Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Are you someone who truly desires to get healthy, to eat better, to exercise more, but you just can’t seem to stay consistent? Let’s face it, willpower will only take you so far. That’s why it’s important to look at our mindset behind behavior change.
If you need help with weight management or disordered eating, click here
Do You Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?
Are you someone who truly desires to get healthy, to eat better, to exercise more, but you just can’t seem to stay consistent? Maybe you’ve tried different diets or exercise programs, and you’re successful in the short term. However, old habits slowly creep back in or the program simply was not sustainable long-term. Let’s face it, willpower will only take you so far.
That’s why it’s important to look at our mindset behind behavior change. We must address the psychological and emotional component of health. We often hear the term “addiction” regarding foods like caffeine, alcohol and sugar. While these foods are addictive substances, true addiction is not the issue for everyone.
We must distinguish between an addiction issue and a dependence issue. In terms of caffeine, when a person consumes caffeine regularly and has difficultly stopping caffeine consumption, that is usually a dependence issue. This is a physiological dependence that your body has. When you take away the caffeine, you experience physiological withdrawal symptoms, and these are limited to a very small range of time.
Typically symptoms may last 2 weeks to 30 days. When you get through that period of time without caffeine, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms go away. The same thing happens with sugar. If you feed your body loads of sugar daily, then you will develop a physiological dependence on sugar. When you remove the sugar, you feel like crap and your cravings are super intense. Once you get through that period, your symptoms go away, you feel good, and you don’t depend on that substance anymore.
An addiction is different than dependence. When someone is addicted to sugar or another food, they can get through that withdrawal phase, but they are still craving the food. They are being called psychologically to that food. It becomes a mind issue.
So, you must first figure out if your relationship with food is a physiological dependence or a psychological addiction. If it’s just a dependence, that’s pretty easy. Willpower works for dependence issues. You can power your way through 2 weeks to overcome a sugar dependence. But you can’t power your way through long-term to end a sugar addiction. Willpower is okay and helpful short-term. However, long-term it becomes a manipulator and leads to binging.
You must ask yourself some key questions and answer them honestly. What does food represent in your life? Are you using food for fuel and nourishment? A healthy relationship with food is when you eat to nourish and fuel your body. However, you are not overly strict and restrictive. You have some fun. You allow for flexibility. You indulge sometimes, and you don’t think of it as cheating.
An unhealthy relationship with food is when you use food primarily for comfort, for filling a void in your life. You make choices regarding food for completely different reasons than someone who has a healthy relationship with food. You make food choices that go against your health goals. You know the right choice to make, but you choose the opposite.
The actual food or drug is not the issue. There’s an internal issue that must be addressed.
Moderation is not a tool, it’s an ability. Trying to moderate your consumption of a food doesn’t work. You must do the internal work first that gives you the ability to moderate. You must first repair your relationship with food before you can effectively moderate your consumption.
Willpower tries to crush cravings while moderation simply manages cravings so they don’t get out of control. It’s much more sustainable.
Food cravings are superficial. There’s always a deeper underlying craving that we try to satisfy with comfort food. The real craving may be things like healthy relationships, a fulfilling job, love, connection, excitement, or adventure. When these cravings are unfulfilled, it creates a large amount of stress that many people try to remedy with comfort food.
Food, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine are not the real problem. You must identify the core problem and work to resolve it. As you become happier in life, you start to love your life more, love your body more, and desire to nourish your body in a healthy way.
There are biological, psychological, and social issues that can manipulate your behavior. A biological issue may be how gut issues can lead to cravings, nutrient deficiencies, and other problems that can manipulate your behavior.
A psychological manipulator may be perfectionism. You set out with your “diet” plan, and you try to be as perfect as you can. If you make a mistake, you fill yourself with guilt and shame. It’s important to escape this perfectionist cycle.
To overcome this, an effective strategy is to have a bank account philosophy. You deposit more into your account than you withdraw. A deposit would be eating real food, getting enough sleep, managing your stress. A withdrawal would be eating processed foods, having dessert, going to bed at 1 a.m., watching a stressful TV show.
For long-term success, you want to stay out of debt. Your goal each day is to make more deposits than withdrawals. Making withdrawals is part of the plan. You just want to make fewer of them than your deposits. This strategy is much more effective, and it eliminates the shame and guilt.
Your body is extremely resilient. The damage comes from what you think about having eaten something you “shouldn’t” have eaten. That guilt and shame is going to drive more stress, which will drive more coping, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
This strategy may be a slower process, but you’re developing a healthy relationship with food and body that will serve you for the rest of your life. Allow yourself grace and patience.
Social manipulators include our relationships. Some of us tend to use social situations as opportunities to abuse food and alcohol rather than connect with others. Oftentimes work outings, dinners, and happy hours become socially acceptable occasions to self-medicate with overconsumption of unhealthy food and drinks.
Many of us have very superficial relationships with friends in which we don’t get very deep. We don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Some of us tend to hide and isolate, not allowing ourselves to socialize very much.
We use the excuse that we’re busy with work or with our kids, when in fact, if we made cultivating relationships a priority, we would find that we do have the time for it, and it would likely fulfill us on a deeper level. We are relational beings. We thrive in community.
By using these techniques, you can start to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, experience better health, and enjoy your life.
If you’d like to discover more about this topic, listen to our podcast with guest expert Kevin Geary.
If you need help with weight management or disordered eating, click here
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