How to use a healthy relationship with feelings to have a healthy relationship with food
The last three blog posts laid out a fairly simple method for how to be healthy with your feelings and gave an example of how easily we’re lured into feeling management which keeps us blocked from important information in our lives.
Being healthy with your feelings is important in its own right, but you can use that skill to be healthier in other aspects of your life as well. For example, until you develop yourself to the point where you transcend physical influences, how you eat is far and away one of the most important influences upon your health. Studies have shown that a healthy diet can promote healthy pregnancies, prevent heart disease, diabetes, obesity, strokes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and even depression. Health educators have done a pretty good job in our culture. Anyone who wants to know what a good diet is can readily find that information. You probably already have a pretty good idea about how you’re “supposed” to eat, what’s bad for you and what’s good for you.
Yet, how often do you eat that way? And why not? Any time you find yourself eating something that that little nagely voice inside bugs you about, why do you go ahead and eat it anyway? There’s information in all this. In medicine, we’re constantly telling people to change the way they eat but it is the rare person who takes our advice and builds themselves a whole new life with it. Years ago, I got some insight into why that might be the case.
I read an article about two tribes that lived on either side of a river that was a tributary to the Amazon. As neighboring tribes often are, they were enemies of each other. Both tribes had access to essentially the same food in the jungle, yet what was acceptable food for one tribe was taboo for the other. How you ate made you part of your tribe. For hundreds of thousands of years of human development, fitting into your tribe meant survival, being ostracized by your tribe meant death. When we ask someone to change the way they eat, we don’t realize it, but we are really asking them to change tribes. That is no simple request for our non-conscious minds! In addition, you may have other more personal reasons, such as needing to feel safe, etc, to keep you in your less-healthy eating patterns.
So if the way that you are eating is making you sick, or very likely to make you sick sometime in the future, how do you get yourself to change? I see two ways.
The first way is a great way to practice awareness and trusting yourself. When it comes time to eat, take a moment, get centered inside and ask your body what it wants to eat. Get some sense about what that would be. If possible, go eat that. About 30 to 60 minutes after you eat, tune in to how you are feeling now because you ate that. Over time, and with practice, you will get very good at hearing what your body wants as well as discerning whether you are listening to the little devil on one shoulder whispering into one ear or the little angel on the other shoulder whispering into the other ear.
No published list of shoulds knows your moment to moment biochemical needs so this way of eating makes good sense to me. As they practice listening, I’ve seen my patients get very good at detecting imbalances in their digestion that needed addressing, at picking up food reactions, at telling what combinations of foods work for them and what don’t and so forth. Also, being able to tell the difference between your real inner loving guidance and the saboteur is a helpful skill for other areas of your life as well. Knowing how to work well with your feelings greatly facilitates this kind of learning.
The second way to change how you eat is to pick some kind of diet—some kind of regimented way of eating—commit to that and then use your healthy relationship with your feelings to deal with any feelings that come up because of how you are eating. You may have to deal with feelings of deprivation as your diet does not allow you to have something that you love to eat. You may have to deal with feelings at pot-lucks or if you eat out with family and friends. But all sorts of feelings may come up: anger, fear, grief. You may find yourself trying to rationalize yourself out of your commitment. Remember, if you give up lightly on your commitment, it’s not much of a commitment. This is also a good chance to practice will-power and renewing your commitment to yourself one day at a time.
But stay very aware of your feelings. Follow them back to their roots. See where they are coming from. See if those roots are really true from a Spiritual perspective. Be kind to yourself as your stomach digests your backbone.
Copyright 2013 Steven M. Hall, MD