“I hate the holidays because I always eat too much.”
I had a client say this to me — it broke my heart.
But I think this is a perfect example of how we have become obsessed with food as a comfort and a roadblock to happiness in other areas of our lives. Not only have our lives become so stressful, leaving us reaching for our comfort food of choice, but the food industry has made it more complicated by filling our grocery stores with packaged foods laden with hidden pitfalls — unhealthy fats, table salt, and sugar.
Yes, these foods may increase our cravings and leave us coming back for seconds — or thirds or fourths. Yes, we do have the power to get our stress levels under control and decrease the intensity of our cravings. YES, we can push away and just say ‘no.’ But that requires a lot of willpower to change so much all at once!
How many times have you said one of these to yourself?
- “Why can I not just stop eating sweets?”
- “What is wrong with me and why can I not lose weight?”
- “If I only had more willpower.”
- “I am just big-boned.”
So often we think that there is something wrong with us. Or, our approach. Or, our bodies. Or, even our self-control and willpower to commit to changing what we don’t like. Even though a sliver of willpower is essential to create “stickability” of habits, pure willpower to push away everything in life that you feel will do you disservice — food, rest, relationships, to name a few — will only leave you craving that thing more and more, setting yourself up for overindulgence and a feeling like you are out of control. Let’s face it — you just want to enjoy yourself and not feel so guilty for your choices, good or bad.
Willpower alone is only part of the puzzle. There are many other pieces that exist to make up the big picture. In a picture perfect world where you were living your picture-perfect healthy life, then a bit of willpower might be all you need to stay on track. But, if you are unbalanced on any given day of your life — which all of us are — then willpower alone may fail you over a prolonged time period. When it comes to food and food satiety, there are so many other factors that will come into play when attempting to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight or reap the results of a hard workout.
Years ago, I used to dabble in competitive figure competing and I had to maintain an extremely strict diet in order to reap the results that I wanted. At that time, I was very naive about the importance of these other factors in maintaining the diet that I needed to.
The food I was eating was bland and tasteless. I couldn’t even stand the sight of another can of tuna. There was no longer anything appealing about lettuce and olive oil. The triggers of my environment were ultimately setting me up for failure. I really struggled in my diet and my sweet tooth was out of control.
Even though I was training for a competition where I would be wearing hardly anything and standing on a stage allowing people to judge how I looked, that didn’t stop me from craving foods that were not on my diet. I found myself yo-yoing. Mentally and physically, it taxed me — wore me down. I found this nutritional plan and way of eating was absolutely not sustainable. It was too restrictive. After the dieting and the competition were over, the weight slowly returned and I felt lost. I couldn’t understand why my cravings were so immense and practically had me in a chokehold — never knowing when I was going to be able to use my willpower and push the cravings away. Wait. Wasn’t I supposed to be healthy?
How many times have fad diets left you feeling just like this — bloated and confused?
Overtime, I started to discover why I felt so out of control. I wasn’t failing in my nutrition. My body was telling me what I needed and I was failing to listen. My cravings were a product of being too restrictive, placing excessive pressure and stress on myself, and not honoring the emotional connections that I had with certain foods. My mind shut off any willpower that I had stored up and other factors took over.
A one-way ticket on the success express
We are complex human beings with complex factors that affect us every day. If one factor is thrown out of whack, it can affect every other factor you have going on. If you do not get a good restful night’s sleep, your energy levels may be lower, cortisol levels elevated, and adrenal glands may be more stressed out. What happens in a big noticeable way? You are more likely to over eat and/or eat unhealthy comfort food.
If you are feeling low in confidence and depressed within your own body, your “feel good” hormones will decrease and you may indulge in unhealthy foods, not get your workout in, or slip on your mediation session. What does this mean for you? This means that looking at the whole picture and focusing on supporting each area will ultimately boost your levels of willpower.
Ask yourself these questions and rate each on a scale of 1-5 (1 =No, not at all and 5=Yes, all the time):
- Am I eating enough food throughout the day?
- Have my stress levels been low and manageable?
- Do my close relationships bring me satisfaction and happiness?
- Am I exercising and keeping my body fit and healthy?
- Do I feel that I have a connection to spirit and that I have a higher purpose in this life?
- Do I get 7 to 9 hours of sleep on a regular basis?
- Do I eat a healthy diet and drink enough water most of the time?
- Do I allow for days to have cheat foods or indulgences?
- Is my body stressed from illnesses or environmental toxins?
- Do I drink more than 1-2 cups of coffee a day?
- Are my hormones in balance?
- Is my digestive health smooth and do I have regular bowel movements daily?
- Do I feel confident in myself and feel that I can speak my truths when I need to?
Add up your total number and then divide it by 13 — this is your average. If your average is a 4 or 5, then you are on the right path! If it is below 4, then you may need to investigate what areas are pulling you down and how they can be improved.
When your number start to dip below 4, you are more likely to find other ways to soothe yourself — social media distractions, too much television time, or indulging in unhealthy foods. Essentially, you may be tapping into behaviors that are life depleting.
Food is often that one area that we gravitate towards when stressed out or in need of comfort. There are many good reasons that you do this, but often it is simply because you try to be too restricted in your eating — following one fad diet to the next. And with each attempt, and with each failure, you feel massive guilt or failure. How can you change this?
It’s ok to indulge!
Part of food happiness is the mental picture of how it does your body good — how it improves your health. This is a large part of why we choose to eat healthier and it’s important to recognize that. And most of us do.
There is another side of food happiness that often gets overlooked. With the stress of our modern society, it is easy to get in the trap of eating on the run or eating at your desk — disconnecting from what you are actually eating. This leaves you craving more and looking to fulfill that pleasure you get from food. When we don’t involve ourselves in our food, we lose out on the experience. The experience of how the food smells, tastes, feels, and the memories connected to that food.
I absolutely love vanilla sandwich cookies. I don’t just love them, I LOVE them. I know they are downright awful for me, but when one is sitting and staring me in the eye, I have a hard time not fixating on wanting to eat it. Why is this? I associate sandwich cookies with my grandma and the comfort that my grandparent’s house brought to me. The cookie is sweet, which was a treat my grandma gave me when I was sad and upset. The inside is creamy and comforting. The smell of vanilla soothes me and brings me a sense of peace and satisfaction, just like being at my grandparent’s house. I cave under the pressure of these tasty confectionaries. And for these exact reasons, I allow 1-2 cookies to be a part of my healthy indulgence meal plan.
If you’re going out to eat and you know you will be surrounded by food that will trigger you, plan ahead. Plan that your trigger food will either be the side of the healthier part of your meal or make sure that you are getting some healthy additions where you can (i.e., a burger and a salad). What else can you do?
- Allow yourself 1-2 indulgence meals a week. The key here is meal, not day. Schedule out your indulgence meals and use it as something that you are looking forward to.
- Be mindful when eating your indulgence meal. If you gobble it down and don’t pay attention to how the food tastes, feels, or smells, it will feel more like you never really enjoyed it, leaving you wanting more and your cravings raging. When you sit down to take that first bite, really tune in and be mindful. The first 1-2 bites are the most powerful and the most flavorful, so make sure that you really tune in. Here are some questions to ask yourself to promote more mindfulness:
- How does it smell?
- What does it look like and what are the details of the food?
- How does it feel as you take that first bite and how does it feel lying on your tongue?
- What are the tastes that you are experiencing?
- Is it sweet or spicy or creamy?
- How does it make you feel while you were chewing it?
- As you swallow, how does it feel going down your throat?
- Let go of the judgement and guilt. As you eat that food, allow yourself to be happy with your decision and to bless that food so that it can support your body the best that it can. No shame in your game!
By practicing this mindful way of indulging in foods you enjoy, you may find that you may not actually be so in love with the foods you thought you were. You may find that it is tasteless and bland. In the long run, this practice will actually set you up for success because not only are you looking forward to having a favorite food, but you are also discovering what you truly love and what you don’t love. When you find out what is not worth it, you crave it less.
Did you know that starting out your morning with “me time” helps to decrease stress and food cravings throughout the rest of your day? Here is my morning routine to help get you started. Click the link below!
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