Last year I trialled a new coaching program with clients for Ditch the Diet & Face the Feelings. It gave clients the option of three 20-minute accountability calls each week rather than one weekly coaching call. The results from it were astounding for those clients used to dieting and weekly weigh-ins.
Most of us have emotional triggers that we aren’t aware of until we blow up or “lose it”. These learned responses helped us to survive unpleasant situations (often in our childhood). Unfortunately, those very habits (cues/triggers, course of action or response, and rewards) that allowed us to survive in childhood now sabotage or hamper our growth and relationships.
I’m not talking about PTSD triggers: those are at another level, where it’s not merely a habit. These triggers actually require deeper assistance, such as therapy.
These habitual responses are survival tactics, often learned in our childhood. I adeptly overlook and sidestep the bigger issues when I ignore the hidden rewards of my habits. The slowing down of 2020 gave us much needed time to sit and do the inner work of looking at our survival tactics.
Even 2021 has shown me (especially on social media) how I respond to certain types of posts and comments. There are people that I have been tempted to block “for my peace of mind”. Nonetheless, my commitment to healing and working on myself continues. So, I decided that rather than block them (or engage or shoot back), I would make time to actually look at where I have lost my freedom to respond gracefully.
If you are anything like me, you’ve tried at least twenty different diets. Diets are a way of life. What lies outside your comfort zone is the freedom to live a healthy lifestyle with no rules.
If you can apply this to your relationship with food, imagine what you could do in other areas of your life!
There’s something comfortable about having rules and guidelines about what and when to eat. You give up a little of your choice and freedom to achieve a particular result.
One of the challenges I consistently encounter is that the restrictions of a diet allow you to ignore underlying issues. It doesn’t matter whether those are emotions, health issues or just relationships that need attention.
Following someone else’s rules hides the fact that you seek out food as a panacea for life’s challenges.
Are you feeling angry? Stuff it down by eating something!
Need comforting? Grab the ice cream.
Are you feeling tired? Scoff down an energy bar or drink.
But, are you living if you are ignoring underlying issues? If you’re angry: what are you frustrated or feeling powerless to change? When you need comforting, who could you call? Do you need a hug or to focus on loving yourself? If you feel tired, do you need more rest and better sleep? Is a change of lifestyle actually in order so that you no longer feel constantly tired?
If you escape the confines of diet, size and weight, you begin to experience life with all the highs and lows. Most of us never develop this level of self-awareness. It’s an uncomfortable place to explore, requiring that we dive into each of our triggers and emotional responses.
What does emotional eating allow you to hide from view?
Habits & lifestyles
We are not merely human beings – we are human ‘becomings ‘. Each habit that we adopt, whatever it might be, forms, and shapes our future self. Eating is a daily practice that shapes us, not just physically!
Exercising choice when you eat
Every time we sit down to eat, we face choices.
Awareness and mindfulness
The first is whether we will practice awareness and mindfulness of our body, our environment and our internal state (emotional or mental).
Practising awareness can be uncomfortable if we customarily move through life focused on stimulus, rather than our internal response. This includes noticing whether we are hungry or whether we are eating for any other reason.
If we are not hungry, will we still choose to eat? Or will we honour the message from our body and wait until it requires food?
How do you eat?
Secondly, we face a choice of how we eat.
We control our environment to some extent: will I choose to honour “rest and digest” or will I continue in a stimulated (fight & flight) zone of doing while trying to eat.
Our bodies do much better when we sit and dedicate time exclusively to eating because we send the subconscious message that it is time to rest and digest the food. The great thing about physical hunger – as opposed to a craving – is that we might decide not to eat yet in a state of activity.
Sometimes, it is better to wait until we can sit down to eat in peace and tranquillity. Will waiting thirty minutes or an hour mean that you are less stressed when you sit down to eat?
What do you eat?
Thirdly, what will we eat?
Food should fill our senses and not just our stomach. It should be our nutrition and energy, as well as a source of joy and enjoyment. Do you enjoy how your food makes you feel: are you enjoying aroma, taste and texture? How does it make you feel thirty minutes or two hours later? Do you regret the choice later?
Our bodies regularly give us feedback about the food we choose. Feedback includes:
clarity of mind or foggy brain
lethargy and tiredness
the ability (or not) to sleep deeply regularly
feeling crowded or full shortly after eating
gassiness or bloated
light and easy
Stop and get moving
Finally, we face the choice of when to stop eating and return to activity. This choice requires the same level of internal awareness that we started with.
Am I honouring my body by stopping my eating before feeling crowded or full? Have I listened to what my body has to say about “enough”?
How do I feel physically, emotionally and mentally?
Am I ready to get back to movement and activity, or do I need to rest for a few more minutes?
Every choice influences what we become
Our relationship with food is merely a reflection of our relationship with self. When you feel love and compassion for yourself, you make better choices for your body.
Do I choose to honour and respect myself in the way that I eat and drink?
The habit of how, when, and where we choose to eat impacts every aspect of life, including:
how productive you are
your energy levels after eating and while digesting
choices about exercise and movement
whether or not you can sleep deeply and well every night
the relationships that you have (do they have the same eating habits that you have?)
the activities that you can carry out.
All of your day-to-day choices impact your health and wellness.
The challenge to get outside your comfort zone
One of the problems with comfort zones is that they become familiar. Take a moment now to note your comfort zone when it comes to food and eating. Do you sit down to eat, or are you eating on the run?
Are you comfortable following a diet that someone else has set, which controls things like:
types of food that you are allowed to eat; or
when you are allowed to eat.
One of the reasons that comfort zones work is that they allow us to be more effective and efficient. Great comfort zones will enable you to dive deeply into developing yourself. As you work within your comfort zone, you grow – taller & with deeper roots.
The question is: are you growing and developing within this comfort zone that you’ve built?
“Unless you do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Caged-in by your comfort zone
What happens when nothing new is happening?
If we stay too long in any position, our muscles start to atrophy. If your leg went to sleep while you were sitting down, you would get up and move around and shake it until it was completely awake and all the blood had come back to all nerves and movement was fluid once more.
Why would you not do this with your life?
At that point, ask yourself – am I still on the top of my game? Am I innovating in my life, health and well-being – moving with the changing climate & conditions?
When we have success (as we have when we start a new diet), there is the temptation to think we’ve done enough. But is this keeping us on top of our health and getting to know yourself better?
The consequences of staying put
What happens if you stay on a diet? You atrophy.
It’s much like only doing one exercise or one workout. The muscles get used to that movement and stop developing. Change is often a good thing!
And if you manage to lose the weight you wanted (or you get bored or stop getting results), you go back to life as it was before the diet. Before you know it, you’ve started to put the weight back on and lose the physical conditioning that you had gained by being on the strict regime.
Nothing changed within.
For the change to be effective: you have to change!
If you’ve lived continuously by someone else’s rules, when you stop, you find yourself in limbo – in a space that no longer works effectively.
If we are not living & developing, we are withering. It doesn’t matter how big or how old the sequoia is in the forest – if it stops growing, it is dying!
Is it time to get to know yourself, your body and your triggers to grow beyond where you are?
Getting outside your comfort zone
Start by considering three words:
If you lived with deep compassion for yourself and others in your life, what choices would you make about eating and drinking? How would you choose to love and respect your body each day?
Is the way that you are living life at the moment supporting your creativity? For example, if you overeat and are always tired and lethargic after a meal, is your creativity being stifled by brain fog? If you are living on a diet, are you feeling constantly hungry and unable to get in flow? How does your lifestyle support creativity in the ways that it shows up for you?
Finally, do you have the courage to love yourself as you are today? To truly get to know yourself in a way that allows you to make changes? What does moving forward with courage in your life look like?
To get outside your comfort zone, you will need to ditch the diet of the rules you’ve been living by and face the feelings about everything that comes up in life! If food was not available: what would you have to face?
This is where you will find your freedom to grow. It will be uncomfortable, but undoubtedly worth it.
Choosing opportunities – identify your vision and values.
If you want to ditch the diet, I’d suggest you start with identifying your values and vision. This creates the opportunity to be the best version of you – a human becoming!
The person that will change your life is you!
If you want to live without rules, then you need a guiding light that you create.
What do you want?
Why do you want it?
How will you get it?
For me, for example, I want to be in excellent health because I have a 7-year-old daughter. I want to have the energy and physical strength to keep up with her in the years to come. I’m not looking to have a great beach body that others praise and admire: instead, I’m looking at stamina, health and well-being. That is my why, and it influences the questions of what and how I go about creating this.
If you take away the diet and restrictions: what do you want and why do you want it?
What do you want to have? be? do? create?
“Are you motivated? Are you coherent? Is your intention aligned? Are you feet, tongue, heart & wallet congruent? That intention shines through.”
― Peter Guber
Use hunger as your compass.
There is no need to be afraid of feelings of hunger or cravings, especially when you learn to differentiate physical hunger (needing food and nutrients) from another hunger or craving.
Like any other emotion, hunger can be resourceful or unresourceful.
How will you choose to use your hunger? Do you let it guide your respect for yourself and your body?
Will you allow it to be a compass that shows you the way? Do you listen to what it shows you?
Are you hungry to create, to move or to have? Perhaps you’re hungry for knowledge and learning. On the hand, it might be a hunger to satisfy your curiosity.
What satisfies you in life?
What do you need in your life to have energy and vitality?
Support moving forward
Start by looking at who is supporting you. One of the reasons that diets and personal trainers work is because you have someone supporting you and providing you with accountability.
If you choose to live without a diet, you need that very same support and network that will allow you to discover yourself!
Which members of your family or friends can support you and help as you move through this?
Do you have a mentor or coach that will ask you the right questions?
Do you have a professional adviser to turn to when you lack information? This might be a nutritionist, dietician or even a health coach. They will think in terms of rules and diets (most likely), but explain to them what you are looking to create for yourself and find the right one that supports the journey.
How will you discover what you are hungry for?
As you move outside your comfort zone, regularly check that you are receiving the support you need.
I’ve recently been reading The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. As you can imagine, it’s all about habits – how they are formed, why we form habits, and how we can change them. I have also been reading a lot about neuroplasticity:
The way the brain reorganizes itself by forming new connections throughout life.
Neuroplasticity is our ability to adapt to change – to learn new ways of thinking, feeling, speaking & acting. It doesn’t matter how old you are – your brain is malleable, flexible and able to shift.