Finding Peace With Food: What Does it Take to Actually Get There?
There was a period of my life where I myself was stuck in that diet mentality and I thought of food in these very black and white terms of being either healthy or unhealthy. And I felt like I was “being good” when I ate the healthy foods and “being bad” when I ate the unhealthy foods.
What I came to realize was that this: I was making myself miserable by thinking of food this way. The sheer act of trying to hang out with my friends became a stressful thing because I was worried about what snacks were going to be at the party, or how many drinks we were going to have at the bar. Things that were supposed to be fun had become so anxiety provoking, and I’d feel so guilty if I felt like I ate “bad” things or if I ate too much.
I remember going to a BBQ one time at my friend’s house and we were having normal BBQ food, like burgers and hot dogs. It pains me to even say this because it’s so cringey looking back, but I brought my own Boca Burger. (Are those even still a thing?) I remember my mom would eat them when I was growing up and they smelled TERRIBLE when she’d microwave them, but the message I internalized was that they were “healthier” than regular burgers. So I brought this Boca Burger to a BBQ with my friends who all grew up on farms. Meat is their love language. And I have nothing against vegetarians or veggie burgers, so no judgment if that’s your food philosophy, but I wasn’t and probably never will be vegetarian. So I’m at a party with some meat lovin’ folk with my nasty smelling veggie burger and they’re looking at me like, “Ok…”
And so not only was this a truly disappointing and unsatisfying eating experience, it didn’t make me any “healthier” than anyone else there, and I think it also had the ripple effect of making me even more lonely and isolated. Because here I come marching into this BBQ as the holier-than-thou dietitian who is there to eat her veggie burger, and I’m sure some of my friends felt like I was silently judging them for eating their burger or hot dog. Truth be told, I was wishing I could allow myself to eat a burger or hot dog.
So how did I go from there, to where I’m at today where I have total peace and ease with food? It didn’t happen by accident. In fact, it was a very intentional process, and it took time and frankly a fair amount of therapy because this isn’t the type of thing you just will yourself out of. We’ve been immersed in diet culture since we were born, and it takes work to unlearn the unhelpful messages we’ve been given. In this episode I’m going to share the steps that it takes to find peace with food so that you can be intentionally moving in that direction too.
What Does “Finding Peace With Food” Actually Mean?
For some people, finding peace with food means being able to wake up and put french vanilla creamer in their morning cup of coffee without feeling guilty.
For others, it means being able to stroll down the aisles of the grocery store and grab a box of Cheez It’s because they sound good and they’re on sale, and not worry about devouring the entire package in one sitting.
Sometimes “peace with food” means that a person can hold some boundaries with carbs because they have pre-diabetes, PCOS or diabetes and their body has some insulin resistance, so being mindful with carbs helps them take care of their health. And having peace with this means that they aren’t blaming or shaming themselves for needing the boundaries, and they aren’t feeling deprived of their favorite foods because they know how to work them in.
Another example of peace with food is being able to go to a restaurant and order what sounds good off the menu, without looking for what sounds like the healthiest or lowest calorie option.
Maybe for you it would mean being able to enjoy the holidays without worry about weight gain, or enjoying birthday cake without the fear of binging on it or the guilt for having sugar.
You see, peace with food depends on where you currently feel a lack of peace. The goal is to get you to where you are at ease with food, and you can find that sweet spot between enjoying the foods you love AND also honoring your health.
When my clients and students find peace with food they usually tell me that they don’t think about it as much anymore. Usually in the beginning of our work together their TCT is really high. The TCT is a concept that I cover with my private clients and inside Non-Diet Academy. It refers to the “total conscious time” and it is a measure of how often you’re thinking about food. Most of the people that I work with will say that they think about food 50% of their day or more, sometimes even up to 100% of their day. They tell me that they feel obsessed with food a lot of the time, unless they’re really focused on something else like work.
So finding peace with food often means that you’re simply not thinking about food as often, and when you do think about food it’s in really practical, not-emotionally-charged ways. Food has a more proportionate place of importance in your life, where it still serves as pleasure and nourishment, but it’s not taking up as much space in your mind. This allows you to let more of LIFE in.
Having peace with food means it’s not the main thing constantly on your mind. AND it means that you do think about it off and on throughout the day as part of being aware of your body’s need for nourishment. Never thinking about food is also problematic because then we forget to eat and end up ravenously hungry later on.
“Peace with food” is that sweet spot where you can think about it in ways that are helpful, and not stress about it otherwise. I know that’s a little ambiguous, but it has to be because this is going to look a little different for each of us – and that’s ok!
What does it take to find peace with food?
It starts with understanding where you’re at. Let’s say you’re getting ready to go on a road trip with your family or our besties, and you’re going to a new city you’ve never traveled to before. When you put your destination into your GPS it needs to know where you’re at and where you’re headed in order to give you accurate directions. If you start driving aimlessly, chances are you’re going to get lost, drive in circles, and end up where you don’t want to be.
The path to finding peace with food is similar. If you don’t know where you’re starting or where you’re going, it’s hard to find your way there.
That’s why I created a roadmap to help you understand what I call the “phases” of this process towards becoming what I call a “non-dieter.” A non-dieter is someone who has peace with food and who is able to eat intuitively while honoring their health.
Let’s break down the 5 phases of becoming a non-dieter so you can try to identify where you’re currently at and what the next phase looks like. This is something I teach right away in the first module of my course Non-Diet Academy because it’s SO foundational to have a mental roadmap for where we’re headed.
The 5 Phases of Becoming a Non-Dieter
A lot of times my students will say, “Katy I think I’m in 2 or 3 of these phases all at once – is that normal?” And my answer is YES, absolutely. These phases aren’t meant to box you in, and they’re not always linear. It’s kind of like the phases of grief where you can cycle in and out of different phases at different times.
- Phase 1: “I hate my body.” You have negative body image and wish your body looked different and that you weighed less. This takes up a lot of your mental energy.
- Phase 2: Dieting and restricting. You’re attempting to change your body in order to feel better about yourself. You get an initial high from feeling like you’re “doing something” to solve your problem (the problem being that you hate your body), and then the low of feeling like a failure when you can’t sustain the dieting, restricting or healthy eating. It’s that feeling like you “fell off the bandwagon” or like you’re “being bad” because you didn’t stay on track. And this often sends you back to phase 1, which then leads you back to phase 2 of trying to fix it again.
- Phase 3: Fed up. Hitting rock bottom with dieting. Realizing that you can’t keep doing this for the rest of your life, although you might not be sure what else to do yet.
- Phase 4: Un-learning the dieting rules. Rebuilding trust with your body and reconnecting with your body’s appetite cues as well as your emotions and needs outside of food that you might have been numbing or distancing yourself from while focusing on so much dieting and weight loss. This is where you are actively learning the skills of intuitive eating, body kindness, self-compassion, joyful movement, self-care and all of the other skills that I teach inside Non-Diet Academy.
- Phase 5: Intuitive eating and body acceptance. This is where you have found the peace with food we were talking about earlier and you’ve become a Non-Dieter!
Which one do you see yourself in right now? I highly recommend you download the 5 Phases to Becoming a Non-Dieter guide, because in it I also talk about steps you can take in each phase that will move you forward to the following phase. I’ve even got some journal prompts in there for you, so go grab it now and come back.
You might be thinking, “Ok, Katy, this is awesome. I can see which phase I’m in, and I kind-of-sort-of get where I’m going with this whole “peace with food” thing you were talking about…but do people actually get there? I just can’t see myself accepting my body or trusting myself with food.”
First of all, I want to normalize the heck out of that sentiment. Most people feel that way when they are embarking on this journey. It’s like heading off the beaten path into uncharted territory, and of course that’s scary and confusing and you want to know whether it’s possible and what it actually looks like.
Let me tell you about a student of mine, and I’m going to keep her anonymous because privacy is one of my biggest values as a dietitian and coach. I ONLY share these types of stories with permission because I know that our relationship with food and our bodies is a really vulnerable thing to talk about.
So this student told me: “Since being on a diet for 50 years I am now having so much more enjoyment eating the foods that I love and satisfy me. Since starting IE I don’t find myself binging anymore. I used to think I was a sugarholic. If I ate one piece of candy I’d eat the whole bag. Now I can have a few pieces and be done. I am so grateful to IE and all the support I get from this group.”
- Isn’t that incredible? She had literally dieted almost all of her life, thought that she was addicted to sugar, was frequently binging…and now she can eat a couple pieces of candy and be done. THIS is a perfect example of what finding peace with food can do for you.
Here’s another example from one of my Non-Diet Academy students. She said: “I went to the doctor this morning and they weighed me. I was heavier than expected and for a second I had that old feeling of panic but it didn’t last long. I took a big breath and reminded myself: My weight doesn’t define me, my health is way more complex than that. What is important is how I feel and my actual (unbiased) health. And right now I feel I have both. For the first time ever, I actually stepped down from the scale and I felt truly fine, not happy, not upset, just neutral, in the same way I felt after she took my blood pressure. It was a great feeling!”
- This really captures the essence of someone who has found peace and neutrality with their body. Her weight might have been higher than she would have liked to see, but it didn’t send her into a spiral. She recognizes that her worth as a human being is more than the number on the scale, and that the scale is not the only determinant of health either. The fact that she felt totally fine and neutral after getting of the scale is a game changer – because then she’s free to listen to her body with food because she’s not scheming up her next plan for how to lose weight.
I hope you can see with these real life examples how this process comes together and the massive shifts that people make when they do the work to find peace with food. It’s not necessarily an easy process given the world we live in, but it’s sooooo worth it to not be tormented by all of the obsessive and self-loathing thoughts about food and your body anymore.
Steps You Can Take Today
I’d like to leave you with a couple of tangible steps you can take TODAY. It’s one thing to listen to podcasts like this and to feel inspired and encouraged, but if we don’t take action then nothing changes.
So here are some things you can play around with:
- Download the 5 Phases to Becoming a Non-Dieter guide I mentioned earlier so you have something concrete in writing that will help you nail down what exactly to work on based on the phase you’re in. Again it’s at nondietacademy.com/phases
- Do an audit of how much time you’re spending thinking about food each day. If you had to rate it as a percentage of your thoughts, or just on a scale of 1-10, what would you give it? And then think about whether you’re doing anything that’s contributing to you thinking about food more than you need to be – the shows and videos you’re watching, the accounts you’re following on social media, how much you’re talking about food with other people. Challenge yourself to expand your horizons and to view content about other things – some cat videos maybe – and challenge yourself to NOT talk about food with other people. Find other things to bring up in conversation. There are even conversation starter ideas online, or you can get decks of conversation cards that you can keep at your dinner table. Once you start noticing how much you think and talk about food (and how much other people do this too) you’ll probably realize that we as a society are collectively obsessed with it.
- Join the waitlist for my course Non-Diet Academy. This program includes the actual course curriculum where I teach you the skills and give you the tools that you need to work all the way through those 5 phases we talked about today, and it also includes coaching which is invaluable because it’s one thing to have the information, it’s another thing to have the guidance and feedback from a coach AND to do this alongside others who are on the journey because you’ll learn so much from each other.
I hope you had some ah-ha moments or some things that really stuck with you here. Sometimes it’s just one little nugget of information from a podcast episode that can be so useful, and I hope that you found that here and you can carry that with you into your everyday life.
So be kind to yourself, be patient, and we’ll talk again soon!
I covered it all in Episode 90 – Finding Peace With Food: What Does it Take to Actually Get There?
Let’s get connected!
Looking for more support on your journey to food freedom and body acceptance?
- Join my Facebook group & community “Intuitive Eating Made Easy”
- Take my FREE quiz “What’s Your Unique Path to Food Freedom?”
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- Check out my course, Non-Diet Academy