62: Change Your Relationship with Food for the Better


Welcome friends to Episode #62 of the Own Your Best Life Podcast. Many of us have a strained relationship with food. We love it, we hate it, we blame it and through it all it shows up every single day. Let’s change our relationship with food for the better so it’s no longer an emotional roller coaster to eat and take the steps towards what it is we do want: a high quality nurturing relationship.

Why does eating feel like an emotional roller coaster? We judge ourselves for what we eat, what we don’t eat and how we eat. We compare ourselves to other people and food once again represents a place where we begin to separate ourselves. I’ve always loved food growing up. I was exposed to lots of different Chinese foods and growing up in the US, I was also exposed to American culture and food as well as those of my friends and neighbors. My grandmother was an amazing cook. I tell my girls stories about how she would try to make rice krispie treats – a very American dessert – in a wok because she loved us and we loved rice krispie treats. They wouldn’t turn out as gooey and buttery as what we were used to. She would add nuts to them and she never used recipes so her marshmallow ratio was off and they ended up more like crunchy granola bars than anything else. But we loved them. Why? Because they were made with the idea and intention of love.

What’s love got to do with it?
I had a love affair with food for as long as I can remember. My mom would ask me to watch my grandmother cook when I was too young to do it myself. As I entered high school, it was the time when Food Network and celebrity chefs were gaining popularity and I loved it all. I was so interested in trying out new recipes and making all the foods that I loved to eat. Baked ziti, croissants, chocolate chip cookies and did you know you could use bechamel sauce in lasagna? I wanted to cook everything and for everyone.

When I started playing sports more competitively in high school, I remember overhearing a journalist say, “it must be something that she ate” and it suddenly clicked that food affects my performance. Food affects my body. It wasn’t just something you ate for pleasure or to keep you from being hungry, it was also something that could positively affect the way that you show up.

Back in those days, it was all about calorie counting and salads so I remember looking at nutrition labels and only eating 10 pringles instead of half the can. I remember going to the salad counter during lunch in high school and picking out salad with tuna and pita during the sports seasons.

Fast forward to college and the dreaded freshman 15 lbs – I can see now that eating socially and late at night were the culprits. I realized that you could fit in and belong through food. Someone wanted to show you they cared? Eat with them to show that you care back. Drink lots to show you can – except I really couldn’t. Eat lots to prove you weren’t so obsessed with your body image. It was a time of indulgence, especially because I decided I didn’t want to be a professional field hockey player so there wasn’t anything really holding me back from eating all the things except the fear of gaining weight.

The fear of gaining weight. Isn’t that a big one? For those of you who played sports and then stopped, you suddenly realize that you can’t eat as much as you used to without gaining weight. Fear of gaining weight becomes the main deciding factor for how we eat and it’s all about calories in versus calories out.

But what about the quality of food and what we eat? I remember that it was when I started working that I realized I couldn’t handle caffeine the way other people could. Even if it was zero calories and diet, it still had things in it that created a feeling in my body I didn’t like. My heart would start racing and I would have headaches. Catered lunches of big sandwiches, cookies and soft drinks seemed like such a luxury, until I realized that I didn’t feel good after eating them. I felt lethargic and bloated, while my heart started racing and my head hurt. Sounds like a dream, right?

So I began to think more about the less tangible qualities of food. Where it came from, how it was grown, what were the ingredients, and how it felt after I ate the food. Similar to any kind of relationship we have with people, I began to see that what I did and how I felt was also a projection of the way I thought about myself. When I began to see myself as a living, breathing organism that is in partnership with food, I began to see food as symbiotic instead of parasitic or as something that I just controlled.

The question then became, “how do I have a good relationship with food?” and it ultimately led to me having a better understanding and relationship with myself. I realized when I began doing elimination diets or food resets that I would feel better afterwards, but be so confused as to why I would ever need to do them again. Why couldn’t I just do it once and everything be fine forever? That mentality was all about fixing. I fixed this problem and now it should always be solved. But the way we eat and how we eat and what we eat was never about solving or being a problem. What is it instead? It’s showing us the way home to loving ourselves more.

Just like any of our other patterns in life, until we understand ourselves fully, it’s hard for us to stop doing the things that don’t serve us so well. We go back to unhealthy eating habits. We start being mean to ourselves and other people. We don’t take action. We self-sabotage without even realizing. We avoid and we hide. When we decide that we actually want to work with something, it can be scary. Does this mean I have to dig into how I really feel? If we’re not ready to ask ourselves these questions about what we think about ourselves, we won’t change anything in the outer world. Our outer world is a reflection of the way we believe that life works.

So what do we do? Do we just give up because it’s too hard? No! Absolutely not. We say to ourselves, let’s try eating in a way that feels healthier and better for my soul and see what comes up in the process. Let’s try eating what I want and indulge and see what comes up in the process. We don’t try to change ourselves by forcing things. We change ourselves by observing how we react and what we think. We change ourselves by being willing to change how we react and what we think. We change ourselves by upgrading and shifting how we react and think into healthier ways of living.

One of the biggest things that eating resets and elimination programs taught me was that I ate to feel a certain way. I’m bored? Eat something indulgent and delicious? I can’t figure something out? Eat something because that is something I can definitely do. I’m feeling loving? Let’s indulge once more! I’m want to connect? Let’s eat something together! I feel deprived of food. Let’s binge on the thing I wasn’t eating! I started seeing that eating wasn’t something I did when I was already feeling whole and complete. Eating was something I did because I didn’t feel whole or complete. I used food as a way to bridge the gap and complete an emotional cycle.

What if I didn’t complete that cycle? What If I just felt bored and didn’t indulge? What if I just felt like I couldn’t figure something out and didn’t eat to fill that void? What if I felt angry, resentful, deprived, frustrated and didn’t try to fix that part of me through food.

This is what healthy eating resets taught me. Each time, I would gain a bit more clarity about the ways that I was relating to food and each time, I would gain a bit more emotional mastery about myself. The result was that I would create slight shifts in eating behaviors for the better. I would eat less processed foods that gave me the highs and lows, and more plants. I would drink more water. I would learn how to make foods with love instead of to love. These were small shifts but they added up. Does it mean that I stop eating everything and only eat plants forever? That I stopped appreciating foods that didn’t fit a certain nutritional profile? No. What it did mean was that I was more aware of why I was eating and how I would feel in my body as a result. I can still make the choices for myself about what and how I want to eat, but that also means I know how to come back a bit quicker from the places when we begin to spiral.

If we can make food to not mean everything, it won’t mean everything. One of the easiest ways to do that is to try it through resets where you change what you eat for a period of time. When I’m completing a fast mimicking diet or an elimination program for example, the structure gives me freedom. Instead of thinking all day long about what I’m eating next and what I’m planning to eat after that, I know instead what the plan is and there are fewer decisions to make. Food stops meaning everything because I can’t eat a certain way to feel a certain way. I just eat this because it’s helping me to learn what it’s like to eat more naturally.

I usually do a healthy eating reset once every 4-6 months to remind myself what my natural state actually looks like – devoid of all the external messaging and cues about body image, not enoughness, indulgence and fun. I’ve done them because I’ve noticed they help me with a variety of physical symptoms like hives and bloating, as well as with mental clarity and emotional mastery. If you want to participate in one, there are lots of programs out there that you can do. You can also do it on your own.

Here are a few simple and easy ideas for a healthy eating reset:

  • Pick a predetermined number of days
  • Pick how you’ll eat. For example, do you want to eat plant-based or more plant-based? Another option is to eliminate gluten, added sugar, alcohol, caffeine and highly processed foods.
  • Plan activities during that time that nourish you. Walks, yoga, reading or activities that focus on your health in other ways are all supportive of creating more wholeness and reminding you of why you’re doing this in the first place.

I’m going to be completing a healthy eating reset for 5 days from June 21-25, as we enter into that second half of the year. If you want to join me, you can go to www.mayempson.com/reset and we can do it together through a few different live calls pre, post and during to help you do it as a community.

Most importantly, it will be a time for you to learn about and experience what it feels like to eat from a place of wholeness rather than lack. Changing our relationship with food is an ongoing process, and what it can lead to is a stress-free way of eating. Can you imagine what it would feel like to eat without guilt, shame and feel good body and soul? It’s possible and you can experience it for yourself.

Some resources I shared:

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