I very much believe that a solid and intuitive relationship with food requires a two-pronged approach of 1) a mostly whole foods diet that can benefit from specific macronutrient changes when based on our activity, hormones, genetics, etc. (i.e. the tactical approaches) and 2) an intuitive and mindful relationship with food and our bodies that is rooted in self-respect.
I discussed one of the tactical nutritional approaches, low carb, that really grinds my gears in recent blog posts (here and here), but there is SO MUCH MORE to the story. Those changes can be profound, yes, but unless our internal landscape is receiving just as much focus and attention, we won’t feel differently on a deeper level. Which is what we’re really seeking once we peel back the layers.
In fact, many women find that they don’t need to change anything about their diets or bodies at all – the internal work is what’s been calling for their attention.
Our often-tumultuous relationships with food and our bodies can be rooted in a myriad of past and present traumas, stressors, and/or projections. Some examples include the need to exercise control, low self-esteem or perceived lack of worthiness, past or current trauma or abuse (physical and/or emotional), a lack of presence in life, a disconnection to our physical bodies, and a lack of connection to others.
What do all of these have in common?
They’re internal. And rather than address the root cause of our disordered and unhealthy relationships with food and our bodies, we resort to food as a means of distraction. It’s our magic pill for instant relief from what’s really calling for our attention, usually by way of over or undereating or a similar relationship with exercise.
This often occurs without us being aware of the connection. When my obsessions with food and my body began at the age of sixteen, I had no idea that I was using them as a coping mechanism for feeling self-conscious and unworthy.
It takes effort to hone in on the root cause of our pain and discomfort – it requires space and reflection, and this can be incredibly uncomfortable in the beginning. Our brains often default to the easy route of deflection.
Overtime, however, we can learn to use the arrival of these thought patterns to our benefit.
When I find myself starting to critique my body or obsess over my food, it’s a clear sign that something is calling for my attention internally.
What am I ignoring?
What am I failing to acknowledge and feel?
Do I simply need to slow down and spend more time connecting with myself and the present?
Do I need to confront issues in a relationship?
Do I need more time in nature?
Am I surrounding myself with people who aren’t supportive and growth-minded?
Once we dig into the answers to these questions, it becomes clear that our food and bodies aren’t the issues. They never have been.
For example, if we’ve gained weight throughout our lives due to being disconnected from our bodies and subsequently eating as an emotional coping mechanism, the food wasn’t the issue. Neglecting the emotional turmoil, failing to connect to the present and our bodies, and masking our pain or discomfort was.
How do we identify what is really calling for our attention?
- Slow Down & Get Grounded in the Present – mindfulness is a non-negotiable here. Before we can identify patterns, we need to find a way to connect with ourselves internally, in addition to our bodies and the physical world around us. Meditation is a great way to do this, but getting outside in nature or even spending some time in silence and solitude can be powerful.
- Journal – We need to take an objective view of what’s going on inside our minds, so start by writing the details of the occurrences of overeating, undereating, obsessing over macros or calories, critiquing your body, or even criticizing the bodies of others. Get as granular as possible, even if you believe the thoughts to be completely unrelated.
- Connect the Dots – Are you having relationship struggles? Do you hate your job or chosen career? Do you feel neglected or unworthy in a particular relationship? Are you moving through life too quickly? Are you failing to speak your authentic truth? These are just a few examples, but chances are that you’ll find a projection of turmoil, confusion, or neglect in other areas of life onto food and/or your body.
This work takes time and dedication, and I believe it to be lifelong work. We never cease to be challenged in life, and our initial, default reaction may always be to revert to obsession over food and our bodies when our internal landscape is out of alignment.
These thought patterns are often my default reaction, and rather than view them through a lens of disdain and resentment, I choose gratitude.
I’ve become so familiar with these thought patterns that when I identify and observe them, I quickly know that I have some work to do internally. I then follow the steps outlined above.
While this work can be challenging and uncomfortable, especially in the beginning, remember that deflection and avoidance are characteristic of the easy route – a path that allows the initial wound to fester and expand.
Truly looking beneath the surface to the core of our wounds is the work of the warrior. It’s scary shit, and it certainly isn’t easy. But it’s absolutely necessary for change.
What’s bubbling up beneath the surface and calling for your attention?