Awhile back my husband and I were on a road trip when we stopped in to get snacks at a gas station. I came back to the car with a bag of Cheetos and some other items. “Whaaat?” he said, “I didn’t know you liked Cheetos.” Of course I do, really – who doesn’t – but he had never seen me eat them in the years we had been together.
No, Cheetos were not on some list of banned foods, and I never consciously avoided them, but when you learn to budget your food and eat based on rationale and not emotion, certain foods are just not “worth it” anymore. For me, Cheetos rank low on my food totem pole, behind wine and sweets, so they rarely make an appearance in my daily menu. But when I decided I did want them, I ate them, with zero guilt and enjoying all of their fake-cheesy-goodness. And I didn’t eat the entire bag, and no, they didn’t make me fat.
How is it I can be a health-conscious person, who cooks almost all her own food and is concerned about getting the maximum nutrition, and still enjoy something as processed and “bad” as Cheetos randomly without guilt? It’s because I’ve become a cold-hearted eater.
True dietary freedom comes when you detach emotion from eating and learn to prioritize quality foods, while still eating things you enjoy.
Trust me, I didn’t get here overnight. After struggling with my food and eating for years and years after going to the extremes with figure competitions, I had my light bulb moment. I noticed a trend among people I knew who were thin. They didn’t think about food, unlike me, who was obsessively calculating and contemplating every single thing I put in my mouth – stressing about eating too much and fighting an inner war over “do I eat it or no?” for hours, then saying screw it and eating whatever it was until I felt sick.
People who seemed to have the easiest time keeping their weight down just ate when they were hungry, stopped when they were full, and could turn down even the most decadent foods if they weren’t hungry.
How was it they could do this? No, it’s not that they don’t enjoy food as much, it’s that they have never let their mind obsess over food. Easier said than done, I know. Eating for wellness and re-learning to become intuitive about your food is a process and one that can only be successful when you stop dieting and stop thinking about foods as black and white, good or bad. It is not about deprivation or avoidance, but rather focused on eating enough of the “good stuff” and limiting treats. It’s going back and rebuilding your relationship with food.
When you change your mentality, you take back control over your eating and food no longer has a pull on you.
It’s not a constant battle in your mind and binging is a thing of the past. Over time, you just stop thinking about food as much. You learn to enjoy the healthy food more than the less healthy food because you feel better when you eat it – you have more energy, less gastrointestinal issues, etc. And you can enjoy decadent foods in moderation and avoid that gut-wrenching binge belly and the accompanying guilt.
So how do you sign up? Here are five steps to make today to work towards dietary freedom:
1) Stop looking for the next diet or a quick fix.
This has to come first. Don’t worry about what others are doing and don’t go looking for the secret answer. Just stop thinking there’s an easier way. We all know that eating healthy and exercise ARE the answer. And it takes time. Instead of looking for some new, innovative way of doing things that’s sure to have you dropping the pounds in no time, go back to the basics and follow the steps in Setting the Table: A Primer on Proper Nutrition. Focus on what will bring lasting results, not quick weight loss gimmicks.
2) Start thinking in terms of what you should be eating.
Grocery shop and plan your meals around the things you know are good for you. For me, I like to focus first on protein, because it’s something I won’t eat enough of if I don’t make the effort. Secondly, I try to make veggies a priority, then fruit, etc. So whenever I go to eat something, I make sure I include a source of protein and build from there. When you’re eating enough of the right foods, you’ll be satiated and won’t desire treats as much.
3) Don’t ban any foods or consider any foods “off-limits.”
Banning foods creates an emotional attachment with that food. You have to learn to be able to eat in moderation, regardless of how good something tastes. When you completely remove a food, you give it more value that it should have. And even worse, you set yourself up to binge when you “fail” and eat something you’re not supposed to. Most people don’t just have one of whatever they have banned, they figure they “blew it” and go on to eat as many as they want.
Instead, work to limit foods that do not have as much nutritional value. While at first it will be hard, you will find over time that it’s incredibly empowering to just have one cookie or one small dessert, and eventually many things once banned don’t have the same appeal. If you’re following number two above, you probably won’t have much room for less healthy food anyway.
4) Stop eating by the clock.
When you eat according to a timer, and not according to your physical needs, you remove a sense of mindfulness. You stop listening to your body’s cues and start forcing it into a cycle, one that can have you pushing needless food down your throat. Small meals can be a good thing and prevent overeating due to excessive hunger and better control over blood sugar, but you should always be listening to your body first.
It’s okay to get hungry. Promise. But listen to that cue and don’t let yourself get raving, mad hungry so you eat the first thing you can find. And likewise, it’s okay to NOT eat when you’re NOT hungry. You may pack a snack for the afternoon and find your lunch was especially filling and you’re not hungry. It’s okay to skip it. Be mindful of what your body is telling you.
5) Stop automatically cleaning your plate.
This is one thing I noticed from being on a strict diet pan in the past, where I was expected to eat exactly what was on the plan for each meal. I stopped listening to my body cues when I was satisfied, and instead just ate all the food that was allotted to me for that meal. Granted, it was a destructive diet and I was starving, I would scarf down every bite, without even paying attention to how I was feeling. If it was on my plate, I ate it. Likewise, we can easily find ourselves doing this when we go out to eat and get large portions.
Be mindful about each bite and stop when you’re full. If you feel like eating more, give yourself a minute, have a drink of water and then decide on seconds. And start with second servings in the same order of importance – protein, veggies, etc. And if you’re not hungry enough to eat your entire plate, just save it for later – it’s not going anywhere.
Put these steps to work for you and begin rebuilding your relationship with food. Over time, you’ll find yourself becoming a cold-hearted eater as well.