Relationship with Food Series Part 2: Riding our Bikes Through our Food Stories
I’m so excited to bring you part 2 of our relationship with food series. Last week we talked about getting started on this journey by digging in deep, and noticing where were are when it comes to our relationship with food. I shared what really changed when I decided to look into these issues, and I talked about how every year this is a process of self discovery in which I get to see different sides to it and I continue to heal and make peace with food.
Today’s topic will be a bit shorter than last week’s because most of the work is going to be done by you, at home. Yes, there will be a bit of homework for you, as we’ll probably have in most of the episodes and posts in this series.
One fun little fact about the topic at hand today is that my whole process of healing my relationship with food began with looking into my food stories to share them with you. It was all in an old blog I used to have, and sadly I hadn’t realized (and wouldn’t realize for a while), that those stories were going to mark the beginning of a journey for me.
In fact when I dug into these stories the first time, I could only see the instances in which I was overeating, emotionally eating, sometimes bingeing, and was looking through them as a way to find how on Earth I was going to restrict and eliminate those behaviors through weight loss attempts. I had not yet seen what I told you about last week, that my stories of restricting foods and dieting had been the source of the problem, yet I had ignored them and focused on what I thought the “bad” habits with food were. I hadn’t seen what I know now, that my past history with dieting and restriction had been the cause, not the aftermath of so many of my issues with food. Back then I also hadn’t seen how my stories with body image and feelings toward my body had in many cases preceded my efforts to diet and restrict.
This is why looking at our stories with food and body image, exercise, dieting, emotional eating, etc., are so important when it comes to healing our relationship with food. It’s why today I’m going to ask you to get on a bike and ride next to your food stories and see what you discover.
Why a Bike?
When I was writing and filming our online course The Roadmap, I kept using a road as a metaphor. I kept looking and looking for images of roads. Roads with cars, abandoned roads in a forest, roads going under mountains, roads swivelling around them. One photo caught my eye and it showed a winding road and the view from a bicycle, in which you could clearly see another road close by. This is exactly the exercise I want us to do today.
Whenever we’re approaching any exercise that will lead to more self knowledge, and especially when we want to learn from our past history with food but don’t want to be caught in the shame game, or in feeling guilty, or in thinking we have to measure regrets, it’s so important to keep a little distance while we observe.
I’ve mentioned many times before that the therapy that completely turned things around in my life was EMDR therapy. I won’t get into all of the details of what it entails, but I will share a perspective that will help us in our little exploration exercise today. In EMDR therapy you go to moments of the past that need healing or recovery from trauma by visualizing the scene (with the guidance of a qualified therapist of course) almost as if you were seeing it on a TV screen, making sure you’re still very much grounded in the present moment, in which you’re safe and ok. Once my therapist gave me another analogy that was even easier to bring to mind, and it was to visualize the moments we were working on as if your were watching the view from a train. This type of therapy was a Godsend to me and it completely changed my life, and you can learn all about it here and find EMDR licensed therapists here, but today I want you to picture anything that comes up when we’re looking through our stories with food, and watch them from that beautiful winding road, on your bike, looking to those roads that come near and sometimes even intersect, but always from the knowledge and safety that you are steady on your bike, learning and taking in the view, as well as always moving forward.
To me, throughout my process of dealing with my emotional eating, mindless eating, restricting, etc., it was so important to never apply a judging eye as I was working through these issues. It was more like a “what can I learn from this moment? What did I learn from past moments? How can it help me in future moments” kind of process. Then I would metaphorically get home, put my bike down against the fence and carry on with my day knowing that this was a process that was going to take some time, and lots of adventures on my bike the next day, while I continued to learn from my own stories from a safe distance.
Why a No-Judgement/ No-Feeling-Guilty Policy is Important
In my experience, there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect resolution with our food and body issues after which your mind has changed forever and there’s no turning back. It is in fact all a journey and as part of a journey things will ebb and flow. It takes some time to learn that in the process of improving our relationship with food there are really no mistakes but just experiences we can learn from, and by a better relationship with food I mean that you are able to rely on your own inner wisdom and your own body’s cues to make food choices instead of relying on external control or self control, and simply finding peace with food.
When you see your own journey from a distance, close enough that you can explore, but not as close that you’ll feel any heaviness or any guilt or shame still attached, it becomes so much easier to simply observe. To observe your own stories and moments with food and see where certain beliefs about you and food, you and your body or you and weight started to take root.
It’s those beliefs that we can now challenge from a place of presence, with all the tools we’ve gathered and learned from, so that each of those shameful voices, or guilt-ridden voices can subside, and food can go back to being simple again. It can go back to being about nourishment AND pleasure, as well as something you can do with full presence, awareness and enjoyment, and then also let go of, to pursue all of the other thrilling and joyful things you have going on in your life.
A Little of What I’ve Discovered
I’ve ridden my bike multiple times through my food stories, and as we discussed last week, I learn something new about them every year.
I’ve learned as much from the moments in which I felt I was powerless over food and went down an overeating and bingeing or emotional eating spiral, but I learned even more from the times I would restrict and try to immerse my eating in a sea of rules and regulations. It was these that made the biggest damage in my relationship with food, but I of course learned from all of them.
By riding my bike through my food stories I was able to see where I first developed that strong emotional connection with food, it was the first time that due to my mother’s illness and a prolonged case of the chicken pox for me, we had to be separated (as in live in different houses kind of separated). My nanny who stayed in my house with me while my mom went to live with a friend, started giving me food as a treat whenever I was sad. I was then able to see that when I turn to food as a coping mechanism it’s usually because I’m feeling stress, anxiety, or because I’m feeling lonely or nervous about something. I can then know exactly what I actually need to cope: doing something fun with a friend, calling a friend, reading a book to take my mind off things, watching a good movie, journaling about what’s going on, etc.
By riding my bike through my food stories I was able to pinpoint the exact moment in which I heard that the way we look is somehow linked to the way we eat, and the first time I heard fat phobic comments that made me feel weight gain had to be avoided at all cost. These were usually the moments in which I felt the need to diet and restrict to correct anything I thought needed correcting. When I have triggers that remind me of this now, I remember that it is much more important to have self love (not self hate or self control) as a starting point whenever we’re looking at our relationship with food or our body image. This meant that I could remind myself to be present at meals, to tune into my hunger and fullness signals, to see if anything else was going on in my life where I needed comfort with something other than food. It also meant I could remind myself that food is also meant to be fun, to be enjoyed and celebrated. It also meant I could remind myself that it was normal for my body to change through time. It also meant I could spend a little time within myself, trying to heal anything I was feeling as inadequate, and focus on being myself, with all that comes with it. I would put weight loss efforts and worries on the back burner and focus on all those self care behaviors and all the tools I have when it comes to improving my relationship with my body and food.
By riding my bike through my food stories I could see instances in which I was having a bad body image day, and almost always see that these moments of extra focus on the way my body looked, were usually accompanied with situations in my life in which I felt slightly scared or out of control, or in which I needed to heal something internally. There was almost always something else that was going on and needed my attention and some self-soothing, but that was making my mind focus on weight and my body because that somehow gave me a false sense of control. I would then realize that I could go into what really needed my attention, and simply refocus on presence with food, and being in tune with my body from a point of self care, not of control or restriction, and then let the pieces slowly find their place of balance.
By riding my bike through my food stories I would remember the first time diet obsession took ahold of me. How there were many other things I needed comfort for and yet I isolated myself, focusing on my body as a project, or on food control and rigidity as a project, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the tough cards I was being dealt. I could now be that adult and caring person my fearful self needed, and almost go back and comfort myself, getting reassurance that things would be ok and that it was alright to be afraid, that I wasn’t alone and that I just needed to ride the crisis out, feeling my feelings, letting them come up for air so I could let them go. I would see, looking back, how restriction and dieting and the subsequent overeating only gave me a false sense of control, and it only harmed the way I related to food, preventing me from finding peace and balance with it and the moment of eating.
It’s so important to remember the past (plus a little homework)
I love this exercise because it helps us remember our past with food, the origin of certain coping behaviors, the origin of our emotional eating, and it helps us see some of the patterns we have with food. It’s especially important though, because so many of these patterns stem from childhood needs or even adult needs that weren’t met, and we can go back and even picture us holding our inner child’s hand, truly giving him or her the attention or care they truly needed.
This week as we continue on this journey of awareness when it comes to our relationship with food, I want you to look for those pivotal moments with food and write about them. You can do this on your computer, in a journal, on a piece of paper.
Useful moments to look for are:
Moments of celebration with food.
Moments of people giving or taking away food as reward or punishment.
Moments in which we were asked to clean or plates or when a remark about our food intake was made.
Moments in which we started becoming aware of our bodies and the relationship between eating, exercise and weight. Moments in which we felt comfort in the controlling of food and what happened.
The first time we went on a diet.
The first time we felt shamed for our body, our food choices or activity levels.
The first time we felt alienated or different from family members because our bodies were different or because we wanted to eat in a different way from the rest of our family.
The first time others made a comment about our bodies and how it affected our eating habits afterwards.
What we use to cope in moments of stress, anxiety, overworking, separation from loved ones, grief, boredom, loneliness, etc.
In this writing exercise we’re not meant to judge or feel guilty about what we find. We’re meant to go back to those memories to look for what we truly needed, and even visualize our current-and-more-aware-self offering that to our past-self. Remember it’s not about getting attached or placing blame, you’re just riding a bike through these roads, observing and learning from what you see, noticing you’re now on firm ground, trying to learn about your issues with food from a safe place, and from a bike that is still moving forward peacefully and calmly.
If you want to go even deeper into this exploration, the Intuitive Eating Workbook will guide your through this entire process and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Doing this little homework will help us so much throughout this series in which we’re simply exploring our relationship with food and finding the tools and resources that can help us find peace with food without relying on external rules or control. We’ll have more for you next week!