How is your relationship with food?

By Lisa Brant | 21st June 2016
A photo of various fruits and vegetables with common words associated with healthy eating carved into the produce.

Everyone has a different relationship with food, and it can change over time. For some guests coming to La Crisalida is the first time they have experienced eating plant-based foods and it can prompt people to question what they eat and how it makes them feel. In this article, Lisa shares her story about her changing relationship with food and, with a nutritional background, gives some personal thoughts or ideas for you to consider about your own relationship with food.

A personal story

When I, Lisa, first started changing my diet I became almost fanatical. I wanted to exclude dairy products, wheat and gluten, it had to be organic, no coffee, no alcohol (for a while!), but did not really make time to come up with alternatives. It made meeting up with friends really difficult and each meal time was something I started to dread. I went from loving food of all types, to really not looking forward to meal times, as I kept saying “I should not eat that” or “I must not eat that”. Looking on the internet, I kept reading conflicting research about everything – was fruit good or bad? Did I need to do a candida cleanse (and cut more things out)? What was causing my low energy? Is soya good or evil? Each new way of eating seemed to offer the promise that I would feel better, experience less pain and so on, but it meant that I “should not” yet eat another item. I lost all enjoyment of food and the stress kept increasing. Over time I have learned to find balance, although it is still difficult when travelling or amongst some people who just don’t understand (or are not open to it!). In this article, I share some of the things I have learned and hope that they might help you to explore your relationship with food, so that you can find balance and acceptance in yourself in relation to food.

Clues for investigating your relationship with food….

1. Food Cravings

Do you crave foods on an evening? Sometimes our bodies can crave things because it is lacking in vitamins and/or minerals. For example, once I had a strong craving for cabbage. Weird I know, but I listened, ate some cabbage (green savoy, yum) and felt great. This is a journey to listen to the messages that your body send to you, and differentiate between wanting a food item that your body needs nutritionally, and something that your body is addicted to.

Typical food addictions include cravings for salt, sugar or fat. Salt cravings at the end of the day might be a sign that your adrenal system is quite worn out, maybe due to chronic stress. Sometimes we “crave” salt due to habitual eating of it. For more about salt, read our article here.

Cravings for sugary items can sometimes indicate an imbalance, or maybe an overgrowth of candida (particularly if you feel tired a lot). Cutting down on sugars and starchy foods (maybe following an exclusion diet for a while) might help to see if this is what is happening for you.

Naturally occurring unsaturated fats are generally good for your body – you can find these in things like avocado, nuts and olive oil. However, watch out as our bodies can crave the instant ‘hit’ provided by processed and saturated fats (read more about fats here).

2. What’s your “go to” food?

The phrase “go-to” food, is a way of asking: “What is your default food that you would choose as a routine?”. For example, if you are out, maybe travelling, what would be the food you would choose and know that you can always find?

We had a guest recently, who was vegan, and said that whilst travelling her “go-to” food was a salad. Another guest, a vegetarian with intolerances to onion and garlic, said her “go-to” food was chips. Another vegan guest said that there is always vegetables on every menu, so sometimes it means having a few side dishes instead of one main dish. The food type that we routinely reach for, whilst travelling, or in times of stress, can provide some clues to our relationship with food, and consequently our relationship with our bodies and our health.

3. Snacking

Sometimes we all need a little snack. What do you routinely choose? When I worked in an office, there was often lots of cakes and biscuits around to “celebrate” someone´s birthday and it was always these items that I reached for. It became a habit. If you wish to change what you are eating, it will need some planning, at least at the start! Nuts, seeds and dried fruit can give you energy and are a healthier alternative to cakes or biscuits. Buy in bulk at the weekend and make into snack size bags. Dips (like hummus) with carrot sticks or celery are tasty and low calorie! You could make a batch at home (see our hummus recipe) and then take a portion each day – it will last in a sealed container in the fridge for 3 days. An apple is always easily carried and is such a healthy snack… “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”!

4. Eating out

If you wish to make changes to your diet, for example to eat more greens or less meat, then think ahead if you are going out to meet friends at a café or restaurant. Pick a venue that you know will offer something that you can choose and be happy with. Indian restaurants tend to offer plenty of vegetable dishes. For lighter meals, find the cafes that offer meals that suit you. When we were in London recently I was so impressed with the number of places offering vegetable soups, vegan food and lots of wholefood options. So, next time you are out, take a few moments to look at a different place on the menu, or different shelf in the café!

5. Emotional (or hormonal) eating – stress and comfort eating

“I need chocolate” can be a phrase on many women´s lips (and men too!). The next time you want to devour a whole bar of Dairy Milk (or your other favourite chocolate bar or sweet), ice-cream, or reach for a packet of crisps, check in with yourself. Stop and breathe for a moment and allow yourself to notice if an emotion is present – anger, frustration, bitterness, sadness, happiness. Sometimes we associate certain foods with good feelings (often this is an unconscious pattern) so reach for those items at times of stress or upset, in the hope that we will feel better. (Click here for our article on foods to balance emotions).

If you do notice that your cravings or food habits change in line with your hormones, you can find balance through what you eat (read our article here).

I know when I felt stressed, I reached out for particular foods (usually savoury snacks as they were my preference) as I looked to bring a feeling of comfort and relaxation to my body – this was a movement away from the stress that my body was under. Eating can help to slow us down and, you might notice, it makes us breathe. The feeling of relaxation and peace is therefore more likely to come when we breathe, rather than the food item itself. So, next time you feel stressed and want to eat a snack, stop and breathe instead. Take lots of deep tummy breaths (as this activates your body´s relaxation response). If you genuinely feel hunger, then eat, but maybe the breathing will be enough to relax you. Bring mindfulness to your eating – read our earlier article here .

6. “Coffee” break (or cigarette breaks)

There is medical research that shows that some women choose to continue to smoke, not because they like the smoking itself, but because for them it’s a five minute break – some time on their own away from children, husbands, bosses or life. Personally we know that having a “coffee break” is about time away from the desk or phone. So, if you do want to drink less coffee (or smoke less) think about how you can carve out some time for yourself in a restful or different environment. If you still want to visit the café then swap to decaff, herbal teas or water.

Final thoughts for creating a healthy relationship with food…

Create healthy food habits with your children

Food is often given as a “treat” or a reward. Many times these are of a sweet nature (chocolate, ice-cream) and given when a child has been particularly good. Consider changing the language around “treats” or ice-cream. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion or a reward. They can have ice-cream just for having it or because it’s a Monday! Make a reward something else – time with mummy or daddy reading, playing, visiting or something else that is special.

Give yourself a break
Most of all, give yourself a break – stop with rules and “must do this” or “must not do that”. Stop beating yourself up if you “slipup” or stray. Food is an important part of our lives, so if you feel stressed or worried about what you are eating, maybe now is the time to relax a little and find balance.

May you find balance, peace and health in your relationship with food!

Headshot of Lisa Brant - Founder of La Crisalida Retreats
Lisa Brant

Lisa has been working in the field of health for over twenty years, first as an epidemiologist and now following a more alternative route! She is a therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa is a nutritionist so designs all our menus, as well as running the retreats. She is also qualified in NLP and hypnosis. Over the years Lisa has overcome her own health challenges with severe endometriosis and is happy to share her story.

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