3 Steps to a More Mindful & Healthy Relationship With Food

 

Written by Kari Anderson, DBH, LPC, CEDS :Chief Clinical Director at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating at Green Mountain at Fox Run 

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” –Albert Einstein

My Story: Being Out of Control With Food

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

I wouldn’t have to think about food if I found the perfect set of rules for what and how much to eat. But through dieting as an attempt to control food, I found myself feeling increasingly out of control.

It was in my mid to late teens that my behaviors escalated to what we now know to be Binge Eating Disorder. This isn’t how it always transpires, but anyone who struggles with emotional eating may resonate with my story of healing.

My fear of being out of control with food is what truly fed my efforts to control it.

Healing My Relationship with Food

This means, in order to find peace with food, you can’t strong arm it.

Our culture intensely shames those that are out of control with food. It was hard to imagine sharing my secret with anyone about how much food I could eat when I was alone, especially as someone who struggles with weight.

Bingeing for me began as an attempt to nurture myself, something I thought gave me pleasure, but instead became a way to punish myself. Healing had to take place within the context of two relationships: the one with myself, and the one with food. Both of which 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 was a point where eating became a process for numbing, escaping and avoiding thoughts and emotions I was afraid of or uncomfortable with, as opposed to just being food.

What helped me disengage from fear and judgment and adopt a kinder more compassionate inner dialogue was what became my trademark phrase: “Of course!” It meant given my life circumstances, my behavior was completely understandable.

  1. Ground Into the Present with Mindfulness

Mindfulness allowed me to realize when I was crossing the threshold from just food to Never Neverland.

This empowered me with choice: I could continue mindlessly and feel worse afterward, or change my routine to better meet my needs.

I can attribute most of my stress as being created by my own thinking, resulting from fear residing deep within my mind, and not because there’s actually a threat to my safety. Regardless, I’m a fear-based person and need to take great care to disengage my fear in order to maintain balance and prevent the fight, onhealthy flagyl flight or freeze mode.

I needed to ground myself externally to all the pleasure that is available to me in life, since fear is an internal process.

I helped myself with something I called “my favorite things”.

I created a list of my favorite things and gathered what I could together. Now I make a point to spend some time each day with my favorite things to gaze at, smell, hear, touch and even taste.  Grounding into my senses calms me like nothing else and is my very own self-regulator.

  1. Allowing Choices About What I Eat

Back to food: restrictive thoughts and rules dominated my relationship with food, which only created more fear and feelings of deprivation.

No good relationship is based on fear, so looking at food objectively, without judgment was something I practiced as often as I could. I paid attention to what I liked, or didn’t like, and how foods made me feel. My focus was on quality, rather than quantity of food.

Now, if I don’t like something, I make the choice to not eat it. I’m amazed at how empowering it is to have choice.  On the other hand, when the focus is on what you “get to have” or rules of what and how much, you just eat because that’s all you get until the next ration.

I disengage my fear of not getting enough with an inner dialogue that repeats to me, “you can always have more, there is always more food…” This deactivates the stress around eating.

  1. Learn to Respect Food (And Yourself)

Another powerful shift came when I began to respect food.

Considering where the food was grown, the ingredients in it, the energy and effort put into making it, and the restorative power it had in the body, were all part of my mindful eating process.

Staying awake and aware while eating allowed me to notice the pleasure of eating and how that changes as we near satiety.  As opposed to eating mindlessly, which disrespected food and my body.

When eating mindfully, feeling painfully full (which used to feel comforting) feels regrettable and limiting to the activities to come.

For me, the key is to have self-awareness of when I begin wanting to use food as a way of altering or regulating my state of consciousness and ends up taking on a role that is more than just food.

Emotional Eating & Normal Eating

Eating emotionally is part of normal eating and still happens. But it’s no longer an option for me to use food as a self-regulator or to punish.

It’s hard to return to old ways once you enter an understanding of what you’re doing.  Instead, it becomes an act of choice.

I now choose to live life rather than escape it.