If you woke up tomorrow having found your Food Freedom, what would it look like? What actions would be or would NOT be a part of your life? I encourage you to record that somewhere. If you don’t know what you are aiming towards, you have a slim chance of getting there.
Here’s an example of what Food Freedom looks like to ME:
- Food Freedom to me is me consciously eating things that move my body towards better health (which I know from proper Whole30 reintroduction). I know which foods are highly damaging for my health physically and emotionally (sugar, dairy, and gluten) and I avoid those unless it’s really worth it.
- It means I am in control my food choices, my food cravings do not control me.
- When I decide to eat something that has a more inflammatory-for-me food ingredient in it, it is a conscious choice I make, not as a victim to my emotions.
- I eat my food with intent and enjoyment.
- I listen to my hunger cues and stop when I am full.
- There is no guilt, shame, or morality around my food choices. They are just choices with consequences.
But, the big question attached to this – how do you find food freedom? Here are 6 tips that have made the biggest difference in this journey for me.
Read Food Freedom Forever
When I was up to my eyeballs in my sugar addiction, I read and took notes on 80+ nutrition books. Food Freedom Forever is in my top 5 most valuable nutrition books (and that was before I was a Whole30 Certified Coach or worked for Whole30). Seriously, I remember sitting on my couch reading it and saying out loud, “Yes! This is totally me!” to the things it was describing. Not only will you really connect with the struggles it describes, it actually gives you tangible strategies to tackle it. Read it like a workbook and seriously apply the strategies and it can change your life!
Track Your Triggers
One of the tips from Food Freedom Forever that made the most difference in my food freedom was tracking my triggers. The idea being to find a way to record when you felt out of control with food. What was the setting? What were your emotions around it?
This photo is how I journaled my relationship with food in 2016. I called it “Mommy’s Sugar Challenge” and put it on the fridge. My loved ones knew my goals and my tracking sheet was in a public place. When I felt in control of my relationship with food (i.e. food freedom), I put a sticker on my chart. Yup, my kid’s stickers on a chart like my then 4 year old. You laugh, but it was strangely very validating! (I hear there are habit tracking apps now you could do this on as well). Days that didn’t feel successful and the addictive habits took the wheel, I journaled – what happened, thoughts on why. Melissa Hartwig called this an AAR (after-action report). I looked for patterns and tried to course correct anything I could control about the situation.
For example, I learned that Sunday evenings I always binged. After seeing the pattern and exploring the emotions around it, I realized it was because my family was relaxing and I felt “stuck” in the kitchen making a huge traditional Sunday dinner. I felt bitter I couldn’t relax too and ate my emotions. I talked with my husband, who said he could care less if we ate breakfast or something really simple for Sunday dinner, which we switched to. My eliminating that trigger and stressor, I was able to minimize that emotional binging on Sunday.
Realize losing control is part of the plan
One of my most favorite things about the Food Freedom Forever 3-step cycle (see the book for all the details on this empowering cycle!) is the fact that losing control – is part of the plan. You are human. You will not eat perfectly. Eventually, stress, lack of sleep, that time of the month, or just a lot of mindless food choices piled together will lead you to the point you feel out of control. Thinking you “failed” or “cheated” because you didn’t eat as well or mindfully as you wanted to that day, week, month is not healthy.
Here’s some favorite quotes from the book Food Freedom Forever on this topic:
“Feeling guilt and shame over your “infidelities” will never lead to true food freedom. Linking your food choices with your ‘success’ or ‘failure’ as a person is destructive.
You aren’t a mess, a disaster or a train wreck. You aren’t hopeless, worthless, or pathetic. You are a committed, motivated, healthy person working hard to change your relationship with food, grappling with strong emotional ties and pulls of long-standing habits.
You do not cheat; you make a choice. You do not fail; you make a choice. There is no guilt, shame, or punishment – only consequences.”
You must reframe your ‘failures’ as an inevitable and valuable part of the process. Wring them dry mentally to learn from them.
Sometimes I still eat mindlessly. Sometimes I overdose on fruit and nut bars or nut butter. Sometimes I eat way past full. Sometimes I eat things that weren’t worth it. Sometimes I let my sugar dragon win.
But because I have learned from my mistakes and don’t let myself see it as a “failure” but an opportunity to learn, I move forward. No longer do I binge on Ben & Jerrys secretly outside of the gas station. Nor do those mistakes cause a downward destructive spiral. Validate your progress, use your mistakes as stepping stones.
Realize that our relationship with food isn’t really about the food
Many times in my life I have eaten a whole package of Oreos, pan of brownies, or batch of cookies. Maybe for you it’s a bag of chips. It started with a “craving” – that pull (sometimes small, sometimes deafening) towards foods that are usually less nourishing, and often not really want you want or align with your health goals.
I always wondered why I could eat the whole batch/package/bag and why it was never as satisfying as I thought it would be, at least after the moment has passed. The dopamine hit from eating treats would keep me coming back for more, with the promise of that “feel good” relief, but it always felt hollow.
It has taken me YEARS of self work to realize why – because it’s not about the food. I wasn’t craving the actual food itself. I ate a lot of “not worth it” things in high amounts just chasing down what I really wanted – to feel better.
I wanted to not feel stressed. I wanted an escape. I wanted emotional relief. Sometimes I wanted to feel nothing and hoped food would numb it all.
It never did.
It’s time to start getting to the roots of the emotions in our lives. To chose things that truly satisfy our need to connect, destress, nourish, and fill up our cups. As I’ve said before, the answer to our problems is not in the fridge/pantry/drive through. That’s just a band-aid on a broken arm.
What you are truly craving = things that fill you UP emotionally.
One thing that played a HUGE role in my cravings, besides the way I built my plate, was focusing on self care. I feel like 10 years ago self care wasn’t really talked about. And coming in to it, I thought self care just meant bubble baths and massages. Now I realize more and more that self care is being proactive about taking care of myself instead of reactive. “Self care running the day instead of letting the day run you” – Melissa Hartwig.
This usually looks like small daily actions and choices to build your health and meet your needs:
- For me, that’s waking up a little before the kids
- Making my bed
- Starting my day with intention and meditation. My meditation takes the form of scripture study and prayer, as I am religious. Starting my day with intention means I reflect on what I need to do that day, after getting my mind right with meditation, and choosing the three things I need to do most that day.
- Nourishing myself with whole foods that make me feel my best, even when I’m busy or stressed.
- Getting to bed on time and prioritizing my sleep.
- Saying “no” to things that really aren’t the best fit for me and my family’s needs.
- Making sure I move my body every day.
- Connecting with others (phone call, text, video chat, Marco Polo, face to face)
Click here for other specific things that you can do instead of eating the cookie/chips. See your cravings for what they truly are so you can give yourself what you truly need
Make Success Convenient
One of my favorite habit books is by Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before, a book all about making and breaking habits. I highly recommend it!
She talks about the concept of making success “convenient.” Whether or not you realize it “Convenience shapes everything we do” – we do MANY things out of convenience and avoid things that are inconvenient. “Even the tiniest tweaks in convenience affect people’s eating. People take less food when using tongs, instead of spoons. Plates instead of trays.” So, a trick to move closer to your goals is to make good habits more convenient and make inconvenient the habits we are trying to break. This is EXACTLY why meal planning and prepping works – because it makes the food we want to eat more convenient!
She gives six ways to make an activity inconvenient(with the opposites for trying to make things more convenient):
– Change the amount of physical or mental energy required (leaving the cell phone in another room, putting dinner on the counter instead of the table to prevent excess servings)
– Hide any cues (put the candy in the back of the freezer, not on the counter)
– Delay it (only eating a treat, if worth it, after a meal instead of on an empty stomach)
– Engage in an incompatible activity (to avoid snacking, go on a walk away from the food)
– Raise the cost
– Block it all together (get foods you have no brakes on out of the house)
It’s a fascinating concept: how convenient am I making the things I want to do, and how inconvenient am I making the habits I want to break? Having lots of healthy food options in the house makes eating healthy convenient and definitely helps our family meet that goal. I, for a long time in my quest to battle my sugar addiction, had certain foods I couldn’t have in the house, to make binges more inconvenient. Maybe you put your workout clothes ready to go by the front door so it’s more convenient to workout.
Often, it takes work initially to make things easier. But, in the long run it’s important to “Make it easy to do right, and hard to do wrong.”
Commit to the process
Realize the work you put into your relationship with food will directly equal the amount of success you have. Your relationship with food is like any other relationship – it’s not something you can check off as “done” just like a wedding doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage or running one 5k make you in shape for life. It’s an ongoing process, but it absolutely gets easier and is worth it!
“While you go through this process, you’ll feel like your decisions around food are taking up too much of your time, your energy, your emotional capacity. They are. It’s temporary. You’ll wonder if you’re going to have to pay this much attention to what you eat for the rest of your life. You won’t. It gets easier. You’ll fear you won’t be able to retain the amazing results of your reset once you are back in the real world. You can. You’ll find a balance.” – Food Freedom Forever, Melissa Urban
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with sugar cravings. I’ve struggled for so long (even still after 3 years of multiple whole30 resets) and hearing someone else’s story is so empowering. I’ve been right there with you in my car bingeing on Ben and Jerry’s – hiding the evidence from my children and husband. Thank you again for putting it all out there and especially for sharing what has worked for you. We are all works in progress 🙂
I’m happy this connected with you. I so wish I had heard other people’s experiences with sugar when I was really struggling with it, as I thought I was broken and along. The struggle is real and you can move forward. Extra strength to you as you figure out the best way to do so!