We all want to live healthier lives, love and appreciate our bodies, experience more energy, and serve the people we love better meals. And yet many – if not all! – of these desires can seem totally out of reach once you’ve tried and failed one too many times. Over and over again we:
* Go on a diet, eat “super healthy”, lose some weight. Feel deprived, frustrated, exhausted. Drop the diet.
The weight (plus some extra!) is back.
* Start a new exercise routine, feel full of energy. Feel hungrier than ever, not losing weight — which was the whole point. Life & stress interfere. Dreading the new routine, drop it altogether.
The exhaustion (plus some extra!) is back.
* Decide that the family is going to eat right. Develop meal plans, shopping lists, complicated recipes. After weeks of slaving over a hot stove, thanks come in the form of synchronized nose-wrinkling at the dinner table. Give up.
The frustration (plus some extra!) is back.
Weight, exhaustion, frustration – all cycling and growing like a summer hurricane in the Atlantic. Does this sound familiar?
Well, I’m here to tell you two things. One, you are so not alone. I have been through this cycle myself too many times to count. I topped 225 pounds and reached a place of total and utter exhaustion before I started exploring the possibility of number two: that failure has nothing to do with what you are doing.
It has everything to do with what you are feeling.
OK, skeptics. I hear you muttering things like “new-age psychobabble” and “cockamamie”. Before you click away, I’m asking you to just read the next 2 paragraphs. Then you’re totally welcome to decide I’m full of it, crack open a copy of The South Beach Diet, and go hit the gym.
It is how we feel about food and our bodies that determines our success or failure in achieving truly healthy lives. It also determines how we nourish others — including (especially?) our own children. No amount of “willpower” can save us. No plan, pill, or gym membership. It is our internal emotional framework, not our external circumstances, that shapes our choices. It is what psychologists call resilience — the ability to see things in a way that allows us to bounce back, feeling good about trying – as opposed to sinking deeper, feeling bad about failing.
As a cancer survivor, I can say that it was learning resilience, not radiation or surgery, that finally brought me back to full health. It was many, many years after the cancer was gone that I was finally able to feel healthy again — to understand that surviving cancer was a victory of the strong, beautiful vessel that houses me. That my body had not failed me, and I could trust and love myself – body and soul – once again.
As a survivor, I got counseling on how to do this. But for people that are divorced from their bodies for other reasons – this help never comes. We’re just asked to go on doing the same futile set of repetitive tasks: Diet, fail, shame. Diet, fail, shame. Diet, fail, shame. The scars get deeper and deeper with each round.
Yo-yo diets are the ultimate resilience-killer.
As a Family Food Coach, my one and only goal is to dramatically increase the emotional resilience of my clients around food and body image. To help them see their inherent beauty, strength, and power. Empowering them to consciously create the life they want – not in one fell swoop of frenzied action, but in a slow, determined, burning desire to make a lasting, positive change.
If you can shift the following 5 feelings, you will forever change your body, your diet, and your life for the better. I’m not saying it will be effortless – confronting how you feel can be hard work indeed. But what I am saying is that your power, your control, is in your ability to shift these inner feelings. The external circumstances – what the scale says, what the diet gurus tell you, what your family taught you – these are the external trappings that must be stripped away for real change to happen!
Instead of feeling: Conditioned to please others
Try: Putting yourself first, and then nourishing others
Many people, especially us mothers, tend to want to please everyone except our own inner self. Partly, it’s a conditioned response – kids are demanding little buggers, and they certainly have no problem putting themselves first (and, well, someone has to feed them). It’s easy enough to become subsumed in that unending torrent of need.
To break away from this, you need what I call my “no onions” philosophy. It’s been a powerful metaphor for me. You see, I was once a person so wrapped up in what others thought and in being a “good” and likable (lovable?) person that didn’t cause trouble for people that when I ordered a sandwich I wouldn’t say “no onions” despite the fact I absolutely hate the things. I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. I would take my onions, and quietly pick them off.
That had been the story of my life – taking my onions, and then trying to work around them (but still being able to taste them regardless). Now, I am striving to shed the onions of the shoulds and musts, my fear of what people think of me, my shame at rocking the boat, and my mental barriers to claiming this amazing and true life that I somehow found in the middle of walls crashing down around me.
Now when I go to the deli counter, I boldly say “no onions please”. It feels good, and nobody behind the counter bats an eye. If you can let go of others voices both real and, especially, imagined – you will start to find your authentic voice, start to know what genuinely pleases you and you alone. Finding genuine pleasure that is authentically yours is the first step to real health!
How to get there:
If you’ve ever been on an airplane, you know the speech every stewardess has to give: in case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first, then help your neighbor.
There will always be times in your life when you feel like your emotional cabin is depressurizing. Whatever the cause, the oxygen mask rule is a good one â€“ take care of yourself first. The simple place to start is where Virginia Woolf did with a room of one’s own. I’m speaking figuratively of course (but if you have your own room, more power to you!). But to start really freeing yourself from people-pleasing as a reflex, you need a little mental and emotional space. Here’s where I suggest beginning:
- Have at least 1 hour alone every week. More is better. During this alone time, make lists of things you like to do with your time.
- Every day, say no to at least one thing that you really don’t want to do. Whether it’s a stressful meeting, an inconvenient playdate, a chore, a co-worker’s request, or an invitation to an uncomfortable social event – say no. Be firm but polite, offering little in the way of explanation. “I’m sorry, I can’t do that right now” is more than enough. The inner criticisms will get softer each time you assert your own, genuine desires in life.
- Every day, say yes to at least one thing you really want to do, but don’t think you should. It could be anything from dancing to the radio to writing your long-put-off novel. Something that excites you! What are you excited to do today? Yeah, do exactly that.
Instead of feeling: Intense deprivation at every “healthy” meal
Try: Joyful anticipation of every meal (regardless of whether its healthy or not!)
To truly release extra weight, you must learn to trust that your healthy weight will follow when your capacity for food-based bliss is fully activated.
Every diet you have ever been on has taught you to distrust your body and the food you put in it. Even the healthiest meal prepared because an outside authority told you it was the right way to eat will undermine your ability to intuitively give yourself the food your body needs.
So, just for a short period, I’m asking you to drop ALL of your food rules. If you have a banned foods list, let it go. The only thing that banning foods does is make you think about them, crave them, constantly. Ever done that little psychological test? Whatever you do, DON’T think about pink elephants!. Can you do it? For how long? The minute we tell ourselves we can’t have a food, all of our attention is on that food. If you’re eating kale and thinking about nothing but chocolate, fries, or soda then you’re already on the road to failure. It doesn’t matter how good the kale tastes. You’re not thinking about kale.
How to get there:
If dropping your food rules makes you anxious, try to start asking yourself why. What would happen if you had no rules? By asking why? a minimum of three times (another technique we can learn from our littlest family members) we start to really get to the heart of our fears around food and fat. For example, you think: If I allow myself to eat chocolate, I will get soooo fat.
Stop. Write it down.
Why? Your answer might be:
Because I can’t eat just a little chocolate.
Because I have no self-control when it comes to sweets!
Because I crave things that are bad for me.
Because they make me feel comforted.
Keep going as long as you can. Everytime you have a negative thought about food, eating, or your body stop and ask: Why? Why? Why? See how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Your answers may surprise you.
Now, start to allow yourself to purge those feelings. When you get to an answer that feels momentous, that feels like a CORE feeling that is holding you back, write it down on a scrap of paper. While burning or shredding that scrap of paper (whichever feels most cathartic to you!), tell yourself With love and forgiveness, I choose to release this feeling.
Send that love and forgiveness to everyone involved yourself, your spouse, your child, your parents – whoever and whatever you discover is holding you back. It’s in this letting go, in the space of this forgiveness, that true healing can begin.
Instead of feeling: Angry that you will never be perfect
Try: Letting your freak flag fly!
Whether we can admit it or not, we all need attention and appreciation. We all want to be seen, noticed, watched, and admired. Many view this as a negative desire – as vanity. And yet, despite not wanting to seem vain, we hold intense needs to look more like those women that get the most attention and appreciation in our society young actresses and supermodels. There are many screeds out there lambasting our society for valuing youth and physical beauty over humanity’s other accomplishments. And if you’ve valued and participated in women’s lib anytime in the last 50 years, you probably hiss at the unattainable ideals that society places upon us. And rightly so.
And yet, I also think that we need to admit to ourselves that to want attention and admiration is normal and healthy. And that to reach a natural, healthy weight, you have to start treating your body with respect. And part of that respect is discover the ways that YOU, the real genuine you, want to be seen. Because you do want to be seen.
There are so many things I find noticeable, admirable, and attention-grabbing on a woman. None of them has to do with her dress size. It has to do with her style, the way she carries herself, the sparkle in her eyes, the flash of her smile. I have done a wow she’s gorgeous!âdouble-take on a woman twice my age and size because of her boots. Her boots!
How to get there:
Women who get noticed have something in common – they honor their own personal taste and they choose to stand out in ways that please them personally and aesthetically. In her book, Body Traps, Judith Rodin writes “You don’t need to lose weight first in order to take care of yourself. In fact, the process actually happens quite in the reverse! If you can make respecting and taking care of your body a primary goal, your body will thank you by settling into a natural, healthy weight.”
It’s totally normal to feel panicky about doing this. In fact, I think this may be the single biggest hurdle – feeling worthy of taking care of yourself at all.
You don’t have to love every part of your body to respect it and take care of it. And you have somewhere in there a uniquely YOU way of presenting yourself to the world. A way you want to be seen. A fantastic, funky, real you that I promise will turn heads if you unleash it.
Here are three beginning steps to take:
- Throw away the scale. I mean it. There is no sense in having a little machine in your bathroom that ruins your day because of normal bodily fluctuations. Leave the weigh-ins to your doctor. If you can’t yet manage to throw it away, at least put it on a high shelf.
- Do one thing you’ve been putting off for “when you lose weight”. Whether this is buying new bras, taking a dance class, or singing karoke – do it now. I promise, when you activate your bliss, the body will follow.
- Pick one thing that makes you stand out. It could be as simple as a colorful scarf or as wild as blue spiky hair. But whatever it is, it should make you smile when you look in the mirror even if it’s only for a split second. As you come into your own, the smiles will get bigger and longer.
Instead of feeling: Jealousy towards others that are thinner, richer, healthier, etc.
Try: Activating appreciation of others’ beauty to boost your own confidence.
As a healthy and gorgeous size 12, I literally can scan a crowded coffee shop and identify a dozen women who are thinner than I am. At one point in my life, I used to do this obsessively. At my heaviest, I was hyper-aware of whenever I was the largest woman in the room – and relieved when someone fatter than me came in. Being around women thinner, younger, or healthier than you can be a disconcerting experience if you’re not in a place of self-acceptance. It can also spark intense jealousy and feelings of self-hate.
Today, when I walk in a crowded room, I still scan around and notice other women (and to a certain extent, the men). But instead of jealousy, comparisons, and self-hate, I am filled with appreciation for the gorgeous diversity of shapes, sizes, ages, and styles. The comparisons have stopped, now that I’m able to replace them with gratitude for all the beauty to be found in human diversity. My appreciation for all the combinations and permutations of beauty has radically altered my perception of my own beauty – allowed me to see myself in the context of finding beauty in humanity’s whole instead of its parts.
How to get there:
Start by activating your compliment muscle internally. We all have one, but for most of us its out of practice. Whenever you’re in a public place, silently give a compliment to each and every person in the room. Try to make it a compliment about their person, not a thing on their person. For example, if you love someone’s bracelet, you’s say to yourself “I love her style, especially that bracelet”. I think you’ll be surprised how quickly and easily the compliments start to come. In my head, I compliment every person I see. It’s kind of awesome.
Second, start verbalizing those compliments. Just a few a day. Target other women, they deserve to hear it. When you do this, watch their reactions carefully. Some women will gladly accept the compliment with eye contact and a thank you. Others will shy away from you, looking away or even saying something to negate your admiration. Guess which type of reaction I want you to mimck?
After you get comfy giving compliments to other women, I want you to start complimenting yourself. In front of the mirror. Naked. No, I’m not kidding. ONLY do this after you have been delivering compliments every day for a couple of weeks. Just before or after a shower, stand tall in front of the mirror. Allow the negative self-talk, the criticisms to come. Tell them: yeah, yeah, I hear ya. I’m working on it, OK? They’ll quiet down just a little, and then deliver it: a compliment, on your appearance, to yourself. It can be anything, big or small. And then look yourself in the eye and say “thank you”. It’s only a matter of time before you see and feel the beauty in you, in everyone around you. It is everywhere.
Instead of feeling: Anxiety over what foods are good and bad for your body
Try: A sensual desire to connect with the food that you enjoy on a primal, passionate level (are you blushing? Then you really need this one!)
As a culture, we are so incredibly caught up in the nutritional value of foods that we ignore the single most important role that eating has in our lives: pleasure. In a world where eating is viewed as a battle between willpower and temptation there is absolutely no room for the sensual experience that comes with real, satisfying food. According to Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating, one of the most common forms of overeating is to chase phantom foods – any food that you view as pleasurable to eat, but try to deny yourself. Then you chase this phantom food around the kitchen all day. What you really want is a slice of cheesecake. So in trying to deny yourself that pleasure, you substitute with a gazillion rice cakes, fat-free cardboard cookies, popcorn, sugar free chocolates, dried fruit, some lowfat yogurt, and a glass of orange juice. Voila! You’ve just eaten 5 times more calories than one slice of cheesecake. And yet you don’t feel full, and you didn’t enjoy a single bite.
How to get there:
If dieting has been a huge part of how you’ve been eating for many years, it can be a real challenge to reclaim the joy and pleasure to be found in eating. You may have put pretty significant emotional resources into divorcing your food and pleasure centers. Some of my clients find that activating this connection brings up other intimacy issues and highlights other parts of their lives where their passions and pleasures are not being met. This is not an easy road. But it starts in a pretty simple place: with your senses.
When you have time to go out alone, head to the best supermarket you know or to a farmer’s market if that’s available to you. Bring no grocery list, and have no plans to do a full-on shop. Head straight to the fresh produce. Plan to spend at least 20 minutes there, engaging your senses. Try your best to forget what you know about fruits and vegetables. Walk down the aisles the way you might wander through a fine art gallery. Take it all in with your eyes. The colors, textures, and variation. Then, pick some things up. Really feel them. Squeeze, turn, and brush your fingertips over the surfaces. And then comes smell. Inhale deeply, like you would a bouquet of fresh flowers. Even if itâ€™s a potato – smell that earthy, damp sweetness!
Really take your time with your senses: your vision, your touch, your smell. Using nothing more than your senses – not what you think is healthy, not what you know how to cook – pick three fruits or veggies and take them home!
Theses three veggies represent your first fiber of connection between food & pleasure. Like the knitting of a broken bone, this strong but microscopic bond is the first step to true healing. Take them home, and cook them with love. Browse some recipes if you need inspiration, but try not to follow one to the letter. These veggies? They’re for you, and you only. Nobody else in your family has to like them, nobody else has to even try them. It is your body, your mouth, your food, your pleasure.
Journal on your experience of eating these 3 foods. What feelings came up? Did it make you at all anxious, scared? If so, stop and ask: WHY? You might be suprised with your answer.
My final grain of salt:
The road to truly healthy, intuitive eating is a long and complex journey. This article is only designed to give you the most basic tools to start working on the core beliefs and feelings that may be holding you back. Take it for what it’s worth. If you’re not ready for some of this work, honor that. In the end, your journey can only be guided by one true coach – your intuition!