There 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.”
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!
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:
You belong and fit in
You’re in control
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Ditch the “all or nothing” mindset
Keep an eye on the big picture
Eat to support your body
Check your belief system
Got something to add? Go ahead and share in the comments below.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.