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On Food: Are You Eating to Live or Living to Eat?

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

Having a balanced and pleasurable relationship with food is a challenge for the majority of the women I work with. It's a challenge that most women have come to believe is "just how it is" when it comes to food but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

As a culture, we have a bit of an extreme relationship with food, our expectations and behaviors bouncing between two ends of the eating spectrum.

One end of the spectrum represents what I call "Eating to Live"; the regimented, strict adherence to only eating healthy at the exclusion of whether or not the food brings pelasure, enjoyment or satisfaction outside of the nutritional composition of the food. I see this a lot with women who have a perfectionist mindset around their body size and fear gaining even a pound or two.

The other end of the spectrum I call "Living to Eat." It is composed of people we categorize as emotional eaters, or people who also have one or more of these excuses: "I don't have time/energy/budget to eat what will feel best or do good for my body, so I just reach for what my compulsion wants and or my time/budget allows. People who are "emotional eaters" often feel that the time to eat good food isn't available to them because they are so busy. When we drill down a few layers, it isn't that they are any busier than the rest of us, they just don't have themselves and their well-being prioritized.

What we see in these two extremes is that many of us eat in a way that reflects how we feel about ourselves deep down. We use food to cover up feelings, to numb out, to feel better about ourselves, to get thin, to stay thin, to unwind, to lessen our guilt or any number of other ways we've come to distort our relationship to our most basic nourishment.

The majority of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, but regardless of where you are on the spectrum, the diet culture we've gotten so used to creates a mindset, often unconsicously, that our appetite is something to control and manage instead of regarding it as the wise inner guidance that it is.

Food then becomes something of the enemy, something that we believe we should always be doing better and are very often feeling guilty about this most basic, innate desire for pleasure and satisfaction with food. We have come to believe that food really only serves to provide nutrients to our physical body, but a truly balanced, nourishing and pleasurable relationship with food satiates us on many levels.

I believe that balanced eating has a foundation based in three core areas:

• Physical: what you eat nourishes your body

• Emotional: what you eat brings pleasure and joy

• Spiritual: what you choose to eat comes from listening to your body wisdom and is satisfying at to a deeper part of you beyond the rules or compulsions

When we've changed our mindset around food and eating to one that mirrors these three areas, we create a new relationship with food that I call Soulful Eating.

Soulful Eating surpasses the mindset of counting calories and it rises above the impulsive nature of emotional eating. Soulful Eating engages all of our senses and leaves us feeling satisfied, nourished and having the simple, easy contentment and pleasure that food is meant to bring.

And while I do believe this kind of relationship with food is innate, it gets buried so easily under the diet culture mindset. We swing between the two ends of the spectrum so much, with so much mixed messages and tricky advertising that we get lost in listening to what it is that would really serve us when it comes to food.

The solution is simple in form::

• Start taking more time for food.

• Start listening at the level of your body and soul, not the level of your mind.

• Stop doing less than nourishing behaviors like eating in the car, at your desk, skipping meals or binging late at night.

• Start slowing down, asking yourself what it is that would nourish you body, mind and spirit.

• Start paying attention to where you fall into the trap of guilt and stop letting guilt around food drive your decisions of what you do or don't eat

I have a friend who was a vegetarian for decades. And then one day she decided to try a little bit of fish. She felt so energized, alive and healthy after eating that fish, that she began to eat a little bit more animal protein. People close to her began to ask what she was doing differently to make her look so alive, with such color in her face. Much to her vegetarian, non animal eating values, she had to admit that her body was craving animal protein. Despite all the rules and ideas she had about what she should and should eat, what her body wanted was very different than what her mind thought she should be eating.

And so it is with our relationship to food. The diet culture has made it so that we make food choices with our minds, not our bodies. That we listen to current fads more than what really nouishes us. That we analyze food according to numbers and calorie counts rather than how it makes us feel.

I hear women say all the time "oh I've tried everything, nothing seems to work."

And I remind them:: It is our body's wisdom that knows the true value of what it is we need. Embracing Soulful Eating is about throwing the fads, the numbers and the food obsession out the window. Your inner guidance knows what you need far beyond anything else you've tried.

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