Get Lean By Changing Your Relationship With Food

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Don’t feel guilty…it’s OK to eat treats once in a while.

There’s a theme that comes up with nearly every client I’ve ever had over the course of my 17-year fitness coaching career. Many people like exercising, or at least don’t mind it, and have developed a fondness for getting stronger with weight training over time. And then we get to the nutrition side and there’s a groan, followed by statements like:

“Food is my weakness.”

“I love food too much.”

“I can be good with my diet for a while, but then I crave chocolate/fries/chips/burgers, etc.”

And if you’re looking for why most people aren’t able to stay lean consistently, nutrition is almost always the answer.

Exercise is important, for sure, and it helps you develop the muscle shape you want while increasing important physiological factors like insulin sensitivity.

But you won’t find your long-term solution to leanness until you fix your nutrition game.

I know this personally since I’ve exercised consistently pretty much my whole life (primarily martial arts and weight training) and my level of leanness has varied considerably over that time. In my adult years, I’ve varied from about 130lbs (right before a fitness competition) to a high of over 165lbs. My normal weight these days hovers at 134-138lbs (at 5’10). And believe it or not, that highest weight WAS NOT during my pregnancy.

It was in my early 20s when I was struggling with an unidentified digestive disorder (later labelled IBS and GERD), periods of mild depression, and binge eating.

It wasn’t until my 30s, when I discovered a higher-protein and lower-carb lifestyle that I finally developed a healthy relationship with food. Gone was the “all-or-nothing” mentality, the overly-restrictive diets, and the use of food as therapy for everything that hurt me emotionally.

Food is fuel. Food is for enjoyment, including to enhance social experiences.The right quantity and quality of food helps you feel good, stay lean, and adds to your enjoyment of life.

When your eating balance gets tipped in either direction, either too careless or too restrictive, negative things happen.

I got thinking about this after a visit to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), a massive two-week celebration in Toronto that has a midway, exhibits, shopping, and a lot of (often completely outrageous) food. Think Fried Mac and Curd Chimichangas, massive heavily-loaded burgers, deep-fried spaghetti balls, and cheesesteaks that use donuts instead of a bun and topped with whipped cream.

I actually feel kind of nauseous thinking about it!

People rush to the CNE to get their crazy-food fix and many people leave having consumed several thousand more calories than they should in a day…and with very upset stomachs.

And that’s not the end of the world, as long as they don’t do it every day.

Sometimes eating too much (like on special occasions) and eating food that doesn’t make us feel that well is a good reminder of why it’s better to eat well most of the time.

I love food.

But food isn’t the only thing that brings me enjoyment in life, and I don’t use it to try to soothe any of the pain or hurt that I may endure anymore.

Your relationship with food is what makes or breaks your success in staying lean long-term.

As long as you keep thinking of yourself as “being good” when you’re eating a certain way and “being bad” when you eat in another manner, you’ll never really have a healthy relationship with food.

That roller coaster ride of restrictive dieting followed by binge eating is what keeps most people from long term success with fat loss…and makes them unhappier each time it happens.

So do what you can to break the cycle.

I wish there was a magical solution to change your psychological food associations, but there isn’t. I’d love to be able to recommend a specific diet that will stop your desire to eat crappy food when you’re feeling down. There’s no quick-fix for a lifetime of bad food habits and you’ll have setbacks as you try to heal your negative relationship with food.

Here are the important points:

  1. Never feel guilty about the food you eat.
  2. Move on quickly after you’ve had too much food, or if you’ve had a period where it was hard to keep your nutrition plan on track.
  3. Practice mindfulness when you’re eating, and do a daily short 5-10 minute meditation (HERE is a simple way to get started) to help you reduce the stress that can lead to making bad choices with food.
  4. If you suffer from frequent binge eating episodes, think obsessively about food, or feel that you have a chronic lack of control around food, seek out professional help in the form of a psychologist that specializes in eating disorders.

You can move forward into a healthier, happier mindset by taking your lifestyle changes one step at a time, and by not making yourself feel bad because you don’t have superhuman discipline.

This isn’t about discipline at all; it’s about the impact of your emotional state on your eating habits.

You can hop from diet to diet, but if you don’t find a way to manage the emotional side of your eating you’ll never make a permanent change in your life.

When you learn to appreciate and accept food for what it is, and for what it’s not, you’re on your way to a lifetime of leanness, and a more positive outlook.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 6-year-old boy. She is a writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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