Diet. The word itself evokes so many emotions. But what re- ally is a diet? The Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as the type of food and drink habitually eaten or drunk by a person or group. In this sense it is the food we consume as part of our lifestyle, which is also influenced by our culture and tradition. Today, however, the word diet holds negative connotations related to restriction, deprivation, calorie counting and the notion of “less is more” when it comes to food. It is seen as a restrictive regime that one follows in order to lose or maintain weight. Its association with restriction and deprivation of joy is a factor that can negatively influence our relationship with food and health.
Food is what fuels our body and provides it with energy. If you are an athlete or exercise regularly then this concept might be familiar to you. The way we feed ourselves and the food choices we make influence our performance, endurance and mental clarity. In this sense it is the quality of the food we consume, not just the quantity that makes a difference. The calorie trap associated with dieting is a dangerous one that not only disconnects us from our body; it creates anxiety and detaches us from the food we eat. Seeing food as nothing more than a number might lead to thoughts such as “I worked out, so I can eat a piece of cake”. This presumes that the previous energy expenditure from an exercise can make up for or neutralise the energy gain from the cake. However, we need to realise that this is not only an unrealistic view of food, but one that posits food as an enemy that hinders us from achieving our goals. Or worse, as the source of guilt and shame.
Unfortunately, emotions related to food, such as guilt, obsessiveness, anxiety or stress are very common. Emotions linked to food can have a bigger impact than we actually realise, as they can influence how our body digests and absorbs the foods we consume. Seeing food as a source of reward or a guilty pleasure is very far from the real purpose of food. Fuelling our body with energy and nutrients, allowing it to build and repair itself as well as to perform at its optimal level is the main reason we eat. But food is more than that, it connects people, it evokes emotions of belonging and, of course, of pure pleasure. It is thus very clear that food is emotion, and since emotion is energy in motion – food is energy. The intention with which we consume food, can alter this energy for better or for worse.
Intuitive eating is gaining popularity; it is, however, not a new concept. It is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It propels us to reconnect with our body and its needs. Being in touch with our physical body, as well as our emotions, allows us to acknowledge when and how hungry we truly are, as well as what types of food our body needs in this mo- ment. It allows us to recognise if a craving is coming from a physical or an emotional need. This awareness helps us make choices that are supportive of our health and actual current needs.
When we are clear about our needs we also become more in touch with our values. And with clear values we can answer the question “Why we are eating a certain food right now” from a perspective that is sincere and in touch with ourselves.
We are each born with beautiful bodies that have a unique shape. And while the shape of our body is some- thing we’ve been given, and thus can’t control fully, we can control our choices. And we can gain an understand- ing of the daily choices we make and the impact they have on our health and wellbeing.
To change our relationship with food and health, let’s work on going back to the real meaning of the word diet – which implies a lifestyle, not a restrictive, short-term programme.
Next, check in with your emotions related to food and write them all down. Ask yourself if this process is enjoy- able. If it is not, it needs to be modified. Write down your “why” on the food choices you make daily. Study it, and if your “why” does not support where you want to be, change it.
Allow yourself to experience pleasure from food without guilt. If you choose to have a piece of cake, then enjoy it fully and completely without worrying about it later. Then move on and hop back onto the wagon with choices that support your goal.
Creating new habits and improving our food choices need to be accompanied with joy, improved energy and wellbeing. They are not about a certain number on the scale!
Remember, food connects – it transfers energy. Celebrate it! Only when we feel comfortable in our own skin and at peace with our food can we truly improve and take responsibility for our health and wellbeing.