Breaking the Emotional Connection with Food

Too many of us derive our emotions and self-worth from food. I want to tell you to STOP IT! It’s time to start thinking of food as fuel, something that is going to make you a healthier, stronger and faster athlete. This is also one of the things David, the owner of LiveNowFitness and I spoke about yesterday. I am honored and excited to be the sports nutritionist working with LNF and with the athletes that train there. David is a no-nonsense, hard-working and passionate trainer who wants his athletes to succeed. On Feb 1 there is a new fitness program beginning, and yesterday we were taping a few fitness and nutrition clips for the team’s FaceBook page. *It’s not too late to join the program, click the LNF link to contact David.*

Of course what always happens to me when I am in front of a video camera is that I don’t express everything that I wanted to say. I think I have what I’m going to say down, the camera turns out and poof, it’s gone. So while driving home I thought of everything else I wanted to say.

Here’s what I would have said given the opportunity to do it again:

Coming from a background of having an eating disorder, I am the first one to stand up and say, I tied emotions to food. I’m guilty as charged. So if this comes off as sounding like me on a high horse, or saying “oh just don’t do it,” I don’t want you thinking I’m saying it’s easy. I know it’s challenging. But, in order to free yourself from the emotional bondage food has on you, you must.

Do any of these sound familiar:

  • You had a really bad fight with your husband, bring on the wine, cheese and crackers.
  • Stressful day at work, reach into the freezer and pull out the ice cream. No need for a bowl, just eat out of the carton.
  • Having a day where nothing is going right, reach for the cookies you had bought for your kids.

And when you do grab for a “treat” to make yourself feel better, do you? Or are you ridden with guilt or shame? You might feel better at first, and guilty later. As you can imagine, I don’t like the act of using food to fill an emotion, and I don’t like that there is an emotion tied to that food. Guilt or shame will only make things worse.

Or how about these:

  • “I just ate a cookie, now I have to go and workout for an extra hour to burn off the calories. Why did I do that.”
  • “I’ll just have one piece of candy from the candy bowl. Maybe another, these are good. Oh no, what have I done, I’ve gone and blown my total calories for the day on candy.”  I’m a bad person.
  • “Why couldn’t I resist eating that piece of cake. Why wasn’t my will power stronger, I feel so ashamed. I hope no one saw me.”

There’s two different types of emotional eating going on here:

  1. Using food to fill an emotion-anger, stress, frustration, anxiety
  2. Feeling guilt, shame, anger after eating something

From now on, I want you to look at these two things differently. It’s going to be hard, but try. I promise the less you use food to fill a void, and the more control you have over your emotions, the stronger you will become, and the better food choices you’ll make.

FOOD IS FUEL…When you look at something in front of you, ask yourself-will this make me a healthier and stronger person, or not? If not, think about, why are you choosing this choice, when there are so many others to choose from.

FOOD DOES NOT MAKE YOU A GOOD OR BAD PERSON…No matter what you eat, food does not, and should not dictate how you feel about yourself as a person. You are a good person, whether you had the piece of birthday cake or not. You are not a bad person if you eat something that you deem unhealthy. You also shouldn’t feel better about yourself if you were able to deprive yourself of something. For example, you’re at a wedding. You’d like a piece of cake, but because you know that you’ll feel so bad about it, and need to go run it off, you avoid it. You than praise yourself for being so good. This can lead to an eating disorder. Each time you tell yourself how “good” you were for avoiding something, the closer it becomes to depriving yourself. Then from depriving comes starving. Two words I do not use in my nutrition counseling:deprivation and starvation.

When you’re faced with an unhealthy choice, if you’d like to eat it, go for it. But know that it’s your choice. When you’ve eaten it, say to yourself “this was my choice, it doesn’t make me a good or bad person.” And by all means, have a delicious piece of cake. Of course I’m not saying to eat cake every day, but life is too short to not enjoy the finer things. And to me, cake happens to be one of them.

When we use food as a weapon against ourselves, it sets ourselves up for an unhealthy mindset, and potentially an eating disorder. Remember, food is the fuel that makes our body’s run, jump, swim, ski, etc. faster and longer. Embrace food for helping make your body stronger and faster. Do not use food as a weapon against yourself. You are not good or bad whether or not you make a certain choice.

Next time you reach for something because you’re feeling stressed, angry, scared, etc. stop and think about it. How are you feeling? Will this food make me feel better? If you say, this is my choice to eat this, I’m going to do it. Great. Just know that it’s your choice, and you aren’t a good or bad person if you did or didn’t eat it.


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