappropriate for your own unique physiology. Meet with a nutritionist, and together you’ll determine what foods will help keep your body in balance, prevent cravings, and support your specific situation. Once you know what foods will support your body versus what foods will throw you off-balance, you can focus on why, where, and how you’re eating. This is where true change occurs.
Most of us associate foods with emotions. A slice of pumpkin pie may make you feel comforted, but leaves you feeling lonely after the last bite. A grande frappuccino may make you feel motivated & on the go, but by mid-afternoon you’re tired, bloated, and ready to leave work early. A chocolate bar may make you feel rewarded, but causes cravings that lead to binge-eating. It’s normal for us to have some emotional association to foods, but problems arise when we try to fill an emotional void by eating. A pumpkin pie won’t tell you how beautiful you are, or hold your hand as you cry over a lost loved one. That frappuccino won’t set you up on interviews for a new job, and a vodka tonic won’t kiss your forehead as you drift gently off to sleep. I know this seems obvious, but it’s amazing how often we use food to fill our emotional needs.
Here’s the great news
We can choose foods to support our emotional state while nourishing our body at the same time. We can do this while finding how, where, and why to eat foods to promote lasting changes. When you feel lonely, cook a warming soup or stew, or sweet potatoes with roasted vegetables, or whatever foods you’ve determined will support your body, but also provide some comfort. Invite a friend or family member to share your meal with you. Light a candle, and put soothing music on. If you’re still dying to eat a whole chocolate cake in the dark of your living room… Go sit down, pull out a notebook, and take three deep breaths. Then start journaling, writing down everything you’re thinking and feeling, stopping periodically to close your eyes and take three more deep breaths. When you’re done writing, go look in the mirror, and say to yourself, “I’m feeling lonely, and it’s making me feel so sad, but I am worthy. I am beautiful, and the universe will provide me with what I need.” Or if this doesn’t make you feel better, choose some different affirmations to repeat to yourself that make you feel good.
If you do all of this, and you still want the chocolate cake, than choose to eat it consciously. In order to do this, it’s important to know how chocolate cake affects your body. Likely, it spikes your blood sugar, raises your serotonin levels, thus making you feel really good for a short period of time. Then later you crash & it can contribute to the negative feelings you may have been feeling earlier. So if you choose to eat the chocolate cake, first acknowledge to yourself that this is how chocolate cake can affect you. Then eat the meal you’ve prepared first, and make sure it contains some protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Choose to eat the cake at the end of the meal. The protein, fat, and fiber will slow the digestion of the simple sugars in the cake, helping to curb the sugar spike, and prevent such a drastic crash. Then, you can eat or drink something like an umeboshi plum or apple cider vinegar in hot water with lemon, which you’ve previously determined with your nutritionist can help curb more sugar cravings. (There are other options if both of these don’t fit your needs.) Due to this knowledge, you keep these items on hand for moments just like this. You may be saying to me, “But Brooke, I ended up eating the chocolate cake anyway.” But, look how much more conscious you were. And, you took steps to prevent further sugar binging. If you begin to repeat these steps every time you’re feeling like eating emotionally, you will see change. It may take time, but this change will be life-long.
By creating a positive relationship with your foods, you will begin to make more and more food choices that enhance your body and your mental state. As you practice and create these new habits, you’ll begin to feel more balanced. Then if life surprises you with something difficult, you’ll have a toolbox of newly created habits to fall back on rather than food. That’s where true change is realized. So, drop the diet, and jump into a new way of thinking, where you will love to eat, and eat to thrive.