Have you ever wondered how to attain a 'healthy' relationship with food? Recently, I discovered that food is much more than merely what we put in our bodies. It influences your mind, and what we eat can tell a lot about how we feel about our body and ourselves.
This blog post is more serving as a starter for inner reflection than as a guide to what foods you shall eat and which ones you shall avoid. Eating intuitively isn't necessarily only what foods you eat but more the why's and the how's.
When I adapted a slow conscious vegan lifestyle, I started noticing that my relationship to food is flawed. I realised that often when I eat a piece of cake (or two), I tell myself that maybe this isn't the wisest decision and that I need to loose weight or stop eating so much what people call 'unhealthy food'. I never really notice this little voice but then when I started listening I noticed this negative self talk (or whispering) that I tortured myself with. I became more conscious about these little things I tell myself and began to wonder how to adapt a more conscious relationship with my body and the food I put in my body. The relationship we hold with our food influences the relationship we have with our body and mind and vice versa. In this blog post, I'm going to talk about the importance of listening to your body and your mind when it comes to food. The best thing you can do to yourself is eat when you need food. But when exactly is this?
Let's get this out of the way: diets are never a long-term solution. They are more negative than positive in my experience. When I was a teenager, I started dieting and noticed that after restricting myself so much, I would eat much more after my diet. This led to an eating disorder but thankfully I started healing, becoming more conscious and learning to love my body the older I grow. Restricting your food intake for a certain amount of time often doesn't work because you are likely to crave the foods you've not been eating after your diet! Restricting your food intake with the aim to become thinner may result in a vicious cycle of dieting, then falling back in the old patterns of eating 'unhealthily', dieting again and so on which is neither healthy for mind nor body. Restricting yourself and being too harsh on yourself is never healthy in whatever area in life. Better adapt a new diet that you can stick to, like adding more vegetables to your plate or a bowl of salad to each meal, instead of restricting your calorie intake or what foods you are allowed to eat.
Ask yourself when exactly you began to criticise your body? What was the trigger? We are constantly confronted with images of the perfect body type when in reality there is no such thing as a body type because all bodies are different. Your false belief about how your body should be can be deeply ingrained and you might not even notice it but it can cause your 'unhealthy' relationship with your body and as a result with food.
Young people, and especially women, are prone to diet and talk about how they are too fat and really need to loose weight before going on a holiday. This love hate relationship with food is not doing your body or your mind any good. Your body is craving a cake and you give it a salad. How is this a healthy relationship with your body? If I was a body, I wouldn't like that very much. Be happy with the body that you have first, accept it as it is and love it. Then think further.
And trust me, I know this isn't easy. It takes a lot of work in self-healing, love, trust and care. Therefore, I reference some great people you might want to follow who are healing coaches and have great advice on their instagram and websites. If you notice that you can't self-heal and the problem is much deeper ingrained, then you might want to seek medical advice and this is nothing to be ashamed for.
It's beautiful to see that there is a shift towards a more body positive environment and much more support when it comes to body positivity online. People seem to become more aware of the issues that we are faced with. We all need to do our work and create a more positive environment for ourselves and for others.
And this is how we start. The best thing to do for both your mind and your body is to eat a balanced diet. This doesn't mean you need to be a wholefoods eater and that you're not allowed any chocolate, cakes or sweets. In the contrary, this means to allow yourself to indulge in cake without feeling bad.
Feeling bad is the first step into an 'unhealthy' relationship to food. Begin to think about your relationship to food and to your body in a very honest way.
Do you eat certain foods because you believe they are healthy but you actually don't like them?
Do you restrict yourself?
Do you eat when you're sad or busy and stressed?
What foods do you eat when you're happy as opposed to when you're having a rough time?
A balanced diet is a diet where you can eat whatever you want without ever feeling bad, as long as you balance your diet and incorporate enough fruit, veg and don't only eat cooked foods, fatty foods and ready meals.
The language issue
It all starts with the language we use, so be careful what you say about yourself or your food and about others! People constantly tell us that cakes are 'bad' and only a 'treat'. 'Treating' yourself implies already that you 'deserve' having something that you're usually not allowing yourself because you think it's bad for you. It's something you earned because you got promoted, wrote that first chapter of your book, finished that one painting, and so on. Or maybe because you experienced something bad, are having a bad time, are feeling down. This reward system makes it easy for you to associate eating these 'bad' foods like cakes, chocolate, sweets with certain actions and emotions, so you're automatically going to crave these foods at times like these. Humans are habit lovers, we crave the comfort that habits give us. And therefore it is important to really become conscious of your habits. Ideally, don't reward yourself for anything with food, don't misuse food for your emotional ups and downs. Treat food as it is: something that nurtures your body and your mind.
Emotional eating is another topic to be dismantled. It's frowned upon and I had a one-sided view on this until I discovered Laura Thomas, an AfN registered nutritionist, who is specialised in intuitive eating. What I discovered is that emotional eating can be totally acceptable in certain moments. Sometimes the only coping mechanism that you have left is eating! This can happen if you're sleep-deprived and your body needs another energy source. Emotional eating can help in certain situations, but it is what it is: a coping mechanism that fills in a gap that you have. Therefore, to make sure you are not overeating emotionally, ask yourself when you notice that you are eating low-energy foods (processed foods with lots of sugars) how you are feeling. Check in with yourself.
And this leads to our final point which is how to eat intuitively and mindfully. A habit that I adapted is to check in with myself at least twice a day. I ask myself one simple question 'How am I feeling?'
And yes, I do forget sometimes to check in with myself. It's not about doing something with perfection but rather creating a space of self-trust and love. A conscious space. Whenever I check in with myself, everything becomes clearer and whatever occupies my mind, I can somehow handle because I made it tangible. Don't be afraid whatever it is that you are thinking or feeling - you are not your thoughts, neither are you your emotions or feelings.
Make this check-in a habit that you stick with. Take 5 minutes twice a day to simply see how you feel. Being in tune with your desires, needs, and mood is highly useful and important in order to have a peaceful relationship with yourself.
When I have a craving for certain foods but am really not hungry, I ask myself:
'How do I feel?'
'What may I actually need at this moment instead of eating?'
'What is really going to make me feel good in a non-addictive way and as a long-term solution?'
Emotional eaters tend to eat more when they are stressed. I notice from my own experience that I eat MUCH MORE (especially sweet foods) when I have a lot going on in my life and when I give myself endless to-do lists (which I am thankfully minimising). Sometimes, especially at busy times, we are so wrapped up in our own lives and the dramas we create that we forget to look at our life from an objective point of view. Try this. Step out of your life and see it from outside of our planet. This might sound strange to you but close your eyes and imagine yourself stepping out of your body, then out of your room, your house, your country, and our planet. That way you'll gain an overview of what your life really is and that no stress in the world is worth it because actually you're quite cool and beautiful and happy and peaceful and healthy. And if there is a major problem in your life, you'll see it with different eyes from this perspective. Do your check in's and you'll see that you'll find yourself realising how you truly feel and whether you got some healing to do somewhere or to clarify something in your life. This is the time to take a break, to speak to a friend, your partner, your family, your therapist. You are not alone on this earth. Ever.
Another important thing is to eat slowly. Thank the universe for your food. Chew your food thoroughly. Whatever you eat.
Eat cakes and chocolate. Eat at midnight if you want. It's all about balance. Balance between whole foods and processed foods.
And one last thing is to listen to your body! Your body will tell you when you eat something that you have problems to digest. Does your stomach hurt after certain foods? Do you have diarrhoea, feel constipated or bloated? These can all be tell-tales of an intolerance, overeating, not eating enough, or other issues. Pay close attention to your food intake. Every person can eat a different amount of food, and some people can have an intolerance to the healthiest foods, so eating what people usually term as 'healthy' isn't necessarily going to be healthy for you.
Restore the most important relationship in your world: the one with yourself!
Disclaimer: I'm not a nutritionist or any kind of health expert, I am talking about my own experience and what works for me. If you need help with an eating disorder or have any other health issues, please see your local GP, seek a therapist, and see a specialist.
The following books I got recommended by a feminist and body positivity activist aka my my beautiful friend Vanessa - merci :)
Linda Bacon - Health at Every Size * (how fitting the name is lol)
Sarah - Dietland (this has been made into a series too) *
* I linked informative websites instead of the amazon website because I believe we should first check out our local shops and libraries.
If you know any good literature on intuitive eating that you want to add, let me know!