Stop Making What You Eat a Big Deal

Group of friends having a meal together outdoorsThere was a time in my life when I spent every waking moment thinking about food. What I was going to eat, when I was going to eat it, and how much protein I could get in per meal. To put it simply, I was obsessed. And honestly, I’d tell anyone who’d listen what plan I was on and how freaking amazing I felt doing it (spoiler alert, I didn’t actually feel amazing).

Here’s the thing though. When you make the program or plan that you’re following a big deal, it becomes THE THING you’re doing. Also, by the nature of it being a “thing” it inherently has a beginning and an end. If any of the following phrases sound familiar, read on.

“I’m eating low carb so I can lose weight.”

“We’re planning on doing keto this summer.”

“I do intermittent fasting, but I’m taking a break to enjoy vacation.”

As a health coach, I can empathize with those of you really do believe it’s a big deal. After all, you’re changing how you eat, you’re sharing your newfound wisdom with friends and family, you’re marching down the road to a better you. It’s exciting, I get it. Especially when you think you’ve found the secret weapon that will get you to your goal weight or goal-pair-of-pants.

Why You Obsess Over Food

For one reason, it’s because food is everywhere. At home, in our social media feeds, at social gatherings, weddings, funerals, you name it. It’s how we celebrate, commiserate, and treat ourselves when we’re feeling bored, happy, sad, or stressed out.

And when we decide to follow a dietary plan that has specific rules (ie 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, less than 20 grams of carbs a day), it suddenly becomes all we think about. Just imagine about how much energy is wasted planning and talking about food!


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It sounds easy, but it feels hard.

 

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Seriously, how many times have you been in a situation where you’ve proudly declared that you don’t eat bread? Or that you’re sugar-free. It’s like a badge of honor. Diet culture tells you that if you abide by a strict set of eating rules, you can be sure of three things:

  1. You belong and fit in
  2. You’re in control
  3. You’ll get validation

You’ve probably spent a lifetime getting bombarded by flawed beliefs about good health. These messages tell you that moderation isn’t meant to come easily. That food should always be judged and controlled. And that restriction is the price you’ve got to pay to prevent feeling fat, foggy, and fatigued.

How Personality Plays a Role

There’s a term called Orthorexia Nervosa that describes what happens when health-conscious folks go too far.1 According to Dr. Steven Bratman, the holistic physician who coined the phrase, it’s involves having an extreme fixation with eating the right things and avoiding the wrong things at all costs, eventually impairing your mental, social, and physical well-being.

Following any strict set of rules can put you in this category, depending on your personality. In this study of 459 college students, researchers looked at whether orthorexia nervosa could be predicted from the demographic variables of gender and BMI, as well as the personality variables of self-esteem, narcissism, and perfectionism.2

After participants completed online questionnaires about healthy eating behaviours, problems resulting from those behaviours, and positive feelings associated with those behaviours, researchers concluded that men who had a higher BMI and men and women with traits of narcissism and perfectionism where more likely to develop disordered thinking around food.

5 Ways to Make Good Health Effortless

If you’re tired of shouting from the rooftops, consider this: when you don’t feel the need to obsess about your dietary choices, you will never require permission or need to ask for forgiveness. You’ll never need a cheat day. And you’ll never fall off the wagon. Sound good to you? Here’s how you do it.

  1. Ditch the “all or nothing” mindset. If you’ve ever decided you’d start eating healthy again tomorrow because you’d already *ruined* today, you know what I’m talking about. The “all or nothing” mindset is another way perfectionism gets in the way of progress. Life isn’t black and white. It’s filled with all sorts of ups and downs and inconsistencies. So instead of feeling the need to be super strict all the time or guilty if you ate a cookie, start getting comfortable living in the grey area, because that’s where real life happens.
  2. Keep an eye on the big picture. When you’re constantly counting calories, tracking macros, and declaring your disgust for bread, it’s easy to lose sight of what you really want. Take a step back and see your situation from a different point of view. Do you want to micromanage your food at every meal? Or would you rather be out there, enjoying life, not worrying if you go a gram over your carb intake for the day? Have a little faith in yourself and in the process.
  3. Eat to support your body. If you knew how hard your body works to support you, you’d treat it like the miraculous organism it is. Having an effortless relationship with food means that when you feel hungry, you respond by eating until you’re satiated. It’s not a sign that you should hold off on your next meal because you don’t have enough macros left. Just FYI, it also doesn’t mean that you’re being unkind to your body if you eat something you’d normally deem as unhealthy.
  4. Check your belief system. Society teaches us that happiness is condition based, meaning that once we reach our goal weight, or get the right job, or the right partner, we can be happy with where we are in life. This is a limiting belief, and it is most certainly standing in your way. The stories we tell ourselves create our subconscious reality, so if you have thoughts like, “I need to do paleo so I can be thin” or “keto is the only way to lose this muffin top” or “bread is the enemy” you’re only hurting yourself. This is your friendly health coach reminder that you are enough exactly as you are. You don’t need to squeeze all the carbs out of your day or break the world’s record on fasting to prove you’re worthy of belonging.
  5. Have self-compassion. When you have a kinder outlook toward yourself, you’re in a better position to make decisions about what’s best for your body. Research shows that the more understanding you can be, you’re more motivated to eat well.3 Not only that, it often keeps you from going off the rails which can happen if you feel like you’ve failed in some way. Self-compassion (and adopting a forgiving and curious mentality) helps you eat more mindfully, so that you don’t have to put a label on what you’re doing or how you’re eating.

Is What You Eat a Big Deal?

Everywhere you look people are shouting about food. So yeah, it’s hard not to make a big deal about what you eat. But what if you traded all the obsessing, micromanaging, and feeling guilt and shame for something a little more effortless? That might be just as rewarding. Get started by following these steps:

  1. Ditch the “all or nothing” mindset
  2. Keep an eye on the big picture
  3. Eat to support your body
  4. Check your belief system
  5. Have self-compassion

Got something to add? Go ahead and share in the comments below.

About the Author

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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13 thoughts on “Stop Making What You Eat a Big Deal”

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  1. What’s more likely to happen in my experience is that I’ll order my Cesar salad with salmon or chicken without comment, remove the croutons when it arrives, then be treated to a diatribe on intuitive eating and how unhealthy it is to restrict by someone who is three beers in after telling me she’s trying to drink less. That specific incident was a colleague with a psy.d. during my last business trip in the before times but is pretty representative of every conference and business trip since orthorexia became a thing with a name.

    Yes, I really am drinking just soda water at this reception, no I don’t actually want a glass of wine, or a Bruschetta or crackers to go with my cheese. I’ve not said boo about what you’re eating or what I’m eating and your food issues don’t mean I have a problem.

    Kinda tired of it.

    1. Yes, exactly. I’m not trying to make a big deal of my eating, but the “Just one won’t hurt” folks are relentless. I’ve started saying I don’t like “X “, no further explanation I might get a weird look but Im no longer routinely subjected to lectures by pre-diabetic drunken chain smokers On the dangers of my unhealthy choices.

      1. I agree that the simple route often is “I don’t like it”. People can identify with something they don’t like and pick off/out of their food if it ends up in there. Especially with people who are “three beers” in…… ahahahahahaha.

  2. I have always eaten to support my body, although it wasn’t always a conscious choice. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who cooked everything from scratch and served a wide variety of healthful foods. That was partly out of necessity. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, and homemade food is always cheaper. I, too, cook from scratch with fresh ingredients because that’s how I prefer to eat. It has stood me and my family in good stead over the years. We are all very healthy and rarely get sick.

  3. Although I’m known in my friend and family groups as being a healthy eater, I don’t ever preach about it. When people ask for opinions or help, I give it, otherwise, I carry on my merry way and lead by quiet example. I rarely get negative comments from others, but if I do, I wear my “picky” food choices as a badge of absolute honor — I’m taking care of my body in a way that makes me feel best.

  4. I’m curious, how does this mindset apply to those of us who are using a specific diet to heal or manage illness? When what you eat can make a pretty profound difference in your wellbeing? It is a struggle to balance not falling into a weird food-obsessed mentality but also continuing to eat in a way that keeps me from being sick so much of the time. It’s kind of incredible how easily eating something “off plan” can affect how I feel the next several days, and it doesn’t feel worth it. But, is that a very unhealthy mentally to be that perfect with diet? Or, am I misunderstanding and an article like this is not meant for those of us using diet as part of a medical plan for health?

    1. I can relate to your situation and questions, Casey. I have found that the healthiest approach to eating when it seems I have uncomfortable/painful reactions to specific foods, is to make everything that I CAN tolerate very tasty and attractive, and keeping a positive attitude about my body’s ability to heal and slowly accept any desirable foods I want to re-introduce. In other words, absolutely no negative self-talk about my body’s sensations/condition (aka “sickness”), and no taboo-talk about or demonizing any foods I intend to add back in when I’m ready. My kind, patient attitude about my body and the food I eat is just as important as nutrient profile, and critical for healing any condition.

    2. I was thinking the same thing, Casey. Many of us eat the way we do because we recognize our skin issues, gut issues, energy levels, productivity, mood, and so much more, are all closely tied to our food choices. And given how addictive many “not allowed” foods are, for many of us, “moderation” is not an option. I hate the term orthorexia. It ignores the reality of the insanity of our food environment. “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly unhealthy society.”

    3. I think the key takeaway here is that different people are different. What I interpreted of Mark’s message is that your way of eating is personal to you and should be. Self-righteous preaching to others about how they should eat is not healthy, either on the giving or the receiving end. Eating in a way that works for you is the goal, and it doesn’t matter if it works for anyone else. As to addressing a health condition with diet, I imagine Mark would be the first to say you should adhere strictly to the rules that keep you in your optimal state of health, AND to be mindful of your mental attitude about that. Again, if you are dogmatic, punitive, or sanctimonious about it, that can be emotionally harmful. Especially if your body needs a little extra love and attention to be healthy, gentleness is key.

  5. Great post Erin! I’ve found the less said, the better. When I’m out and about, I order what I want to eat and enjoy it. I don’t make any announcements about it and don’t really like to give myself a label. And I never comment on anyone else’s choices. As a result, I rarely get critical comments, just legitimate questions that I am happy to answer.

  6. Thanks for posting useful information about food. Content describes what content one must eat and avoid others. It’s important to understand one’s lifestyle before making decision on diet. Eagerly waiting for future posts.

  7. This is good, although you also can’t be so lax that you keep making exceptions for junky low-nutrient inflammatory foods or forget specific needed foods and supplements.

    Doing that cost us thousands of dollars in dental bills for our kids who were getting too many treats and kept forgetting to take their supplements every day.

  8. I’m a devout believer in my “”lazy primal” lifestyle. I’m very intentional about my food choices with a goal of eating primally at least 80% of the time, and really not sweating the occasional cupcake or dinner roll. I find that when I eat the right stuff, I tend to want the right stuff. So it becomes a virtuous cycle for me the more I eat well, and after awhile I don’t miss the stuff I left behind. AND, I’m just over the drama of it. I don’t care what anybody else is eating and I don’t care what they think about what I’m eating. Once I gave myself permission to have dessert if I wanted dessert, I stopped wanting it 90% of the time. Eating ought to be a joyful sensory experience, not an ordeal of self flagellation over every gram of whatever.