Update: After sharing my fertility story and my battle with HA, I thought revisiting this post would make sense and would give it more context. My negative relationship with food and exercise is what started me down the path of a lot of health conditions, both physical and mental. I really want to spread the message that trying to control your body to look a certain way is just NOT WORTH IT! Live your life, enjoy it, and stop being so hard on yourself. xoxo
If you are reading this post, you likely saw the title and were somehow able to relate to it. In this day it is rare to meet someone who isn’t now or hasn’t at some point in their life developed a negative relationship with food. It’s sad, but it’s oh so true.
Having countless food choices and everybody and their mother telling you what to eat, what not to eat and what time to eat can be overwhelming. That overwhelm and confusion often leads us in search of comfort and security – and what better to comfort us than food right? It’s a vicious, vicious cycle that is easy to get caught up in.
I know because I was there. And I still kind of am, but it’s gotten a lot better. I don’t think I’ll ever have a perfect relationship with food, but I’m definitely well on my way to a healthier and more positive one.
I was inspired to open up about my own experience after being asked by 2 acquaintances in the same week about how they could stop their negative relationship with food. Both stories were the same:
“I am so good all week; I exercise everyday and my eating is perfect Monday-Friday afternoon. Then the weekend hits and all hell breaks loose! I can’t control myself and I lose all will-power and end up eating everything in sight! It’s so frustrating because I’m constantly cycling the same 5-10lbs back and forth each week. It feels like this will go on forever and I just have no way of controlling it!”
If this sounds familiar I promise you, you are not alone. This was my life up until about 2 years ago. My weight was up and down every week and could even fluctuate 10-15lbs in one month!
I was going through the same thing: restrict, restrict, restrict during the week and then reward, reward, reward on the weekends.
I thought I was doing everything right and this was just how my body worked.
Everything I craved during the week I ate on the weekends and I DREADED Mondays; it signified the start of another restricting and intense exercising cycle (and not to mention the awful food hangover from the weekend).
And don’t even get me started on vacations or events that were outside my “regular schedule.” Those would be a free pass to eat whatever the hell I wanted. They would usually end with me feeling so disgusted with myself that I couldn’t even face a mirror. I would just give myself a date to start my next “diet” and then binge eat until that date.
This vicious cycle took a toll on my body and things started to break down; injuries and new health conditions (like my Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, which you can read more about here) started popping up and I just ignored them.
I kept pushing through with my regular routine until my body finally had enough and I had no choice but to stop what I was doing and start listening to what it was trying to tell me.
Now I am still not 100% in tune with my body and still have slip ups every now and again but it’s getting better. I’m learning everyday and it’s unfortunate that I had to get to this point to learn a very valuable lesson. I don’t think that needs to be the case for everyone however…
The good news is there is hope and you can put an end to this cycle, no matter what your reason is.
It’s not going to be easy, but nothing really worth doing is easy, right? The most important thing to remember on your road to recovery is why you started in the first place.
Figure out your WHY and go from there.
Is it for weight-loss? Ok that’s great but what does that mean for you? Be specific. Why is the weight loss important to you? Is it so you can look great in a pair of jeans? How will that make you feel? What if you knew you would never have to worry about not fitting into those jeans again because your weight was stable? How would that make you feel?
Maybe you have a health condition you are trying to overcome. How would improving your relationship with food help this? How would you feel after if you were able to improve it?
Maybe you don’t have any reason like this and you simply want to feel at ease with food and not let it control you so much.
That’s a great reason too! How would you feel if you didn’t think about food 24/7? What would you do or create with all of your spare time? Maybe a blog 😉 haha.
Think about why you want to do this before you start. Write it down and attach as much meaning to it as you can. Think about every aspect of your life and how having this improved relationship can help each part. This is what is going to get you to reach your goals and feel good about yourself – not my points below (although they will help!). These are simply guidelines that helped me and can hopefully help you to get started.
Last important thing before we get started: This is not going to be a quick process. It can take months or even years before this cycle is broken fully – but have faith, your efforts will pay off! (Remember why you started!)
1. I stopped with the FAD diets… or any diet for that matter.
This is so important. No matter how attractive a diet may appear and how great it’s working for all your friends and Kylie Jenner -just don’t do it. Diets are a guaranteed path to failure (that’s why the diet industry makes so much money :|). They are all based around the same idea: restrict something for a period of time (ie, calories, carbs, fat, sugar, etc.) and see results. Ya, well we all saw how great that worked when we restricted all the stuff we wanted during the week and then went crazy on the weekend, vacation, insert trigger here…
Instead, focus on eating the real, whole foods and the foods that actually make you feel good.
Now I know what you are thinking:
Jess, you are on a vegan diet, is that not a fad diet? Is this the way I should be eating?
Choosing to eat plant-based for me is something that aligned with my values and what also made my body feel its best. It is more of a lifestyle change rather than a diet change and I decided to eat this way for several reasons which you can check out here.
However, just because this works for me, does not necessarily mean it will work for you. Everyone is different in their beliefs, values, upbringing, etc. and what will feel right for one person may feel totally wrong for another… and that’s ok!
So where do you start? What has worked for you in the past? What things in your diet do you enjoy that actually make you feel better after you eat them? Start there.
Bottom line: Don’t restrict yourself to a certain way of eating. This is what creates uncontrollable cravings.
2. I stopped trying to micromanage and overthink everything I ate (just say goodbye to calorie counting and thank me later with all the free time you’ll have).
This point goes back to my previous one about diets. They really are just another way to feel you have some control over your life. Then when things go awry, you feel out of control and totally worthless. Then guess what? You need something comforting and hey you just blew your diet so why not comfort yourself with some ice cream??? Sound familiar?
This is probably one of the hardest things I [still] struggle with. I have a bit of a type A personality so controlling things is my favourite hobby. And it is soooo hard to break. It takes a lot of practice to let go and just enjoy the food you are eating without thinking about how much fat, sugar, salt, etc. is in it.
I think switching to a plant based diet did make it easier for me to know I was consuming things that were good for my body, gave me peace of mind and allowed me to relax a little and stop focusing on the macronutrients. However, I still find myself the odd time wondering how many calories are in this cookie? Will this give me a muffin top?
That way of thinking is a pretty good waste of time. It doesn’t get you anywhere but down a road of frustration and anger with yourself and sometimes others. The way we eat shouldn’t be dictated by a label, but by my next point.
3. I became more mindful of what I was eating and why I was eating it.
This one is huge. Why am I eating this cookie? Is it because I’m bored? Is it because it was sitting out and I saw it and didn’t want anyone else to have it? Is it because I worked out today and now I get a treat? Or was it because I was genuinely craving a cookie and I like to have something sweet everyday?
Whatever the answer is, just make sure you answer it, and answer it honestly.
Start asking yourself these questions every time before you eat something:
Why am I eating this?
How will this make me feel after I’m done?
Is this going to be helpful or harmful to my body and/or mind?
Once you start doing this you will be astounded at how much of an impact it can make on your choices.
4. I started listening to my body more and ate more intuitively.
As I mentioned above, my body got pretty mad at me for not listening to it for so long. I had no choice but to take a step back. I quit trying to control everything from what was on my plate, how big my plate was, what time of the day I was allowed to have a snack, etc. and started to eat what and when my body was telling me to eat. Instead of scarfing down that smoothie everyday because I knew exactly how many calories were in it, I let my body decide what it felt like eating that day instead. Eventually my body started to crave the things that were good for me and what it needed.
This is also a super helpful tool to know when to stop eating. I know this one can be hard for people because so many things can affect our satiety and hunger cues, but the more in-tune you become with your body, the easier it gets. I promise you.
My advice: eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. If you get hungry again in an hour, eat something 🙂
5. I stopped using exercise as a way to eat whatever I wanted and started moving more intuitively too.
I see this all the time with my clients and I was guilty of it too. Working out just so you don’t feel guilty about having that dessert, pizza, or glass of wine. It’s easy to rationalize this behaviour and that’s why we do it. Exercising is essentially a cover up for some other emotion you are feeling.
I hate to break it to you but this way of thinking may be common, but that doesn’t make it healthy. It can lead to someone getting addicted to exercise only to justify their calorie intake and this can easily become a slippery slope into an eating disorder.
My advice to you is to exercise because you enjoy it. Find some form of exercise you love to do, figure out why exercise is important to you and why you want to make it a priority in your life (hint: exercising so you don’t feel guilty about eating is not an acceptable answer).
You don’t have to have planned exercise every single day, but try to move your body at least once a day for 30 mins or so (or whatever you have time for). This can include anything from going for a walk, trying a yoga or pilates class, dancing, or strength training. It can really be whatever feels good for you!
Pay attention to how you feel after you’ve exercised and remember that feeling, write it down if you need to. This feeling is what is going to drive you to do the same thing tomorrow and the next day until it is a habit.
6. I cut back on alcohol… a bit.
Ya… Unfortunately this one is in here.
Don’t be afraid of it though! I’m not saying you have to quit drinking all together, just become more mindful of how much and how often you are drinking (and how you feel the next day :|)
If you were in the same mindset as me before, then you likely didn’t drink at all during the week and waited until Friday, Saturday and Sunday to consume a weeks worth of alcohol. Can you see a trend starting??
It’s no coincidence that your weekly alcohol intake correlates with your weekly “falling off the healthy eating band wagon.”
What worked for me and my advice is to you is to have a drink when you feel like having a drink (no matter what day of the week it is). Limit yourself to having 1-2 drinks during the week if you’re working and then allow yourself to have as many as you like on the weekends. You will be quite surprised actually that you don’t crave the same amount of alcohol on the weekends when you are not denied it all week. Or maybe this is just because I am getting old… either way give it a shot!
See, not so bad after all?
7. I planned ahead to make sure I had healthier options available when I got hangry.
Plain and simple. Keep a stash of nuts or other healthy snacks in your purse or car or wherever you go and never leave the house without a water bottle. This will stop you from grabbing that gross bag of salty nuts at the gas station or from eating the entire fridge when you get home from work.
And if you’re feeling ambitious, try packing your lunch, morning and afternoon snacks so that you don’t have to make any decisions about food all day while you’re at work. This is going to leave you with a lot more mental power to make more important decisions and allow you to say no to that office donut because you already have a snack and you know which one is going to make you feel like a rockstar after!
8. I went for a walk after dinner (sometimes not by choice…Allen).
I found this super helpful especially when I was first starting to listen to my body. I found doing some sort of movement or just getting out into nature after eating really helped me know for sure if I was full or not.
Going for a walk after dinner is a simple habit to start adding and maybe this can be the only thing you start doing. It will be super powerful because by the time you get home you will realize you don’t actually need or want seconds because you feel good (and bonus – you’ve also hit #5 too!)
9. I stopped comparing myself and my diet to everyone else and their diets.
It took me a long time to learn this and I am still learning not to compare myself to others. It’s really tough. It’s one of those useless behaviours that does nothing but make us feel inadequate and guilty. Everyone is somewhere different in their lives and has different things going on that you know nothing about.
Social media is not real life. Stop comparing your real life to someone else’s “highlight reel” (aka their staged life). It’s like comparing apples and oranges.
I’ve found that focusing on myself, where I am in my life and what is important to me is the most helpful thing I can do. Remember that everyone has their struggles and we are all trying to be the healthiest we can be. It is so much better if we can work together to achieve this goal instead of against one another. Being healthy shouldn’t be a competition, it should be something that we all share together.
10. I learned to forgive myself.
That’s right. It’s ok to mess up and overeat/drink. We’re all human and we can’t be perfect all the time (otherwise we would be super boring people). The most important thing to remember when this happens is: How did I feel after I did this (physically and mentally). If you felt good then hey, maybe you should keep doing it. If you felt not-so-good then maybe you shouldn’t do it again soon. Remember this feeling next time you are faced with making the same decision and let that guide you.
Learning to forgive myself is something that I am still working on and is something I will be working on for the rest of my life. It’s not only important for eating, but in every aspect of life.
Tell yourself it’s ok and then let it go.
This is the best thing you can do for yourself. Don’t fixate on the fact that you made a mistake and all the emotions that surround it. Just note how you feel and then move on. Tomorrow’s a new day and another opportunity for you to make a better choice; one that’s aligned with your WHY.
Remember: you are the only one that is responsible for your success, happiness and health in your life.
It’s not will-power. It’s having a clear, focused version of yourself and who you want to be and consistently working at it. Rome wasn’t built in a day but everyday you make progress is going to lead to AMAZING results! I know you have it in you and I believe in you <3
Ps. If you feel like you still need a bit of extra help, my friend Rini Frey from @ownitbabe on Instagram has this amazing FREE 5-day mini series to recovery! It’s such a great resource and I found it super helpful!