32. How to Change Your Relationship with Food
Welcome to episode 32 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I want to talk to you about my birthday because it is such an amazing demonstration of how I have changed my relationship to food and an example of what is totally possible for you. And I won't talk about my birthday the entire time and I will give you some actionable tips to help you achieve the same level of food freedom that I have.
So last Wednesday, I turned 38 and I had a really great day. I took the day off and went to the beach with my husband and kids which was perfect because it was pretty hot here in Seattle. And I got some flowers from a very nice neighbor and my husband made me one of my favorite meals for dinner: Sloppy Joes. It's actually this healthier sloppy joe recipe that my mom used to make when we were kids and I think it's so good. There's some shredded carrot and bulgar wheat in there. And the only reason my husband doesn't make them normally is because he doesn't usually cook from a recipe, but I found the recipe recently and so he made them. I had mine over some quinoa with some broccoli and I was stoked. And earlier in the day for breakfast I think I had scrambled eggs on an English muffin, probably some fruit with that. And for lunch I had leftover pork tenderloin with some rice and green beans.
And that was IT. I didn't have any cake or sweets of any kind and that wasn't even really intentional. My husband and I, gifts aren't really our love language, so I didn't expect him to get or make me a cake unless I requested one and I didn't really think to do that. I requested the Sloppy Joes and that was good. And I spoke to may parents in the evening and they were kind of shocked that I didn't have cake or anything.
And I don't share this to brag or show you that I have some kind of amazing discipline when it comes to food, because discipline had nothing to do with this. I share this to show the amazing contrast to the person I used to be.
Because the me of even just one year ago, would have made sure that I had some kind of sweet treat on my birthday and in fact that likely would have been the highlight of my day. I would have for sure had donuts or croissants for breakfast, or some kind of dessert, or maybe both. That is how I would have treated myself on my birthday. That's what I would have been excited about.
And this year, it literally didn't occur to me. I was just so appreciative of the day itself and everything else that my brain didn't go there. And it's not like I don't indulge. I had a really big, decadent chocolate chip cookie the week before, probably bites of ice cream or chocolate here and there, and I like to eat less sweet kind of healthier treats on a regular basis - things like chickpea cookie dough bites or black bean brownies
And so on my birthday I just happened not to have any of those things.
And I'm still kind of amazed at that, honestly. And I think that's part of why I'm sharing it. I absolutely want to show you what's possible but I also want to help sink into my brain just how much I have changed, because this isn't something that I would have even though possible of me before.
Food really used to be how I would treat or reward myself and it just isn't that anymore. I don't look to it to change my emotional state anymore because I know that's not what it does. It doesn't make me more happy or less sad. It can fill my stomach and give me various types of fuel and nutrients and it can offer so many varying textures and tastes some of which are more pleasurable than others - and you know I think that's the crux of the issue. Food can provide pleasure, but pleasure is fleeting and doesn't impact or contribute to your overall emotional state. Feeling joy or happiness or sadness or anger, those things don't change when you eat. You might be distracted for a moment from the experience of eating, but then you're right back to where you started.
And so many of you, I know that you know that intellectually, but really you've got to experience it repeatedly to really understand and internalize it. Because that's when food no longer has power over you, when it simply is the sensory experience that it is and there's no more story to it, there isn't that added excitement or specialness to it.
Because that added excitement or specialness, it isn't real. It's something we make up in our brains. We create these associations these stories - you think ice cream makes you feel better because your dad bought you ice cream when you got hurt. But really it was never the ice cream that made you feel better, it was the gesture and bonding time with your dad. In fact, if you have a memory like that think about what you actually remember, because it was probably the time with your dad and not the ice cream. You probably don't even remember what flavor you chose.
And the thing is that when we get real about the food, we don't lose those memories. In fact we focus more on what is really important about them.
And when we take food off of the pedestal that we put it on, it doesn't diminish the actual pleasure of the food either.
The only thing that is diminished is the story; the fantasy that the food is better than it really is; that it has the power to make you feel good or better than you already feel.
That's really all that you're letting go of. You're letting go of a false idea, nothing more.
And how you can begin to do this is by doing two simple things:
1. Allowing all foods
2. Experiencing all foods
When certain foods are scare or precious, when they are reserved only for holidays, birthdays, family gatherings, or Fridays, you are literally programming your brain to desire them more. One of dopamine's major functions is to dominate the environment in the name of survival. Its job is to acquire and control resources. And so when you put resources outside of your own control, dopamine is activated to acquire them. It's like a red flag that goes off. Your brain is like the terminator scanning the environment looking for its target. It identifies broccoli, but broccoli is no big deal because you already own and control that. Ah, but cookies, you can't handle cookies, cookies are special and thus restricted, and just like that target is locked and your brain is out to conquer and devour.
And in order to change this, you ironically have to experience cookies to show your brain that they aren't special. When dopamine isn't on a search and devour mission, when you are calm and relaxed, you need to experience a cookie and notice how it doesn't actually change your emotional state.
This is homework that I give my clients and it's funny because some of them really resist this. They think, why would I want to eat a cookie when I don't have the urge for the cookie? I already eat cookies when I'm out of control and now you want me to eat cookies when I'm in control. Isn't that just eating more cookies? And yeah, initially it might be, but once you have them when you are calm, you show your brain that they are no big deal and dopamine will no longer be driven to acquire them.
And then you stop eating them in response to that urgent desire and you only eat them when you consciously choose to. And like me on my birthday you find that when given the choice, you don't choose them as often as you think.
Gosh, this reminds me. I was in a coaching program a while back - not one specific to weight loss - but you could ask questions of the coaches on staff and they would publish their answers and this woman who was trying to lose weight talked about how she planned once a week to eat Baklava and that she found herself really obsessing about it - like fantasizing about it and anticipating it all week. And the answer she was given was to get rid of the Baklava - to stop letting herself have it at all. And I didn't realize it at the time, but later on I realized what a sad disservice that was to her because taking it away like maybe permanently - that was only going to make her want it all the more, and she would in fact be deprived of something that she likes that tastes really good. She literally will be missing out, on the food AND on the ability to have a normal relationship with that food. She will perhaps forever walk around in fear or regret about that food.
What she really needed to do was have Baklava more. She needed to let herself have a piece every single day when she was calm and relaxed and could really notice what it does for her. Because she would notice the pleasure, but she would also notice that life isn't magically better when we get to eat Baklava every day. Baklava doesn't make the kids behave and do the dishes. It just tastes good for a few minutes. And we can really soak up and enjoy those few minutes and then get on with our lives and stop obsessing about things we can't have, because we can have them. We can have them all!
So if you want to take an actionable step this week, plan a time to have what you'd consider a trigger food. Eat it when you are relaxed and don't feel compelled to eat it - make sure you're making a conscious choice to eat it. Eat it slowly and journal about the experience. Make a note of how you feel before you eat it, make note of how you feel during - you might even want to make note after each bite. And then make note of how you feel afterward. And what you will likely find is that you don't feel any better or worse. You experienced the food for what it is - probably pleasurable, although you may find that the reality of the food doesn't live up to your fantasy - and then you are right back where you started emotionally and it's time to move on with your day.
If you really commit to that exercise and do it a few times a week, I promise that soon you will not look at that food the same way.
Thanks so much for listening. Come visit me on Instagram or Facebook and say hi. And if you are ready to take this work deeper and show up for yourself, show some initiative, show some commitment, towards the life you want, schedule a free coaching session with me. It's a big, powerful step in the right direction.
Take care and I will see you next week.