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Love and Practice: Why diets ruin your connection to your values.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of living a “healthy” lifestyle. But what does that mean, exactly? And how do you go about achieving it?

One thing is for sure: dieting is not the answer. In fact, dieting can actually ruin your connection to your values and make you less healthy in the long run. Healthy living is far less about food selection and fancy diet rules than it is about living in alignment with values. And it has nothing to do with weight.

When you diet, you’re not just depriving your body of food. You’re also asking yourself to ignore your own values and priorities. And when you become thin, you’ll realize that the perfect life isn’t waiting for you at a BMI of 24. You’ll be disappointed, and you’ll seek out food as a way to make yourself feel better. The weight will come back, because our bodies and brains hate dieting and love reward. So my invitation is to work to divorce your enjoyment of food, and life, from the size of your body and the “healthiness” of your eating experiences.

The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and the diet industry does not care about your health or happiness. It only cares about the money it makes off of you. diet companies make their money by selling you the promise of a perfect life – a life where you will be thin, healthy, and happy. But the reality is that dieting is not sustainable, and it will never make you happy. In fact, dieting can actually lead to disordered eating and cause immense stress and anxiety in your life.

You deserve to be healthy – both physically and mentally – so stop dieting for good! There are plenty of other ways to live a healthy life without dieting, and I invite you to explore them.

Diets are not sustainable. They are hard to stick to, and they can lead to disordered eating. Disordered eating can cause immense stress and anxiety in your life, and it can be very difficult to overcome. So if you’re struggling with dieting, please seek professional help. There is no shame in getting help when you need it, and there is no shame in admitting that dieting is not working for you. You are worth so much more than the number on the scale, and I believe that you can find happiness and health without dieting.

Love is dopamine. Dopamine is love.

When we do something that we love, it feels good. This is because our brain expresses the hormone dopamine, which gives us a feeling of pleasure. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for motivation and reward. When we start doing something and see early success or reward, our brain expresses dopamine which we experience as pleasurable. This leads us to practice more, or do the activity more, to experience more reward. In this way, we can become highly skilled at something through practice. This is the connection between love and practice. So, when people talk about having a “passion” for something, they may be describing the reward of mastery and skill.

Reward and cue.

So how what does this have to do with eating experiences? Well, just like anything else we do in life, the more we eat something, the more our brain gets used to it and develops attachments to that experience. If we eat something in a loving context, we will feel even more reward. If we eat in a difficult context, we may feel temporary relief from that context through the pleasure of food. It all helps build neural connections that make certain behaviours more automatic than others.

If we eat something that’s really sweet, for example, at first it tastes great because our brain expresses more dopamine than usual. But then, the more often we have that same experience, the deeper the connection between the reward (the dopamine) and the cue (the sweet food).

Diets deny reality.

Diets don’t work because they fail to help people understand the cognitive distortions they hold around food, many of which arose from rewarding childhood eating experiences. They tell people that their own formative patterns are not acceptable without offering any framework for reconciling the conflicting motivations of the different layers of the appetite system. So when you hear yourself saying “I can’t be near chips” or some other highly rewarding food, consider that you’re describing powerful cue-reward relationships as opposed to a personal weakness.

Once a cue-reward cycle becomes deep, our thinking mind (also known as our executive mind) can go into auto-pilot. It doesn’t have to think very hard about whether to pursue the reward. The relationship is so tight that the executive mind is on auto-pilot with respect to the decision to pursue that eating experience.

Wake up the auto-pilot.

So if these cue-reward patterns are so deep, and our executive mind is on auto-pilot, then how can we change our eating experiences?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be really helpful in addressing these distorted thoughts and helping to develop a more balanced relationship with food. CBT is one of the foundational therapies in Responsive Eating™, in combination with mindfulness and radical acceptance.

CBT can help to loosen the grip of these old cue-reward cycles by helping us to develop a more mindful relationship with food. In addition, CBT combined with mindfulness and radical acceptance can help us to create new, healthier relationships with food.

The first step is to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise around food. This can be done through mindfulness practices such as meditation or journaling. Once we become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, we can start to challenge the distorted thinking patterns that may be driving our relationship with food.

Distortion and food.

What are some of the cognitive distortions you hold around food? What are some of the thought patterns that may be driving your relationship with food?

Here are some common cognitive distortions around food:

-All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white, without any shades of grey. If you “mess up” and eat something you’re not supposed to, then you might as well give up because you’ve ruined your diet.

-Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as part of a never-ending pattern. For example, you overeat at one party so you label yourself as a “overeater” and believe that this means you will always overeat and be overweight.

-Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened or distorted.

In Responsive Eating™ we identify these distortions and consider that they may not be true, even if they feel true. We can start to challenge these thoughts by considering evidence that may contradict them. For example, if you’re thinking “I’ll never be able to stick to a diet,” you can consider all of the times in your life when you have stuck to something, even if it was hard.

Three steps to dealing with distortion.

What are some of the ways you can start to challenge the distorted thoughts around food?

-Identify the thought or feeling that arises in relation to food.

-Sit with the thought or feeling and explore where it comes from. What is its purpose?

-Challenge the thought or feeling by considering evidence that contradicts it.

-Choose a different way of relating to the thought or feeling.

We are all in this together.

This process is one that I love working through in a group setting. I think that people often feel that their distortions around food are somehow uniquely horrible when, most of the time, we all feel some friction around food. Groups helps us see each other, and therefore ourselves, for what we are: ancient beings in a very bizarre modern food environment.

The only way to create new cue-reward neuropathways in the brain is to forge new connections between love and practice? This requires thought and effort. Both are hard. Change is hard.

Values lead change.

So what makes change worth it? Values.

When we connect to our values, we create meaning and purpose for the changes we want to make. Our values give us a reason to keep going when things are tough.

What are some of your values around food? What are some of your values around your body?

Some common values around food and body might be: health, pleasure, connection, self-compassion, vitality, ease.

Take some time to consider what your values are. I have a signature process for values identification in Responsive Eating™. Once you have connected with your values, the next step is to start making changes in alignment with those values.

Love (or dopamine) stokes the appetite for more practice. Living and eating in a way that is values-aligned is rewarding and so embedded values work into a framework for eating experiences is what makes change possible.

I can’t just tell you not to eat chips if you’re someone who loves chips. You’ve had too much practice (and love) to simply follow my direction away from the dopamine. Instead, I’ll help you find a way to eat chips that is values-aligned.

And, when you eat chips because you’re eating automatically, or what I call “eating into wanting”, I’ll show you how to acknowledge the discomfort that comes with that experience, ride that discomfort and release it.

Love and eating.

With eating, we love to practice and we practice to experience love. The imposition of a diet framework that denies our experience of the most powerful neurotransmitter known to humankind is unrealistic and unattainable, particularly for those of us Big Eaters for whom life is a high reward endeavour.

So don’t diet.

Live and eat in a way that is responsive to your hunger and wanting.

A way that is connected to your values.

A way that allows you to live a life of love and meaning.

You can work with us through Responsive Eating™ Self Study, Group Coaching or our 8 Week Ant-Diet Diagnosis Program.

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