nutrition

How to Find Peace With Food This Thanksgiving

This article was originally published in Huffington Post.

In a culture that tells us to restrict and restrain around food, holidays like Thanksgiving can produce anxiety.

What if you overeat? Should you indulge in desserts, or avoid them altogether? What's a "normal" amount of calories to consume?

When you start eating, it's as though a force larger than you takes over. Your mind might fire mixed signals: both, "Pump the breaks!" and "It's [insert special occasion] -- I deserve to eat this." And you barrel on ahead, eating far past satiety.

The following day, you wake up with all the guilt. All the shame. You tally up how many calories you'd have to burn to work off the meal. Oof. You'd be running for hours.

Then maybe you return to severe restriction (calorie counting, weighing food), or speed further off the rails (binge eating, overeating). Repeat cycle.

I've experienced this roller coaster many times over, and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

In healing my relationship with food and helping my coaching clients do the same, I've amassed a set of tools to help you find peace with food this Thanksgiving (and always!).

Three principles guide my suggestions:

  1. Food is pleasure. We're fearful of embracing food as pleasure, because we think that would threaten our control over our diets. This works against all human instinct -- we love eating because it keeps us alive! It's time to embrace pleasure, cultivate awareness, and learn to indulge very mindfully.
  2. Food is nourishment. Eating home-cooked foods of the highest quality possible (organic, grass-fed, local, etc.) is one of the deepest forms of nourishment, in all senses of the word. Taking care of your physical form is very empowering. It creates a platform for expansion in all areas of life.
  3. Food is community. Eating should help you feel more connected instead of alone and filled with shame.

Keep these guidelines in mind as we dive in and discuss the tools.

Work out on Thanksgiving morning
Get sweaty, even if it's for 15-20 minutes! Caring for your body early on will set the tone for the day. You'll be more likely to make choices that serve you (pun intended) come mealtime.

Drink water like it's your job
Thirst and hunger are similar sensations. Drink lots of water (say, 10-16 glasses throughout the day) so you feel in touch with your true hunger cues. This is especially important if you'll be drinking wine and other alcohol.

Bring a healthful, tasty dish to the table and present it with pride
Make your cooking scene fun by pouring yourself a glass of vino and cranking up the tunes. Contributing to the spread will help you feel connected with the rest of your crew, adding a rich layer to your eating experience.

Breathe before you eat
Deep, slow breathing can help calm the nervous system. If you're an emotional eater, you probably get riled before you eat (perhaps without even noticing!). Try taking 5-10 deep breaths, in and out of your nose. You'll feel the mental dust start to settle.

Make a mental LOVE IT vs. LEAVE IT list. Then indulge guilt-free.
This will help you get clear on which indulgences are worth it and which are not, cutting out the exhausting "Should I eat it? Or should I not?" game. "Love it" items are the mouth-watering treats that have you gushing to the person next to you. "Leave it" foods are tempting in the heat of the moment, but taste just "eh." Enjoy one or two "Love it" items guilt-free, then pass on the "leave it" ones without batting an eye.

Forgive yourself
Commit today and every day to forgiving yourself for your food "mistakes." Part of finding peace with food involves releasing the inner critic in favor of the non-judgmental witness. The witness holds the space for you to eventually create new behaviors. What would it look like to forgive yourself?

There you have it. I hope these tips light something up for you.

Happy eating!

I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined

You’re doing so well. Several straight days of eating “perfectly,” whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s weighing all your food, and eating within certain caloric or macronutrient boundaries. Maybe it’s cutting out all starchy carbs. Maybe it’s eating only home cooked foods.

Regardless, you’re on a roll.

Then, something tempting crosses your path. Maybe it’s one of your kryptonites--a food that you’ve always loved, and holds meaning in your food journey. You reach for it. You’re probably at the office, or at least outside your own personal habitat. You take a bite. In fact, you likely down the whole thing (that’s kind of a foregone conclusion!). You may not even be thinking while it’s happening.

But afterwards...

Yikes. You messed up. Your mind is probably racing a bit faster than usual, as you weigh what just happened. And then, this conclusion commonly sets in:

“I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined.” (That may not be your exact wording, but you catch my drift).

So, the rest of the day, you throw your “diet” to the wind. You have a cookie or three, you order the pasta instead of the fish at dinner, you enjoy two sugary cocktails instead of none.

The “spin” might even last for more than a day, as you careen further off the rails.

Now, for a key mindset reframe that’ll help you move through this pattern (and eventually release it):

You're always one bite away from freedom. When we stop to think about it, we all know the body responds to what we eat per bite, and generously, per meal. The body doesn’t tally what we eat per day, because it doesn’t operate at that obtuse level. It lives in the moment. It’s your mind that makes this irrational conflation.

Letting your eating rhythms be dictated by what you ate in the past is black-or-white thinking (black = I’m fully on my plan, and I’m full steam ahead; white = I made one mistake, and that’s dictating how I eat going forward).

The gray zone is where it’s at. The gray way of thinking is: “Every moment is new. I’m not boxed in by the past. I’m only one bite away from breaking the cycle, and living moment-to-moment.”

 

Here are 3 concrete steps to take the next time you hear yourself saying, “...the rest of the day is ruined!”:

  1. Pause, and before doing anything, celebrate your awareness. I know this may feel unsexy in the heat of the moment, but awareness is one of the most important pieces in behavior change. It’s a huge win already. You can’t move through without knowing that there’s something to move through. You’re already making progress, whether you let yourself see it or not. Mark your "celebration" with something concrete: a smile, a deep breath, by listening to a song...let the acknowledgement come out of your head, and into form.
  2. Take stock of all your options. This will help you remember, maybe more symbolically than anything, that you’re always one bite away from freedom. Let’s use an example. Say you’re at the office, and caved to a slice of pizza for lunch when you’d normally have chicken breast and salad. It’s almost dinner time, and you’re deciding what to eat. Jog through your different options. Go out to sushi with a girlfriend. Whip together steak and veggies at home. Take an hour or two and make your favorite childhood dish. Take 10 minutes and hit up the Whole Foods salad bar. Pick up Turkish food from your favorite neighborhood spot. Get a huge, delicious chopped salad delivered to your apartment. There are so many routes! Feel your freedom.
  3. Decide what to eat, using this filter question: “Is this decision being made from a place of love?” Deep down, you (and only you) will know the answer. It may take some time, but love will always lead you to the right place.

Just to be clear: this post is not an invitation to eat “off track,” then learn to get back on track faster than you normally do. It’s not an invitation to eat restrictively a larger proportion of the time. And it’s not about growing your discipline. Eating "off the rails" is an indication that your eating routine is not sustainable, and therefore that discipline is the opposite direction you should be heading.

It is about moving away from having your past dictate your future. It is about moving away from planning your every meal, and thinking so much about food. It is about looking at the long haul, which, fascinatingly, requires getting 100% present.

That’s it for now. Hope these tips lit something up for you.

Talk to you soon!

Love and light,
Valerie