I shouldn’t eat that
I’ll get back to it Monday
I worked out today so I can have this!
I was good all day but then just gave in at night
Have you ever said or thought anything along these lines? You’re not alone. I’ve been there! And many of the people (especially women) I’ve worked with have said the same.
We’ve been conditioned to think how good we are revolves around what we eat or don’t eat.
We stress about our bodies – how they look, how we fit in clothes, what the scale says, what other people think about us. Hating that we don’t measure up to whatever ideal we have in our heads.
The vicious cycle goes a little something like this:
Have in mind what you should and shouldn’t eat.
Can’t stop thinking about that thing you “shouldn’t” eat.
Finally give in and eat that thing.
Might turn into eating more of it or similar types of food than what you “need.”
Feel regret, guilt, and/or shame.
Vow not to do it again.
Why do we do this? And how can we stop? I don’t think it’s a simple answer either way, but I have a few ideas.
First, if we want to really just jump to the root of things, I think we do this because we are trying to fill a void in ourselves. That may look different for different people but I think ultimately we are searching for something – some satisfaction, some contentment, some comfort, some belonging, some peace, etc. To be honest, I believe this hole is something only God can fill but even if you don’t agree with me on that I think it is still coming from a quest to fill something that is missing.
And it’s usually not actually about food. You might be trying to use food to fix a non-food problem.
Another reason, or layered on top of that first reason maybe, is that your body might be missing out on some good quality nutrients and is craving to be fed nutrient-dense food.
If you’ve lived many years of your life restricting yourself your body might not have great stores of necessary nutrients. You may be craving the energy of b vitamins but looking for sugary refined foods instead.
You might desperately need good quality fatty acids but opting for processed foods cooked in vegetable and seed oils instead. A bit of that here and there in an overall nutrient dense diet is one thing but years of those foods taking center stage can really start to deplete your body of nutrition.
Not only might your body be crying out for more nutrients but the teeny tiny creatures living in your gut (your microbiome) are going to be a reflection of the types of food you feed them.
We want to have a diverse ecosystem of good microbes, not an overgrowth of bugs that feed on sugar and cause problems. And those bugs that feed on sugar? They CRAVE it. So at the end of the day when you feel like you just don’t have willpower left to avoid the sugar – it’s not just you wanting it. Those bugs are literally wanting to be fed!
Additionally, the foods that are most available, convenient, and crave-able also override your body’s natural hormone signaling that lets you know when you’ve had enough and impairs the reward center of your brain so you end up thinking you need more and more. Food companies have food scientists, some of whom are responsible for coming up with the perfect combination of sugar and/or carbs, fat, and salt to make it so you can’t stop eating that food!
So, what can we do to break free from this restrictive eating cycle of doom?
I think we have to take a multi-faceted approach. We can talk about what foods will be helpful and what foods will contribute to continued craving but ultimately you have to take a whole body approach – one that includes the mind/heart/soul. Like I said before, you can’t use food to fix a non-food problem.
But there ARE some ways you can support your mind, heart, and soul through tangible, physical actions.
First, though, I think it is important to understand that these actions won’t always *feel* good, especially not at first. Your brain is trying to survive. It wants safety. What is known and normal is safe, even if it isn’t actually safe. Adopting a healthier lifestyle with more nutritious food and less junk food IS safe, BUT if that requires you to do anything different, your brain will sense danger, and lead you back to what is known or safe.
I don’t think it’s very easy to make meaningful change without acknowledging this. Otherwise you’re relying on willpower, and that doesn’t always get us very far. When you are aware of what your mind is doing, you can make decisions about what you will do or not do. You have to be conscious of this though. When you are living in your unconscious mind, which is where all of us are most of the time, you’re on autopilot and will easily revert back to your normal ways.
As you begin to work through all of that (ha, like two paragraphs can even do justice to the ways our minds work!) you can also be practicing (because yes, it is a practice!) some changes in how, when, and why you fuel yourself.
Focusing on what nutrients your body needs in order to function optimally and feel good instead of what foods you “can’t” have is helpful. You can look at it as “oh, well I ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘can’t’ have _____food” even though I really want to.” Or you can say “I’m choosing to have this or that food instead.” Or I’m choosing not to have _____ food right now because I want to feel differently than how I’ve been feeling.”
You’re putting yourself in control and making the conscious choice yourself. You are controlling what foods you have, the foods are not controlling you.
Here’s some practical, tangible advice:
- start with your protein. Ladies, you likely aren’t eating enough of it. 4-6 ounces of protein per meal is a good way to start. I’m not a huge fan of measuring and tracking foods if it leads to restriction but if you have a food scale, use it just to figure out what 4-6 ounces looks like. Red meat (yes, red meat!), seafood, eggs, poultry – rotate through these. Full fat dairy if you tolerate it.
- Add non-starchy veggies. Any that you like. There are a ton. Fill your fridge with different colors and consult the internet, cookbooks, or ask me for ideas! Raw, roasted, mashed, sautéed, steamed, pureed. A million ways to eat veggies.
- Add fat. You’ll get some in the proteins you choose, provided you don’t get caught on the fat-free protein train. Please don’t get stuck on just eating chicken breast all the time. Otherwise, use plenty of olive oil, butter or ghee, avocado, raw or dry roasted nuts and seeds, egg yolks. Your cell membranes, hormones, BRAIN are made with fatty acids. Give them the good building blocks they need.
- If needed, add some starchy veggies – amounts of this depends on the person and their needs but winter squash, beets, parsnips, pumpkin, etc.
- For a snack here and there, consider some fruit – again, this depends on the person. Fruit can certainly be part of a healthy diet but if you are addicted to sugar you might need a break from some fruits. Lower sugar options like berries are best but having an apple or pear, melons, and/or some citrus fruits here and there can work fine as well. I do recommend taking a break from most fruits besides berries while working to reduce sugar cravings.
There are tons of delicious foods out there and a million ways to prepare them. And it doesn’t have to be a detailed recipe with a million ingredients. But DO make sure you are eating enough food to actually satisfy your hunger and choose foods that fit into those groups above.
We must address lifestyle change through a whole-body approach. Stepping into your consciousness and out of autopilot will help you start to adopt more consistent choices that you feel good about. And this doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a cookie! You’ll just be more aware of when it’s truly what you want and will feel good about.
What do you think? Does this make sense to you or do you have other ideas? Comment below!
Want to chat more about this and learn to break free from your restrictive mindset? Let’s chat! (it’s free!)
This article is so “me” at the moment and really hit home. It’s so easy to slide back into these old habits. I feel so good right now…looking forward to catching up tonight! Thank you so much!
I’m glad this came at the right time! You’re definitely not alone, I know I’ve experienced these thoughts as well!