Ever wondered how your relationship with food developed?
(And how to fix what you don’t like)
Food is for nourishment. If you use it for any other purpose, remember the relationship you have with food developed over time and many things will impact it. But when you want to make practical changes, it can be useful to explore your formative years. We learn how to use food from a very early age - and then rarely challenge the associations as adults.
Hilde Bruch, a respected theorist in eating disorders, suggests that the confusion starts during infancy, when the child is fed when it is distressed as well as when it is hungry. So, from very early on, we may start to lose the ability to differentiate between hunger and emotional needs...
Family mealtimes are an important part of developing healthy self-esteem, social skills, and the relationship an individual has with food. Think back to when you were a child. What were your mealtimes like? What were your parents’ attitudes to weight, food, and dieting?
What was the dominant emotion at your dinner table? Which of the following apply to you?
If any of those resonated, these experiences can create an association between food and that emotion. These can then be easily carried through into adult life.
What type of eater are you? (And how to fix it)
In order to survive, all animals learn what to eat, when to eat and how to eat from their parents. It is unlikely our parents have perfect eating habits so there will always be things we can improve upon as adults. Is a habit or belief still useful now? If not, change it! For example, “you must clear your plate”. Why? What will happen if you don’t? Go on, go really wild, that will happen if I leave the odd potato or brussels sprout?
Do you use food to get control?
Children learn that they can get control of adults by using food. Did you learn to get attention from others by not eating or making a fuss? Or maybe you were force fed foods you didn’t like and felt out of control? There are so many things in this world over which we have no control. It is common for people to turn to food to take control over their own bodies instead.
Solution: Deal with the issue directly - rather than by eating. What in your life is making you feel out of control or stressed? Job / family / money? What practical changes can you make to put you back in control?
Can you leave food on your plate?
“Finish your dinner or you won’t get any pudding”. Sound familiar? Or perhaps your grandparents encouraged you to eat lots. This may have been particularly important for previous generations as food was scarcer and they wanted to ensure we ate as well as possible. We are lucky as this is generally not the case now.
Solution: It’s probably healthier to leave the excess on your plate...
Are you a pleaser?
Are you unable to say ‘no’ to others?
Do you feel taken advantage of? As a child, did you observe that the pretty /clever / entertaining one got all the attention? If you learnt this, you may still believe that you will only be loved if you are clever / attractive / slim enough. Or, maybe by being good, or doing things for others, you prevented their anger being directed at you. So, you learnt that pleasing others was the easiest course of action - even if it meant not getting your own needs met.
Solution: In which situations is it truly the best course of action to please others? On what occasions is it completely unnecessary (i.e. just habit)? Work out when these are and just say no politely.
Do you restrict food and then feel guilty when you end up eating?
Were you ever sent to bed without any supper? If so, you may have learnt that if you do something bad you get punished by being made to feel hungry. Dieting is traditionally associated with being hungry and ‘going without’: punishing yourself for overeating in the past. Then, when you get so hungry that you break the diet, you feel twice as guilty because you’ve now sneakily gone against the punishment too!
Solution: Balance your blood sugar (this helps from the physiological perspective) as it will help reduce your cravings. Remember, you are not punishing yourself - you are on a mission to improve your health. Question what happened to break the negative cycle: what led to the slip and what will you do differently next time?
Do you eat when you feel sad or need love?
“Have some chocolate, that will cheer you up”. It’s easy to see how we all learnt this behaviour. The sugar rush may well perk you up momentarily, but it doesn’t resolve the problem!
Solution: Remember, distress is a normal part of life - deal with it directly. Or, if you need love, ask for some attention from a loved one.
Do you use food as a treat?
Most of us have received food as a reward for good behaviour or to signify love. And we are likely to have had treats (or love) withheld for bad behaviour. So, love and sugar can become closely linked - and an easy way to love yourself.
Solution: Choose treats that won’t make you feel guilty afterwards. This way you can reward yourself more effectively and positively.
Do you eat in secret?
Were sweets hidden out of reach from you? This instantly suggests they are naughty or forbidden which makes us want them even more! Or perhaps someone called you “greedy”. So maybe even now you eat in secret so that they won’t say it again. But it was probably said a long time ago in jest and in response to a specific incident eg. eating all your easter eggs in one go. As a child, that’s not a crime!
Solution: Question your beliefs: maybe you eat a little too much sometimes but that doesn’t justify calling yourself names! Try not to eat on your own and serve appropriate portions.
Do you rush your food?
Perhaps older siblings helped themselves to your food if you didn’t eat fast enough. Maybe your parents encouraged you to “hurry up and finish your dinner and you can go and play”. This can result in overeating as we miss the ‘fulness’ signals.
Solution: Slow down. Chew properly. Put your cutlery down between
Do you eat when you are angry or frustrated or to avoid conflict?
If you feel others didn’t listen to you or you were unable to speak your mind effectively you may have turned to eating to relieve the tension. The act of swallowing pushes the feelings down, suppressing them. Or, if you want to avoid conflict, it is difficult to argue if you are too busy eating...
Solution: Start learning to be assertive and deal with the situation that is creating the frustration. Avoid the situations. Or find a healthier outlet for the stress, e.g. exercise.
If this has made you think and you feel you may need support, don't hesitate to get in touch with me. Why not book a free call with me here?
Good health begins as a thought
Achieving long-term health and energy is a balancing act. Quite simply, what you put into your mind may have as much of an impact as the food and supplements you feed your body.
Many studies have been conducted on the mind-body connection. What we know for sure is that a positive attitude works – when we remember to nurture it.
Wholesome food, avoiding sugar and toxins are obvious tools for great health but how should you deal with the consequences of negative thinking and stress?
Experts rate exercise, sufficient sleep, controlling negative thoughts and building a strong social support as some of the best ways to decrease stress and boost immunity – so paying attention to your feelings and needs is as vital as drinking enough water and avoiding junk food.
Winning ways to promote good mind-body health
The release of endorphins during exercise promotes a sense of wellbeing, which has the added benefit of boosting your immune system.
During exercise, the lymphatic system – a network of tissues and organs that helps your body to eliminate toxins and waste – is mobilised. Its main role is to transport lymph fluid, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which is transported by the heart, lymph fluid only moves if you do.
A recent study from a North Carolina university showed that people who exercised for five or more days weekly experienced 43% fewer days of upper respiratory infections.
Walking, running or any other muscle-moving activity also dramatically reduces stress by ‘working off steam’ when you are upset or angry. With the release of endorphins, your body receives a natural mood boost, resulting in reduced stress levels, which in turn puts less pressure on your immune system.
2. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
According to an American Psychological Association study, stress is what keeps more than 40% of adults awake at night. To aim for the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, avoid caffeine, digital screens and try to turn in at the same time each evening.
3. FOCUS ON SELF-CARE
Make an effort to do something nice for yourself every day. Neglecting your own needs adds unnecessary stress to the system, resulting in increased vulnerability to illness.
Women, in particular, tend to put their own needs last, especially if they’re caring for children and/or elderly parents. If you battle with guilt when you take an hour off to read, go for a manicure or have a coffee with a friend, remind yourself that if your bucket is empty, you’ll have nothing left to give anyone else. Simple, but effective.
You cut in half the chances of catching a cold by meditating. A University of Wisconsin study showed that people who practised mindfulness – a type of meditation or mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations – noted 13 fewer illnesses and took 51 fewer sick days. Researchers concluded that this reduced the physical effects of stress, which is known to weaken the immune system.
5. IT TAKES A VILLAGE…
Building strong social connections has proven psychological and physiological benefits. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, having a ‘support group’ – no matter how big or small – boosts immunity by creating ‘stress buffers’.
Being able to share stress or concerns with close family or friends provides an opportunity for outside support and advice, which alleviates a sense of being alone in your situation.
Ongoing stress is also a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, and is seriously not helpful if you are trying to lose weight.
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” – Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist mindfulness pioneer.
You don’t have to continue to suffer – you have the power to make these changes. Just plan in small steps and gradually these will add up to make the difference.
If there is anything that has come up for you as a result of this blog post, I warmly invite you to book in for a free 30-minute health review to see if a personalised nutrition and lifestyle plan might help. You can book yourself directly into my diary by clicking right here.
What exactly is mindful eating?
Well, research defines it as incorporating the following:
So, how does mindful eating work?
Digestion actually begins in the brain in what is termed the 'cephalic phase' of eating. Just by acknowledging, smelling and seeing our food, our brain starts to get our body ready for the digestive process ahead. Just think about a time when you've smelled fresh bread wafting out of the bakers, or when you watch Nigella making anything on TV - your body starts to prepare to eat - your tummy rumbles, your mouth waters.
Stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system,, or the 'rest and digest' mode of our bodies, by the evidence of an imminent meal triggers the brain to prepare the digestive tract for nourishment.
Taking this time allows your digestive juices in your mouth and stomach to get to work, thereby improving the level of digestion you will achieve. Remember the last time you bolted down a meal and felt bloated and terrible - your body wasn't in the right state to be accepting that food, and therefore your digestion was impaired.
But it's not just physical preparation that is helped by mindful eating. Research shows that it affects us emotionally too. Psychologists have found that mindfulness helps people to recognise the difference between emotional and physical hunger and satiety, thereby introducing a moment of opportunity and consideration between the urge to eat and the act of eating.
It's all too common for us to eat for many reasons that aren't actual physical hunger - boredom, sadness, irritation, sometimes just because it's there. And that's ok - but by giving ourselves a moment's contemplation, we allow ourselves the opportunity to decide if it really is what we want to do.
Check out my article here for some top tips for mindful eating during the festive season.
Back in caveman times, the stress response was an essential part of our ability to escape danger - say, for example, being attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger. The ‘fight or flight’ response, an innate response designed to stimulate our sympathetic nervous system, makes us alert, focussed and energised – we can escape the danger.
Our body releases certain stress hormones, such as cortisol, which allow our body to respond adequately to the threat by various means, such as increasing available fuel and your respiratory response, whilst dampening down body systems not needed to escape imminent danger, such as the digestive, reproductive or immune systems. In normal circumstances, we experience the ‘fight or flight’ response and its corresponding body effects fleetingly, and then the danger passes, and we can return to normal.
However, today’s stressors tend not to arrive as a sudden, acute danger, but rather exist in a more consistent, ongoing form. Chronic stress like this can be less than beneficial to our health, as long-term exposure to high levels of stress hormones can take its toll. Symptoms of chronic stress include increased irritability, anxiety, headaches, insomnia and depression. Plus, ongoing high levels of stress hormones may continue to affect the digestive, reproductive and immune systems in ways which are not sustainable.
This month’s newsletter covered lifestyle aspects of building stress resilience and ways to encourage lower stress levels. But how can diet help with dealing with chronic stress? Whilst it may be tempting to go for quick, comfort eats and throw out healthy habits, stressful times are when good nutrition can be at its most effective. Aiming for a diet with lots of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, plus good sources of proteins and fats is a good place to start.
Also, don’t forget that stress may not only be psychological, it can also be physical. Being regularly in a state of blood sugar imbalance can be a huge stressor to the body, causing an increase in production of the stress hormone, cortisol, as the body attempts to regulate itself. See my free eBook, 5 STEPS TO BLOOD SUGAR BALANCE for further info. Finally, try and stock up on foods that contain the following stress-supporting nutrients:
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is not stored in the body, therefore we need to try and eat good sources of it every day, such as red and green peppers, kiwi fruit, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, watercress, strawberries and broccoli. Studies show that vitamin C may be considered an essential part of stress management, as early research shows may produce a braking effect on the stress-axis helping to moderate any stress-related disorders (1).
Magnesium can be found in green, leafy vegetables (spinach, chard, rocket, kale) as well as avocadoes, tofu, nuts, and legumes. Magnesium has a lovely relaxing effect on the body, and research shows that it may help with brain functions necessary for stress and anxiety reduction (2).
Vitamin D has a multitude of roles in the body, but one of which is in regulating the stress-axis. Foods such as oily fish, liver, eggs, and mushrooms are sources of vitamin D, as is exposure to the sun during the months from May-October in the UK (3).
In our current climate, stress is becoming an ever-present phenomenon. Learning to include stress-relieving practices each day and eat good foods to support our bodies during this time may help to improve our stress resilience in the long term.
Let me know what your favourite stress-relieving tips are.
Please get in touch and find out more - I offer a free 30-minute exploratory call.