Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Affair to Remember

by Health Coach Pat

February - the month of LOVE - Valentines Day = hearts, flowers, kisses, chocolates, fancy dinners. Who do you love? WHAT do you love?

My post today is about our love affair with food and how to nurture ourselves in ways other than through our mouths. For centuries, the message for women to show their affection to those they love has been through FEEDING them, and many have internalized this idea and applied it to nurturing themselves as well. For men, eating the food and goodies showed that they care in return.

After all, food, means love in most cultures, and in America we have taken this idea to new heights. Hasn’t it felt true that a hot-fudge sundae won’t lie to you, reject you, is easily accessible and affordable? Yes and no. Remember, when it comes to food, feelings come and go. It is easy to be entangled in a love affair with food. The problem with affairs is that they hurt those involved, are short-lived, almost always blow up in your face, and produce shame. The affair with food is no exception.

The affair with food begins with the courting phase. You remember it… when the chocolate melts in your mouth and provides a temporary moment of exhilaration. Never mind the fact that when sugar is ingested it raises serotonin levels in the brain creating similar chemical effects of, you guessed it, being in love. It isn’t long before the remorse and guilt, the “I shouldn’t have’s” kick in and you realize you’re hurting someone again. In the torrid affair with food, the one we most deeply injure is ourselves. As it is with a harmful love affair, the positive attention food initially provided becomes more sporadic. It literally adds excess baggage and over time the nurturing feelings are more difficult to achieve. Finally, the self-loathing becomes so great the participant gets honest and knows it has to end.

So how do we transform this love affair with food into a healthier long-term balanced nurturing relationship? It begins with learning to nurture ourselves in ways other than food. It begins with re-framing our thinking of what it means to eat healthfully. Tell yourself that choosing substances to put in your body that add to your health, rather than detract from it is not a punishment. It is in fact one of the most practical declarations of self-love we can make. This means taking the time to cook yourself healthy meals, stopping at restaurants you know have choices that will work for your body long term rather than provide a quick fix.

Notice what feeling is underlying your desire to eat a particular food and seek out a life-affirming way to get this need met. Many turn to food first when really wanting physical nurturing. Treat yourself to a massage, hug your spouse, buy yourself a teddy bear and hug it, pet your dog, If you’re stressed at work, instead of going to the vending machine to “give yourself a break,” take a walk, call a friend and vent your feelings, go to the bathroom and get quiet for a few moments. If you eat to quell loneliness or sadness, invite a friend over for a healthy meal, go to a movie, or curl up on your couch with your favorite blanket and a good book. Light a candle and listen to your favorite music, and by all means cry if you feel the urge. (OK guys - you don't have to cry!)

Although you may initially grieve giving up the highs and lows of the rush of your familiarly intense but chaotic relationship with food, over time you will begin to appreciate and even prefer the consistency of a nurturing, balanced relationship with food and with yourself.

If you are overweight, chances are that you indulge in some form of comfort eating. Figure out why you comfort eat and you will be well on the way to a D-i-v-o-r-c-e from your thoroughly unsuitable love.

You'll be much happier once it's all over.

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