Those of us who struggle with weight have the challenge of not only whatever the weight means to us but also of what to do about it. If you have spent some of your life dieting, you know how much time you spend thinking about what you are going to eat that you should, how you are going to avoid eating things that you shouldn’t, portion control, healthy foods, etc. and pretty soon you are giving up because it is too much hassle. I have spent many years in this same predicament, feeling bad about myself for failing, yet always having in my mind that this should be something I should be able to conquer.
So here are some tips that I have used to help me disengage and relax about food and get it back into its proper perspective of being nourishment for the body.
1. Regular nourishment. Our bodies are engines that require regular fueling so that our tanks don’t empty. Many of us get into the habit of skipping meals so that when we do eat, we overeat because we are too hungry and empty. Eating regularly every 2 and a half to 3 hours provides regular nourishment so we don’t hit empty. In addition, this technique has helped me learn to differentiate between fueling my body and feeding emotional emptiness. If I nourish myself regularly, my body does not need additional food in between. I am likely to notice cravings that emotionally generated when I want to eat bread or ice cream or sugar in between feedings, and at that point I have a little space to figure out why I am hungering. It isn’t for nourishment, it is for emotional nurture. Eating regularly also allows you to discipline yourself to smaller portions because you can tell yourself you can eat again soon. I can easily hold out for the next feeding and hydrate myself in between.
2. Emotional emptiness. As babies, we are fed and nurtured at the same time. We learn to go to sleep on a full stomach and connect contentment with physical fullness. And as we get older, it is easy for us to continue this pattern, thus the concept of “comfort foods.” I have begun keeping a log of cravings to help me get through some of these periods. I write down in the moment what I am craving, what is happening, what triggers I notice, what I am feeling, and what I did about it. Sometimes I just choose to eat something, but I am honest with myself that I am filling an emotional void with food. Other times, it draws me into realizing that I am needing something else, like a hug or emotional connection or sunshine, and I go and find that and get the nurture that I am seeking. Writing it down also helps you to see your own patterns. Do you always crave chocolate when you sit in a particular place on your couch? Do you always want popcorn when you watch a particular show on TV? Recognize these and bring them into your consciousness so you recognize that you do have choices.
3. Hydrate. Many of us don’t drink enough water in our day, and lack of hydration can be hard on your body. There are many times that I feel hunger when I am actually thirsty, so I have to remember to carry water with me. If you are following a regular eating routine, hydrating in between will help you feel fuller as well as helping you eliminate toxins from your body. Our energy systems are fueled by fluids, so water can also give you an emotional lift as your energy system can be able to flow more freely if well hydrated.
4. Get a buddy. I don’t really care who it is, but having a buddy can help me keep myself on track. Having a gym buddy – who I actually met at the gym – makes me show up because I don’t want to let her down. Having a food buddy – whether through weight watchers or on your own – can give you that same support. Since many of us seek outward approval, use this need to your advantage and engage people in helping you reach your goals.
5. Research and read. I have been through probably every diet and program known to man, and none of them seemed to work for me. My mind is very good at seeking the magic bullet – the plan that is uniquely suited to me that will work like a charm. I have done considerable reading about diets, body functions, and nutrition, and I have also learned a considerable amount about foods my body likes, tolerates, and hates. Learn about yourself so that you can find eating patterns that fit your body’s needs. Not everyone thrives on a vegetarian diet, or on a meat protein diet, so learn what you like and don’t like. We are in the process of establishing and maintaining an eating routine that supports our health and NOT dieting. Make it a science project to learn about your body.
6. Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to say nasty things to ourselves when we are disheartened and feel like we can’t succeed – again. I have reframed this into how can I support myself and take care of my physical body rather than focusing on what I consider wrong about my behavior. If I had an ideal mother, what would she be encouraging me to do? Eat high quality foods, consume reasonable portions regularly, vary my diet so I get lots of things that I like to eat that are good for me, drink water, get outside and play, and all the other things that we tell our kids. Parent yourself well and give you the support you deserve. Harsh words can undo all sorts of good works, and speaking them to yourself is a habit worth overcoming.
7. Learn from your challenges. I learn more when I make mistakes than when I succeed easily. I used to hate eating and fixing breakfast because it was a hassle. Now I look forward to it because I get to eat things that I like. (This morning it was steel cut oatmeal with greek yogurt, banana and almonds.) I have learned that if I eat protein with my carbs, I stay full longer. I have also learned that I crave the quick energy in fruit so I almost always include it. Learn what works for you and reward yourself by doing it.