Food is not the enemy. It’s here to give you energy. Once you can accept that, you can start to lose weight and change your entire relationship with food.
Having a poor mindset where food is concerned can hinder your weight loss goals. However much you want to lose weight and improve your health, if you don’t have your head in the right place, you won’t achieve your aims. You may do well for a few days or even a few weeks, but sooner or later, you’ll cave in and reach for that sweet treat.
So how can you have a better relationship with food? It’s important firstly to re-frame your thoughts about food and start thinking about it differently.
Firstly, ditch the guilt. It won’t serve you – you can’t be perfect when it comes to eating healthy food all the time and nor should you strive to be, otherwise, you will be relying solely on willpower and hoping to stay on track 100 per cent of the time. When life is stressful or busy and you want a quick meal or a quick comfort snack, it’s just not possible. Be realistic. Give yourself the chance to have the occasional treat without feeling guilty.
Food is an ally
Try to think about food as giving you energy and being an ally, rather than being something you should limit and feel bad about when you consume it. ‘When we become overly focused on food for weight-loss reasons, we can enter into a repetitive cycle of dieting and indulgence which overtime can exacerbate weight management problems,’ says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. ‘If we focus on food as giving us energy and making us healthy instead, then we naturally become more in sync with the messages our body gives us, and more intuitive to what our body actually needs.’
No negative talk
Using negative language when it comes to food and telling ourselves that we ‘must stop eating chocolate’ or that we ‘must cut out crisps’ can backfire. How many times have you heard a friend tell you they are going to embark on a detox diet, cutting out all sugary treats, only to find out a week or two later that they’ve had a chocolate binge? Trying to be perfect is a sure-fire way to rebelling and eventually overeating. Dr Touroni recommends that we avoid negative language and banning foods. ‘Whenever we develop very absolute rules around what we should or shouldn’t be doing, this creates feelings of deprivation,’ she says. ‘In the case of eating, it’s around the foods we perceive as “forbidden”. This deprivation can increase our longing and desire for that food, making it more likely we’ll want it.’
Mike Molloy, the founder of M2 Performance Nutrition, which offers personalised nutrition plans, agrees that banning foods is a bad idea. ‘If we focus on what we can’t have, then we are left feeling as though we are in a deprived state. The deprivation mindset can literally derail progress, as simply thinking that you should be hungry actually makes you hungrier.
‘This was shown in a study where researchers made a single milkshake which had 300 calories. They put half of the shake into a bottle labelled “Sensishake” with the label indicating zero per cent fat, zero added sugar and only 140 calories. They put the other half into a bottle labelled “Indulgence” with a label including all kinds of sugar and fat leading to 620 calories.
They gave each shake to people and asked them how satisfied they felt after having each shake. Participants drinking the “Indulgence” shake responded as if they had consumed many more calories than were actually present. The other participants that had the “Sensishake” had almost the exact opposite response, feeling totally unsatisfied. Remember, everyone had the same number of calories. This means that how satisfied you think you should be by your food literally determines how satisfied you actually feel.
Learn about nutrition
Another way to improve your mindset with food is to learn more about nutrition. Ultra-runner and wellbeing coach Martin Kelly, who lost 25kg of body fat seven years ago and has still kept the weight off, made a point of educating himself on food and nutrition. He says: ‘Don’t be put off learning the basics of good nutrition. The only time “diet” should be used is to describe your daily nutrition, not as a restrictive approach. That’s why I use the term “nutrition programme” that is tailored to meet my goal, even if that goal is weight loss.’
Are you really hungry?
Meghan Foulsham from Fresh Fitness Food says it’s a good idea to identify your individual hunger cues. ‘Having a growling stomach is not the only sign that you’re hungry,’ she says. ‘Hunger can manifest in a variety of ways and is completely individual to each person. While some may get a growling stomach, others may experience headaches, irritability, dizziness, nausea, even hiccups! If you only ever permit yourself to eat when your stomach is growling, try tuning in to other potential signs of hunger. Keep track of how your emotions – do you notice repeated behaviours or signs before you eat, or when you don’t feel that you’ve eaten enough?
Pay attention to how full you feel when you eat. You don’t have to finish everything on your plate. If you’re at home or work and feel too full to finish your meal, put the rest in the fridge. This way you are honouring your hunger, tuning into what your body wants and needs, and reducing your food waste.