While you might think my relationship with food has always been pretty Instagram-worthy salads and smoothies, the reality is that it hasn’t always been that way (nor is it always Instagram-worthy or filled with salads and smoothies). My health journey stems back to an eating disorder (anorexia) I had when I was 13 years old, which continued into a decade of disordered eating that finally came to an end around the time I finished university.
During these years, foods was the enemy, but it was also my saving grace for coping with any emotion that I encountered, be it stress, loneliness, fear of failure or not being good enough and worry. While I still love food (and may be “obsessed” in some people’s eyes), I’m no longer obsessed from a negative standpoint, nor do I let it exercise control over me.
In the past, I would obsess over numbers, calories, exercise, input and output (hoping that output exceeded input). As much as I feared what effect food would have on my body (i.e. “make me fat”), I adored it. I would think about it every second, especially before going to bed. I couldn’t wait to wake up just to have the opportunity to eat again. I never understood people who missed a meal because they weren’t hungry or were too busy. In my mind, that was an opportunity (which I viewed as a “gift” or a “reward”) to eat, which of course, I would end up resenting after, thinking all food did was make you fat.
When I share my story with people, they often ask “how did you stop?” and while it’s difficult to draw back to a pivotal moment of which the shift occurred, I can say that learning these lessons along the way eventually helped me to heal my relationship with food and stop obsessing over it in such a negative way.
How To End Your Obsession With Food
Stop counting calories – As a Holistic Nutritionist, we encourage our clients to view food from a qualitative standpoint as opposed to a quantitative standpoint. We strive to get people to stop counting calories (if you’re going to count anything, count chemicals and ingredients!) If we counted calories, something as nourishing as cashews, almonds or hemp seeds would be “terrible” for us!.
View food as fuel, not as a reward – A lot of people view food as a “reward” or a “treat”. While this is okay from time to time (specifically for treats), it’s to our benefit to start viewing food for the fuel it provides. This comes with recognizing what your body needs based on your lifestyle, body composition or unique needs. Did you just do a tough workout? You may want to have something more protein and carbohydrate rich (fact: carbohydrates help to shuttle protein into your muscles) like eggs and sweet potato. Are you suffering from low energy in the afternoon? Snack on a handful of nuts which will provide you with slow burning fuel to sustain you until dinner time. Did you have more of an indulgent weekend than usual? Your body is probably itching for a detoxifying salad filled with dark leafy greens. Give your body that! It knows better than any nutrition label will tell you and it will thank you for it.
Eat the real thing – It’s time to say good bye to the diet drinks, 100-calorie snack packs, aspartame-filled treats, zero-calorie salad dressings. All of these artificial chemical-filled foods aren’t serving you or fuelling you on a cellular level, telling your brain that it needs more and more and more. The goal isn’t to get by on as little fuel as possible just to survive. The goal is to thrive by giving our body the proper nutrients and vitamins it needs. I wish I learnt this lesson 10 years earlier. Instead, I walked through a decade of my life feeling less than optimal and ruled by food. It wasn’t until I changed this and started eating the real thing – real wholesome fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, that I actually started feeling better and eventually my best!
Stop victimizing food –The minute we label a food as “good” or “bad” is the minute we start creating boundaries around food and restricting certain foods. As with any kind of restriction, when we forbid ourselves from pursuing something or a certain food, the desire for it grows even stronger. For example, back in January when everyone was making their New Year’s Resolutions (which I typically don’t make), I had the urge to switch things up and invite change myself. I proclaimed to go free of added natural sugars for a whole month. I wasn’t huge on sugar before,
but thought that I could use a break from natural sweeteners (raw honey, maple syrup, molasses) after Christmas.
Not entirely to my surprise, within the first week, all I could think about was sugar. It’s all I wanted. I would get home from work with a desire to bake (but secretly to eat the sugar-y batter). Within 10 days, I had “quit” my no added-sugar challenge (which led me to feeling like somewhat of a “failure”) and spent the next few undoing the psychological damage I had done to myself. Moral of the story, stop victimizing food. Enjoy food. Embrace it. Then move onto the next thing!
Don’t strive for perfection – I used to be the queen of “I’ll start fresh Monday.” The reason why was because I would be eating well or “clean” for a few days and then the minute my lips met a treat or indulgent food, it was game over. The secret here is to simply enjoy those odd indulgences. If they’re more frequent from time to time, that’s okay too. But enjoy it in that moment, then go back to your regular healthy habits the next snack or meal. The “Start Fresh Monday” mentality just makes us obsess over food even before because now we’re on a clock until Sunday at midnight and there’s pressure to eat all of the indulgent foods before Monday strikes and here’s to hoping we’re finally satisfied by the time Monday comes because at that point, we need to be back to our rigid, structured routines and there’s no room to “mess up.” Do you see how corrupt this thinking can be, as opposed to if we just allow ourselves these little treats along the way? We’ll always be better off doing that.
Listen to your body – Our bodies truly knows best. If we simply tune in and listen to it’s commands, we can learn a lot from it. It takes time to learn to stop ourselves in our tracks and question our intentions behind our desires. At times I still feel the urge to reach for a [naturally-sweetened] treat at 3pm. If I didn’t recognize the reason behind that (it’s usually related to low blood sugar or not having a proper balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat at lunch), I would eat or snack aimlessly until I was satisfied. But instead I can recognize: “Ok, you might be slightly tired, have low blood sugar or even be thirsty. Maybe you should have a fat-fuelled snack like nuts or drink some water to sustain your energy”. When we can do this, we can stop food from controlling our decisions and allow our body to make a more educated decision for us.
Eat the whole thing – This might seem like a silly one, but if you’re one to only eat half a cookie or muffin in hopes of exercising some self control when it comes to food, listen up. I was exactly in your shoes just a few years ago. If there was a lonely half of pizza, muffin or cookie leftover, it was ubiquitously known that I was the culprit. Now let me ask you: How many times have you gone back for that other half after telling yourself you’re only going to have one half? For me, it was always, almost without fail. This too does a number on us psychologically, first by creating restriction by only granting ourselves half and then inducing guilt or shame when we go back for the other half. This only exacerbates the obsession with food, because it’s more than likely we’re going to spend several hours festering on how we ate the whole thing now. Instead, eat the whole thing. Again, ENJOY IT. Then move on. Let it go. C’est la vie! We’re not going to obsess over it, are we?
Put an end to dieting – I may have covered this briefly in one of my earlier points, but if I know anything from 10 years of disordered eating, it’s that diets don’t work. They only make you more obsessed with food, numbers, flaws and more than likely will leave you feeling like a failure. Our relationship with food suddenly comes from a negative place, leaving us feeling deprived, controlled and restricted, which naturally will make us lose control eventually. Instead, instill healthy habits that you can instill long term. I know this sounds insane because if someone told me that 10 years ago, I would’ve thought they were simply sweet talking me. But I promise, falling in love with the nourishment and deliciousness that real wholesome foods you can provide is the best thing you can do to heal your relationship with food and stop negatively obsessing with it once and for all.