Food is seductive. It’s nurturing. It’s always there for us when we need it, comforting us and keeping us alive. We use food as a social tool when we eat meals together or catch up with friends at a café. We use food as emotional comfort when we feel sad, angry, stressed, bored, fearful. But how many of us think about the emotions behind why we choose the food we do and what impact these emotions have on our whole life?
It’s time for all of us, men and women, to stop being so hard on ourselves. There is enough external shaming and blaming occurring daily without us doing it to ourselves too.
Writing this article has been a huge challenge for me. I hummed and harred about it for days, writing and re-writing. The purpose was to, not only be uplifting and inspiring, but to give some insights into our psyche and share some useful tools to help make lasting positive changes.
The Addiction of Food
Food is addictive. It doesn’t matter if a person is vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, meat eater, gluten free, sugar free or a complete free range eater. Put up a picture of a scrumptious chocolate cake dripping with fresh chocolate sauce, berries and a light dusting of desiccated coconut, and most people will say, “Yum!”
So, knowing this, and understanding the psyche behind it, how do I go about helping others to understand that it’s okay to have a piece and feel completely guilt free or shame free.
I believe the answer lies in our mental conditioning.
Barbara*, a client of mine came to me because she wanted to lose weight. And as I always do in my consultations, I asked my usual wellness intake questions and goal setting questions, starting with WHY did she want to lose weight.
Barbara answered, “Because I should. I’m too fat and I hate myself”.
As she said those words, I felt such a huge lump in my own stomach. I saw the defeat on her face mingled with self-loathing and shame. Upon hearing those words, I realized just how many of my clients feel the same way, how many have expressed those same words and I felt my soul crying for her.
I grabbed her hands and looked her right in the eyes, “Barbara, it’s time to teach you how to make peace with your food and make peace with your body”.
It was then she let out a huge sob. A combination of relief, of feeling like she had finally been heard, of not being judged. Together, we created some very workable, achievable goals. I did a lot of reframing for her and helped her to understand the emotions behind her current food choices. Barbara is a work in progress. In these past few months, amazing shifts have been occurring and it will be many more months before she feels at peace with herself. The main point is that she is feeling substantially empowered now.
Vicious Emotional Cycles
Barbara, like many other women, and men, who come into my clinic, are on a vicious cycle of emotions. Statements such as, “I NEED to lose weight” or “I SHOULD lose weight” or “I HAVE to……” are what we call Modal Operators of Necessity. These are red flag words that I jump on immediately. The key to effective change is finding out WHY these words are being used – what are the emotions behind these words. Guilt. Shame. Anger. Resentment. Hopelessness. These are the most common emotions behind food addictions, over eating and making poor food choices.
Unquestionably, lack of income to purchase quality organic produce, lack of knowledge on how to buy or prepare meals or being too exhausted to prepare nutritious meals in the evenings after a long day at work are also contributors, but it’s the emotions in the first place that play the largest role in why we don’t make the effort.
Emotions play a massive part in how our body heals or develops disease. I have found in my clinic, that 99% of the people who come in to see me,have a negative emotional basis to their illness or discomfort. For each person, the way to heal these emotions is different. I have never helped any two people alike.
Barbara was an emotional eater who ate when she was stressed. She was stressed both at work and at home, which created feelings of frustration, resentment and ultimately hopelessness. I didn’t take away any foods from her as I didn’t want her to feel any more resentment. Instead, I educated her about the value of calories, teaching her that not all calories are equal. She was shocked to learn that eating two chocolate cookies had more calories and zero nutrients compared to a large avocado with lemon juice, salt & pepper. She learned that fats are not fats. Consuming an avocado was a better choice nutritionally, than those cookies. She learned to swap foods so she was snacking on nutrient laden foods instead of empty calories. Fun snacks, filling snacks like chia and bliss balls, plates of fruit, raw chocolates, avocadoes, smoothies filled with coconut meat, coconut oil and frozen bananas. Barbara told me she had never eaten so much food in her life nor felt so amazing. Even though she was eating 1500 calories per day, her weight was dropping. She never skipped a meal, she never substituted a meal for those atrocious diet shakes, and she never felt hungry.
If I could give one bit of blanket advice, it would be: stop worrying about what other people think of you. When you have no attachment to their opinion of you, life flows so much easier. So what if they think you’re fat, or ugly, or too blonde, or too tall, or have big feet or too many freckles or whatever. You should hear what some people have said to me! I don’t care what they say, as long as it’s not slanderous or a direct threat – in which case it will be dealt with firmly. What people think about you or me, is none of our business. There are always people in this world, ready to tear you down, who get delight in seeing you cry or feel fear. The sooner you learn the tools and techniques to find inner peace, the sooner you will find life to be a joy!
Fat In A Nutshell
Body fat. Now THAT is a controversial subject. Statements such as Big is Beautiful or Love The Body Your In are in essence, harmful to us. They imply that it is okay to be fat as long as you love yourself. Yet very few people who carry extra weight are actually happy or at peace with themselves. So let’s clarify: There’s fat and then there’s fat. You have abdominal fat (subcutaneous fat) that sits between your abdominal muscles and your skin and you have visceral fat. It’s visceral fat that’s the dangerous fat. It’s on an exponential increase worldwide. A person can be, what we call TOFI – Thin Outside, Fat Inside. This is just as dangerous as being morbidly obese. You see, fat is an organ. It’s an endocrine organ to be specific, meaning it produces its own set of hormones. All kinds of life endangering hormones. These unhealthy and undesirable hormones push out, and take the place of the good hormones in our body. So we become hormonally imbalanced. That in itself leads to lethargy, mood swings, feelings of despondency, inflammation in the body and so much more.
Visceral fat is the kind of fat that permeates your internal organs; heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen and other organs. Imagine the marbling of a piece of beef steak you get at the butcher. Fat is marbled throughout the meat. This is the same kind of marbling effect we get in our organs.
Carrying visceral fat increases the risk of morbid diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, auto immune disorders.
The Aesthetics of Fat
Please stop looking at fat from an aesthetic point of view and start looking at it from a health point of view. I do not care if you are fat from a visual perspective but I do care about the health effects of fat. I care that the excess fat you are carrying around is sapping the life out of you; it is slowly killing you.
I recently read that the Queensland Government wants all morbidly obese people to undergo stomach stapling in a bid to reduce the soaring obesity rates. Their assumption is that people have no self-control, that they eat continuously. It completely ignores any underlying emotional beliefs around food and body image, around self-esteem or past emotional experiences. It ignores any cultural traditions. This model assumes that once the stomach is stapled, people will automatically stop their current eating habits and be miraculously cured of all mental and emotional conditioning. This is simply not the case. It’s not that easy. If it were, companies such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Lite n Easy and the multitudes of others, wouldn’t be around.
Banning The Diet
This leads me to the word I have BANNED in my clinic: DIET. It’s my 4 letter swear word. You say it, you donate $1 to the swear jar with all proceeds going to charity.
Let me get this straight. Diets do NOT work! It is absolutely pointless restricting what you consume, depriving yourself – because let’s face it – who ever felt that they’re not missing out whilst on a diet – substituting meals for those diet shakes and diet pills. Only to go back to the same way of eating you had BEFORE you went on your diet. Then the weight goes back on. This is the basis of yo-yo dieting. It doesn’t work. Please stop doing it.
Instead, I implore you to consider making positive lifestyle changes. Incorporate more green leafy vegies, have a smoothie, drink some fresh juice, add in more fruit, substitute wheat & other gluten products for truly gluten free products, learn to live without dairy (dairy is incredibly fattening and unbelievably addictive). Learn how to cook from scratch and stop relying upon packaged foods. Add in herbs and spices to make food taste sensational, and as an added bonus many herbs and spices are very healing too. Learn to make scrumptious salad dressings and yes, use lots of avocadoes!
Many of my clients say to me, “But it’s so easy for you Michelle. You’re so healthy”. Well, I wasn’t always this way. I had to teach myself. I had to get used to a new way of eating, a new way of living. I made changes over a few years. One thing I wish to stress to you is: it did not and does not happen overnight for a majority of people. I do have a handful of clients who did make huge changes overnight. The difference was, for them, it was a matter of life or death. That is how sick they were. For most people, slowly substituting alternative foods, getting used to the taste of REAL food again, of whole food, of one ingredient food is the easiest. Going slowly ensures you create a lifelong habit. It becomes second nature. Easy does it. Remember the turtle and the hare? There is no time frame or guideline you should be following. For one person, it may take them 1 week of substituting a new food item before they are used to the taste/texture/habit of it, while for others, it may take a few months.
And you know what, if you don’t like okra or spinach or if you find mung beans make you gag, there are plenty of other fresh produce you can choose from. Sometimes, it’s a simple as knowing how to prepare that food. Many people I know declare that okra is foul. Slimy and gross. But by frying very young okra that is freshly picked, reduces the sliminess by 95%. Old okra is gross. Tough and slimy. I am with you in that boat! Blergh!
Health is attainable. Take some time to invest in you. Be kind to yourself. Watch the language you use when you describe yourself. Write down your thoughts, feelings and emotions in a journal for 2 weeks and see if there is a pattern occurring. Are you predominately negative about your body? Circle the common phrases, then reframe them so they are more peaceful. For example: “I hate how I put on weight so easily” can be turned into “This is a unique opportunity to see how I can eat more nutrient dense food” or “How lucky I am that I have learned better food choices”.
It’s time now, to make peace with your food, to make peace with your body.
*Barbara: name altered as requested and shared with permission