Before I started on my own life coaching journey I was completely disconnected from my body. I was always in my mind worrying, planning, counting, and rationalizing, and hardly ever in my body feeling and noticing. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, don’t worry, I will use my previous relationship (or lack thereof) with food to explain what I mean.
Back when I was a college student and living on my own I had two things in mind: achieving straight-A’s and being thin. I didn’t care about much else. I spent all my time and attention on studying and counting calories. The fewer calories I ate, the more pleased with myself I was. Some days I ate only 700 calories. I covered up my hunger pangs by throwing back cups of black coffee (no sugar or cream allowed in this body!) and drinking copious amounts of water and tea. I also ignored the taste of food. I devoured my meals so fast that I probably couldn’t even tell you what was in them. This resulted in horrific, knife-stabbing stomach pains. In short, I didn’t eat when I was hungry and I didn’t stop when I was full. I wasn’t listening to my body and what it wanted. I was up in my head obsessed with calories and staying thin and completely ignoring my body.
This obsession resulted in diarrhea almost daily. Every bus trip to school consisted of me, sweaty and uncomfortable, sitting on the bus crossing my fingers that I could make it to the bathroom in time. My hair also became thinner and more fragile. I was starving my body of the nutrients it needed and it was showing up in more ways than one. My body was functioning below par and it was completely off-track, unbalanced, and unhealthy.
I thought if I stopped counting calories then I would lose all control and end up overeating and be overweight. The funny thing is, I was already out of control; I was just on the other end of the spectrum. My weight obsession and strict calorie counting had taken over my life. I actually remember thinking that I would never be able to stop counting calories and eat normally again. My mind’s idea of being thin was running and ruining my life at the same time. My body was yelling at me by giving me irritable bowel syndrome and hair loss, but I wasn’t ready to listen.
When I moved back home counting calories became too difficult. There were people around and too much good food available to me now. Potato chips, nuts, cheese, cookies, mayonnaise…I didn’t expose myself to any of this fatty fare when I was living on my own. Now that it was available to me, I couldn’t help myself. Over time, I ended up eating whatever I wanted. My strict diet fell apart, but I was still completely disconnected from my body. I still over-ate. I still under-ate. I still obsessed over food. I now beat myself up over eating too many chips and ice cream. Food wasn’t purely there to satiate me, it was there to provide me with comfort when I needed it. We had a love-hate relationship.
Now, after a few years of life coaching with Abigail Steidley, self-coaching, and completion of Martha Beck’s Life Coaching program, I realize that I have come a long way with my relationship with food. Although I didn’t start my life coaching journey to alleviate my eating problems, the increased mind-body awareness that I now have has allowed me to be more conscious of many things in life, one of which being eating. I am now aware of how my body reacts when it feels happy, joyful, content, angry, sad, frustrated, etc. which aids in a healthy consumption of food. I am constantly asking myself how I feel in the present moment, and how I want to feel. I spend time noticing and evaluating my thoughts. Understanding this is crucial if you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight by eating consciously, NOT by weighing your food.
So what is eating consciously? It is asking yourself questions and understanding why you want to eat. Are you actually hungry, or is it just thirst? Do you know how you want to feel after you’ve finished a meal? For me, I want to feel healthy, content, light, and nourished. I am now conscious of what foods can elicit this feeling in me. Will that McDonalds McChicken Meal with a side of French Fries make me feel that way? Hmm, probably not. But a delicious and nutritious green smoothie in the morning sure makes me feel nourished, content, healthy, light, and ready to start my day! And I don’t have to spend fifteen minutes weighing my ingredients because I aim for a certain feeling and not a certain caloric count!
How do you feel after you’ve stuffed yourself like a bloated turkey? I usually feel regretful and sick to my stomach. Sometimes we ask ourselves why we ate so much but don’t actually answer the question. Well, it’s time to answer the question! Grab a pen and paper and go wild. Why did you eat so much? Were you not paying attention to your body while you were eating so you didn’t even know you were full fifteen minutes ago? Was it that you were eating too fast and not properly chewing and enjoying your food? Were you avoiding an uncomfortable emotion by occupying yourself with handfuls of Halloween candy? Is this the way you really want to feel?
Looking inward by asking yourself questions and answering them truthfully is one of the most helpful things you can do to increase your self-awareness and adopt healthy eating behaviors.
Trust me when I say I am far from perfect; I still can cave-in and reach for a bag of chips when I feel tired and frustrated, but the difference now is that I am completely conscious that I am emotionally eating. I will tell myself, “Yup, I am eating because I’m frustrated right now, and that’s ok!” The pure act of noticing why you are doing something can often nip it in the bud earlier so you don’t eat as much. It can take its power away. But I have come a long way when I look back to my pre-life coaching days. If I’m going to splurge and eat a bunch of grease, I’m going to do it whole-heartedly and enjoy every bite of it! If I feel like making a healthier meal, I do that instead! I try to listen to my body and feed it what it wants instead of following outrageous rules I set for myself. When you stop and listen to your body, your body will crave what it needs. It may surprise you, but it will probably crave alot healthier foods than you think if you just listen to it! Your body doesn’t lie to you. If it tells you it’s hungry, it needs food, so feed it. If it tells you it’s full, it doesn’t need any more food, so stop eating. If it tells you it wants a big salad, it wants nutrients, so give it a big salad! If it tells you it wants a box of Oreos, or any sort of request that seems a bit off kilter, try looking inward before darting for those Oreos. You may realize that it’s not Oreos your body wants, it might be something completely different, and it’s probably not even food-related. But if you would still fight ‘til the death to get that Oreo, just go for it! But make sure you enjoy it fully and with no regrets!