I truly believe that healing ones relationship with food starts with understanding your emotions. I think I have always known this, and for many years as a dietician I just ignored this really big area of my clients lives. I suppose it’s easier to be a dietician that just focuses on food. It’s a formula and once you know the formula, you just regurgitate it depending on the client's nutritional status. Asking them about life, relationships and their childhood takes a lot more effort.
So when I look at how I have grown as a dietician, I attribute it to the self-development work that I have done on myself (after a few tough years). Through this work I realized that my eating was almost directly related to my feelings. If I felt powerful and stable, I found it so easy to nourish and love my body. But as soon as I felt overwhelmed, anxious or angry, nourishing my body became slightly harder. I began to justify why I deserved that Tempo at the garage shop on a Monday afternoon, “You deserve it Kelly, you going through a tough time.”
So one day I sat and decided to figure out what emotions were actually the ones that I had attached to food – and perhaps then I could get a grip of them when they reared their heads. I always laugh when I tell my clients what this exercise revealed. I realized that happiness and anxiety were the two emotions that I associated the most with food. Happiness was related to reward eating. When I am super happy about something I immediately think, “Yes, lets celebrate!” and that celebrating entails food or champagne of course. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you are rewarding yourself everyday – because you are so happy, being optimally healthy might be a little out of your reach.
I then also realized that when I was anxious, I needed to self soothe with food. Food was a ‘blankie’ for me. I would be stressed about a talk I had to give, and justify the Woolies scone and cappuccino the morning of the talk. I found comfort in the scone and the ritual of going to the store and having that scone. And obviously my mind would once again say, ‘”You definitely deserve it!”
Now I say all of this in the plight to help women improve their relationships with their bodies. I don’t beat myself up about being an emotional eater, I have just empowered myself in figuring out what emotions are attached to food for me – and now through this awareness I allow myself to have more time to decide whether I am actually going to eat that Tempo or not. Am I happy for anxiety to be the reason I eat a Tempo at 2pm on a Monday afternoon? If I am ok with that, then I eat it. If I realize that I am actually not that anxious and I actually don’t need the Tempo, then I don’t. But I am AWARE of this link and where it comes from and that gives me power.
I suppose this awareness is just giving me a little bit of time, to stop and check in with my body. Rather than letting my emotions just win every time!
It is literally the power to choose. The power to choose whether I am OK with the emotion deciding what I put into my mouth, or not. And that really is the essence of what my work with emotional eating has done. It has given me power to choose! And I try and choose to nourish my body more often than not. But sometimes I also say, OK happiness let's celebrate, and I have that glass or two of champagne. But I decided that - not happiness!