In Part One, I introduced you to the concept of having a better relationship with food. This important connection is built into our adaptation and genetics, but it’s been severed by modern society. I offered a few of my thoughts on how to regain that connection.
The subject of Part Two was tuning in. The ability to listen to your body is one of the solutions to the popular puzzle of eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Tuning in is the mindfulness component of conscious eating and I gave you eight clear strategies to implement.
Part Three was all about the physical benefits of conscious eating. The point was to demonstrate that the benefits of conscious eating go far beyond the mental and emotional game. I gave you an additional action step for getting the most out of the physical benefits.
In Part Four, I showed you where conscious eating goes well beyond the simple concept of mindfulness. What you do with the awareness, how constructive and actionable you are, and how deep you’re willing to go are the pillars of conscious eating.
I want to finish by tying everything in and showing you the power of conscious eating.
Never forget the ultimate goal.
The goal of conscious eating is to heal your relationship with food, which is the root cause of any symptoms you might be experiencing. Remember that weight, depression, anxiety, digestive issues, sleep problems, and skin issues are all symptoms, not causes.
Let’s assume that your challenge is a combination of eating too much, eating the wrong things, and being in a sympathetic nervous system response too often.
The obvious solution is to change what you eat and adjust lifestyle factors to deal with stress. That’s a given. But, how do we address the “how much” part and how do we make sure the dietary changes stick? After all, that’s where most people stumble.
To answer that, let’s look at why failure happens more than it should.
That damn wagon.
It’s possible that your disordered eating and exercise habits are based solely on having the wrong information. If I gave you bad instructions for driving to the beach and you got lost, it’s not because you’re addicted to sightseeing.
In that case, if someone gave you proper directions, you’d course-correct and make it to your destination.
The question is, are you lost, or is something bigger at play?
One way to find out is to look at your statements and behaviors. Do you recognize any of these?
- “I was eating real food and exercising but I fell off the wagon.”
- “I love my pasta/bread/soda too much to do something like that…”
- “I love ultra-running, I couldn’t even imagine scaling that back, much less switching to another form of exercise.”
If you have the right information and fail (or can’t fathom changing), that’s a good sign that your relationship with food or exercise is the root cause.
This is more widespread than you’d think. In part four I said that eight out of ten people with the right information still can’t execute consistently. You’re not alone.
It’s not a smarts things, it’s a heart thing.
You don’t “fall off the wagon” because dietary and lifestyle changes are too confusing for your brain. You don’t fail because you’re stupid.
The reason you often fail is because your challenge is a unique puzzle and conventional advice is ill-equipped to help you solve that puzzle. In fact, they don’t even know what the final picture is supposed to look like.
Let’s revisit the shopping example I used in Part Four. I’ll simplify what’s going on so you can better understand how to piece your puzzle together.
Unhealthy Relationship with Shopping (Root Cause) > Overshopping (Symptom Layer One) > Debt bloat (Symptom Layer Two) > Edge of Bankruptcy (Symptom Layer Three)
Unhealthy Relationship with Food (Root Cause) > Overeating (Symptom Layer One) > Body bloat (Symptom Layer Two) > Disease (Symptom Layer Three)
If you have an unhealthy relationship with shopping and all of the symptoms that go along with it, which piece of advice would work best for you?
- “So the plan is, you need to shop less. Every item you buy is worth a certain amount of points and you only have 20 points for the day.” (fml).
- “So the plan is, just file for bankruptcy and make it all go away.” (here, take this pill).
- “So the plan is, go rob a bank and use the money to pay off your debt.” (surgery).
- “So the plan is, just shop in moderation.” (gee, thanks).
- “So the plan is, just don’t buy skirts or shoes.” (just avoid carbs or fat).
All of that advice is worthless because it’s symptom-based (and some of it is completely flawed). Success is dependent on finding a cause-based solution.
Before we move on, it’s important to note that solving the underlying problem doesn’t look like perfection. That’s not the goal here.
People who have a healthy relationship with shopping might over-shop every now and again, but they don’t chronically shop with no brakes.
People who have a healthy relationship with food might over-eat every now and again, but they don’t chronically eat with no brakes (or however the problem manifests).
Don’t misdefine a healthy relationship with food as a perfect relationship with food.
Great, the root cause is my relationship with food and exercise. Now what?
There’s a singular starting point for healing your relationship with food — awareness.
When I talk about your relationship with food or exercise as the root cause, it’s an oversimplification. There’s something below that, that’s manipulating your relationship.
Shame is an emotion that’s at the heart of addiction and codependency. It creates a feeling of loneliness and emptiness and this gap is easily filled with food. The more emotionally empty you feel, the more food is required to “fill” you.
So shame is the real root cause in that case. But, because there are so many variables, I lump all of these root causes into the concept of a “relationship with food” or “relationship with exercise” or “relationship with shopping.”
In order to start identifying your root causes, you need a tool that sheds light on them. Conscious eating is that tool.
What you uncover might surprise you.
Through the process of conscious eating, you’re going to uncover exactly what’s manipulating your relationship with food.
Sometimes, when people are sexually abused, they overeat as a defense mechanism. Subconsciously, they know that being overweight and self-destructive will make them less desirable and less likely to be abused again in the future.
This is a more serious example, but it underscores the power of this process. If a client (and it could be either a woman or a man in this case) came to that realization through conscious eating, it would be transformative and empowering.
How transformative and empowering would it be to continue to tell them to count points, exercise more, and to join another 30 day Paleo challenge? Do you see the disconnect?
And it’s not just about big events like obvious cases of abuse. A lot of people think that only the “big stuff” changes them and that’s absolutely not the case.
The simple act of your parents bribing you with candy to behave a certain way alters your relationship with food. When you broke your arm and your family took you out for ice cream afterward, that changed your association. The same thing that causes your perfectionism or people-pleasing is leaking over into your eating habits.
Do you believe that there’s a reason some people are arrogant, anxious, shy, or drawn to care-taking?
Do you believe there’s a reason some people have trouble managing anger? How about being afraid of success or failure?
If you believe that there’s a reason for all of those behaviors, then you must believe there’s a reason for disordered eating habits.
Conscious eating is the tool that allows you to see what’s there. What’s left is cultivating the willingness to do the work to heal it and change it.
This might not be something that can be done by your Summer vacation or that office Christmas party you’re trying to slim down for, but it’s life-altering work that brings peace, freedom and long-term success.
While this is the end of this series, it’s just the beginning of the work that’s ahead of you. If you’d like help, guidance, and support then consider joining our support-based platform at myrebootedbody.com.
Additionally: Do you feel like something was missing from this series? Did it leave you with questions? Use the comments section below to ask questions and I’ll help fill in the gaps.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.