What does food mean to you?
If I had asked myself this question two years ago, I would have said food is something that controls me. Something that I feel the constant burden of guilt about.
Now things are different. Now food to me is a pleasure in my life. It’s my energy system, it makes me feel good about myself.
The more progress you make in your Weight Mastery journey, the more positive you start to feel about food. We know that 80% of the reason for our weight is because of the food we eat. So it makes sense that 80% of Weight Mastery is food related.
We cannot get away from the fact that food and eating is an emotional business. It is also the foundation for many of the problems we face globally as human beings. In Western society, food is woven into our culture as a coping mechanism and a reward system, romanticised and monetised for capitalist benefit. This stems from our natural creativeness – the ability to turn something which is, in its simplest form, fuel, into a marketable product. And this creativeness is no bad thing, until it is abused.
The marketing of food is seen everywhere, every day. It compounds the idea of food as reward, and normalises the idea of overeating by branding it as an ‘indulgence’. We even see overeating used in competition – the extreme of this being eating contests, the everyday being the all-you-can-eat buffet. On the other side of the fence, ‘healthy’ food is commercialised, with brands such as Slim Fast or more recently Lighter Life using emotional plays to convince us of the health benefits of their ‘miracle’ weight loss products.
How can we cut through the noise and find a sustainable solution?
One of the first mistakes people tend to make is to move from one extreme (eating emotionally or without consideration) to the other - deciding that food really is ‘just body fuel’ and embarking on a diet plan that removes all of the pleasure from eating. This technique relies on willpower, and unfortunately willpower is finite. The result almost always is that people lose a bit of weight in this way, which makes them feel good, but they are so incredibly miserable that they slip back into their old habits as their willpower diminishes. The outcome of this is that nothing is gained (except their old weight and possibly more!), nothing is learnt and motivation disappears completely.
We must not forget that we are not robots, we are human beings. Pleasure is part of what makes us so – it is the essence of humanity. Treating food as ‘just body fuel’ is like treating sex as ‘just reproduction’. If we don’t embrace enjoyment, we don’t truly live. The good news is, we CAN lose weight and enjoy food - it just takes a little thought and effort.
The barriers we face
Barriers that we face include societal norms and personal relationships. Have you ever been on a diet before and been coerced into breaking the rules? ‘Go on, just have one drink, it won’t kill you!’, ‘But it’s my birthday, surely you will have some cake?’. This kind of peer pressure is really, really difficult to deal with. It leads to guilt and feelings of being abnormal, and it also plays to our rebellious nature.
In order to overcome these barriers, we need to prepare for them. We need to have some stock answers to avoid succumbing to peer pressure. We need to help our family and friends understand our choices and ask for their support. And we need to be flexible with our approach to enable us to live a little and not become overwhelmed with guilt if we do occasionally stray from our nutritional approach.
We also need to arm ourselves with knowledge. There is no point embarking on a new way of eating if we do not fully understand the reasons why some things enable our Weight Mastery and why some things hamper it. This takes time and effort, and true commitment.
Once we have our back up plans and an understanding of our new eating plan, we need to consider habits. We need to understand what our habits are now to help us form new, better habits. One way of achieving this is to create a food diary for 1 week, writing down everything we eat and drink and when. This way we will be able to find patterns, for example you might tend to eat and drink more at weekends. This enables us to pinpoint our weak spots, and come up with new, better options. If you are in the habit of eating a full cooked breakfast on a Saturday, your new habit could be to swap this for poached eggs and smoked salmon – still a delicious, fulfilling treat, but nowhere near as calorific.
Finding the right path
There are a couple of things for us to watch out for. The first of these is obsession. There is absolutely no benefit in obsessing about food. Granted, when you first embark on a change in your eating habits, it is good to be fully mindful of what you are eating and when you are eating it. But over time, this new way of living should become the norm - part of your everyday existence. Counting calories should be a tactical activity – one that helps you learn. Not a long term strategy for weight management.
Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure - Andy Grove
The second thing to watch out for sits at the other end of the scale to obsession, and that is complacency. Weight Mastery is a journey that never ends – we must always strive for improvement to remain at the top of our game. Creating regular check points is one way to avoid this. For example, weighing yourself on the same day at the same time every week has some highly beneficial effects. Firstly, it enables awareness of your progress, and allows you to rethink your strategy if things aren’t working out. Secondly, it creates a sub-conscious ‘hand-break’ – you know that you are going to have to face the scales in a few days, and you don’t want to let yourself down, so you continue to be mindful of what you eat at all times.
Why should we change our approach?
So what is our reward if we can conquer these obstacles and truly start to master our weight? Our energy and fitness levels are likely to increase if we provide our body with the right nutrients. We start to feel comfortable in our own skin, renewing our sense of self-worth. We will also find a love for foods we never thought we would before. For me, I’m totally obsessed with cauliflower pizza – regular pizza just makes me feel bloated, sick and tired now! Finally, we find a new sense of self control – an absolute belief that we are in charge of our own destiny. There is no more powerful feeling than this.
This website is dedicated to helping people like you to master their weight for good. We can’t do it for you, but we can offer you the tools you need and support through the difficult times. Have a look in our archive for more articles that focus on nutrition, fitness, preparation and mindset for Weight Mastery.
What was your answer to the question ‘What does food mean to you?’? What would you like your answer to be in the future? Let us know in the comments below!