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How to trust yourself with food

Posted December 14, 2016

Our minds have evolved to a place where they naturally and biologically seek to judge, assess and compare. That’s all right and good, and serves a really important purpose for keeping us safe and aware. However, not all thoughts we have are truth, but it’s easy for us to accept them as such. In fact, some thoughts can keep us stuck and afraid, which is often what I find when working with individuals who are hoping to overcome eating challenges.

We carry around a lot of judgments about food. We collect them over the years from our parents, friends, family members, co-workers and diet plans. Once we internalize those messages, they are really hard to get rid of. This is especially true when we choose to hang on to them because we think we should. While you might think that a critical mindset is keeping you safe, it’s really just making you miserable (and probably emotionally and physically exhausted too).

A really common limiting belief sounds a lot like “I can’t trust myself around food.” We collect piles of negative food experiences as proof that we can’t trust ourselves. Therefore it can be hard to move straight from food anxieties to food confidence. A more realistic goal is to view the situation more neutrally. Food isn’t necessarily good or bad, and you may or may not be able to trust yourself. Essentially, practice not hanging on too hard to any one belief. Open yourself up to the possibility that there’s more to the story. Not assigning so much judgment to your eating experiences will allow for more neutral (and eventually positive) experiences to build a more nuanced reality.

Additionally, the goal isn’t to see all food as nutritionally equal. Obviously an apple will have a different nutritional composition than apple pie. We can still use logic and reason and draw conclusions without being judgmental. But the goal is to have the same emotional reaction no matter what we eat. You aren’t patting yourself on the back for eating the apple and hitting yourself over the head for eating the apple pie. While you might assume that congratulating yourself for making “healthy” choices is motivating and helpful, it only further encourages a judgmental stance that feeds the all-or-nothing mindset (and disordered eating).

In my experience, the natural progression in making peace with food looks like:

Judgment to neutrality to curiosity

Practicing a more neutral approach acts as a bridge to curiosity. Often clients assume that I want them to be curious about nutrition information, and that’s not the point at all. Instead, being curious about your eating experiences allows you to collect data about what you find satisfying, energizing and nourishing. I know you’ll come to find that there are a wide variety of foods that help you feel those things and will not always be so-called “healthy foods.”

The most effective way to stay curious is to be present and connected to what’s right in front of you. If you are making food decisions based on what you ate yesterday or what you are eating later, or what a diet or other people tell you to do, you’ll start into a lot of “shoulds” that prevent you from making wise decisions for right now. These experiences are what build more confidence with food, cultivating the belief that you can trust yourself, that all foods do fit, and that you don't have to overthink.

But remember, before curiosity likely comes neutrality. Meet yourself where you are and embrace the process wholeheartedly. I’m sure you will find more peace, resiliency and trust with yourself as you open your mind to new possibilities.

Emily Fonnesbeck is a Registered Dietitian and president of Emily Fonnesbeck Nutrition Consulting. Her nutrition passion lies in helping people make peace with food. EMAIL: emily@emilyfonnesbeck.com

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