We are often bombarded with diet culture information through social media, school, movies, etc. We learn about the “ideal” woman. When in reality, this kind of information is what fuels anxiety, low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations, and disordered eating. If you are in this program here at EmpoweredRX, you know the misery diet culture has created in your life, and are here to gain freedom from that! One way to gain freedom is to educate yourself in what “healthy” eating and exercise, actually looks like. “Healthy” means we are being nourished in all aspects, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Im going to talk about 9 nutrition habits that lead to food freedom. Each habit takes practice in different skills. If we can work on mastering these overtime, eating will just be a natural part of life, without it always being on your mind. That is food freedom.
Habit #1: Regulating eating behaviors.
Three eating behaviors that combat diet culture, are mindful eating practices, listening to your bodies cues, and normalizing scheduled meal time. So, what does mindful eating mean? This looks like slowing down as we eat and being present in the moment. As you are eating noticing what the food looks, tastes, smells, feels like. Stop and notice what you like or don’t like. Notice your surroundings and how you are feeling. This slows us down and helps us learn to enjoy food again. We aren’t mindlessly eating (for some) or avoiding a food (for some). Choose a food you like and try this at home today! It may feel strange but overtime it brings a lot of healing.
“Mindful eaters aren’t obsessed eaters. Rather, they simply appreciate the value of food as opposed to hurrying through a meal. As they stop judging themselves, they are more present and aware of what they are doing.”
You may have heard to listen to your body? What does this even mean? One practice to begin understanding your bodies needs is to feel your hunger and fullness cues and listen to them.
For those of us overcoming an eating disorder, this practice might come in baby steps because for so long we ignored our hunger/fullness cues and didn’t care for our body as it needed. This doesn’t mean we can’t start to learn now though! Imagine your hunger/fullness on a scale from 1-10. One spectrum of the scale being empty feeling, stomach growling, lack of energy, and unable to concentrate, while the other side represents feeling discomfort, drowsy, and unable to move from feeling full. Neither of these is very satisfying, so where should you aim to be on the scale after a meal? Around an 8 or 9 seems to be a great goal. You leave a meal satisfied, able to move around if desired or content and ready to cozy up on the couch for the evening. Should you feel like a 10 and anxiety begins to overcome you, remember after it digests you will be right back at 1 or 2.
Our body is amazing, it knows how to use what we give it.
In that moment of anxiety from fullness, breathe and remind yourself that you are not good or bad for feeling this way. Talk to yourself kindly, knowing that food is simply energy and nutrients that your body needs to thrive.
NEXT, let’s look at normalizing scheduled meal times. All around us, we see others not eating at lunch or skipping breakfast. This is not a way to care for yourself physically or mentally. Our goal is to thrive in all of life. We can live a life full of energy, focus, laughter, and mental calmness. It is possible when we fuel well! When we wait too long in between eating, our blood sugar levels drop and affect our mental and energy state. A great way to feel balanced throughout the day is to aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks, all about 2-4 hours apart at most. Everyones body’s and schedules are different, so this will not look the same for everyone.
This is crucial to remember as an eating disorder warrior.
An example would like: Breakfast at 7:00 before working out, snack at 10 after a workout , lunch at 1:00, Snack at 4:00, Dinner at 7:00/8:00. Eating more often and regularly, will keep our blood sugar up, increase satiety during the day, and increase our mood and energy!
Habit # 2 Regulating Emotions without Food
We went over truly healthy eating behaviors and ways to master these, now let’s look at the next habit, regulating emotions without food involved. Whether this is eating out numbness or emotion, or restricting as a way to cope. These are common reactions but they don’t have to be your life. Practice these methods if you find yourself using food (or restricting) as a coping mechanism: Sit before eating and ask yourself, Am I really hungry or is this something else? If you think its something else, have a list of things you can try first (walk, call a friend, hug a loved one, read a book, listen to music, go to sleep, play with kids, take a bath, etc.) If after trying this, you still feel like you want to eat, go ahead and eat. Do so mindfully and stop when full. You can then know that you allowed this and have no reason for guilt! If you are more of one who restricts when emotional, which I have been, know its ok if you are not as hungry because of the emotions you have. If you know its time to eat though, sit for a minute, eat what you can at each meal, and then do something listed above that will also feed and nourish you in others ways. If you feel this is due to underlying emotions that you need help coping with, reaching out to a therapist can be a huge benefit to your overall health.
Another strategy for this is to recognize the trigger for this emotion. Can you avoid it? Can you plan ahead to know what you will do differently when this trigger comes? Maybe if going out to eat, look at the menu ahead of time so you can’t see what others are ordering and be confident that this is what you want. If it’s a person that triggers you, prepare ahead of time what you will do instead of restrict or overeat, such as have a mantra ready or text the group.
If you are reading this and know that you struggle with regulating eating behaviors and coping with emotions without food involved, please reach out. You deserve food freedom.
Habit # 3 Provide Your Body Adequate Nutrients
This practice does not have to be confusing. To survive and thrive in all areas of life, we need all of the macronutrients and vitamins and minerals that come from food. Macronutrients summed up are what give us energy and keep our body functioning as it should. They are literally what give us life each day. These include protein, carbs, and fats. Protein aids in muscle recovery and repair. Carbohydrates give us energy quickly and support stress levels. Fats aid in hormonal and nervous system functions and balance.
To ensure we get all the macronutrients we need, remember these simple steps:
Eat protein at most meal and snack.
Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits.
Eat a variety of fiber rich carbs at each meal and snack.
Aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks to keep blood sugar levels regulated.
Choose a variety of whole food fats at each meal and snack.
Have a quick digesting protein and carbs after workouts for recovery. Hydrate
Supplement if needed.
Allow all foods.
Habit # 4 Allow All Foods
This is my favorite practice because it is the true beginning of food freedom and ditching diet culture! Diet culture makes us think we can only eat certain food and have to avoid others to look a certain way or be truly “healthy”. I don’t about you, but I don’t feel “healthy” if my mental health is struggling. Full health encompasses all aspects of mental and physical. The goal is being able to eat all foods you enjoy, stop restricting cravings, missing out on social things due to your “diet”, or simply not living in an all or nothing mindset with food. This isn’t health and it isn’t helping you. So how to we get past this?
Some simple steps in this direction are listed below:
Understand that food has no moral value.
Include “fear foods” or food you deem “bad” into your meals more often, along with each macro mentioned above. As you include them in your day more often with all
the other nutrients you need, you will begin to see them as just food and nothing more.
For some this may look like, eating normally before a party and still eating the food there.
Some good examples of this:
Have a serving a pasta with protein, veggies, and fats.
Have a full meal with all your macros you need, with that piece of cake. You can applaud yourself because you gave your body all the nutrients you need with also allowing yourself to have fun, eat cake because it taste good, socialize, without guilt or fear. Sometimes I just want you guys to get angry that that piece of cake or whatever it may be makes you miss out on life. Fight those thoughts. You are worth more of it. You deserve to enjoy that cake or whatever it may be.
Still struggling to understand this? Try thinking of a scale again from 1-10. This scale is filled with the amount of nutrients each food has. If you stay at a 10, your mental health will suffer resulting in other health issues. If you stay at 1, you probably won’t feel great due to a lack in nutrients needed. What would it look like if you incorporated all of them? None of them better than the other, just on a scale of what your body needs int that moment.
Habit # 5 Create a Supportive Environment
If we are surrounded by diet culture, healing will be difficult. What would it look like for you to step back, look at your surroundings, and see what you can change to push you in a new direction? This may be telling others in your home or dorm room of your needs and ask for support. You could create a family tradition of making a new recipe together each week. This may look like being prepared before going out to eat so that you don’t choose your meal based off of others choices. This will look different for everyone, but your community and surroundings are huge in recovery. EmpoweredRX is a great place to find this!
Habit # 6 Plan Ahead
We talked about eating behaviors, emotional regulation without food, providing adequate nutrients, allowing all food, and creating a supportive environment for ditching diet culture, so how do we practically do this in our daily lives? Be prepared and plan ahead when possible. This includes sitting down at the beginning of the day and writing out what each meal and snack will be so that you can keep yourself accountable. Depending on where are you life, this will look different for you, but another form of planning ahead is meal prepping or having easy foods on hand. If you want ideas of these, Id love to talk with you!
Habit # 7 Engage in Movement Because You Love Your Body
If you really about it, our bodies are freaking awesome. Look at all they do everyday to just keep us alive. The fact that we can run, lift heavy things, carry a child, do backflips, process new information, whatever it may be, is short of a miracle. Moving our bodies lowers stress and anxiety and improves focus. Diet culture teaches us to move our bodies because we want to change it, but I challenge you to move because you are awesome. Strength training is a great start as it will enhance your life in so many ways physically and mentally!
Habit # 8 Rest and Recover
As we move our bodies and give it the fuel it needs, we have to remember we also need rest and recovery. Without these, we will not have full health and feel worn down.
Some great practices to remember are:
Prioritize sleep (as best you can)
Eat for recovery, even on rest days!
Remember the importance of carbs in recovery.
Take some time to relax when you can.