When food is a source of stress – making food your friend

Worrying about what to eat and what not to eat has become such a common experience, to the point where food no longer fills you with joy. When you're stressing about how certain foods might make you feel or look, meal times become such a challenge.
when food is a source of stress

When food is a source of stress, day-to-day living can be challenging. As it’s “Eating Disorders Awareness Week” this week, I’ve decided to write about this really rather sensitive topic. 

Worrying excessively over your food and the way you might react is something that I have experienced myself. A lot of my clients feel very stressed about food too. 

But just to be clear, this post is not written for anyone experiencing a severe eating disorder right now. Rather, this is a post exploring how we can improve our relationship with food so that we stress less about it. 

When food is a source of stress

You might worry about food because of your weight. Perhaps you’d like to loose some, or perhaps finally gain some. Or maybe you are really concerned about certain health symptoms that you experience, and you feel that particular types of food (might) make them better or worse. I certainly know from clinical as well as personal experience that certain foods simply don’t agree with some people. 

My own experience​

About 5 years ago, I used to worry endlessly about what to eat and what not eat. In my case, I wasn’t worried about weight gain or weight loss, I was worried about food intolerances.I was constantly stressing about which foods might be making my physical and mental health symptoms worse. So much so that food felt almost like an enemy to me. 

And then you start to worry about the worry: meta worry. Food fear can quickly spiral out of control.

These days, I know that if I eat much gluten or particularly dairy, my skin will become dry and itchy. So I mostly avoid these foods. 

But! I also work on my digestion, immune health and detoxification to help my body react less to “problematic” foods. When you are dealing with food sensitivities, you really want to be looking at your body and how to support its many processes, instead of just avoiding any problematic foods alone.

So if I go out to dinner now and really fancy something that has wheat or dairy in, I might go ahead and order it anyway. And then I really enjoy it in that moment. No guilt, no shame nor excessive worrying. My body doesn’t tend to react as much as these days but if it does, I know what to do about it.

My daughter and I also bake the occasional cake, and you know what? We really enjoy it. Not just the cake itself but the process of baking it together too. It will be dairy and gluten free because of my husband’s strong reaction to gluten but there’ll be some kind of sweetener in.I just don’t believe in nutritional therapy that sucks the joy out of food.

How I Approach Food Fear With My Clients​

In my work with clients, whether it’s about weight gain or weight loss or improving certain symptoms, I never ever suggest counting calories or going on restrictive diets for a long time. Sure, if your body very clearly reacts to say gluten, and the symptoms you consequently get are very unpleasant, then you’ll probably want to stay off it. But in this scenario, it’s probably not a difficult or stressful decision for you. You just don’t want to feel a certain way and are okay with avoiding the particular food.  But we might then also want to look at why your body is reacting to a food, or to many foods. And again, you might want to look at your digestive processes, whether your body is struggling to detoxify or whether your immune system is in overdrive. And sure enough, if it’s weight you want to loose, then eating lots of cake and drinking juices or fizzy drinks, plus alcohol and little veggies in your diet is not a great idea. But I’d never say to never ever have a piece of cake again. If your weight loss approach is making you feel miserable, what’s the point? And I’d never ever instil a fear of fat in anyone. Please just don’t fear an entire food group, whether that’s carbohydrates, fats or protein. 

Making Food Your Friend​

Nutritional therapy is all about eating healthy, nutritious food that feeds both your body and your soul! Food that you enjoy eating and that supports your physical and mental health in an optimal way. 

Food is about so (!) much more than calories or energy supply. It is information for the body. It tells your body to make new hormones, new enzymes, to produce energy or to repair cells. Food gives your body instructions to regulate appetite, your brain chemistry, your immune system, your gene expression and your microbiome.

Food is amazing. And what your body does with it is even more amazing! 

I’ve had clients tell me that they’re now eating more than ever before and yet are loosing weight. I’ve had clients who once used to fear food and how it affected their body shape, but now no longer do. 

Food fear is something you can overcome. Making food your friend is possible. Food wants to be your friend. It wants to nourish your body!

Here's how one of my clients used to think about food and how she sees it now​

“Food used to really confuse and overwhelm me. One minute, you think something is good for you, but then you find out it’s not. It became too much and I didn’t know what to eat, how much and when.

Is eating something that I like bad for me? Should it be a treat? What even is bad?

Now I’ve realised that the word “healthy” itself often doesn’t mean that something is truly healthy indeed. “Healthy” is now used in marketing to describe low calorie food that will  supposedly help you loose weight.

Instead, “balance” is what I aim for with food now. Instead of looking at a meal and wondering “Is this healthy?”, I think “Is this balanced?”. If it is then I know I’m I getting what I need from this meal.”

Questions To Ask Yourself If Food Is A Source Of Stress​

If eating stresses you out, here are a few questions to ask yourself. Not all of them might apply to your particular situation of course, but I’d encourage you to dig a little bit deeper here.

  1. When did you first notice worrying about what to eat / or what not to eat?
  2. What was happening at the time? What has led you to start worrying about it?
  3. Why didn’t you worry about it before?
  4. What do you think might happen if you eat “the wrong types of food”?
  5. How much evidence is there to support this belief?
  6. If you count calories to loose weight, is this working well for you? Both in terms of weight loss and how you feel physically and mentally?
  7.  Whatever it is you want to improve about your body and / or your health, is there another way of doing so? Or perhaps an additional way?
  8. What would you say to a dearly loved one if they were dealing with the same type of stress around eating certain foods?

If you are interested in working together to change your relationship with food (and so much more) to improve your physical and mental health, do get in touch. I offer a free 30 minute phone call where we can discuss how you’re currently feeling and what you’d like to improve. We’ll figure out whether my programme is the right fit for you. To arrange a time for our call, just click here

when food is a source of stress

Welcome to the blog

I’m Claudia Smith and I help women get to better mental health naturally. Having overcome depression once myself, I am a qualified nutritionist, coach and practice functional medicine.

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