From full-blown eating disorders to the somewhat culturally acceptable practice of “eating your feelings,” having an unhealthy relationship with food has become quite prevalent. When food becomes either your enemy or your best friend (or even a frustrating mixture of both), the idea of listening to your body, of being able to tell what it needs and acting accordingly, may sound dubious. However, just as the practice of mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing your emotions, mindful or intuitive eating can transform your relationship with food and take back the power that it has over you. These 3 steps, adapted from an article by dietician Evelyn Tribole, can provide you with a starting point to begin changing the way you relate to food.

  1. Begin to see food as a tool, not an enemy.

For many people, this must begin with letting go of dieting. Often, there is no end game in dieting. Whether you jump from one diet to the next or have stuck with the same one for years, there is no satisfaction, no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no magical combination of different nutrients that will make you your perfect size, at least not sustainably. Dieting is usually synonymous with ignoring your body and your cravings, and this is not sustainable. Your body has cravings for a reason, and eventually they will win.

Along with this, you must start giving yourself permission to eat. When you deprive yourself of something desirable, it only becomes more and more desirable. Obviously, not all desires should be indulged, but food is desirable because it is necessary for survival. Food is not your enemy. Food is meant to give you energy and resources to live your life and do what you love. You may fear that giving yourself permission would end in bingeing on all of  the foods you fear. However, when a food is no longer forbidden, it tends to lose much of its allure (as our rebellious hearts have nothing more to rebel against). When you begin listening to your body, you will realize that your cravings aren’t as destructive as you might think.

An important aspect of being able to give yourself permission to eat is seeing food as morally neutral. Certain foods are not “good” or “bad,” and eating them does not make you “good” or “bad.” If you have a history of dieting, this may sound impossible, but you can begin to challenge that voice in your head that screams at you for even thinking about eating a “bad” food. When your food choices are separated from your self-worth, you will experience such freedom from these voices of condemnation.

  1. Listen to your body

It may sound simple, but this begins with eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. However, as easy as it may seem, many people have trained themselves to ignore their hunger and fullness cues, especially in the name of sticking to a diet. However, your body has these biological responses for a reason. Your body tells you it’s hungry because it needs food. It’s not trying to trick you.

If you eat when you first notice you are hungry, rather than when you are ravenous, you will eat more reasonable amounts and probably more nutritious food. Additionally, you will likely eat more slowly and mindfully and be able to notice when you begin feeling full, which will allow you to stop eating when you are satisfied and avoid the guilt-ridden feeling of being “stuffed.”

It is also important to note that a “healthy weight” is relative. It looks different on every single person. Your body’s natural weight may not be the ideal you see in magazines, but it is the ideal for your unique body to function in the unique way it was designed. It is trying to reach an equilibrium, a balance. When you don’t eat, it craves food more than ever. When you eat less than nutritious food, it can sometimes rebel in other ways. When it is at an unnaturally high or low weight, it will in its own way try to get back to where it knows it should be. Some people can diet themselves into a supermodel figure, but they are in for a constant battle to stay there.

  1. Explore with your new freedom!

Once you begin to free yourself from the rules, restrictions, and obligations that go along with dieting and unhealthy relationships with food, you will discover a whole new world of food and enjoyment. Allow yourself to try new foods, even foods that may have been condemned as “bad” before. Appreciate the myriad of different flavors, textures, and smells that food has. When you allow yourself to enjoy food, free of all the baggage it previously possessed, you are actually less likely to overindulge because you will actually feel satisfied!

Laura Lanier, LPC Intern under supervision by Christy Graham, LPC S

You may also use this opportunity to rediscover your feelings: what they feel like and how to express them healthily instead of stuffing them down with food (or lack thereof). I urge you to give yourself and your body more credit. Learning to eat intuitively is not an easy or quick process, but it is possible. You can end your fight with food and with your body and find balance.

To schedule an appointment with Laura Lanier call 940-222-8703 ext 704 or click on services, Schedule with Laura L. Laura focuses on College Age students and Adults. She has experience with eating disorders and issues with body image.

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