Trusting Ourselves with Food
by Esther Kane; Website
For those of you reading this who feel that you can’t trust yourself with food- i.e., what, when, and how much to eat- I would like to offer you hope that you can undo this distrust and build a healthy and rewarding relationship with food and your body. I’m not going to promise that it will be easy nor fast, but I can promise with complete confidence that it will be worth all the hard work and time you put into it.
I invite you to begin this journey by having the courage to step out and start believing that you can let go of the idea that you ‘can’t be trusted with food’ and start to see yourself as a woman who can and will learn to trust her mind and body by eating intuitively. This first step is imperative because it focuses on letting go of false/old belief patterns which are no longer serving you and makes room for more empowering and life-affirming beliefs to take over, and if practiced enough, to eventually rewire your brain to an automatic ‘affirmative’ belief pattern system. We are learning this from all the recent neuroscientific research and it’s very encouraging indeed.
As a food/body image psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience, I feel that I can say with 100% certainty that this is an achievable goal. I have helped thousands of women turn their relationships with food and body image around from hair-pulling/body-hating/food-fearing to smiling in the mirror and saying to themselves, “You’ve got this girlfriend” and actually believing it.
I also know this from personal experience- I managed to conquer a life-threatening eating disorder over 20 years ago and have come to trust that I know what foods work for me, how much I need to consume, and when I am full. Let me share with you something I learned in my early recovery days that helped shape me personally and professionally. It is one factoid that made a whole lot of sense to me then and still holds up today:
We are born to eat intuitively. Babies cry when they’re hungry asking to be fed. They get food in their bellies and are satiated. Until they get hungry again…
Little children eat intuitively. They eat when they feel hunger and often choose foods that appeal to them. And we all know that they avoid foods that don’t- can anyone remember loving broccoli as a kid?!
So how did we get from trusting our bodies and food choices and eating until satisfied to being so confused about the whole concept? I sum it up in two words:
When does this bad training start? We all know the answer- puberty. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that as soon as you started to develop breasts and hips and got a monthly period, everything with food started to change- big time.
When I ask women about what their experience of puberty was like, they often say that they felt somehow ‘betrayed’ by their bodies because there were all of these changes taking place that they had no control over- especially when it came to gaining weight in parts of their bodies they never thought would expand.
If I probe further, I usually hear stories of these same women going on their ‘first diet’- which often is the beginning of a large series of diets over their lifetimes. They start to see food; once a friend and all-around good thing, to an enemy out to destroy them. Not only that, but these messages are often confirmed by the elders in their lives and the society in which they live.
Thus, we start to distrust our food choices and start to categorize foods as “good” and “bad” categories. The endless pursuit to eat only “good” foods and avoid the “bad” foods begins in earnest and we soon find ourselves on the endless diet roller-coaster, full of shame if we ‘fall off the wagon’. We start to believe that if only we had enough willpower, we could perfect the whole ‘food thing’ and look the way we think we’re supposed to look- if there is any confusion here- just look at any magazine cover at the check-out aisle of your local supermarket and you’ll instantly become aware of the futility of such a pursuit.
I’d like to end this article with some strategies you can try to start to transform your relationship to food which is based on trusting yourself and your body…
Trusting Ourselves with Food: Journaling Exercises
Observe someone you know who has a healthy relationship with food and take notes on the following:
What do they eat? Are they all “good” foods or do they also indulge in “bad” foods once in a while?
How often do they eat? Do they eat regular meals or do they snack all day or a combination of the two?
Do they share food with others and go out for meals? If so, do they enjoy it?
Are there special occasions when they indulge a bit more like holidays or birthdays? If so, do they beat themselves up for days afterward and go on a restrictive diet to punish themselves for doing so?
Questions to ponder on trusting yourself with food:
Ask yourself the following questions and do your best to answer each one honestly:
If I could let go and trust myself with food, what positive results could be possible? How would my self-image change in good ways?
Was there a time in my life when I hardly gave food/body image a thought and ate intuitively? What was that like compared to how I am now with food and how I feel about how I look?
If I could stop categorizing foods as “good” and “bad, how could that be freeing to me and how I choose what to eat?
If I were to go out on a limb and trust myself with food for a day, what would I eat and how would that look? Would I eat three square meals a day or opt for smaller meals throughout the day? What foods would I choose to eat for each meal and why?