Build a stress-free relationship with food

Many of our clients struggling in their relationship with food are in a persistent diet mentality, experiencing feelings of deprivation as they avoid foods that are not on their diet regimen, only to then feel guilty after eating a “forbidden” food or overeating. There is rarely a happy medium to be found, and often a weight-loss effort becomes an endless cycle of losing and gaining.

Our relationship with food can be stress-free, but sometimes we have to alter some behaviors and thinking patterns before we can get there. For some, an intuitive eating process can be the answer.

Many experts suggest these strategies for conquering the diet mentality and returning to an intuitive approach to eating.

• Set guidelines for yourself around food; however, give yourself permission to eat all types of food with the goal of releasing yourself from a diet mentality. People on diets will scold themselves for eating the wrong food or eating “too much,” leading to guilty feelings and feeling out of control at nearly every moment of the process. This inevitably leads to diet failure, more overeating and hopelessness.

• Avoid rigid rules or black-and-white thinking. Rigid rules are a set up to “I’ve already blown it, so I might as well keep eating.” The black-and-white rigid diet mentality tends to perpetuate unconscious eating and ends up supporting bingeing tendencies. Ending diet thinking may enable you to stop when you recognize you are overeating and stop the process from becoming a binge.

• Make choices that are based on how that choice will “serve” you. Author Geneen Roth shares that in the beginning of her process she wanted all those foods that were forbidden in all her years of dieting. However, this was only a phase, and the strong desire to make unhealthy choices was greatly reduced by her increasing awareness that she had choice. Many clients do not know what foods will serve their body best, and it takes time to get in touch with this essential part of eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight.

• Eat without distraction. This enables you to have more awareness of body signals that let you know you are satisfied. For example, it is very easy to be unconscious while eating in front of the television.

• Make your eating space stress-free. Eating in a stressful environment leads to unconscious eating.

• Use a hunger scale. Zero would be ravenous, and 10 would be stuffed. If you are eating intuitively, it is recommended to eat when you are about a 3 or 4 and stop when you are a 7 or an 8. It may take awhile, but you will begin to recognize various stages of hunger again. Often times people get too hungry, and they set themselves up to binge.

• Keep a food journal. Be conscious of why you are eating what you are eating. Asking yourself “what I want the food to do for me” may help you make better choices and avoid eating compulsively out of boredom or emotions. Try and meet emotional needs in other ways other than food. Another simple question to ask yourself is, “How will I feel after this binge?” This might also help you gain awareness in the moment.

• Make and keep handy a short list of things you can do instead of bingeing. It will help you distract yourself from food and let the urge to binge past. Good ideas are go for a walk, call a friend, brush your teeth, etc.

• Be patient, and don’t be judgmental. Have an attitude of curiosity. The most important part is to be gentle with yourself. Your struggle is human, and you are definitely not alone.

Ed Bloch, LSCSW, and Jena Bloch, LCMFT, are directors of the Life Enrichment Center in Lawrence.

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