Let’s Talk Food.

While I have about a million things I want to talk to you about since returning from vacation on Vancouver Island last week, I realize it’s been a while since we talked about food. And that’s a problem, considering the name of my blog.

Today, I thought I’d address something that’s been kind of bothering me for a while. 

Over the last few years, I’ve had people tell me that when faced with a food dilemma, they wonder, “What would Sarah do?” or that “I am always whispering in their ear” when they are about to make a food choice. While this feels incredibly validating because it means we are thinking more about the choices we are making, raising our awareness about our health, and improving our lifestyles, I want to make sure that I am not being perceived as someone who never makes choices for taste rather than for nutrition.

Because I do.

And I talk about it in my book and in my online course where I help people uncomplicate their relationship with food.

You see, I live in what I refer to as Maintenance. It is a lifestyle I maintain where I feel a sense of freedom around food; a place where I realize that there is so much more to life than eating yet there is so much that changes in our lives when we change our relationship with food; a belief that we can certainly celebrate with it but that food is not the only way; a mindset that allows me to remember that eating well fuels my body, giving it the energy it needs to do the things it wants to do like wander the beaches, play in the ocean, hike the trails, and breathe in that west coast air while on vacation.

And this lifestyle also allows me to eat junk food if I want to.

So, today, I thought I’d share 5 strategies that allow me to live in Maintenance that I hope may help you feel more relaxed around food if eating and weight and body image have become stressors in your life. Here goes…

1. First, I EAT. Eating is my number one strategy to warding off cravings and allowing me to make choices based on what I want to do; not on what biology is driving me to do. So I prioritize nourishing my body. Doing so allows me to plan for the times where I will eat foods I wouldn’t normally go for. I liken it to a bank account. We have to make a bunch of deposits (real food that nourishes us and serves our bodies) in order to make a withdrawal now and again (the less nutritious options that feed a craving). And by doing this, I am able to feel really good, even when I am enjoying something less nutritious. Because I have earned it. I have paid for it. Throughout the day, I like to stay one step ahead of my hunger by eating every few hours, which helps me consistently make the choices I want to make–including the ones where I say yes to pizza.

2. Second, I drink water. LOTS of water. As soon as I wake up, I drink 16 ounces of warm lemon water. It wakes up my digestive tract, hydrates me after a night’s sleep and flushes toxins. I don’t go out without my water bottle, and I refill as often as needed. Drinking water can help with cravings and our brains can mistake the feeling of hunger for the feeling of thirst. By staying hydrated all day, I know the difference between imaginary and real hunger. And I can make my choices from a place of awareness instead of a state of craving.

3. Third, I take the emphasis off food. This may sound counterintuitive, but I have systemized so much of my food life that I don’t have to think about it much. I know what I am eating for breakfast the night before, so I have all of my ingredients ready. I already have my lunch and dinner planned so that I am not left starving, wondering what I will eat, and setting myself up for making choices I wouldn’t otherwise make. In my regular life, planning meals comes naturally. I have a smoothie most mornings, some kind of leftovers or a salad at lunch and an easy and nutritious meal at dinner. This is how 90% of my weeks look. Even on holidays.

While I was away on vacation, I planned my days around the activities I wanted to do, not the food I would eat. I find that many of us go on vacation and take it as an opportunity to eat out at every meal because we have decided that food is our entertainment; our joy; our fun. My entire goal is to feel good. When I am moving and doing things that I enjoy, I feel good. You do, too. We all feel better when we move because our bodies are designed for it! Moving comes to us as naturally as breathing. I like to plan my days around the things I can do that will get me moving more, not eating more.

But it can get tricky while traveling, especially when staying in hotels or other people’s homes. But the key is that I don’t plan my days around what and where I will eat. I think about the fun things I want to do, and then I plan food around that; not the other way around. Too often, we get excited about this restaurant or eating that food, and we find we don’t experience the place we are visiting as much as we could if we took the emphasis off food and placed it on the culture and the sights and sounds of the places we are visiting. Yes, I LOVE to eat, but I want it to fit into my lifestyle; and the lifestyle I want to live has me enjoying experiences and people and culture and art; not just food.

When I worked in an office setting, I remember the highlight of the day for most of us was always lunch time. It was what we lived for. Instead of joining the two people who always ate their healthy-looking-salads and donned their running shoes to go out for a walk at lunch, the rest of us ordered paninis or pizza to be delivered from our local joint. I look back now and see that our (perceived) joy came from food; not from living a lifestyle we wanted to live. I remember one day feeling so full and bloated after lunch that I closed my office door and crawled under my desk. I actually thought I might be sick. I had also started the day incredibly hungover, as did two of my colleagues who I’d been out drinking with the night before, which didn’t help matters. Looking back at that example, I am reminded that we create the lifestyle we want to lead through the choices we make. It is all up to us. Those two would come back from their walk chipper and refreshed, happily chatting, and there was I, under my desk, feeling like I might possibly die and almost wishing the same.

Out west, we ate lots of seafood…because we were near the ocean! We ate lots of fresh salads because it just felt right to eat light. We stayed at my mom’s place, and she and her partner cook a lot, so we enjoyed excellent meals with them in their homes. And we ate out at some wonderful restaurants. We spent lots of time in nature, we walked a ton, we hiked and biked and enjoyed the sun and surf. We experienced the area and it made us feel good. Because feeling good is the goal.

4. Fourth, I plan ahead. If you know me, you’ll know that I never go anywhere without food. Ever! I pack to match the occasion, the length of time I will be out, and the gear I have with me. For a long car trip, I pack a large cooler with all sorts of food so that we won’t have to stop at a fast food restaurant. On a plane or a day trip, I pack snacks so that I am not starving when we hit a restaurant. I pack sliced veggies, an apple or banana and maybe a piece of cheese. When I go out, I always look for a nice salad with quinoa, fish, hard boiled eggs or chicken. If we are going on a hike, I take a baggie of trail mix or raw nuts with me. But I always, always leave the house knowing that I will get hungry, so that I can feed my body. Being satisfied actually changes how my brain smells the fudge or those mini doughnuts or the way I see people licking their ice cream cones. 

And the truth is, for the most part, I want to avoid those foods as often as possible. I don’t typically want to put them in my body. Not really. But sometimes, I do want to have a “cheat” or a “treat”, and if you know me, you’ll know that I could literally live on pizza. Seriously. And if you know me, you’ll also know that I enjoy making healthy pizza with a cauliflower crust now and again, but there is nothing, to me, like a thin crust, wood oven pizza made at an authentic Italian Trattoria. It is so incredibly delicious to me that I make the choice to have it when I know I need to feed my craving. If I never “cheated” or “treated” myself, I would feel bound to a restrictive diet, and that is not the way I choose to live my life. The absolute best pizza I have found is at Cuckoo Trattoria in Coombs, on Vancouver Island (if you go, thank me later), and I always insist on going there at least once each time I visit. This time, we went twice.

It is my favourite, and I enjoy every single bite. This brings me to #5.

5. Fifth, I don’t feel guilt about food.

I refuse to feel guilty about the choices I am making because if I am going to feel guilty, then I won’t bother eating whatever it is I am going to feel guilty about in the first place! I avoid feelings of guilt by choosing not to feel them.

But I go back to my bank account analogy. Does my body need this right now or is it time for a choice that will leave me feeling lighter, healthier and happier? From that place, I make my choice and if I decide that I want the pizza, I eat the pizza. If I want the cake, I eat the cake. If I want the ice cream, I eat the ice cream.

I go in with eyes wide open about what I am doing.

And I feel no guilt.

At the restaurant, with sauce dripping down my chin, my mother looked over at me and asked how I could possibly stay so slim with all the pizza I was eating (I was onto my third slice). I wiped my face and simply smiled at her, in the way I do when a question doesn’t require a response. She knows what I eat and how I live my life. She smiled back. But weight has always been a thing in our family. And it’s always been an “all” or “nothing” thing for my mom. Growing up, either she was on a diet and everything was strict or she was off and we could all relax a little. She always cooked healthy meals for our family, but there were these ups and downs where mom “couldn’t eat this” or “wouldn’t have that” and it was stressful for her and annoying (sorry, mom) to us. Luckily, I believe her struggle had a lot to do with my refusal towards diets of any kind. I have never, ever “dieted”, and I don’t want anyone else to ever have to, either. My approach has nothing to do with starvation, deprivation or sacrifice. It has everything to do with self awareness, self respect and self love.

But as you know, it wasn’t always this way. It took a rock bottom for me to change my beliefs around health, wellness, food and my body. Even with all of the changes I have made, I am by no means “perfect”. And I don’t want anyone to think I feel that I am. I am learning as I go, and I am a work in progress. Some people believe that being vegan is the only way to good health. For some, a little fish is ok. Some people believe we must eat a paleo diet. Some say to eat the fat; others tell you to eat the sugar. Some people look at me and think I’m too fat. Some might feel I’m too thin. Some people think I’m too strict. Some people think I need more restrictions.

But all I know is that my food philosophy feels like freedom. It makes me feel good. I eat real food. All the time. Every day. And sometimes, I eat the junk food, too.

The bottom line is that I want to help people create a lifestyle they love. What holds us back from living those lives is the way we feel. In my opinion, there is no better way to at least begin the journey of feeling better than to put better food into our bodies. No matter what food philosophy you subscribe to.

We are what we eat.

It is that simple.

If we want to feel well, we must eat well.

Because, if I can speak for most of us, we want to enjoy every bite of a slice of pizza (or three) once in a while, too.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. I would love to hear your thoughts on this post! What is your food philosophy? What are your thoughts on “cheat” or “treat” meals? How do you feel with the diet you currently eat? Has anything here resonated? Let’s have a conversation. Feel free to post your comments below.

P.P.S. If you would like to make a change in your life and create a new relationship with food, The 6 Week Sugar Freedom eCourse might be for you. You will be surrounded by a group of like-minded people who will support you. I encourage you to join us here

P.P.P.S. Let’s be friends! I’d love you to connect with me on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram. Plus, if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you should! That way, you won’t miss anything. For joining, you get my personal meal plan, shopping list, and a week’s worth of easy, tasty recipes. http://sarahtalksfood.com/

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