As a follow-up to my last post, today I will discuss exactly how I learned to let go of food rules and how I became more relaxed in my approach to eating.
Those of us who have struggled with disordered eating will be familiar with the rush that comes with controlling every morsel that passes our lips, not to mention the feelings of safety and security that doing so can bring. Even if you are “recovered”, it can still be terrifying to relinquish that control. In addition, many of us feel as though our approach to food must be all or nothing and we therefore cannot mess up our macro tracking in any way.
If the thought of eating non-safe foods or straying from a meal plan gives you anxiety, it may be time to learn how to let go of controlling your nutrition. This, of course, is easier said than done, so let’s look at how I personally became more relaxed about my own food intake.
- I stopped comparing myself to others. I accepted the fact that my body is unique and I have different needs to anyone else. Constantly comparing myself to others only acted as a source of negativity, so I stopped. I also made a conscious decision to stop allowing others’ opinions of me to matter. If someone wants to judge me for having a second slice of cake, that says more about them than me.
- I understood that the worst thing that could happen is not that bad at all. Perhaps you make it through a whole day without eating a serve of protein, or you knock back 5,000 calories in one day or you don’t eat a vegetable for a week. So what? You will still wake up tomorrow. You will still have the same body, personality and brain, only perhaps having gained a new life experience. Control is often rooted in fear but, once you realise that your fears are often unwarranted and can even prevent us from having wonderful experiences, it’s easier to let go of that control.
- I realised that my body can change, just as easily as it can change back. While this idea may terrify some of you (in which case I highly recommend trying it, as we should always face our fears head on!), one of the most helpful things I did in my own recovery was to move away from a meal plan and allow myself to gain weight. I saw that, just as I could easily gain weight by eating higher calorie foods in greater quantities, I could also just as easily lose weight. It’s also important to acknowledge that even aside from obvious changes to your dietary intake, weight fluctuations are a completely normal part of life and do not change your worth as a person.
- I asked myself what I will remember in one, five or 10+ years. Eating is a huge source of pleasure for me. When I think back on my travels throughout various countries over the past five years, I often immediately remember the food. If I had instead travelled while exercising nutritional control, I would not have enjoyed so many memorable culinary experiences. I know that when I am old and grey I will be happy that I ate my way around the world, even if it meant that my body was not as “perfect” or as “shredded” as it could have been if I stuck to chicken and broccoli.
- I accepted that stressful situations are self-inflicted. Again, whenever I feel stressed about anything in life, I simply ask myself whether it will matter one year from now. Nine times out of ten, the answer is no, and I immediately relax a little. Although the source of stressful situations can often be out of our control, our reaction to such situations is perfectly manageable. Learn to breathe and remind yourself that there are more stressful things in life than worrying about what type of dressing is on your salad.
- I enjoyed the process, by exploring my taste preferences. Moving away from a meal plan will enable you to eat more mindfully. You will learn to tap into your true feelings of hunger and also have a better appreciation for eating for taste. When I first tried letting go nutritional control, I wanted to eat everything in sight. Now, I taste a little of everything and then eat what I like the most. I don’t feel the need to binge on all the “bad” foods I would have previously denied myself access to.
As far as actually implementing this goes, try asking a friend or family member to cook for you, without telling you how the meal was prepared. Try a new recipe and resist the temptation to calculate the calories. Eat in a restaurant without checking the nutritional information. Travelling to a foreign place and physically being taken out of your “safe” space can also do wonders for increasing nutritional flexibility and open-mindedness.
Allow yourself to do these things once, twice or several times a week until doing so does not cause you anxiety. Remind yourself that your worth as a person is not dictated by how closely you hit your macros, how successfully you were able to avoid “bad” foods or how many vegetables you consumed last week.
Although it may seem difficult at first, allowing yourself to eat freely will become more natural over time. And I promise that you will be better off for it.
Do you or have you ever controlled your nutritional intake? What has helped you to relax when it comes to your diet?