The One Relationship NOBODY Teaches You Anything About
(And why it sets you up for being fat, miserable, and stuck)
I remember the first time I heard this term. I was confused. I never thought of myself as having a relationship with food.
I had relationships with my friends, family, colleagues, and clients, but food? - it seemed like a really ‘out there’ concept.
What I knew about food was simple:
Some food was good for you.
Some food was bad for you.
Eating lean meats, healthy fats, green vegetables, and natural carbs was about all the nutrition advice anyone needed.
If you wanted to be healthy or achieve the illustrious ‘6 pack’, you needed to be committed to eating clean with no room for error, no moments of weaknesses, and no giving into temptation.
This was the nutrition advice drilled into my head over and over again starting with my oldest sister, shifting to my high school football coach, then my friends who had nutrition and exercise degrees, and of course, the internet.
But deep down, I always felt there was a much bigger force at play beyond all the nutrition advice I had received. The bigger force felt like an invisible hand that would shove food in my mouth despite my wishes to eat clean. The force felt like a devil inside my head that would torment me with my favorite chips or cookies. The force felt like a monster inside of me that was always in control of my eating decisions and I had no choice but to listen to every single of its commands.
For 17 years I lost weight on a diet at least 2-3 times per year. I had no problem losing weight, but keeping off a single pound felt impossible. After trying, failing, and finally figuring out how to lose and keep off 50lbs, I was right - the force was my relationship with food.
Why does no one talk about a relationship with food?
If it's such a potent force, why doesn’t anyone ever talk about it?
Most people misinterpret nutrition. When you think of nutrition, you probably think of:
Vitamins / Minerals
This is only one part of nutrition.
The other part is your brain.
Every time you put food into your mouth, your brain eats too. Instead of chewing on food, your brain chews on aroma, texture, flavors, and memories that included that food.
Even further, your brain is responsible for:
- Signaling you to eat.
- Signaling you when to stop eating.
- Signaling you when you are satisfied.
- Signaling you when you are unsatisfied and to keep eating.
Just like your belly, your brain digests the meal after.
The main ingredient your brain digests is satisfaction. If you liked the food, your brain makes a note to remind you to “eat this again, this was good.” If you did not like the food, your brain makes a note to remind you to “don’t eat this again, this was bad.” If you ate something that was somewhere in between, your brain makes a note to say “this is so-so, maybe eat it again?”
As your brain catalogs how individual foods make you feel over time, it applies labels of “like”, “dislike”, or “indifferent” to the foods you eat. These labels slowly begin to color in the lines of your relationship with food.
Similar to long-term intimate relationships with other people, the more time passes, the more you learn about yourself, and in this case, your "food partners." Like any relationship, you'll experience twists and turns, highs and lows.
There is a twist to food that doesn’t exist in any other relationship. You need to eat food to live. Therefore, this is one of the, if not the, most important relationships you have in your life.
How you feel about the food you eat affects nearly every aspect of your life from your metabolism to your sex life.
Imagine this - your wife buys a bag of chocolates while grocery shopping. When you open the cabinet, you spot the chocolate and instantly get mad at her. Why does she bring it in the house knowing you are trying to lose weight? Why can she have chocolate and be skinny and you can’t? Why can she stop after 2 chocolates, but you need to eat the whole bag?
The chocolates are making you angry at your wife!
Imagine you are at a business dinner and decide to order a salad. But your colleagues give you a funny look as to say “why are you eating a salad at a steakhouse?” They even start to comment on how you always eat salad. You cave in and order a steak, but the entire time is feeling guilty that you caved.
The steak is making you resent your colleagues.
In both of these situations, your relationship with food has caused resentment, anger, guilt, anxiety, and shame in response to two normal foods and situations.
In addition, your relationship with food affects your:
Stop, Collaborate, and Listen
Think about this for a second. Have you ever started a diet that called for egg whites and veggies for breakfast? Like a dedicated dieter, you got up early, cracked only the egg whites into the pan, sautéed green veggies, and sat down and ate them.
Despite having a perfectly healthy and nutrient-packed breakfast, didn’t you feel a bit off?
Did it make you irritable during the day? Did it make you think about lunch an hour later? Did it make you feel like your brain might implode if you saw a slice of bread?
This is because of your relationship with food. How you felt about that meal is just as important as the meal itself.
As I mentioned above, your relationship with food plays a HUMONGOUS role in your health. It plays an even bigger role when it comes to weight loss.
To put this in perspective, the chart below shows that 80% of your success in weight loss comes from your relationship with food. Only 20% comes from food. Hence, diets that attempt to change the food you eat by counting calories, doing healthy swaps, or eliminating entire food groups are often ineffective.
Ugh, and then there’s willpower
From the time I was 12 (my first diet) until the time I was 30, the thing I was taught over and over again was the difference between winners and losers was willpower.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Willpower is used by people who don’t understand food. It’s easy to point the finger at willpower and claim that most people don’t have enough of it. With a 3% success rate of dieting, everyone’s willpower can’t be broken.
Like we discussed above, eating is a pleasurable activity our brain needs. Your brain NEEDS pleasure from food. If you do not get the pleasure that you need from food, your brain interprets the missed experience of pleasure as HUNGER.
This is exactly why if you’ve been on a diet and have thought:
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Why am I always hungry?”
“Why is my willpower broken?”
You are NOT getting the pleasure you need from food - there is nothing wrong with you nor is your willpower broken.
Willpower is something you shouldn’t use with food in the first place. The second you start willing yourself to eat something you don’t want or resist something you do want, you will inevitably cause yourself to binge.
A binge leads to more restriction. (and more willpower).
The willpower breaks into another binge.
And unbeknownst to you, you just played right back into the cycle that made you binge in the first place.
It’s a cycle that repeats and builds to a point where you are out of control.
This is why you want to build a relationship, not rules.
Build a Relationship with Food, Not More Rules
To build a great relationship with food, let’s borrow some of the principles of other healthy relationships in your life. I’m also going to include some action steps to help you start implementing these ideas right away. Do NOT try to implement all of these at once. Pick ONE action step and implement it. Once you master one, you can move to the next.
Respect your food. If you respect food, it will respect you back. If you disrespect food, it will disrespect you.
Action Step: Avoid words like “poison”, “toxic”, “bad”, “junk”, “good”, “healing”, or “detoxifying” when talking about food. Instead, describe food by how it tastes.
2. Stop the Blame Game
Food is not to blame for weight gain and has no agenda against you. Food doesn’t exist to help or hurt you, it’s just food. The sooner you stop blaming the food, the sooner you can get along.
Action Step: Instead of trying to avoid cookies because they are fattening, ask yourself “Am I hungry and do I really want this?”
3. Include All Foods
No foods should be off limits. The more foods you include, the more sophisticated your palate will become and you will naturally start to exclude foods you don’t like. (I know this sounds nuts!)
Action Step: Include one food per day that you normally wouldn’t eat and see how it changes the scale and your mood.
4. Be Honest
Regardless of the amount of Vitamin C or Omega 3’s, don’t eat something you don’t like. If you like it, savor it. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.
Action Step: This is as straightforward as it gets. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it. No exceptions.
To what you’re body and brain are telling you. Learn to listen to your body and understand when it’s hungry, full, and in between.
Action Step: 30 minutes after each meal, check in with your body to see if you’ve eaten too much, too little, or just enough.
6. Be Satisfied
The goal of each meal should be satisfaction. Satisfaction is building block to metabolism, energy, and focus.
Action Step: At each meal, make sure you are eating only the foods that you want to eat and that you like.
7. Disconnect Your Feelings from Food
If you’ve had a bad day, ice cream will only make you feel good for a few minutes. Find alternative ways to work through the normal feelings of everyday life like anger, anxiety, sadness, and frustration without using food
Action Step: Video journal. When you are feeling emotional, put your phone into selfie mode and record a video of how you are feeling. Putting words to your feelings will help you deal with your emotions and come to better solutions than trying to numb or avoid them.
8. Respect Your Body
Your body deserves better than to be “tricked” into feeling full or bio-hacked with a powder or pill. Respect the needs of your body. Hunger is not your enemy, but a biological need.
Action Step: When you are hungry - eat. Each time you feel hunger eat. Hunger is a sign to eat, not fight your body.
Like all other relationships, your relationship with food will take time to develop. It will take time to unwind bad habits that you’ve accumulated over time - but the more you follow these principles, the more food will stop tormenting you.
If you want to learn how my clients have stopped letting cookies and pizza stop tormenting them without eating clean, strict rules, or restrictive diets, then watch my new training, the No Diet Masterclass, where I reveal the exact process.
You can register here: