I came across something recently which has really helped me think differently about food and is helping me change my eating habits for the better.
If you read my earlier post you may recall that one of the hangovers from my previous life as a size+ chap is that I still have a fairly wary relationship when it comes to food. I used to use food as a means of comfort, but any short-term benefit I gained through eating was soon lost and I was left with bad feelings associated with guilt, disappointment and ultimately my self-esteem took the hit. It’s a slippery slope of eating to feel better, then feeling bad about doing it, then eating to feel better…
I guess a lot of people can relate to this.
As my running gets more serious, I recognise I need to address my relationship with food, specifically by breaking the association I’ve built that lots of food=being overweight so that I can increase my intake to fuel my increasing activity. Part of my analysis of what I think makes a rounded and complete running experience included the recognition of the importance of nutrition. I know that you really are what you eat and when it comes to running, food is the fuel source powering the engine. Crap in equals crap out. So if I know that, why is it that I still hold on to the old association and even allow myself to dive into a tub of peanuts or succumb to a cheeky choccy bar every now and then?
Something else is going on which I need to understand.
Have I been programmed to respond to food in a certain way?
The answer is a definite “yes”. So how am i going to reprogram my attitude towards food and shake my association once and for all?
Here’s one way I’ve found which is working…
When it comes to food, we all have within us three distinct characters. We have our inner child – irrational, impulsive and self-centred – the logical, intelligent, educated and rational adult and the parent – punitive, critical, judgemental and moralistic.
When we sit down to eat, the inner child finds a way of pushing forward and relegating the adult to the unconscious, but what does the child know about nutritional balance, calories or when enough is enough? Nothing. The mode of the child is “I want and I get” and it is this dominant child that is poking around in my fridge and my kitchen cupboards when my adult self went into the kitchen for a completely different reason. Who wanted me to order that starter, the main and then a pudding? Who wants me to have seconds? That impulsive bag of crisps? A sleazy snack to make me feel better? The child. And after I indulge to excess the child leaves, and guess who takes its place? The parent does, who then says things like “How could you have been so stupid/weak/greedy* (delete as applicable!)? Why did you have seconds? Why did you have some chocolate? Do you notice how bad you feel now? Can you feel yourself getting fat again?” And so begins the viscous cycle of guilt and eating to feel better…
At this point I am subjected to the inner angry parent who is apportioning blame. But blaming whom? Blaming the inner child. Where has my adult been all this time? It has been hidden. Overruled. Silenced. The adult was not there at meal time or directly after meal time. The child and the parent have taken over my whole eating program, which I guess makes sense because that is where all of our eating patterns get setup in the first place, when we were children sitting next to our parents. Does “Eat everything up and then you can go play” sound familiar to anyone? Or, to put it another way, “Eating more than you physically need to leads to having fun”…interesting what we program our kids with.
In order to counteract this, I first of all have to be aware that this program is running. Tick! Just to be aware of it begins to change it. Now I can put a mental note on the fridge door “Adults Only” or over the Tescos snack aisle – “No Adults allowed”. A quick mental “check-in” helps me assess who is in control and keeps my inner child at bay.
The great thing is that all this does not take resistance or self control, it just takes awareness. When I sit down to eat I need to do so with my adult in control and at that point I’ll no longer be thinking “wow look at all those roast potatoes, I wonder how fast I can eat them all” – I’ll be more controlled and rational, still having some but limiting myself to a sensible amount and fully understanding what eating them means in balance with my nutritional requirements. As an adult I can think about health, the importance of nutrition to my running, about being a positive role model to others (I’ve had so many comments about how ‘good I am’ to not have a desert or a mid-morning biscuit-or-three – it’s not a case of being ‘good’, it’s simply my adult in control). My adult knows how uncomfortable it feels when I eat too much and my adult can see that just around the corner lies guilt, frustration and feeling bad and so can make a sensible judgement.
What a powerful new viewpoint.
The great thing is that I have found that my adult enjoys eating too, but does not go so crazy. But whereas my child never did, my adult enjoys flavours, textures, combinations of food and, believe it or not, sprouts! I really enjoy vegetables. I love cooking and I appreciate the taste of food so much more than I ever used to. When I started on my journey to lose weight and get fitter I now know who was in control. Absolutely 100% my adult. That’s how I have achieved what I have been able to so far and how I will address my unhealthy food association and continue to achieve.
I’ve learned that deprivation is not the way to happiness, (I’ve already explained why diets don’t work) nor is overindulgence. I think it is much more useful to transcend them and sit in the middle with the adult in charge with a calm, kind voice in your mind – because the body responds to what you hold in mind.
In being able to pull this together, credit is owed to the works of Dr. David R.Hawkins, Dr. Eric Berne, John Glanvill and lots of others who have all helped me to re-calibrate my thought processes, make sense of my behaviour and change for the better. The more I learn the more I can change and the more I improve.