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I talk a lot about developing a healthy relationship with food, and it made me think recently about just how many parallels it has with actual romantic relationships… Bad relationships and unhappy marriages can be fraught with tension, battles-of-wills, anger, sadness, and constant frustration. On the other hand, great marriages can be happy, content, comfortable, and peaceful. Doesn’t that also sound like the possible relationships people can have with food?
Do you know any couples that make you wonder: “How the heck do they stay together?” I’m talking about the ones who are always fighting, always putting each other down, always complaining about each other, and seemingly never actually happy. You wonder how they got together in the first place, and why they stay together when things are obviously so negative between them. Or perhaps you know people who have a similarly tumultuous relationship but they hide it in public. They put on their happy faces, but fight and demean each other at home when no one else is looking. What are some common things you see in unhappy relationship?
These things make up most of the challenges in a difficult relationship or “bad marriage.” And since we’ve seen this happen, sometimes even to ourselves or people we love, we don’t need a whole lot of explanation as to what these things are or why they occur.
But there are tons of people out there walking around with this kind of relationship with food. And it’s something that is hard to see visually. Often, this relationship happens mostly internally, or only gets told to very close friends (much like those couples who look happy in public but fight like crazy at home). So what things make a food relationship look like a bad marriage?
Let’s go back to those characteristics from above, and apply them to how we often relate to food.
A person is constantly fighting their desires and cravings. For every food they want to eat, another part of them argues with them about how “bad” it is for them. Every food decision is a mental argument between what they “should” have and what they want to have. There is a constant tension around food and food choices. Cravings become a battle of wills. In one corner is the intense urge to eat something forbidden. In the other corner, our health goals. The two constantly spar back and forth, each winning some and losing some. But the battle is never really won, and the sparing continues every time a new craving hits.
In a bad food relationship, we try like heck to exert control over food, don’t we? Calories are counted and tracked, points are tallied, our weight is recorded daily, etc. We tell ourselves we “can only have 1” of something, or we make a bunch of diet rules about what is allowed or not allowed. We control, control, control. In this relationship, food isn’t a partner on our journey, it something to be manipulated and bent to our will. Surely it won’t behave otherwise, right?
With so much control and constant fighting, it’s no wonder we end up generally unhappy with food. It’s become a source of stress rather than one of enjoyment (which it used to be, perhaps long ago). We long for the days when things were easier between us, when we fought less, when the sight of brownies was cause for smiles instead of guilt and angst. Every once in a while, when the fighting is between rounds, and neither party is controlling the other, there is a calm in the storm, and that’s what keeps us here. The small glimmer of hope that maybe things will get better from here on out.
Just like when a spouse cheats, it’s a clue that something in the current relationship isn’t working. If you’re cheating on your diet, then it’s not working for you, same as in a marriage. There is something about the diet relationship that has you looking for more, and needing an escape. The general unhappiness makes us seek out joy somewhere else, outside of the current dieting relationship with food. Linked closely with this is lying. We lie because we don’t want the truth to come out. If we’re tracking calories or points, we conveniently “forget” to write down the cheesecake from yesterday, or we say we only had 2 cookies when it was really 5. Something about the relationship makes us feel like the truth isn’t okay, so we lie to make our diet feel better. If the diet was really on our side, we wouldn’t feel the need to lie.
Enough of the negative stuff for a moment, let’s talk about the good relationships. Do you know couples who’ve been happily married for decades? Or maybe you are in a long and happy marriage or relationship? What kinds of things do you notice about those couples?
Again, food relationships can mirror marriages, this time in a positive way.
When we have a positive relationship with food, there is no constant fighting or tension. Things are peaceful. Food choices aren’t met with angst, they’re just decisions to make and move on from. In a way, this comfort can seem boring compared to the adrenaline rush of constant fighting. But if excitement really means tension, perhaps boring is actually more enjoyable!
Even the best relationships aren’t always rainbows and butterflies. Every relationship has challenges from time to time. But in a happy relationship, you work it out and don’t fight or put each other down. You find a compromise that works for both. The same is true of balancing food cravings and health goals. There is balance and compromise somewhere between the opposite extremes. In a positive food relationship, we find that balance and adjust as necessary to make sure both sides are happy.
When we’re truly at ease in a relationship, we become generally happy. It’s rather lovely to not have to stress about every little detail of things. We’re not always looking over our shoulder for the next shoe to drop. We are comfortable, at peace, and just happy!
When your relationship already rocks, there is no reason to look elsewhere. Nothing is missing, nothing is left to be desired. We have all the things we want right here, even if there are sometimes compromises. There is no need to lie about the truth, because the other party won’t make you feel bad about it. Five cookies is just five cookies. No big deal. There’s no need to lie about it.
I often find that relating food to other areas of life helps to make some things clearer. While I most often related it to finances (yes I know how exhilarating that sounds, lol), I thought this would be an interesting way to view your overall approach to eating.
Are you peacefully content?
Or are you constantly fighting?
My hope for you, is that your relationship with food is peaceful and enjoyable. No one wants to see the people they care about wrapped up in a bad relationship, and so I don’t want that for you either!
If your food relationship more closely resembles the “bad marriage” example though, don’t worry. There is a way out. (“Girl, you gotta dump that jerk!”)
My course, Diet Mindset Makeover, is all about repairing your relationship with food. I’ll help you break free from the angst of a dieting mindset so you can find peace and freedom with food again.
If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can snag a FREE lesson by clicking right here. I hope you like it!