24 June 2009

Changing My Relationship With Food

One year ago, on the Summer Solstice, I set an intention to change my relationship to food and regain my health and vitality. I was morbidly obese and yet the goal had little to do with the number on the scale. I wanted to find freedom from mindless compulsive eating, whatever my weight. I wanted to begin living a healthier lifestyle that was more in alignment with my core beliefs.

My intention had nothing to do with dieting, and everything to do with living.

Most people don't even think that they have a relationship with food. Trust me, you do. And mine was quite intimate, and complicated. It started when I was a wee toddler and became more and more convoluted throughout the years.

In my Hungarian household, food took center stage. We celebrated with food. We mourned with food. I learned to use food for pleasure, for comfort, for reward. I turned to food when I was sad, hurt, angry, bored and lonely. I quickly forgot that eating had anything to do with being hungry. Food became the glue that held my life together.

When I set about changing my relationship to food, the goal was not to detach all emotion and enjoyment from eating. It was to find a healthy balance between getting the nutrition my body needs and enjoying my meals mindfully. In short, where I once lived to eat, I had to learn to eat to live.

Reflecting On A Year of Change

Sunday marked the first day of summer, and I spent time reflecting on the many changes of this past year — I've regained my health and vitality, and, yes, I have succeeded in changing my relationship to food. I thought I'd share with you a bit of what I've learned along the way:
  • Most of us go unconscious when we eat. After the first few bites, we don't even taste it. Maybe it's because we're usually doing five other things while eating. To feel the physical satisfaction from the food, it is important to be relaxed and aware as you eat.
  • Cultivate a sense of gratitude for your food. Each time we remember to eat with awareness, we return to that place of inner peace.
  • Most of the time we eat in response to our minds. Most of the time we feed our bodies without consulting our bodies.
  • Physical hunger is of the body. Physical hunger asks for food. Nonphysical hunger is of the mind, the heart. When you see that your physical hunger is capable of being fulfilled, you can begin to allow that same possibility for your emotional hunger.
  • If you're not experiencing physical hunger, yet you're still reaching for the food, then it's time to figure out what you want from food beyond its nourishing your body. A sure-fire way of doing that is to ask: What is it I don't want to feel, do, or say right now?
  • Food is fuel for our bodies, not a drug for our souls. As we learn to nourish our bodies, we find that we are spiritually nourished as well.
  • There is nothing you can’t have tomorrow so there is no reason to eat it all today.
  • If we change our relationship to food, we have to find other ways to entertain ourselves, comfort ourselves, and find pleasure.
  • Going to the farmer’s market for fresh produce and meeting the farmers that grow your food is a wonderful way to foster a healthier relationship with food.
  • Stay focused on the healthy choices you're making each day. If you do indulge in old behaviors with food, release the guilt or thoughts of "falling off the wagon." There is no wagon to fall off. We're not giving anything up. We can still eat that whole bag of Doritos if we want, but we're choosing not to.
  • When we stop dieting, we have to trust that our body will tell us what it needs. This can be terrifying because we think we need so much. We still want what we weren't allowed as a child. More often than not, this has little to do with food.
  • As we begin listening to our bodies, we discover our own voice – something we were often too young to know we had given away. Deciding what goes into our mouths, and when, is very empowering.
  • Food cravings are physical. Food obsessions are emotional.
  • Physical cravings are our cells crying for the nutrients they need. Sadly, we often respond to this urge by eating highly processed and refined foods which only promote further malnourishment.
  • Mineral-rich foods, like dark leafy greens and sea vegetables, stave off cravings.
  • There's a very dangerous myth that "fat makes you fat." The truth is, without enough fatty acids, our brains do not function properly and our cells cannot communicate. The proper kind of fats are essential to our health and well being.
  • When you are busy loving life, food becomes less of a mistress.
I love that last one. Can't remember where I first heard it, but it's stayed with me and is oh-so true.

Now tell me, what kind of relationship do you have with food today? Friend or foe?


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