Every one of us has a complex relationship with food. From childhood, it’s used to comfort, control, reward and punish. For many of us, the fear of consequences connected to undesirable eating habits drives us to avoid, indulge (read: fail), then avoid again, promulgating a mentally and physically unhealthy cycle of guilt and hopelessness.
There’s a better way, but it’s not a quick fix or a sellable diet plan. It’s not sexy at all. It involves doing what our bodies were designed to do, but that somewhere along the socialization of childhood, we unlearned: eating like a toddler.
More about what that means in a bit, but first, do these phrases sound familiar? “I can’t eat that. I ate way too much junk yesterday.” “I’m on the Paleo diet, but this is my cheat day.” “This chocolate cake is simply sinful.” Many of the foods we commonly come in contact with are subtly regarded with contempt, referred to in pejorative terms. The jargon may seem arbitrary, but nutrition therapists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of “Intuitive Eating” (St. Martin’s Griffin, originally published in 1995, with a new edition in 2012) say these terms point to an underlying negative relationship with food that damages our ability to enjoy it and live healthier lifestyles. “Foods are often described in moralistic terms, independent of dieting: decadent, sinful, tempting—all the words of food fundamentalism and eating morality,” they write. “We pay homage to dieting and its rules, but it doesn’t work. Since we are a nation that worships the lean body, it easily becomes virtuous to be eating foods associated with slimness and gutlessness . . . With these daily reminders it becomes difficult to view eating as simply a normal pleasurable activity; rather it becomes good or bad, with the societal Food Police chastising each blasphemous bite of food.”
Mindful language is just the beginning of ending a dysfunctional relationship with food that controls our actions, our health, and even our relationships. Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating philosophy includes ten principles that work from the inside out to reap huge health benefits.