Last year, I attended a talk by Allison Kinnear, the owner of a Voice of her Own and an amazing coach for women leaders. In her talk to busy, high-achieving women, she spoke about the importance of self-care to fuel yourself. I find for my clients when they prioritize their self-care not only do they feel happier, more energized, and calm but inevitably those around them get to benefit.
There was one particular exercise Allison led the participants through that I particularly loved. It was an incredibly simple question that I think can help you distinguish between when a habit, such as eating, is beneficial for you and when it is detrimental.
One key question to begin healing your relationship with food is:
I’m sitting her in a coffee shop where I just enjoyed some tea and a cupcake (gluten-free for me ;), having fully enjoyed experience of eating. To think, in the past I feared cupcakes and would avoid them at all costs…
Flashback to 2013….I remember a particular morning I woke up, feeling bloated and disgusted with myself. I had binged the night before going completely mindless with food. For me, binge eating started as an occasional occurrence in middle and high school, but once I started my first year of college, it had become an daily nightmare. I was in my 4th year of college at the time, which had been incredibly stressful with the number of classes I was taking, trying to balance my extracurriculars and social life, and uncertainty about my future career.
I look back with compassion on the writings of my younger self. I wish someone could have told her that overcoming binge eating wouldn’t always be a linear process. There were some days I would learn a new concept or tool and do really well my eating. “Yes!!! Finally! I’d tell myself… this is the answer.” Inevitably, the new “diet high” would wear off and I would be back to where I started. Then I’d beat myself up and wonder if something was wrong with me or even binge to escape the sense of unworthiness I felt.
Looking back, I wish someone had told me to be gentle with myself. After all, I was doing my very best. I wish someone had told me that change and healing isn’t always linear. At the time, I think it’s something I understood theoretically but didn’t fully embody especially having come from a culture and expectation of “Straight A’s” all the time.
So let me tell you this, if you struggle with the dieting-binge eating-repeat cycle, there is nothing wrong with you. You just need a better understanding of yourself and your biology.
This is your body. We care about you and don’t think you’ve gotten our previous messages, so we thought we’d send you a note. Here is our request: could you please start making more time to slow down, savor and chew your meals? You see, after that first step, there are a lot of processes and complex things we need to do in order to break down, digest, and absorb the food. When you rush your meals, we have to rush our processes which explains some of the messages we’ve been sending you through bloating and gassiness!
It’s 5 pm Costa Rica time, and I have finally arrived back from work. Right on queue, I sense a craving for sweets, specifically chocolate. “Come on, one piece won’t hurt. …” the voice of craving says. “It’s been a long day at work – I DESERVE a treat.” In fact, I’ve noticed that the voice has been saying this same message all week.
I'll admit I’m not perfect – even as a coach, sometimes I give into my cravings while other times I walk away (which feels great when I do!). When my emotional eating was at it’s worst, I found myself at the mercy of my cravings – unable to say no. What I recognize now is that when I’m not physically hungry, cravings for food often represent another need – perhaps something that my body, mind, or soul is hungry for at the time.
I have learned to be thankful for my cravings. They are clear messengers that something is off-balance in my body or in my life.
There are many variations to this story – perhaps it’s free samples at the grocery store or an abundance of different food at a party. In the case of “free food,” the mind often defaults to how great the opportunity is. However, in choosing “free food,” you may find that in exchange you are giving up something- perhaps sabotaging your commitment to your health goals or just that feeling of vitality. In my case, I found myself feeling sluggish after all my “free food fun” in Costa Rica.
So how can we make more conscious decisions that best serve us? The first step is to bring awareness and learning to the situation.