Healing Your Emotional Relationship with Food

The other night I lay in bed watching Oprah’s 20th Anniversary DVD collection – a gift given to me by my best friend. Story after story of incredible people that have touched and changed the life of Oprah caused my tears of inspiration to flow. One particular person I really identified with – the story of Rudine. Rudine suffered severely from anorexia nervosa. She wanted so badly to battle and win this condition, but her emotional relationship with food and herself was so damaged.

You see, I can identify with this woman because at the age of 13, I came face to face with anorexia nervosa. It followed two very painful events in my life. Looking back, I now understand I was unable to cope with all the emotions I encountered. The anger and hatred I felt – because I could not outwardly express it – was turned inward. I began to hate my body and food became the enemy. I exercised like crazy and eventually ate only 1 small meal per day. After finally breaking that cycle, I swung to the other extreme and began to binge eat late at night. Other things replaced food until, at the age of 21, I got serious about facing and healing my emotions.

I share this with you because I think it is important to understand the devastating effects our relationship with food can have on our health. Maybe you’ve never suffered from anorexia nervosa, bulimia or obesity, but your emotional relationship with food is still worth examining. In an ideal relationship with food, you eat when you’re hungry, and you eat the healthy foods your body needs. Your body weight is healthy and you aren’t experimenting with the latest diet. Healthy eating is your way of life, and your physical wellbeing reflects that – not just your body, but your energy level, mood and internal health as well. So come on this journey with me and let’s explore some of the common emotions or situations that can trigger unhealthy eating. Pay attention to whether any of these strike home for you. If so, try substituting some of the alternatives I suggest so you can begin healing your emotional relationship with food.

Angry Eater: When you are very angry with yourself or someone else, do you turn to food? Maybe you’re mad because you made a mistake and so you beat yourself up with food. Try confronting and expressing your anger in a healthy way, and then forgive and let it go.

Stress Eater: According to Dr. Phil, “when you are under stress, your body releases hormones that automatically stimulate your appetite and set off cravings, prompting you to eat huge quantities of fattening food”. Take 15 minutes of quiet alone time or a 15 minute brisk walk instead.

Convenience Eater: You don’t have time or don’t feel like making something healthy to eat, so you grab whatever is convenient – fast food or take home, chips, donuts, etc. Keep healthy and convenient foods around the house and at the office – fruit, granola bars, Lean Cuisines, string cheese, and yogurt.

Tired Eater: Morning comes around or the afternoon energy runs out and you need a kick of sugar to keep you going. You load up on cookies, cake or other sugar snack foods and you’re off and running until you crash. Try getting 8 hours of sleep at night, exercising regularly, taking vitamins or taking a short cat nap.

No Waste Eater: Were you taught to never waste food? Were you reminded of all the poor children that had nothing to eat? Now you cannot bring yourself to leave anything on your plate or throw away any food. Put smaller portions on your plate. Give yourself permission to stop eating when you’re full. Work in a homeless shelter serving food or give food to the poor so you don’t feel guilty.

Self-Disgust Eater: You look at yourself and hate what you see; you eat or deprive yourself of food to mask the feelings you have, and so starts the cycle of abuse. Work on loving yourself in every way you can – pamper yourself, repeat positive affirmations, stick up for yourself. Invest in gaining confidence and self-esteem.

Boredom Eater: This is me. I don’t feel like doing laundry or cleaning the house. I’m tired of working, playing cars or watching TV. It’s cold outside and so I open the food cabinet. Hmmm. I wonder what I can eat. Get creative and find something fun and different to do. Switch projects and start something new. Make a phone call to a friend.

Fear of Intimacy Eater: Do you eat to hide yourself and avoid getting too close to someone? Sometimes reaching out to people can be a very scary and hard thing to do. Maybe you’ve been hurt too many times by loved ones. Seek help to heal your pain. Search for supportive and loving people that you can depend on. Take baby steps to reach out and trust someone.

Hopeless Eater: Have you just completely given up? Maybe you’ve tried too long to lose weight or given too much to your marriage, and nothing seems to change. You feel hopeless and so you just say, “Who cares? I’m just going to eat whatever I want”. Or maybe you’ve lost your appetite all together. Change your thoughts. Focus on the positive and keep a gratitude journal. Look for the bright side of everything. Search for the sunshine and you will find it.

“See Food” Eater: You know the saying, “I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it”. Are you the type of eater that constantly grazes? If the food is in front of you, you eat it without really thinking about it. You may or may not be hungry – it’s just a habit. Graze on low-fat and healthy foods. Keep the fattening foods at the grocery store. Work on being more conscious of how much food you are taking in.

Fitness and Health

For most of us from the government schools, PE (physical education) was in the school curriculum. So we had no choice but to comply and treat it as one of the school subjects. For the outdoor initiated, the PE lessons were great as it gave many an outlet for all the youthful hormones to exert themselves. For those of us who dread PE (including myself), our main thoughts were more like “what is the use of PE when it doesn’t improve our exam scores.” We were so wrong then.Continue reading: Fitness and Health

Improve Your Health and Fitness

Over aeons of time, our bodies have adapted to cope with survival in a harsh environment. Although we achieved civilization thousands of years ago, our bodies have not evolved to adapt to this change. If we imagine ourselves back in the distant past we would have eaten less sugar, salt and fat in a year or more than we now eat in a week or less. We would have eaten a diet of meat and fish, mostly vegetable matter, fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and roots. We would only have drunk water, and may have sampled the splendour of honey. Foods would be rich in fibre, some protein, essential fats, vitamins and minerals, but low in sugar, salt and saturated fats. We would have been in almost constant motion; playing, working, foraging, preparing food, but rarely staying still. (I think that it is important to remind ourselves that our body is designed to be active, but that we often think of exercise as formal, vigorous, structured pursuits. It can be easy to persuade ourselves that going swimming or playing football twice a week is enough [and so we have an excuse for driving to work and to the local shops]. And although it is great to do these things, we can stay fit and healthy without a gym membership, just by doing everyday movements; walking, cleaning the house, and gardening, and yes I shall say that well-worn phrase- leaving the car at home.)

Don’t think that our person from the past would have been feasting on jumbo mammoth steaks Flintstone-style all day long either. Meat may have been in scant supply for much of the time (have you ever tried to catch a rabbit?) and women and children spent a large amount of time foraging for nuts, roots, berries and vegetable matter. Everyone would have been involved in acquiring food, and all methods of obtaining food would have used large amounts of energy; you have to cover wide areas to provide enough food for a family. Even when farming became a way of life huge amounts of energy would have to be invested in producing the fruits, vegetables and animal products. Animals too would have been reared on a diet of more complex foods rather than modern high-energy processed feeds. It is thought that their meat would have been much less rich in saturated fats and so healthier for the people consuming it.

Food production would have been part of every day life, unlike today where food arrives pre-packed, smothered in cellophane, produced days, weeks or months ago in a factory hundreds of miles away, glazed with wax, identical in size and colour to its neighbour, lacking any aroma, and likely to be lacking in nutrition. Our imaginary person would have experienced real, largely unprocessed food, and a varied seasonal diet (no strawberries at Christmas for Ms Caveperson). It is likely that they would have a relationship with what they had produced. If you ever grow your own fruit and veg you will understand how exciting it is to watch things grow, then how good it feels to harvest and prepare them. People would have wasted nothing- all parts of every fruit, vegetable or animal would be used for something, almost nothing was unusable; today in the UK one third of our food is thrown away and wasted, out of every 2 bagged salads purchased today, one will go in the bin (sounds familiar?).

Another aspect of our imaginary person’s relationship to food is the social aspect. People would have produced and processed the food together, celebrated harvests and abundant times, and eaten together as a family or group. Children would help the adults, and learnt how to grow and prepare food ensuring that they would be able to look after themselves as adults. Meal times may have been the only time when the extended family would be gathered together to swap the day’s news, gossip and stories. This way people eat more slowly, and eat less allowing their body to feel full and satisfied. Food would have produced social bonding and been a central and essential part of social life.

Life would have been hard, and still is for many people today who have to provide their own food, and so I don’t want to over-romanticise this imaginary person. However, I think that this person from the past is a useful tool for understanding what our eating and activity profile should be more like if we wish to be healthier and happier. There would have been no slouching on a sofa in front of the TV, no Chicken Dippas, micro-chips, and definitely (and thankfully) no Pringles. Our imaginary person may not even recognise these things as food.

Underneath it all we are still cave people, our bodies and brains have evolved to take nutrition from simple whole foods, we thrive on human contact and still feel the need to eat together and share food, and our bodies are healthier if we exercise consistently. We need a diet rich in whole foods, in raw foods, and home cooked foods. We should pick foods which are low in sugar, salt and saturated fat. If you are doubtful about the validity of a food, ask yourself how far-removed it is from its natural state, could you make it yourself, would it have existed a hundred years ago or more? If the answer is no then the chances are that it is not very healthy. We need to explore the excitement of foraging for food, growing it and preparing it, we need to rediscover the simple pleasures of podding peas, chopping fresh herbs, picking blackberries, and making pickles and jams.

Your Guide to Fitness

Fitness is something our culture knows about, but doesn’t activity participate in. Our lifestyles contain too much fast food and not enough exercise. Fitness is essential for your well being and overall health. It can make you age slower and live longer. Fitness keeps the blood pumping in your body and your heart healthy. Those who participate in fitness activities for at least 30 minutes each day significantly reduce their risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.Continue reading: Your Guide to Fitness