Ep 47: Building Self-Trust Around Food
On this episode I'm giving you some strategies to help you heal your relationship - whether you feel like you lean more toward restriction or overeating. We'll cover what causes food anxiety, how to practice unconditional permission to eat, and how to feel more comfortable in your body no matter what your weight or size.
We’ve officially hit 200 reviews on iTunes - thank you so much to everyone who has left a review! I so appreciate you taking the time to let me know your thoughts about the show. I want to read a review today from Natty84 titled “Freedom!” She said, “I just listened to the first podcast and I feel like Stephanie’s message is one of freedom. So many podcasts about about diets and a list of rules which make us feel awful when we fail. I cannot wait to continue listening and learn so much more! Thank you Stephanie!” Thank you Natty84 - I’m so glad you are getting that sense of freedom from what you hear on the show. That’s one of my main goals with Nutrition Redefined - to teach you how to find food freedom - so that made me so happy.
Here is the question I’m going to answer today from a direct message on Instagram:
“I feel like when you talk about healing your relationship with food you’re talking to people who have been obsessively restricting their food intake for many years. What about people who have been over indulging for years? I feel like I gave up on dieting years ago because I was never able to lose weight by dieting and it was too emotionally taxing for me. So I’ve tried to “change my lifestyle” to eat better in an effort to lose weight, which also hasn’t been successful. I know that my relationship with food is very messed up. I get anxiety about food, especially in situations where I have to bring food, like on a trip to our cabin. It stresses me out if someone else eats our food. And before the trip I worry I won’t have the food I want. And I just struggle with making food decisions in general. Like I can never choose a restaurant but don’t want other people to choose either. I’m heavier than a weight I’ve felt good at and I feel like crap. My joints hurt, I can’t move easily, I’m stressed about airplane seats and roller coasters, etc. So how does someone like me heal their relationship with food? How do I learn to WANT to eat better?”
There is so much in this question, so I’m going to break it down point by point.
First of all, I want you to know that whether you feel like you’re on the restrictive end of the spectrum or the more chaotic eating end of the spectrum, I’m talking to you. Everyone needs to do the work to heal their relationship with food. Not everyone’s issues are the same. But I will say that in the years I’ve been doing this, the questions, while the specifics are different, the core issues are all the same. A lack of trust in ourselves, feeling like our bodies are wrong, feeling like food rules or diets or an answer outside of ourselves is what will save us. So that’s what I want to say first of all - whether you are more restrictive or more rebellious, it doesn’t actually matter. Your goals are the same - to cultivate trust in yourself around food and confidence that your body has your back.
With that said, I do want to speak to people specifically who feel like they’ve been, as this person phrased it, “over-indulging for years.” Not because you’re worse or different than the restriction people, but because I want you to know that I get you. That is the side of the spectrum I identify with more. While restriction was always a place I went to, it was never a place I stayed very long. So I completely understand the sense of feeling out of control around food and not thinking you can trust yourself.
The principles for healing your relationship with food are actually the same, no matter what the specifics are! That’s the good news. The first step is to recognize that dieting doesn’t work. By dieting I mean any attempt to control your food intake with the purpose of fixing your body that comes from a place of guilt or shame about yourself. So this person who sent this question has come part way - she recognizes that certain restrictive diet programs don’t work. That’s good.
But there’s still more work to do in going deeper than that. In coming to terms with her belief that her body is wrong, that she has some fundamental character flaw that is ruining her life. That’s simply not the case.
And this is what I want all of you listening to ask yourself:
What benefits do I get out of overeating? What does this behavior do for me?
When it comes down to it, overeating isn’t just a bad habit. It’s a behavior that we engage in for a very good reason. It’s a way we are managing our emotions, making ourselves feel safe, allowing ourselves to disengage from real life for the brief time we’re eating. So the food isn’t really the problem, and that’s not what we need to address.
The issue is what’s underlying the desire to overeat. The issue that needs to be addressed is not portion control or willpower or eating healthier foods. It’s being willing to confront the hard questions, like: why am I consistently engaging in this behavior that causes me so much grief? What keeps me stuck in this pattern that I know is not serving me?
THAT is where the magic happens. It’s not in someone telling you how much to eat or helping you learn how to restrict appropriately. It’s in you asking hard questions and being willing to change your thought patterns around food. Being willing to wake up to how you may be using food as a sort of weapon against yourself even as it’s an escape route from your life.
The second thing I want to address is the food anxiety. This is common, in whatever way it shows up. This sense of scarcity around food - believing that there’s not enough, that it will be taken away - can lead to feeling really stressed out. It can lead to not wanting to share or feeling the need to hide food from others (family members, husbands, kids, friends, etc.), to overeating because you feel like you have to have it all right now or it will be gone, to not wanting to let other people make choices involving food for fear you won’t have control, or to just feeling stressed out.
The solution to this one, again, involves recognizing and switching up dysfunctional thought patterns around food. What I would suggest and what has helped me more than anything, is just the practice of reassuring myself around food.
Saying things like, “There will always be enough food. I will always have access to yummy foods I love. There is plenty of food, and I can always get more if I want it.” Those sentences or affirmations relax the panic, anxiety, and scarcity mentality around food and remind you of the truth that you can always get more if you want it. If you’re sharing food with others, you don’t have to hide it. You can remind yourself that if it runs out, you will have the chance to get more. If you’re feeling a compulsion to eat the whole pan of brownies because you think secretly that eating brownies is bad and you’re being a bad person for eating them so you might as well eat the whole pan and get the sin over with, remind yourself that it’s always okay to have a brownie.
You don’t have to eat past the point of fullness because you will always have access and permission to have a brownie again later when you want one. This is the concept of unconditional permission to eat, and it’s seriously THE magic bullet in healing your relationship with food.
What happens is that we set up some foods as good (vegetables, typical healthy foods) and some foods as bad (sugar, bread, etc.). Then, when we eat the “bad foods” and feel guilt, we have this voice in the back of our heads telling us that we won’t be able to have it anymore because from now on we’re going to be good.
That little voice leads us to compulsive behaviors like overeating or binge eating. So let’s silence that voice! Override it with the truth that all food is fine, all food is available to you, and you will always have permission to eat what you want. That takes the anxiety out of the act of eating, and you won’t feel the need to overeat because the food will be there later. You can eat what you want now and come back for more.
I want to be clear this isn’t a quick fix - it will take more than one time of reassuring yourself for this process to work its magic. You will have to practice reassuring yourself repeatedly - dozens, maybe even hundreds of times, before your brain will truly start to release the built-up anxiety around food and trust you that you will be okay. You practice, over and over, protecting yourself, taking care of yourself, and meeting your own needs, both with food and in every other way. And over time, you will find that peace with food - I promise.
The third and last piece I want to address is the idea of being at a weight that’s heavier than you want and feeling, as this person said, “like crap.” I get it that sometimes being in our bodies is uncomfortable. I want to remind you that no matter what your weight is, sometimes you’ll feel uncomfortable in your own skin, and that’s completely normal. It’s part of being human.
What happens when we fixate on our weight as the main problem is that then becomes not only far more uncomfortable than it needs to be, but also all we can think about. We get so hung up on our weight that we are unable to focus on any other aspect of self-care that doesn’t involve making us smaller or getting us to lose weight. This is ultimately incredibly unhelpful.
What we find leads to healthy body image and a long-term healthy behaviors is not a lower weight, but an ability to practice self-care no matter what your weight is. If you hate your body and constantly feel shame about it, you’re not very likely to want to truly take care of it. Essentially, you’re denying yourself basic human rights (food, movement, compassion) until you feel you deserve it by losing weight. That’s all backwards!
A far more helpful approach is to focus on feeling your best in the body you have now, without demanding it to change in order for you to continue taking care of it. It’s starting with the end point - practicing daily behaviors that you know make you feel better - and essentially letting the chips fall where they may with weight.
This is a hard concept to wrap our minds around because diet culture has taught us the exact opposite, but I think this is incredibly important. Start showing yourself compassion and respect in the body you have RIGHT NOW, this very minute, no matter how wrong you feel it is. That’s literally the only way to feel better. Beating yourself up for being this size will NEVER get you where you want to go, physically or emotionally.
So practice compassion for yourself, practice self-care without being so attached to the outcome of weight loss, and trust that your body will settle at the right weight for you when you’re doing your part to care for yourself. It may not involve weight loss. Maybe it will. There’s no way to say for sure. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
If you are consistently practicing self-care and working to heal your relationship with food, your weight will take care of itself. Again, I know this is a huge paradigm shift but I believe this SO strongly. If you can just let go of your white-knuckle grip on the idea that losing weight will fix everything, and instead relax into the small, daily practice of taking care of your body as it is right now, you will feel so much better - physically AND emotionally.
If you would like to go a little deeper into this process, specifically working on emotional eating, then I’d invite you to check out the emotional eating masterclass and workbook we have available for purchase in the Eat Confident Co online shop. You can go to eatconfident.co/shop to check it out. Emily and I go into greater depth in helping you learn how to process and manage your thoughts and emotions so that food no longer feels compulsive or overwhelming. We also have our awesome Holiday Food Confidence Guide in there, which is an advent-calendar style download that gives you small daily prompts and exercises to take great care of yourself during the holiday season without spiraling into compulsive food behaviors. Again, both of those - the emotional eating masterclass and the Holiday Food Confidence Guide - are available in the Eat Confident Co online shop at eatconfident.co - I’ll link it up in the show notes.
I hope this was helpful for you. Thanks for listening!