Healthy Eating Skills For A Healthy Relationship With Food
We have to make multiple food choices every day, and navigating successfully around the food environment is a skill in itself. Most of us are confronted daily by delicious-looking, cheap and easy to prepare foods, so we’re never far from temptation. Having a set of healthy eating skills we can draw upon to eat in an enjoyable, balanced way is necessary to help us feel in charge of food. Healthy eating skills aren’t just about eating nutritious foods- an ability, and desire, to make good food choices most of the time is also a reflection of a good relationship with food. If you feel that your eating habits could do with some improvement, self-awareness is the key to change. By becoming more aware of what, how and why you eat, you can start making some positive changes to your eating habits and overall relationship with food. Healthy eating skills aren’t about calorie-counting and being able to say ‘no’ to ‘bad’ foods- tuning into the body, understanding which are the best food choices for yourself and eating according to inner wisdom rather than relying on generic diet plan rules can help you to get satisfaction and pleasure whilst eating in a balanced way that nourishes the body.
“Quite honestly I feel like a different person because of the way Emma has helped me to feel more free around food and eating”.
The Problem With Diets
If a diet plan gives you generic guidelines about what and how much to eat, this can prevent you from thinking for yourself and connecting with which meals and snacks are best for you, and which portion sizes are right for you. Although clear guidelines can be helpful, such diet plans might not include exploring the person’s relationship with food; the individual might also try to ignore feelings of hunger if they’ve eaten the ‘prescribed’ amount of food, feeling that they’re not allowed any more food; feeling hungry whilst trying to lose weight makes diet plans hard to stick to; it’s also better to identify which foods and amounts of foods are satiating for the individual, helping them to avoid blood sugar peaks and dips and frequent hunger. Understanding blood sugar management is a key part of an individual’s toolbox. If it helps you to have a sustaining snack between meals, then it’s a good idea to eat one or two snacks per day if it helps you to avoid getting overly hungry. Most diet plans recommend snacks between meals if required, but it’s important to choose snacks that sustain you- a piece of fruit on its own might not suffice. If you feel genuinely hungry, then it’s a good idea to eat something rather than ignoring internal cues that are telling you it’s time to eat- listen to your body, not the diet plan. Being ‘on’ or ‘off’ a diet can also encourage a black and white mindset of either being ‘good’ (on the diet) or ‘bad’ (and off the diet eating out of control). If it helps you to follow your own rules or ‘personal guidelines’, then incorporate these into a flexible and enjoyable personalised plan of your own, rather than following someone else’s rules. Going on diets can also encourage an obsession with the weighing scales, when in fact a person’s priority might be to improve their relationship with food- weight loss can then be a positive by-product. Avoid going on diet plans where your favourite foods are forbidden or significantly limited- instead, learn to mindfully eat the foods you love in moderate amounts so that you don’t end up craving forbidden foods or feeling guilty when you eat a ‘bad’ food. If you can stop relying on diets to control your eating you’ll feel more liberated and empowered, rather than yo-yo dieting which is often accompanied by weight re-gain. Read my blog: How Mindful Eating Can Help When It’s Hard To Lose Weight.
“One of the biggest realisations was the detrimental effect that years of trying different diets had had on my relationship with food”.
Tackle Your Eating Behaviour Before You Tackle The Scales
I meet people who weigh themselves daily. Sometimes this is because they don’t trust themselves around food and they feel they need to constantly keep an eye on their weight for fear of weight gain. Similarly when people want to lose weight and start a diet, they can get fixated on the weighing scales. It’s good to have a goal, but people might be relying on willpower to lose weight, which might involve abstaining from their favourite foods. If a person is an emotional eater they might be really focused on how much weight they’re losing for a time, but if they tend to rely on food to ‘cope’, it’s unlikely that they’ll keep losing weight for more than a few weeks, or even days. It can be very motivating when weight loss occurs, but it can also be very disheartening when the scales isn’t showing weight loss, perhaps because a person isn’t sticking to the diet. It’s really important to explore your relationship with food and any underlying problematic eating habits first, or at least alongside, having a weight loss goal. Many people have had little opportunity to address their relationship with food- or perhaps they’re fearful of exploring their relationship with food. Through a journey of self-discovery, I empower clients by helping them to build self-awareness and to explore their relationship with food, enabling them to identify the main reasons why they might make poor food choices or overeat (when they’re not following a diet), and then together we work on finding strategies to help them improve their relationship with food. Importantly, I also help individuals to address any lack of self-belief they might have in relation to losing weight and long-term weight maintenance, which often stems from a negative experience of previous weight loss attempts and ‘failures’ to stick to diets or to keep off the weight they’ve lost.
Steadier Weight Loss Means More Flexibility
In our ‘quick fix’ society of instant gratification many people are impatient to lose weight, particularly if they’ve lost weight quickly in the past on a rapid weight loss plan. In addition, some might feel that in order to control their eating they need to be on a strict diet. By abandoning the dieting mindset and instead focusing on long-term behaviour change, it’s possible to break free of the yo-yo dieting cycle. Start making some small changes to your eating habits, and then work on maintaining those eating habits. It’s better to make smaller changes and have slower weight loss than it is to lose weight quickly without creating and embedding new eating habits. Eating according to some simple mindful eating principles offers more flexibility and choice, and more flexibility means a way of eating that’s easier to stick to.
Getting Away From Perfect Mode
When we embark on strict diets, we often try to follow it perfectly. The problem with this is that if we ‘blow it’ just once, it can be easy to give up the diet altogether. I help clients to adopt a more flexible attitude towards food and to avoid thinking about foods in terms of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I help them to focus more on self-care, how they can provide their body with the nutrients it needs, and to think about adding in new foods rather than always focusing on what they can’t eat. I help them to recognise the importance of food quality and the problem with simply calorie counting. Rather than eating in a ‘black and white’, rigid way, we can learn to embrace the ‘middle way’. Practising mindfully eating a small portion of something you fancy, rather than denying yourself that food or completely overindulging in it, gets you away from the rigid and restrictive black and white mindset, and you learn to enjoy less food, more.
Knowledge is Power: Empowering You To Transform Your Eating
When people gain more knowledge about food and nutrition and awareness of their own eating patterns, they’re more likely to become more skilful at adopting effortless and enjoyable health behaviours. If they’re more mindful or aware of their ‘weak spots’ when it comes to eating, they can then focus on those areas and develop the relevant healthy eating skills and other skills required to help them gain more control over their eating.
From experience, once clients have an understanding of how their bodies physically respond to certain foods, they’re able to recognise that how they eat is not driven simply by their thoughts and feelings, which could cause the client to label themselves as having no willpower, but also by physiological processes taking place in the body which can influence hunger, cravings and mood. They can then choose the appropriate foods to help them feel fuller for longer and more in control of their appetite.
Gaining knowledge and skills can encourage a ‘can do’ attitude, a sense of mastery, which in turn can provide the momentum and motivation for creating new habits. I help to educate clients wherever they feel they have knowledge gaps, whilst supporting and motivating them.
“Emma has helped me so much with understanding my relationship with food.”
Habits don’t change overnight- it requires experimenting, practice, dedication and patience. I work with clients to motivate and inspire them, to set up new habits they feel are manageable, enjoyable and sustainable, and to help them feel more in charge of their eating without feeling the need to be on a strict diet. Once they’re more in control of their eating, they find that weight loss follows naturally.
My approach to helping people improve their relationship with food and lose weight involves encouraging them to do some self-reflection and look at their current eating and lifestyle habits. In order to ‘de-construct’ unhelpful habits and build more helpful ones, it requires people to become more aware of what, how and why they eat, and to address their mindset. I can work with you to help you create new habits, which relies on first addressing any unhelpful thought processes, values or belief systems which may be negatively influencing your relationship with food.
“Emma suggested small (and often easy) adjustments to my daily habits to help me be more mindful of my eating and start to see food as a friend and not foe”.
Engaging The Brain
We often eat on ‘autopilot’, eating mindlessly without necessarily considering what other options we might have. I help clients to work through various eating and lifestyle scenarios to get them thinking about other options they might have, what they need to consider in any particular scenario to help them make food choices that are in their own best interest, what would be their usual default or knee-jerk behaviour/response and how they might be able to consider alternative, better options. When clients start to ‘engage the brain’, they’re able to start eating more mindfully.
My services include a short online course: ‘Improve Your Relationship With Food’, personalised one-to-one sessions, talks (all currently online) and an online fortnightly support group. Click here for a summary of my talks. Click here to purchase tickets for any of my events via Eventbrite.
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