“It’s not about the food! It’s about all that unresolved emotional stuff.” This is pop-psychology 101 for anyone who’s ever read about or dealt with emotional eating or an eating disorder. In fact, this perspective is so cliché that it even prompted the creation of Happy Calories. (A Pilates client was – once again – bemoaning her drama with chocolate. I finally burst out – hopefully somewhat nicely – “Look! It’s not about the chocolate! It’s about your relationship to the chocolate! Happy Calories Don’t Count!”)
Ah…relationship. Did you catch that part? It’s important. But I have to address some other issues first…
Based on healing myself of my own eating disorder, and on years of speaking with and coaching countless women (and a few good men), what’s clear to me is this: It IS about the food – until it’s not.
To help explain this point of view, I need to address eating disorders and emotional eating in the context of alcoholism and drug addiction. This is because just like eating disorders, treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction revolves around the idea that true healing relies upon dealing with that “unresolved emotional stuff.”
The basic premise of treating all three conditions is essentially the same: put the patient in a facility where they cannot engage in their maladaptive coping behaviors while they learn to deal with their emotional issues and develop better coping skills.
To this end, alcoholics and addicts are put through detox and are then required to stay “clean” during their treatment programs. This way the “real” underlying issues can be addressed. However something interesting happens in eating disorder treatment programs. Unlike alcoholics and addicts – who can enjoy fully functional lives without alcohol and drugs – food cannot simply be taken out of the equation. And the way eating disorder treatment programs keep their patients from engaging in their maladaptive behaviors (while they deal with all of the emotional stuff and develop better coping skills) is to put them on a diet!!
It may be a high-calorie diet for anorexic patients, and some might euphemistically call it a “structured meal plan” for those suffering from bulimia or compulsive binge eating. But at the end of the day, it’s still a diet. And this diet is an obstacle to mastering the skills that will truly heal emotional issues with food because it keeps it “about the food.” No matter how much personal growth or healing of family dynamics a patient goes through, no matter how many self-help skills the patient develops, when all is said and done – the patient is still stuck looking at food in terms of a result it will have (or not) in the body weight and shape.
And this hurdle of a mindset is not limited to people in recovery from eating disorders. The average person just looking to lose some weight for health reasons goes directly to the food: what to eat, what not to eat, what’s “good,” what’s “bad.” And people looking to recover from “mindless” or “emotional eating” tend to think that if they can somehow heal their “emotional issues” they will then be successful at dealing with the food.
So it doesn’t really matter the perspective from which someone is coming in regards to their weight and wellbeing, the bottom line is that it IS about the food – until it’s not. And the way to make it not about the food is to make it about your body – to make it about learning to connect with and listen to your body – to make it about trusting your body and following its guidance – to make it about developing a relationship with your body! (I told you we’d get back to that relationship piece.)
Your body truly does know what, when and how much to eat. Your body has an innate wisdom of its own. It knows how to create an optimized state of health, vitality and beauty. Not only does your body know how to create this state, it is in its best interests to do so!
It’s not about the food – it’s about your body. But you cannot truly listen to your body and trust its impulses if you are filtering all of its messages through the “food filter,” judging whether it’s good, or bad, how many calories or carbs or fat grams it has, if it’s organic or refined or whatever.
To be able to truly connect with your body and hear the personal guidance it’s providing just for you, you need to give yourself permission to eat anything without judgment. This is where a little mantra such as “Happy Calories Don’t Count” becomes helpful. It reminds you to quit making it about the food. It gives you the space and the grace to be able to connect with your body and follow its innately wise guidance. It gives you permission to develop a relationship with your body. And when you do this, you will be truly healed of your food issues – because it’s finally not about the food.