Why Trying To Control Our Food Is Actually Damaging Our Relationships With Food

09/04/2016 10:48 am ET Updated Sep 07, 2016

Let’s talk about food and how we try to control it. I was having a discussion the other day with a woman who wanted to coach with me. When I asked her what she wanted her relationship with food to be like, she said she wanted to feel ‘in control’ again. She felt very strongly about this because I noted that she used the word ‘control’ about four or five times during our conversation.

I totally understand this point of view because I used to think that being ‘in control’ was what I needed to learn to do in order to finally have the healthy relationship with food that I had been trying to create for several decades.

I now understand that having a healthy relationship with food isn’t about control at all. Healthy relationships are about living in harmony with one another. The truth is that nothing positive ever comes from trying to control any relationship, and that includes our relationship with food.

So, how can we achieve that sweet and harmonious relationship with food that we’re craving?

  1. Don’t restrict or deprive food of any kind…even sugar. I know, we’ve all heard and read the horror stories about the dangers of eating sugar. I get it. However, what many don’t realize is that for people who struggle in their relationship with food, depriving themselves will eventually backfire and cause bingeing on the foods they’re depriving. The fact is when we restrict, we build up an insatiable desire to eat more of that food or foods. So, if we fall into that trap and think we’re doing something good for ourselves by restricting, we need to think again. In order to live in harmony with all foods, we must allow them. (Unless, of course, you have a food allergy or food sensitivity to them.) This may sound crazy, especially for those of us who have been chronically dieting, but the act of allowing will eventually stop the burning desire for these foods.

  2. Let go of the belief that control is possible. For all the times we’ve tried to control our food, we need to honestly ask ourselves how that worked out for us in the past. If it’s anything like my experiences or like the experiences my clients have had, trying to control our food is fleeting. Sure, it may last for a while, maybe even a few weeks or months, but it will never last long-term. Eventually the willpower will evaporate and we’ll surrender to the food or foods again. Likely to follow are profound guilt, very possibly a binge, and insurmountable shame. Even though we may have periods, albeit short, of ‘control’ they will not last. Maybe the truth is that we never really were in control at all.

  3. Learn to trust. One of the keys to any healthy relationship is trust. What would it be like to start trusting ourselves again around food and not feel the need to control it? When we let go of the illusion that we can control our food, we create the space needed to actually let the healing take place. When our bodies see that we’re no longer going to deprive/restrict foods, it’ll be a game changer! Moving in to what I call the ‘allowance mode’ let’s this to happen.

  4. Understand that control isn’t love. Another vital key to experiencing a healthy relationship is love. The fact is that we don’t need to control things that we love. Trying to control any relationship is an indication of diminished self-esteem and low self-confidence. No relationship has long-term success when one or both of the partners are trying to control one another. Even though it’s obvious that food is not human and therefore technically not able to control us in the same way a human would, I’ve often said myself that I felt that food was controlling me. In fact, I’ve even heard some say that they believe food ‘calls’ them sometimes! To break this cycle of control, once again, the answer is to move into the allowance mode. This will help restore our self-esteem and self-confidence so we can enjoy our relationship with food again.

  5. Ditch perfection. I’ve been married for over two decades and one of the things that I’ve learned the hard way is that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. Any healthy relationship with another person requires lots of patience, compassion, and honesty. The same applies to our relationship with food. When we have a perceived setback, we need to love ourselves through it. Instead of beating ourselves up for something we ate, we need to load up on the self-compassion instead. Being unkind to ourselves never helps any situation and often times causes overeating, emotional overeating and sometimes even bingeing.

    I believe with all my heart that with patience, learning to listen to our bodies, self-compassion, courage and support, mending our relationship with food is absolutely possible. Let’s let go of this illusion that control is part of this equation so that we can begin to nurture the relationship with food that we all crave and deserve.

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