Most of us have a complex relationship with food, whether we realise it or not. Food can comfort us, it can transport us back into nostalgic memories and is used as a celebration at many points in our lives. But our emotional attachment to food can also be unhealthy as we subconsciously look to food as a solution for things that are outside of our control.
Many bad days at work have ended with a glass of wine and a tub of Haagen-Dazs, most birthday celebrations include cake and alcohol, and nearly all kids grow up thinking vegetables are the enemy or poisonous, or both. So it’s no wonder we have emotional connections with food.
Somewhere along the line, we’ve all learnt to associate different foods with different occasions and emotions. Unfortunately, we’ve also adopted a mindless eating mentality. Whether that’s eating too much or too little, we don’t usually think about food as its source purpose: fuel.
I’ve found myself on both ends of that spectrum; from eating out of both boredom and comfort, and living off microwave meals to skipping meals and punishing myself with hunger pains. Regardless of whichever way I was mistreating my body, I realised that I was always thinking of food as an inconvenient necessity, seldom giving thought to what or why I was eating.
After ballooning to my largest weight and then immediately after dropping down to my lowest, I knew I needed to address my relationship with food. During this journey, it was the phrase: ‘Food Is Fuel’ that really struck a chord.
It was the first time since primary school days when I first learned how food is digested into the body that I’d thought about it as an energy source. Had I not realised that my poor skin, lethargy and bloating were probably all connected to what I was consuming?
I re-educated myself that carbs are not the enemy and that our energy comes from the food we eat. I learned that not all fats were bad and that the amount of water I drank was highly important in the digestive process. I looked at my portion sizes and slowly started to stop eating when I was full (rather than finishing everything on my plate as I’d been raised to do), but I also looked at the split of macro and micro-nutrients on my plate, assessing the protein to carbs, healthy fats, greens and fibre ratios.
The change was gradual, but I started noticing how I felt after eating a family-sized bag of crisps compared with a fresh smoothie. I compared how much lighter I felt after salmon, new potatoes and greens than pizza and garlic bread. I realised that I could still feel full and enjoy what I was eating, but by making smarter choices with my portions and food group ratios. It was about making better choices for my body and nurturing it with the nutrients it needed.
It was trial and error as I changed my eating habits and experimented with reducing certain foods to ascertain which were the main culprits. I don’t believe in cutting out whole food groups unnecessarily but I do think it’s a good idea to know which foods are your triggers and weaknesses so you can find substitutes. It’s not that I never eat pizza now, rather I know the bloating, heaviness and pain isn’t worth it for me anymore. So, I’ll enjoy a slice or two if I fancy it, but there are so many other things that I’d rather eat.
Most of our lives these days is spent on-the-go. We live in an instant world and it seems as though everywhere you look there’s a café, restaurant or bar, fast food joint or dessert parlour. Thankfully, there are also healthier options popping up offering healthier alternatives, but it still requires a conscious decision to seek one out rather than stopping by for fries.
Although I’m much happier with my relationship with food these days, it continues to be a journey. I’d like to give meal-prepping a proper go and see if it’s something that could benefit our busy family life. With multiple schedules to coordinate, sometimes having something healthy and hearty in the fridge ready to be warmed up can be the difference between eating properly and grabbing a packet of crisps (or two)!
How do you manage your cravings? Share your tips in the comments below.
P.S. Ironically I wrote this blog post in Pho, a Vietnamese street food chain restaurant rather than choosing a coffee shop for some cake at lunchtime. Guess I headed my own advice and chose food that would fuel my body rather than comfort food on a grey, chilly day.