Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It's Just Food

Every day I talk about food. Partly because it's my job, but more so because it seems that people are obsessed with food and eating.

What is striking about this is fact is that our country, with it's food obsession, is full of perpetual overweight dieters, and a market that is saturated with diet aids, diet books, and meal replacements.

I know women who are bulimic, anorexic, binge eaters, and overeaters. I know women who hop from diet to diet, trying to lose 5 lbs. that don't exist, or 50 lbs. that they've been unable to get rid of since childhood. They go for weight-loss hypnosis and have surgery to make their stomachs smaller, just so they won't eat so much. And I've seen it all fail.

Why do we keep doing what doesn't work? No one seems to have the answer. Do we really need pills that, perhaps dangerously, increase our metabolism and burn fat? Must we resort to eating cardboard boxed meals from the freezer section, or join a club that ships us weekly meals? Kirstie Alley was the face of Jenny Craig, even going on the Oprah show in a bikini to show her success. Shortly thereafter, she gained back all the weight and more. Let's just get it already; diets don't work.

If we stopped focusing so much on food, and started eating according to what our body craves, we might not have such problems with our weight. This is not to say that we should be sucking back sodas and popping jellybeans all day. That isn't nutritionally sound. But if we really listen to our body, I doubt anyone would be doing that for very long, anyway.

Most of us use food as a drug. We control our intake (anorexics) or we binge and regret, and return, the food (bulimics). We overeat until it hurts, or until we feel badly for our decisions. We give power to food, and we either limit or lose control when in the presence of it. But it's just food, right?

When we can't control things that are happening in our life, or the way that we feel, we often transfer those feelings to something more direct, like food. Food can't hurt us, nor can it give us love. But we can use food to do these very things to ourselves. We obsess about the importance of eating healthy foods, or the fear of eating too much. We make what we are eating, and when, and how often, the center of our focus, so that we can avoid what we don't want to face. We are not victims, but we are acting as though we are.

Talk to anyone on a diet, and you will hear what they can't eat, or how they miss [insert "bad" food here]. Watch someone who is trying to lose weight eat something that takes them off their diet, like a donut, and see a hint of shame or embarrassment in their eyes. Our love/hate relationship is about deeper issues, not food. But we don't want to face those issues, so we reassign them to foods and allow the process of eating to become a mask for what's really keeping us from living an authentic life.

Ending this cycle means doing two things: finding the root of the issue(s) from our past that cause us pain/anger/resentment (whatever it is that makes us feel uncomfortable), and resolving those issues. Therapy is a great way to deal with those issues.

The other thing we can do is take the labels "good" and "bad" off of foods. There are no bad foods. Let me say this again, for the millionth time, there are no bad foods. While some foods are more nutritionally sound than others, food isn't bad. Whole foods are better than processed foods, and some foods will feel better in your body than others. But there isn't one food that can be called a villain. It's just a thing, something you can choose or choose not to ingest.

I work with women and we talk about what they eat and why they eat, and help them to understand that process and make choices that will help them feel better and meet their goals. But the bottom line about food is this; you should eat what you enjoy, listen to your body and decide what you should be eating based on how you feel. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, not stuffed. Always be respectful and loving to yourself when thinking about food, eating food, or after a meal. Be in a good place mentally when you are eating, and think about the food that you are putting in your mouth.

I generally feel better when I eat foods like salads, grilled chicken, yogurt, egg whites. But there are times when I want a bacon cheeseburger with fries. And that's fine. I enjoy every bite. Regret never follows. It's food, and I choose what I eat. I am in control of what I eat, and you are, too.

Don't be shamed into following a diet that doesn't feel good for you, and don't deprive yourself of foods that you enjoy. Everything in moderation, and if you take away the good/bad labels that society has placed on food, the food will lose it's power and just be food.

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