Food epiphanies. Ever had one?
Like, when you discover maybe you do actually like Brussels sprouts, or when you realize that mayonnaise is the best condiment of all time? Over the last three or four years I’ve had several food epiphanies that have transformed my relationship with food forever.
I've had a lifelong obsession with food. I’ve always thought about food, dreamed about food, and got excited thinking about what I was going to eat next. In fact, when I was a small child, my Mom found me hiding behind the couch, halfway through my fourth stick of butter. I also got in trouble when, on more than one occasion, she found all of our missing teaspoons inside the box of Bisquick powder I had been munching on!
Between this love affair with food and my huge appetite, I cemented some pretty atrocious eating habits early on that followed me into my late teens. For a while, because I was so physically active through competitive gymnastics and cheerleading, I was able to stave off weight gain, but eventually those habits caught up with me. When I finally decided to "get in shape" almost 13 years ago, my diet consisted mostly of fast food, soda, candy, and other junk food. I distinctly remember wondering how I could ever go a full day without fast food.
"What would I eat?" I wondered.
Over the next decade I experimented with a variety of nutrition protocols. Low-fat, low-carb, six small meals a day, intermittent fasting, 1,400 calories a day, 3,400 calories a day, gut-healing elimination diets, full-day cheat days, half-day cheat days, five weeks “on plan” and one week “off plan.” I've tried it all, and yes, most of it "worked" for whatever my goal was at the time. However, as different as these diets were, they all had one thing in common:
As much as I wanted to think that they were a lifestyle, every single one of them was a diet.
Yes, I'd made lifestyle changes, but I was always looking for the "next thing" that felt more sustainable while still helping me reach my goals. Nothing so far had felt that way.
For the most part, I'd been able to maintain a pretty lean physique, even while battling Hashimoto's (autoimmune thyroiditis), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and adrenal issues. Then life smacked me in the face.
As many of you who have been part of the GGS community for a while might know, I dealt with several very stressful events in quick succession over in the last few years, namely the unexpected loss of my Dad, the end of a six-year relationship, and a battle with chronic back pain. In October of 2012, I found myself heavier and "softer" than I had been in years. In addition to those major life events, I was also trying to grow a new gym, work on Girls Gone Strong, maintain my blog, and move residences. Stress, much?
Over the next six to eight months my weight fluctuated, as I hired a nutrition coach, followed another diet, lost some body fat, got sick of my diet, didn’t follow my diet, felt badly about not following my diet, got back on my diet… and the cycle continued.
In the late Spring/early Summer of 2013 I finally hit a wall. I threw my hands up in the air and said “Eff it. I’m done.” I didn’t want to diet anymore. I just wanted to eat food like a normal human being and not stress about whether my baked potato weighed six or six and a half ounces, so I stopped dieting and started eating whatever I wanted.
In the first couple of weeks “what I wanted” seemed to be a lot of chips and queso, and chocolate. (After all, I was finally free, right?) However, I quickly realized that these foods weren’t actually what I wanted at all. I was just eating them excess because I’d placed them off-limits for so long. I began to recognize that eating lots of those types of food didn’t make me feel great, and I wanted to feel great.
Over the next several months, as I let go of the nutrition rules I’d revered as gospel for so many years, a funny thing began to happen. I started actually listening to what my body wanted. As a result, I had some incredible “epiphanies” around food. These epiphanies have allowed me to achieve and maintain a much more comfortable body weight for me without ever stressing about food.
Granted, simply coming to these realizations didn't instantly bring about all that good stuff. I had to put in the work, and put them into practice, and I observe and practice them regularly.
I continue to learn so much about myself through this process that I hope they keep coming. We’re never done learning about ourselves, and adding tools to our toolbox that help make healthier eating and healthier living feel more effortless.
Today I want to share with you some of my most significant food epiphanies—the ones that have had the biggest impact on my health, my physique and my quality of life so far:
In the past, I’ve eaten foods in excess when I wasn’t hungry for them or wasn’t even enjoying them simply because I feared that I might not have the chance to eat them again. Perhaps you’re familiar with FOMO, or the fear of missing out. It happens a lot with holiday or birthday treats or food you can only get in a certain city. On the surface, this makes sense. We should “take advantage” of eating that food when we have access to it, but the key here is that I would eat it in excess amounts when I was already full and/or not even enjoying the food. The purpose of eating something really delicious is to enjoy it and gain satisfaction from the experience. This doesn’t happen when you’re eating to the point of discomfort. After years of practice, I’m able to eat those foods when I want them, pass on them when I don’t, and only eat them in amounts that feel good to me and my body.
This is my version of Neghar Fonooni’s Law of First Bites. Basically, I stop eating an indulgent food when the "payoff" (the taste) is no longer greater than the price (the calories, or the way I feel as I continue to eat it). Once I had this epiphany, I tuned into my body as I was eating and realized that I was doing irrational things like eating an entire pint of ice cream even though I couldn't taste the last two-thirds of it because my tongue was frozen. These days I eat as much as I want of something—and “as much as I want” is usually a lot less than when I wasn’t tuned in to the relationship between payoff and price.
For years I ate dry chicken breast, plain egg whites, and soggy broccoli because I thought that’s what I had to do to be healthy and achieve my physique goals. It’s no wonder that I never felt satisfied, no matter how much I ate. I wasn’t enjoying my food. Today I still eat plenty of protein and vegetables, but I choose foods I truly enjoy. An example is juicy, marinated chicken breast instead of dry, bland chicken. And instead of soggy broccoli, I’ll choose roasted Brussels sprouts with butter and garlic. I find that eating more satisfying foods (even ones that are considered healthful) leads to fewer cravings for more indulgent foods.
I used to stuff myself with food until I was uncomfortable, or even pain. I habitually ate beyond fullness on my "cheat day" or during the holidays. Because so many foods would be off-limits again once the clock struck midnight, I'd stuff my face from the moment I woke up until my “cheat day” came to an end. In fact, on my birthday one year I ate so much food that I ended up in tears because I couldn’t unzip my dress and I was in serious physical pain. I did this over and over again, for so long. Over time I have learned I just stop eating when I feel satisfied, instead of full or overly full. (The photo on the left is an example of only part of one of those "cheat days".)
There are simple and non-stressful ways to adjust my food intake if I’ve eaten or will be eating more energy-dense food.
On days when I know I’ll be eating more energy-dense food at night, I wait a bit longer to eat my first meal, stretch out the time between my meals, or make my meals a bit smaller than they would normally be. This isn’t about intense restriction or deprivation, but rather a gentle shift in my overall energy intake to accommodate for eating more later in the day. This also happens naturally if I eat more energy-dense food earlier in the day. I find that I can wait longer than normal to eat my next meal, and I’m often not as hungry as I would have normally been. This is my body naturally adjusting my hunger and satiation cues based on my intake.
I'm an absolute fanatic when it comes to chips and queso. One thing I started doing as a way to slow down and enjoy my food more is breaking tortilla chips into two or three smaller pieces and taking smaller bites, instead of mindlessly stuffing whole chips in my mouth. I eat more slowly, I eat less overall, I get the same amount of satisfaction, and it keeps my hands busy. I also put my fork down between bites, drink water, and engage in conversation.
If I'm at home and want to have something indulgent like ice cream, instead of mowing through an entire pint like I used to, I'll have a few bites and then stop. I remind myself that if I still want more in 20 minutes, I can have more. It’s easy to stop when you know you can have more if you want it. The funny thing is, I almost never want more because my initial craving has been satisfied.
Bread is not “bad.” Kale is not “good.” I’m not "good" for eating one thing, and "bad" for eating another. I’m not "on" or "off" the wagon. I’m not “cheating” on my diet. I’ve realized that salad and cupcakes can co-exist in the same meal. The universe will not implode.
These are just a few of the food epiphanies I have had—and practiced—over the last several years that have helped me completely transform my relationship with food and how it affects my body. I am able to maintain a healthy weight without stressing about food or letting it run my life. Eating feels more effortless than it ever has.
No more cheat days.
No more stressing about what I “can” and “can’t” have.
No more turning down a nice dinner because it's a Tuesday. Just living my life.
This is a kind of freedom I wasn’t sure I would ever have, and I’m incredibly passionate about helping other women find the same freedom.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
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