But let’s look more closely at these words: “My relationship with food…” A relationship requires a dynamic interaction: give and take, input and output, giving and receiving. Is your relationship to food actually a relationship? Food does not get up and ask to be eaten. It does not walk its way into your mouth. It does not express its need to feel wanted or desired. It does not express cravings to be close to you or a longing to spend time with you.
By attempting to relate to our food, we ascribe power to it that in turn disempowers us from our ability to care for ourselves in decisive and intentional ways. Let’s make a pact: No more giving away our power! Let’s talk about how.
Chances are, you have been in a cycle with your decisions and feelings about food. You have set out to “lose weight,” measured by pounds on the scale and gone about weight loss in many different ways. You are consistent with a plan--Weight Watchers, Beach Body, Whole 30-- and then you are not. You are successful with an approach—juice cleanse, sugar detox, Paleo -- and then you are not. You make the changes you desire, and then you stall out.
You go through periods of ease and calm with your food choices. You feel better and better in your clothes as you get smaller, tighter or leaner. Then, an event like a birthday or holiday party, a stressful phase at work or a visit with your mother, leads to a period of rebellion. The voice in your head, or maybe outloud, says, “Screw this diet. Screw these rules. I’m going renegade.”
You eat treats, be they salty or sweet, and you feel like crap, physically and emotionally. You beat yourself up about your food choices. You focus on your confusion about why you always end up gaining weight after a period of weight loss and adherence to your diet. You beg you inner self for an explanation: “Why am I sabotaging myself? What is wrong with me?”
You stay here for a while, identifying “lack of motivation” as the primary issue. Your friends reassure you that you will get back on track when you’re ready. And then you do. When you’re feeling fed up with yourself, you get back to your point-counting, calorie-tracking, weighing and measuring, denying, eliminating, withholding, or whatever your method may be. Soon enough, you are back to losing weight and feeling better. The sense of ease returns and you reflect on the hard phase with a bewildered curiosity lined with self-judgment: “I just don’t know what’s wrong with me that I can’t stick to this. It’s not so bad!”
The question embedded in this self-talk that I hear a lot from my clients is, “How can this time be different?” These types of questions make my ears perk up. This question indicates readiness for a new approach and a big green light flashes in my mind and I think, “transformance drive.”
We are all born with this drive, and what a wonderful thing it is. Our emotions are designed to tell us what to do next and what action to take. All core emotions have the potential to move us towards our best selves. Our task is to listen to them.
So, in the case of the food cycle, what is the core emotion? Anger. You may feel angry at yourself for not having the willpower or motivation to stick to your diet. But, if we trust that anger is leading us in a transformative direction towards our best self, I suggest that the anger is pointing you somewhere else. Our bodies are not meant to eat the same foods for long periods of time. Three months is generally the length of a season, and humans were designed to have access to different local food sources as the seasons changed. So if every few months, your system starts to rebel against a diet by “giving in” to irresistible cravings, you are a normal healthy human. So, how can we use the core emotion of anger to drive us towards a new approach?