If you’re struggling with food, here’s an uncomfortable truth: It’s not about the food.
What do I mean by that? I mean that food struggles are typically caused by a combination of biological factors (e.g. dieting, deprivation, restriction), and also unmet needs and unfelt emotions outside of food.
That’s what we’re diving into here. We’re going to look at the deeper reasons you’re struggling with food and exercise, and how to figure out what it’s going to take for you to truly get to the place where you have peace and ease with food.
In this podcast episode, I’m also going to share 3 powerful tools that will help you when you’re struggling with your eating, your exercise or your body image. These tools are things that you can apply right away TODAY in your life, and not only are they going to help you cope with these struggles but they’re also going to help prevent you from struggling moving forward – how awesome is that?!
You Have Not Failed
Here’s one thing I can promise you: You haven’t failed, and this isn’t about willpower. My hunch is that you’ve tried very hard to solve your problems with food and exercise. You’ve probably attempted to make changes in these areas multiple times in your life, and it might have worked for a while. It might have even worked for a long time. But the reason it wasn’t sustainable isn’t because you suck – it’s because the things we’re told to do to “fix” our bodies and to get healthier are often strategies that have the illusion of helping in the beginning but that actually make things worse in the long run.
It’s an awful cycle to be in. Because feeling the shame and insecurities about our bodies makes us want to do something about it – and the thing we try to do (i.e. dieting and controlling our food in order to control our weight) just makes things worse.
On the surface, this sounds like an issue that you’re having with food, weight and exercise. Diet culture tells us that if we just find the “right” way to eat and the “right” type of exercise then we can reach our goal weight and we will be happier, healthier and more confident.
That very well might be true if there were such a thing as the “right” way to eat and exercise that would actually produce the results you’re looking for, but there isn’t. The research is really clear on this. In fact, we’ve known for about 100 years that diets don’t work, yet we as a culture keep trying new ones to see if this one will finally be the one the does the trick. It’s an endless game that you’re never going to win.
Dropping The Rope and Getting Curious
Here’s where we need to go deeper. That means dropping the rope and not being in a tug-of-war battle with your body anymore. It means giving yourself permission to eat when you are hungry, to choose satisfying food, to eat mindfully, to stop when you are comfortably full. You deserve to eat in this way. You deserve to give your body the satisfaction it wants with food. That’s very different from “eating whatever you want, whenever you want.”
From there, we need to go deeper and get curious about what’s going on outside of food, weight and exercise in our lives. The reasons we tend to focus on our bodies and our eating often tie back to ways in which we have unmet needs or unfelt emotions about other things in life.
We tend to turn to food – whether it be emotionally eating a big bowl of ice cream each night, or hitting the drive thru every day for lunch, or snacking when we aren’t even hungry – we do this when we are using food to cope with emotions, or to avoid emotions.
It’s not an inherently bad thing to use food as a coping tool. But for a lot of us it becomes more of a way to numb and avoid than it does to truly cope with awareness and kindness towards ourselves and our emotions.
Another way we turn to food for reasons outside of food is when we are trying to control our food or when we are dieting and focusing our attention on that, and it can become a way to cope with or avoid emotions. It might be easier to focus on your calories or macros than it is to focus on the reasons you might be getting divorced. It might be easier to track your food in MyFitnessPal than it is to journal about your grief over the loss of your pet or frustration you have with your job.
We also tend to use food, and exercise too, when we aren’t honoring our capacity in life. With exercise you might find yourself focusing a lot on exercise and being really diligent about your routine, or you might find yourself avoiding exercise or unable to get yourself to do it. When we aren’t honoring our capacity in life, we aren’t setting the boundaries we need, and this often plays out in our relationship with food and exercise.
I encourage you to be curious about what you would be thinking and feeling if you weren’t focused on food or exercise. This is a question that I asked myself often in the beginning of my journey. And even now if I find those food and exercise thoughts creeping in I use it as a signal to check in with myself and to say, “Katy, what else is going on in your life right now? What else might be bothering you?” And 9 times out of 10 I know exactly what it is, and rather than going down that rabbit hole trying to figure out what to eat or when to work out, I am able to step back and address what’s REALLY going on.
You can use this like the check engine light on the dashboard of your car, as a signal telling you that something needs to be looked into. And you step back and ask yourself, “What’s been going on lately in my life that I might be subconsciously avoiding?”
3 Powerful Tools You Can Use When You’re Struggling With Food and Exercise
TOOL #1: BODY KINDNESS
Let’s start off with body kindness. When you’re struggling with food and exercise, rather than berating your body and scrutinizing your body, we want to do what’s called in the world of therapy “opposite action” and to practice body kindness.
Here’s the deal: We take better care of things that we care about than things we hate.
I recommend that you choose 3 things each day that you are going to intentionally do in the name of body kindness. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. It can be as simple as drinking enough water, or getting 10 minutes of sunlight. The key is that you do them on purpose, while associating it in your brain with body kindness. I even have a free resource that will help you with this. It’s my body kindness guide and journal pages. All you have to do is take 5 minutes each morning to write down your 3 things and answer a couple other questions, and I promise you that this will change the tone of your day. Click here to grab it.
TOOL #2: SC2
This is a framework that I teach inside Non-Diet Academy because I’m a BIG believer that if we don’t do these 2 things we will continue to fall back into dysfunctional patterns with food and exercise.
Self-care multiplied by self-compassion is truly exponentially valuable in our lives.
Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and massages. Those things are great, and if you enjoy them you should totally do them. But that’s not the type of self-care I’m referring to here.
I’m talking about borning self-care. I’m talking about micro self-care. The vacations and trips to the spa are lovely, but those don’t meet our needs on a daily basis which is what we’re aiming for here.
Self-care is the first part of the SC2 equation. The second part is self-compassion.
Self-compassion has solid research behind it. Kristin Neff, PhD, is one of the most well-known self-compassion researchers at the University of Texas in Austin. She defines self-compassion as the process of turning inward, and being kind and understanding towards ourselves, rather than being harshly self-critical. Research shows that it will help us to be more resilient and to make changes in our lives that support our goals and wellbeing.
Kristin Neff talks about both tender and fierce self-compassion, and how we need both. Tender self-compassion is when we are gentle, kind and understanding towards ourselves, the way we would be a friend. Fierce self-compassion is when we ask yourselves, “What do I need right now?” Tender self-compassion is about being with yourself, and acknowledging your pain. Fierce self-compassion is about figuring out how to help yourself.
TOOL #3: BOUNDARIES
Let me just say, I struggle with this one, and I know how much less overwhelming my life would be if I got better at setting boundaries and saying no to things. We are working on this one together, my friend.
We have to learn what our limits are. Otherwise we get depleted, resentful and overwhelmed.
We must stay curious about what our capacity is at any season of life, and learn to say no to certain things in order to say YES to others. Every time I say no to a speaking opportunity, I am saying YES to spending that time with my kids or to using that time to create another podcast episode.
Boundaries can be with our time, our energy, our emotions, who we choose to spend time with, the way we let others speak to us, what time we go to bed. Heck you’ve even heard me talk about setting gentle boundaries with food. My mentor, Kathi, once said it best when she said, “Boundaries are a form of protection.” Boundaries keep things out that we don’t want to let in, and it allows us to choose what enters our space.
Sometimes our struggles with food are a signal that we need to look at where we are lacking boundaries. Think about where there are things you can let go of, say no to, or simplify in your life. Ask yourself, “What would this look like if it were easy?” It will probably be hard at first to set the boundaries, but I promise that it gets easier with practice. I’m right there with you working on this.
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?”
- Save $120 on HelloFresh, my fav food delivery service!
- Check out my course, Non-Diet Academy