Friday, February 6, 2009

Reframing the Relationship

The fear of food, or more specifically, the fear of what people believe food can do to them, underlies many eating problems.

In general Americans have been educated about healthful eating through weight loss diets. Discussions of healthful eating are commonly about how to consume the fewest calories possible, how to cut out fat to minimize calorie intake, whether carbohydrates are "fattening" or not, and offers little real help in guiding people in the quest to eat healthy.

Even food advertisements and professionals admonish Americans to "eat right." Most people have to some degree developed food fears, fear of certain foods because of what those foods might do to them. Yet these same foods are often the foods they think they enjoy most because of their rich tastes and textures.

The notion that higher-fat, higher-sugar, higher-calorie food cannot be a part of healthful eating frequently underlies disordered eating in many people. It creates another type of food fear - when thinking one cannot stop eating a certain food. In reality these thoughts draw them to the food. Deprivation will make a person feel overly attracted to the foods they believe they should not be eating. In reality it just makes them think about it more.

Reframing one's relationship with food will require one to alter the way they think about food.

The impact of labeling:
When a food is labeled they know what to expect from it.
For example: If a food is labeled "good", they can expect to feel good after eating it. If a food is labeled bad, they will most likely feel bad. If they don't feel physically bad, they will say things that make them feel bad confirming the "badness" of the food.
These thoughts shut down the natural exploration, discovery, and natural feedback process. The natural process looks like this:
"Hmmm, eating a piece of cake when I am really hungry at 3:00 in the afternoon makes me feel shaky and almost nauseated. In addition, I feel as if I don't have any more energy. I don't like this feeling. Next time, I'll have a smaller piece of cake and I will save room at lunch so that I can have it then. If I am hungry at 3:00, something like crackers and cheese will probably feel better." Notice no judgemental statements.
and it can look like this too:
You are at a dinner party and not paying attention to how much you have ate. You realize that you are uncomfortably full. Thoughts, "wow, I am really uncomfortable, next time I remember to check in more closely. For right now I am going to move around and mingle to get my mind off this belly ache until it subsides." Later, "Okay, I almost always eat when I am hungry and quit when satisfied. Because I more than I really needed at the moment, it will take a bit longer for me to get hungry again. If I wait until I am hungry again, my body will balance this out."

Supportive versus Non supportive Eating
For some people a dichotomous view of food might be helpful. For disordered eaters it is not that simple. Labeling a food as bad is a short step from labeling eating it is being wrong. A person can easily begin to believe that they are bad if they eat foods that they have labeled as bad for them. This can lead to feelings of shame and self-loathing, which can spill over to all areas of life that result in punishing attitudes and behaviors that do not support health and well-being.
One step in reframing the relationship with food is to eliminate these words from discussions of food, eating, and weight. When determining whether food is supportive or non supportive, one must always look at the food in the context of the situation in which it is eaten.

Consuming Supportive Food Usually:
Contributes to physical health
Contributes to emotional health
Is not associated with a diet mentality
Meets individual needs
Does not involve trying to change body size
Leaves one feeling satisfied

Consuming Non supportive Food Frequently:
Detracts from physical and emotional health
Associated with diet mentality
Is a burdensome activity
Involves food which are "supposed" to be eaten
Associated with trying to change the body
Involves fear, anxiety and guilt
Perpetuates a deprivation mindset
Is not satisfying and results in looking for more satisfying food

Additional Interventions

Start working on giving your self permission to eat all foods at any time, in any amount, regardless of their nutritional profile.
Over time you will lose interest in the "forbidden" foods and no longer eat it out of feelings of deprivation. This can be accomplish with food bags, in which you carry around with you food that was previously craved but felt you could not have.

Educate you self about the role all food can play in healthful eating and incoporate all types of food you enjoy into your meals and snacks.
Healthful eating involves meeting nutritional needs as well as those of pleasure.

Learn attunded eating behaviors, especially with food that were once forbidden.
Availiblity of food impacts frequency of consumption. If a favorite food is always on hand, it is normal for it to be eaten more often than if it is enjoyed occasionally. This means that it is not lack of willpower or moral make-up. Instead, it's just a normal choice that many people face, particularly in an environment where food is plentifully available. Any potential impact would be on health not weight.

So, if you are not dieting and if all food is okay, how do you know what and how much to eat?
To be continued...

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