In this article I'll discuss what it means to heal your relationship with food. It is probably the most important aspect of any diet (although I don't believe in diets as you'll soon find out) and healthy eating in general.
So, what does it mean exactly to “heal your relationship with food”? To heal means to make whole again, and there are two fundamental ways to interpret this journey. One is that you are broken and need to “fix” yourself in some way. Just like with a broken object, you must introduce something external like glue or a replacement part to put it back together.
The other way to interpret healing is through the perspective of misalignment. In this way, you are already whole but just misaligned. You are not broken or missing any parts, but rather just need to be re-organized, dusted off and supported to shine your best again.
My general focus in everything is from the latter perspective, which means that our approach to healing in this article is also from the same view. You are already whole; it is just about letting go of the things that do not serve you so that you can return to wholeness. There is nothing to fix or replace because there is nothing missing or broken,
only things to take away - as when you are cleaning something thoroughly or unfolding a chair you haven’t used in a while.
When you look at healing any area of your life whether it’s food, romance, money, whatever, always examine it from the lens of what needs to be removed that isn’t serving you to be your best, natural self. This approach will give you outlets for action that respect your wholeness and sidestep the personal improvement trap of never being enough or feeling that you are broken in some way.
So now, how do we apply this perspective and heal our relationship with food?
Remember my catchy motto, "When Alignment is present, movement is natural." In some sense, you can consider your eating and nutrition as a form of movement. The nutrients and things you consume are not these static ingredients listed on the
back of a container, but rather energy and patterns that flow over time. A banana, for example, can be an idea, a word, an object on your food list or it can be expressed as a particular glycemic impact signature in your blood measurement. That you have decided to eat bananas in your diet paints a future path over time of sugar fluctuations, carbohydrate intake and so on.
The sum of all of these decisions, or paths, is the general trajectory (or movement) of your diet. It is not a list of things you eat but rather a flowing river of energy based on what you believe.
This is very important. To heal your relationship with food, then, is ultimately to realign your belief systems and allow eating to emerge as the natural, effortless, rejuvenating and pleasurable thing that it is intended to be. One landmark book on this topic that I highly recommend is Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. If you are suffering with eating disorders, failed diets or an unhealthy relationship with food this may be a powerful tool in reclaiming your life. It is an incredible work that offers
sound advice and is backed up with plenty of research. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist trained in the principles of Intuitive Eating may also help you heal and find freedom from any misalignments.
In this article, my goal is to offer you some general guidance in this arena, inspired
from these principles along with my own life experience. Further homework, if appropriate, is recommended.
To understand what it means to have healed your relationship with food, let’s first take a look at what it might look like as an end result. One of the important markers for someone who has a healed relationship with food is that they honor their body’s signals as guides for when to eat. This means that you eat when you are hungry and also stop when you are full.
This may sound simple, but consider how many reasons people have to not follow these obvious cues in today’s hectic modern lifestyle:
— Having to “push through” a lunch break to get a project done for a deadline at work and neglecting your hunger
— Overeating because you know that you have a busy day ahead and probably won’t eat again for 8 hours
— Forgetting to schedule a lunch because you work by appointments and have a hard time saying no to new business
— Eating way more than you should have of a particular food because you usually don’t eat it or it is against your diet
These are some simple examples and what they all relate to is a disordered relationship with food. In episode 182 of The Dance of Life Podcast, I spoke with my friend Summer Cathryn about these things in greater detail. Summer is a successful women’s coach and has helped many women heal their relationship with food through Intuitive Eating principles. In that episode I learned that “disordered eating” was even a thing, looking back at my own life and seeing how it had played out in my own relationship with food.
As a kid, I had become so fanatically against eating meat that my skin eventually started going pale and my hair began falling out. Of course, my decision at the time wasn’t based on any research, nor did I take the proper steps to ensure a healthful diet to compensate for it either.
After breaking from this religious fanaticism, I swung in the opposite direction and ate nothing but fast food and garbage. As that ran its course in my early years of college, I found myself back in fanaticism following the onset of a panic disorder, but this time I had gone full-force into the realm of health and controlling as many variables as possible, logging my nutrition intake and all of that business.
Later in college, and during a panic episode, I almost choked to death while eating out with my friends. Because of my existing anxiety problem, this incident created an aversion to chewing and swallowing most foods and crippled my eating experience.
Every time I would sit down to eat, I would say to myself “Shit, here we go again,” and pray that I could eat at least half of what was on my plate without getting a panic attack and chewing frantically for minutes on end without swallowing. It was horrible, and even after taking a few years to rid myself of the problem I still had disordered eating habits. Not until my 30’s did my relationship with food began to finally heal. After running into stubborn digestive problems and beginning a journey of healing, I started to make
important changes to what I believed around food and realized the value of key principles like respecting my meal times as sacred, eating when I was hungry, eating mindfully and allowing myself plenty of time to eat at a relaxed pace.
As simple as all of this may sound, it is easy to ignore its value until there is a real problem. Letting go of disordered eating habits is a key step in healing your relationship with food, and it will teach you about another key principle which is self-acceptance. There are many principles and guidelines for eating healthfully, but perhaps the most important one is this: they are just guidelines. Removing the stress of rules and obligation from your relationship with food is a key objective if you really want to heal.
I have been on the side of obsessively counting everything and worrying about lectins, anti-nutrients, inflammation, oxidizing of my fats and all the other crazy shit you can worry about - and I have been on the side where I was eating Burger King a few times a week along with pizza, Cheeze Its and soda.
Here is my advice: your stress and worry over breaking your rules will do you more damage than breaking them occasionally ever will.
Sometimes strict rules are necessary, but this is for a short-term result. Governing your eating in this rigid manner will unavoidably create stress on your life, and the goal is to remove stress as a factor in your relationship with food if you want to heal. For example, I know exactly why I don’t eat certain foods in general like dairy, corn or gluten. I have tested these foods and they are inflammatory for my body, among other general reasons and research not to eat them on a regular basis.
But let’s say that I go to a friend’s house and they happen to have cooked a meal to welcome me and it includes these ingredients. I do not expect them to be as neurotically interested in health as I am, so now I have a choice: either let go and eat with my friends or uphold my vast nutrition knowledge and make them pay for their ignorance.
The old me, that was a staunch adherent to my rules, would have sacrificed the love and
connection of that moment at the cost of my friends’ feeling of contribution and a relaxed, authentic meal together. Unless you are actually allergic to a food, there is nothing to worry about. This is a dance, because some things will simply not be appetizing to you anymore as you heal and it is OK to say no to these things because you are honoring your hunger and appetite. I don’t crave some of the things I would eat when I was less aligned, so if my friend would have prepared some fried cheese balls I would politely decline because I just genuinely wasn’t feeling them.
In this case you are honoring your body, not your rules, and this is the point.
When you adhere to strict rules you are essentially creating a diet for yourself. All diets, by default, are based on restriction. As long as you have restriction there will be some sort of resistance that you will experience. This can manifest as overeating, frustration, stress, guilt, social awkwardness, diet collapse and rebounding or whatever other disordered relationship with food that you can think of.
One who has healed and practiced self-acceptance has let go of this dieting mentality and understands that dieting, strict rules and restriction do not belong in an aligned
relationship with food. Instead, they mindfully utilize guiding principles that allow for some natural deviation without stress or worry.
The difference in these two approaches is the same one I have echoed over and over again in your quest for optimal health: one is based in Gratitude and awe while the other is based in fear and obligation. If you are afraid, the next impulse is a desire to control. If you are not afraid, you surrender, trust and enjoy. All diets, regardless of how lax or extreme, are a form of control. As long as you are trying to control, you are feeding the part of you that is afraid: afraid you might gain weight, afraid you may die early, afraid you will not be loved or socially accepted, afraid you may relapse, so on and so on.
Where your attention goes something will grow. This is the case with the things you are afraid of and dieting is a great example because diets don’t work as long-term
solutions to life.
To heal is a multi-faceted process and it doesn’t happen overnight. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, are obese or have emotional eating habits, your intuition is buried under much bigger noise and trauma. Part of the work of being able to listen to it clearly again is physical and the other part is mental or spiritual. The previous guidelines will help you eat healthier and bring your body back into Alignment so that you can become more intuitive with your eating choices rather than cognitive.
If you are toxic or fatigued from stress, your cravings are not going to be reliable sources of information because the signal has been polluted for a while. Your body needs energy, so honoring your cravings and intuition in these deficient states is not going to lead you anywhere productive because at this point your body is screaming to put out a fire.
So, what do you do then?
Most people aren’t fully aligned and have some form of these misalignments interfering with their ability to tune within and listen. If you have an eating disorder or unhealthy psychological relationship with food, my recommendation would be to find someone
trained in Intuitive Eating principles and begin the journey of healing.
If you are not in that category, then work to implement the principles in this article and blog along with the other useful tools outlined on supplementation, nutrition, health testing and whatever else you find useful so that you can bring your body back into an aligned state where it can speak to you clearly.
To be aligned means many things. Internally you have to clear away the baggage surrounding your relationship with food, whether that is eating for comfort every time you are stressed or being outright bulimic. It also means making healthy choices that give your body the tools necessary to run at its best.
It is important to eat delicious, satisfying meals and to eat them mindfully. Make your meal times sacred and make your meals delicious. Delicious does not mean unhealthy, and the more you honor your hunger and eat with presence the less stimulation you will actually need to enjoy the experience.
I can eat a fresh bowl of rice with some organic olive oil, freshly chopped green onions and high quality sea salt with two poached eggs and it can be the most satisfying thing in the world, but if I am checking Facebook and stressing out about what happens after my lunch it is just a wasted opportunity.
This is why your level of presence makes such a big difference. Along with keeping tabs on your body’s functions using the proper nutrition and testing principles, you will support the signals you do get so they can be as pure as possible without the pollution of toxins, stress or psychological factors.
Finally, always operate from self-acceptance. Remember the importance of human connection on longevity that has been found in countless studies and social phenomenon like The Rosetto Effect and The French Paradox. Unless you
are allergic to something, eating it will not kill you or be the end of the world. Be reasonable but allow for deviation. When you control, you create a blockage, and blockages are what kill.
Movement is life; let things flow and allow yourself to integrate into situations rather than separating yourself for the sake of defending arbitrary rules. To eat is one of the prime joys of life. And to eat and enjoy yourself with friends is perhaps one of the healthiest things you can do regardless of what’s being served in front of you.