Love and Business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving.
O.Henry, 'Cupid a la carte', Heart of the West (1907)
Why is our relationship with food important?
Often we don't think about food in terms of a relationship - but we do all have a relationship with food. For some people it is a simple, unimportant relationship, one of many in their lives; a relationship which is there but doesn't take up much thought or mental energy. They have a neutral approach to food - seeing it as energy and, as a result, they eat when they are hungry, until they are full with no thoughts or feelings of guilt.
Sounds idyllic doesn't it!?
Most people's relationship with food is much more complicated. There are days when things are fine and then there are days when food takes up lots of thinking time and mental energy! Eating and food choices may be influenced by thoughts and feelings on these days; there may be a lot of non-hungry eating; lots of guilt associated with eating or perhaps compensatory measures taken for the food they have eaten. While non hungry eating and eating in response to cues other than hunger is appropriate at times it is when this gets out of balance that things become difficult.
In this situation people see food as the enemy, they no longer find eating a pleasurable experience but, instead stressful.
There is so much information available about food it can be difficult to decipher the facts from the fiction making food choices stressful and laden with guilt. We are constantly bombarded with sometimes contradictory messages advising us to eat less, eat more, avoid fat, have more oily fish, eat more nuts, avoid burnt foods, avoid sugar, eat more fibre, avoid dairy, increase dairy - its enough to confuse anyone!
Its no wonder people's relationship with food is affected.
All of these messages which confuse us and upset our relationship with food can lead us to getting on the dieting cycle. Where people believe that they can micro-manage their weight by restricting the total amount of food or types of foods they eat.
This is sustainable to a point; that is until, we can't follow the diet rules anymore! Often people will break their self imposed food rules as they are hungry, in a social situation, or in response to strong emotions (after all food makes us feel good !) Or it may be as a result of the starvation response.
In simple terms, the body is designed to conserve energy and is actually working against people's efforts to lose weight. The more people restrict the more the body compensates by slowing the metabolism to conserve energy. This results in tiredness and lethargy- but can also cause the brain to start thinking about food as a way to trigger eating. People are often able to ignore this signal for a while but at some stage they will give in and eat a food they have forbidden themselves or an amount that they feel is too much food.
Often they blame themselves for this feeling they are weak or have no will power and sometimes comforting themselves by eating energy dense food. This may leave them feeling out of control, bad about themselves, and wanting to feel more in control they embark on another diet - and so the cycle continues.
This diet cycle can contribute to the development and maintenance of a negative relationship with food. A negative relationship with food results in people feeling out of control, guilty, frustrated and often being above a weight which is healthy for them.
A positive relationship with food involves seeing it as energy and nourishment for the body and at times something for pleasure and celebration. It is about trusting your body's hunger and satiety cues and being able to eat a wide variety of foods in response to different cravings without guilt or compensation.
The dietitians at Eat Love Live can help you work on building a positive relationship with food and keeping food as one of the many important relationships in your life - but not one which dominates your thinking. Having a non-dieting approach to food you will be able to feel and be healthier and have more time for the important things in life.
So what is normal eating?
It’s a hard question to answer isn’t it!
Have a look at the list below and remember – normal eating is not about being the perfect eater!
- It is being able to choose foods you like and eating them until you’ve had enough -not just stopping because you think you should
- Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint on your food, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasurable foods
- Normal eating is giving yourself three meals and three snacks a day, or it can be choosing to munch along
- It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful
- Normal eating includes overeating at times and feeling uncomfortable - it is also under eating at times and wishing you had more
- Normal eating trusts your body to manage the food eaten eating
- It takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life
- Normal eating is flexible, it varies in response to your routine, your emotions, your hunger and your proximity to food
- Normal eating allows you to enjoy food
- Normal eating is not counting kilojoules or grams fat
- Eating more on some days and less on others
- Having fluctuations in your appetite and maybe cravings for certain foods
- Eating with awareness and enjoying what you are eating
- Eating slowly enough to appreciate your food and notice when you have had enough
- Getting the balance between eating for nutrition and eating with natural appetite intuition
Acknowledgement Terrill Bruere
Feeling out of Control with food?
Remember you can always come back to focusing on your eating behaviours’:
We sometimes forget to focus on how we eat- which can have a big impact on how we feel after we eat, how we feel about what we have eaten and how much we eat.
Eating quickly or while distracted makes it very hard to notice and stop when you are satisfied! Often we realise the plate is empty without any consideration for the fullness and satiety cues out body is sending to us!
When we eat quickly we do not focus on the mouth sensations; flavours and texture, which the foods provide. These are an important part of enjoying the food, but also these sensations contribute to the feeling of satiety we get when we have had enough to eat.
It can take up to 20 minutes for the satiety messages from our stomach to reach our brains and be recognised. If we are eating quickly and not paying attention to the mouth sensations of food we can eat quite a bit in 20minutes! This can lead to feeling overly full or feelings of guilt after eating.
When eating is occurring in response to triggers which aren't related to food it can feel very over whelming and impossible to stop - sometimes leading in to binging behaviours.
It is important even when binging to try and implement these behaviours which will help you to slow down, think and connect with what is happening and have a chance to make the decision to do something differently.
Some things to try:
- When eating, eat; do nothing else.
- Always eat sitting down at a table.
- Have no distractions other than talking with family and friends or listening to music while you eat. No television, computer or books. (Visually engaging with other stimuli detracts from connecting with the signals your body is trying to send you!)
- Always eat off a plate or bowl - no eating out of packets (even when you’re having a snack - put it on a plate and sit at the table to enjoy eating it).
- Put away leftovers and packets of food before you sit down to eat.
- Practice eating slowly and with awareness. Put your knife and fork down between each mouthful.
- Focus on noticing and enjoying the tastes and texture of the foods you are eating and the way they change as you chew the foods.
- Remember that you can stop when you feel satisfied as you can have this food again, or put the leftovers in the fridge and come back to it next time you are hungry. (Often I find people will over -eat a food which they consider 'bad' as they are promising themselves that will never have it again. This of course leads them to thinking about it and wanting it more! )