Ever witness (or star in) one of these scenes?
You and a good friend have just talked through multiple platefuls of steaming, fragrant East Indian food at your favourite hole-in-the-wall buffet.
Reluctant to end a great evening out, you pay your cheque, leisurely sip the last of your drinks, gather your things, and prepare to stand up.
Your friend emits a low groan, pats a rounded belly, and says, “I am SO stuffed, I can hardly move. It’s water-and-workout time tomorrow.”
Coming home after a long day, the only active neuron left in your exhausted mind is screaming Netflix, a big bag of chips, and a tub of triple chocolate mint ice cream.
(Dinner? What dinner?)
And thus you slip into couch potato oblivion….
Mid-morning: Diet Coke
Lunch: Nothing (you work through)
Mid-afternoon: 5 or so Oreos from the stash in the break room…then 4 more on the way out
On the way home: A headache
Dinner: Endless popping, shoving, and spooning because preparing a meal would take more energy and ingenuity than you can muster
And That, Dear Reader, is Disorderly Eating
I assume we agree on this: Eating disorders are serious matters.
The tolls on the human body and psyche from the binge-purge cycles that characterize bulimia and the dangerous food abstinence and body-image distortions that typify anorexia are grave and warrant qualified medical, psychological, and spiritual intervention.
And yet, how many people do you suppose are actively engaged in the disruptive and health-threatening actions and effects of disorderly eating?
Let’s find out.
Do the following remind you of yourself or of close friends and family?
- Bingeing, then skipping meals.
- Semi-conscious snacking. (Did I just finish this whole bag myself?)
- Long hours without either sustaining protein or energizing, nutrition-packed carbs.
- Attitudes toward eating that swing from “food-as-friend” to guilt to “Who gives a hoot?” to desperation.
- Substituting fake diet foods for real ones because of convincing advertising hype: “Eat this, and you can wear (or look like) this.”
- Negative feelings about your body size or shape that perpetually drive you toward or away from eating.
- The habit of soothing difficult thoughts, emotions, or events with food…including when you’re not actually hungry.
- Physical activity that is more punishment for food choices or weight gain than enjoyment or self-challenge.
- Frequently dropped goals related to the amount or types of foods you eat (or exercise you do).
- Eating when you’re tired instead of resting or rejuvenating.
That’s My Food Life, Right There…Or Was
Each of us has a personal history with food that starts at birth. It may even begin in utero with nutrition choices our mothers made, or even further up the chain of our genetic heritage.
Likely, your story includes food as security, food as comfort, food as reward, certain punishments that involved food (“Sit there till you finish all your broccoli”), food as celebration, food as bribe, food as gift, and food as family culture. Mine does — all of it.
By this point in the saga, we’re probably five years old and thoroughly indoctrinated into everything but food as a natural means to sustain healthy function of our bodies, to help us grow and repair optimally, and to bring simple pleasure to our senses and soul.
Add to the catalogue of “food as” similes the unpredictable and sometimes rocky landscape of life experience, and you have a complicated, tangled web of paradigms and beliefs about ourselves, our bodies, our worth, and our relationship to our life-sustaining fuel.
My own story into my mid-twenties could include chapters of “Food as Love,” “Growing Up in a Heavy Family,” “Being Chubby,” “Wanting Beauty and Acceptance,” “The Price I Decided to Pay,” “Chronic, Extreme Dieting,” “Running as Salvation…and Penance,” “Serious Self-Damage,” “Medical Interventions,” “Shame,” and “Relapse.”
The turning point in my story was becoming a mother and realizing that I, pretty much solely, was the foundation for the health, food worldview and self-image my precious child would carry for his entire mortal life.
It was sobering, to say the least.
I also realized I would be here longer and better fit to witness and enjoy this little miracle as he grew if I started to take actual, smart and conscientious care of my own well-being.
Which Brings Us to the Part Where I Lay Down Six Life Lessons About Food
I’m nearly three decades past that pivotal decision point in my life. My son is a strapping, handsome, adventurous, food-loving (and cooking) Ph.D. candidate and father himself. He generally takes VERY good care of his body and loves to check out its limits at high altitudes back-country hiking with his beautiful life companion.
His food story is not this way because I suddenly got it right and taught him from a deep well of food truth. There’s a journey, there, with plenty of detours and missteps.
Over the years, I’ve researched, soul-searched, experimented, recanted, personally struggled, revolutionized our family’s eating culture (only to backtrack when I realized tofu wasn’t the answer I was hoping for), and literally made it a daily practice to distill some truth from the flood of information coming in at every communication portal.
It seems like everyone wanted to have a say in how I nourished myself and my kids: doctors, nurses, the general medical profession, teachers, restauranteurs, cookbook authors, nutrition gurus, health coaches, diet doctrinators, grocery store moguls, food writers, play group managers, government from local to federal levels, cereal box labels, and complete strangers.
What you’re about to read are not expert prescriptions for healthy eating, nor do I suppose they are absolute truth.
They are the six factors I’ve identified that have literally equipped me to tame my own disorderly eating mindset and have brought me to peace with food.
And what do I mean by that?
Peace with Food
I wake up very conscious that I’m alive and wearing an indisputable miracle made up of exquisite wonders: my body.
I begin my day determined to take optimal care of that body within the means available to me…and I make those “means” a priority.
I, no lie, plan ways to experience joy in my physical self. You read it: Joy. Almost always, at the end of the day, I can give gratitude for having received that gift.
I shop for food with confidence.
I eat foods I value and enjoy. I say “no” to foods that may smell like French fry heaven or num-num nirvana, but just aren’t worth the downsides.
I feed my family the food of champions, almost always.
And I feel sane, hopeful, capable — even undefeatable, at times — in building, preserving, and achieving health for myself and for the people in my care.
And, most importantly, perhaps, I’m o.k. with learning more and better ways to live with food.
I invite you along for an experiment with life that starts with food and ends with peace.
Six Steps to Eliminate Disorderly Eating and Make Your Peace with Food
1. Believe you are in charge of yourself.
There’s a silly story that goes with this epiphany.
I was at a family barbecue when I was single and a university student. The array of food was heaped on a 4′ X 8′ banquet table in my parents’ backyard: hamburgers, hotdogs, sauce-bronzed chicken, potato salad, coleslaw, marshmallow-dotted fruit salad, watermelon, veggie trays, and bowls of potato chips in various colors and flavors.
My cousin stood beside me and cast a sideways look as I shovelled a handful of chips onto my plate, saying, “You know, I don’t even really like these that much.”
“You don’t have to take what you don’t like, Heather.”
Like I said, silly.
For me, though, the echoes of that comment proved transformational. I don’t have to eat what I don’t prefer, even if it’s tradition. I can focus on foods I really like. I eat many things out of custom rather than actual enjoyment. What I eat is MY choice.
Since this was also around the time that I became disillusioned with dieting and increasingly serious about nutritional content, I naturally began to pick foods that were allies in my quest for an overall healthier self.
The point is I was choosing — not being directed by habit or outside pressure or a marketing team or my mom or my boyfriend or my ladies-night-out group.
And I keep on choosing because I’m in charge of my well-being in all ways.
By believing I have the power (and responsibility) to determine how I eat, I create the understanding and action that free me from disorderly eating.
2. Decide you are worth the work of transforming.
There’s no way to cushion the reality that moving from disorderly, self-harmful eating (or thinking, or interacting, or self-medicating, or whatever) is going to cost us in energy, time, mental stamina, or discomfort. It’s work, and work means doing, and doing takes guts.
The saving news here is that as we work on ourselves, a cycle of affirming, encouraging, enriching feedback is established.
When I give quality time and attention to myself, I am investing in my well-being.
When I invest in my well-being, I become stronger.
With that strength, I am better prepared to meet my next challenge.
As I succeed in meeting challenges, I grow in confidence and capacity.
As I grow in confidence and capacity, I have a deeper well from which to give.
As I give to self and others, I contribute, and I recognize the value of investing quality time, energy and thought in worthy causes.
In this cycle, I see that my well-being is among the worthiest of causes.
You are worth the work of overcoming disorderly eating and replacing it with better ways of being with food.
3. Be thankful every day for food to eat.
Whether we say, pray or portray it (in writing, art, music, movement, or a fist-pump of joy) gratitude has a satisfying, taming effect on our appetite for more.
This may be a practice you have to experience for yourself to believe. I’m confident it can, in combination with the other steps I’m recommending, effectively tame disorderly eating.
Here’s why I think it works so well:
When I pause before a meal to “say grace” or feel gratitude, I am acknowledging the bounty around me, even if my plate is simply and modestly served. If I am sincere, that moment of thanks is filling.
Even the simple act of actually focusing on the scent, sight, and presence of food before me — whether in a bowl, basket, store or fridge — magnifies the fact of food in my life to the miracle it is. The earth is providing for me!
(And that’s not even practising mindfulness about the farmers and artisans who grow, tend, harvest and fashion our food, or the host of workers who deliver it to our tables.)
Try gulping down a beautiful meal while conscious of that much benefit.
At the end of a day, when I write three gratitudes into my BestSelf journal, I am again reviewing upsides and mercies. In this practice, I become less needy…and much richer than I might have seen before the writing of thanks took place.
From a vantage point of “there is good happening here,” I’m able to calm my tendency to fill empty places with food (etc). From a mindset of abundance, I can thoughtfully select what’s best (and enough) for me rather than hoarding anyone or anything, including food, because I am afraid of not having, or being, enough. PING! We could spend hours together contemplating a fountainhead of disorderly eating: want and not knowing how to fix it.
In a grateful state, my food and I become part of the bounty in my life.
In a wondrous way, gratitude for what we have to eat extends that fullness to our psyches and souls.
4. Trend toward eating food as close to its natural state as possible.
Rest easy! I’m not about to tell you what you can and can’t eat. I’m just saying give yourself the chance for a fresh start.
Our personal and family food cultures are complex. Whether we’re aware of it or not, those influences impact us all the day long…even when we are neglectful or unconcerned about our nourishment. Consider that for a moment.
The encompassing theory behind food in its natural state (a “whole food” approach) is experiencing the fuel for our lives in a form where it is the least altered, diminished or covered up.
Consider these examples:
A crisp, fragrant apple without pie crust, pancreas-taxing sugar and high-heat baking.
A lemon drink that contains real citrus, an honest, less-processed sweetener (honey, for example) and clear, non-carbonated water (all to replace an artificially lemon-flavored soda.)
A steaming baked potato instead of puffs or chips made from potato starch.
Lightly broiled or poached wild-caught fish without breading, deep-frying or bottled tartar sauce.
Vibrant, raw carrots — no white dip, no boiling till spongey — just full-force beta carotene (vitamin A in your body) to power your germ resistance and bless your eyes, skin, hair, and overall digestion.
I hear you: “If God wanted us to eat stuff raw, he wouldn’t have inspired deep-fryers.”
This is where the work comes in.
Start small. Put a handful of juicy, raw sugar-snap peas next to your pizza roll…and eat them slowly, chewing with intention.
Next time around, make a pita pizza with your own favourite toppings.
Down the road, try creating a tangy tomato sauce from scratch. It’s a cinch in a blender and packs a bang of savoury tang without unnecessary sugar and oil.
What I am pretty sure you’ll begin noticing as you incorporate more whole foods in your eating is texture, intensity of flavors (other than the dominators of salt and sugar), color as glorious as a tropical forest, and scents that lift your spirit and rev up your appetite for honest-to-goodness nourishment. Convenience and packaged foods tend to flatten all of these into a narrow bandwidth of sensory experience, subtracting inherent nutrients along their conveyor-belt way to the grocery store aisle.
When you lean toward more natural foods, you become an artist of sorts, creating a coherent, unique expression of your personality and purposes, your whole body as the canvas that showcases good things happening. What a great alternative to food frustration or food victimization.
5. Make a commitment to eat (and nourish) like a champion.
Every single day there’s a climb ahead.
Every single hour there’s a conflict brewing.
Every single moment of every single day, there’s an opportunity possible.
The climb might be getting out of bed, facing school or work, or managing a life crisis.
The conflict might be fending off flu, or obesity, or cancer, or transforming one’s own disorderly eating habits.
And that opportunity…it’s often something we haven’t anticipated or have only wished for ourselves. It comes, ready or not, because life never stops teaching us what we made for and made of.
What are you made of? What keeps you prepared and equipped to give your best? What gives you go…and keeps you going?
If you’re looking for outstanding results and internal victory, it probably can’t be toaster pastries and Cheetos.
This is a important moment of truth.
Am I eating the food of champions or do I fuel myself with the food of the weak? Do I tax my body with cheap imitations of natural foods? Do I burden it with laboratory output that isn’t designed by the Nature that makes us?
Going for harmony between our aspirations and the quality of our nutrition is a powerful decision. Making this choice can make all the difference.
As they say, Go big, or go home to bed.
Well, I say that, because if you’re going to opt for food that has already experienced significant loss of taste, texture, aroma, and nutrients, you are lessening your chances at being a winner in whatever game, task, sport, goal, hope or dream is important to you. And you’re courting sickness, large or small: hence, go home to bed.
On the other hand, you can make food choices like you’re the master of your life and winning.
6. Keep learning.
“The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The
willingness to learn is a choice.”
Brian Herbert, author House of Harkonnen
A while ago, I mentioned to you that communication about how to nourish myself and my family comes in at every communication input possible. This is both a burden and a blessing.
Time invested in learning about how your body works and what sustains its optimal functioning is time invested in your bigger picture, longer-term, love-the-moment, work-for-what-you-want self. And, over time, the information you gather and sift through will begin to grow into your own storehouse of knowledge.
Putting that knowledge into practice is high adventure. It eventually leads to this treasure: knowing what’s best for you.
My food truth may not be your food truth, but I’ve found that principles of good nutrition can guide everything from what we grab on a busy morning to which aisles we head to first in the grocery store to how we soothe our worries or address our challenges.
Here’s one of my foundational food principles: Vegetables are my best food friends. They deliver everything I need to maintain health without packing unnecessary calories. And they satisfy my love of crunchiness! When I’m unsettled or rushed or it’s late and I’m restless, veggies are beneficial, blame-free companions.
Again, rest easy.
Even if you grew up avoiding vegetables, it’s possible for you to overcome your distaste and customize how these nutrient-charged wonders inhabit your life and strengthen your body.
Work from where you are. We tend to think better health means drastic change and sort of snapping ourselves to attention and marching to some other expert’s beat.
So, cheers to learning more! Hurray for the power to sift, sort, and select! Yay for the person who looks at his or her eating behaviour and says, “I can do better, and I will.”
Disorderly eating is often influenced by how easily we allow ourselves to be driven and tossed by waves of special-interest information or partially applied research. When something strikes you as extreme or faddish, it probably is.
In your quest for food truth, stay open, appreciative and flexible. A learner’s creed like this one might help:
I will remain open.
I will allow my mind to experience new vantage points.
I will compare what I’m told with my trusted truths,
be willing to bend where mistaken,
correct where wrong,
and test for the better.
I will remember
that I am guided by an inner, quiet sense.
I will honor my intuition while
I do my best to understand
why others see differently than I.
I will not fear change
because I know
that learning is the beat
of a vibrant, whole-hearted existence.
Which brings us full circle.
I’ve just laid down six steps that have helped me tame my own disorderly eating and find greater peace with food. They are now yours.
Consider them. Test them. See whether my food truth is truth for you, too.
How I Will Help
Each week in 2018, you can receive bite-sized tips, anecdotes and practical ideas for taming disorderly eating and coming to peace with food. It’s heart-felt and free! Click here to begin!
Originally published at medium.com