What we put into our bodies is quickly becoming as controversial as vaccinating your kids. People are increasingly opinionated about what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for you when it comes to food. Just turn on the TV or scroll through your favorite social media page. The messages we get bombarded with every day are by no means subtle! If you eat (insert gluten free, dairy-free, sugar-free meal here), you are a good person. Scroll further and you’ll find all the reasons why you ‘lack discipline’ or need to earn your ‘treat day.’ These judgments about what we eat have become the barometer for how much self-loathing we climb into bed with at the end of each day and it has to stop.
I’ve worked in eating disorders for the past 8 years and this idea of good and bad food is a daily conversation for me. But it’s not just eating disorders! Even people with apparently ‘normal’ relationships with food grapple with the very same judgments. When did the way we eat become the moral compass for who we are as people?
It’s not difficult to see why everyone is so confused. With so many people claiming to be experts on what, how much and how often we should eat, the messages we receive start to blur into one crazy unbalanced diet. The war on food is growing, and the more we talk about it the more polarizing it becomes. The dietitians of the world don’t agree with ‘clean eaters’, the vegans are judging the Paleos, and medical boards are up in arms about how easy it has become for people to position themselves as experts. Yet there is only a small group of people suggesting that what we really need to do is learn to listen to the innate wisdom of our bodies.
But let’s go back a few steps and look at the way of thinking that led us here in the first place.
When we say a food is bad, the inference is that we are bad for eating that food. (Insert guilty feeling here.) So we deprive ourselves of what we feel like (more guilt), and then because we told ourselves we couldn’t have it, we now want it even more (with a side of guilt, of course). Because we’ve told ourselves it’s forbidden, we usually end up bingeing or overeating on this so called ‘bad’ food, and then we beat ourselves up for not having enough ‘self-control’. How are we supposed to listen to our bodies when they’re drowned out by this negative dialogue every step of the way?
I’ve been talking about this for long enough now to know that some of you are thinking, Yeah… but… there are good and bad foods. If I ate what I wanted when I wanted, I’d eat McDonald’s and ice cream all day. But the truth is you wouldn’t. The human body is innately wise. That little voice that says “I feel like this” or “I feel like that” is actually our body communicating with us. The problem is that we’ve stopped listening to that voice because we think we know better. Or perhaps Michelle Bridges or Pete Evans or Lola Berry or Sarah Wilson knows better.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Michelle Bridges or the like. They have found a way of life that works for them, and for many others. My point is simply this: nobody knows your body better than you do. So why would you let them tell you what you need? If you don’t want to eat dairy, don’t eat dairy. If you love pasta, eat pasta! But do it because it’s what’s right for your body, not because you feel like you should.
So how do we actually do this? How do we change our relationship with food and our bodies?
- Stop labeling food as good and bad. Food is simply food. One person’s feast is another’s famine. Your body is unique, and you need to start treating it that way! I’m not just suggesting that you eat whatever you want whenever you want it without thinking. What I’m saying is, let’s get back to basics and start seeing our bodies as our teachers.
- Ask yourself questions like, “What do I feel like? What sorts of foods do I crave? When I feel the best, what am I doing with my body?” – and here’s the secret – don’t judge the answers that come up. The more you ask yourself these sorts of questions, the easier it will become to tap into that innate wisdom and give your body what it needs.
So when you sit down to your next meal, take a moment to reflect on how you chose what’s in front you. Did you ask yourself, “What should I have for lunch today?” Or did you tune into your body and ask, “What do I feel like?”
Just by asking the right questions, we give ourselves permission to listen, to pay attention, and to be curious without judgment.
This may seem simple, and of course we all have other issues that affect our feelings and choices around food. But I really believe that our bodies know what to do. We just have to get out of our own way, silence all that cultural noise, and eat the damn cake when the moment calls for it!