A Sneak Peek at The Food Therapist (Plus, a Recipe)
A Sneak Peek at The Food Therapist (Plus, a Recipe)
We’ve learned a lot from our resident nutritionist Shira Lenchewski, M.S., R.D., over the years—but nothing has been more grounding to us than her message that self-compassion is the most important tool we have in developing a healthy relationship with food. Ask yourself: What would it feel like to be free of all of your emotional hang-ups around food? (What would you do with that energy if it were available for something else?)
Of course, unlearning all of our specific food-related hangups—and learning to replace them with compassion and self-care—can take some serious work. It’s the focus of her new book, The Food Therapist: Break Bad Habits, Eat with Intention, and Indulge Without Worry—where she takes us through thought patterns that hold us back, gives us a foundation to build a new relationship with food—and packs in a ton of easy, incredible recipes, too. Below, a short excerpt, plus an amazingly simple and delicious recipe to go with it.
Cutting to the Core of Your Emotional Hang-Ups Around Food
If you want to change or improve your eating habits, extracting yourself from the shame spiral is an absolute must. This is challenging because people often take their dietary failures personally, as if they reveal something deeply unsavory and flawed about their character. We also tend to interpret eating setbacks in terms of absolutes, as in “I’m an absolute failure.” This black-and-white thinking makes it hard not to take dietary indiscretions personally, because they’re often perceived as a complete and total loss of control, rather than as a not‑so‑great yet also not life-alteringly terrible moment in time. In our society, self- control and willpower are viewed as the ultimate virtues, so if you haven’t been able to effectively control your food behavior, the faulty yet pervasive myth is that you have no control whatsoever. This leads to poor self-efficacy—the sense that you don’t have the will or the way to achieve what you want—which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of not achieving your get-healthy goals. But I assure you: It doesn’t have to play out like this.
To put things in perspective, think of it this way: If you had to kick your last partner to the curb because you were being treated poorly, does that make you total garbage at love? Exactly. The same is true for failed food relationships from the past. Yet we often take these lapses personally and incorporate them into the way we see ourselves; then we beat ourselves up and end up feeling lousy and destined for loser-dom. On the flip side, if you encourage yourself to view lapses as a result of your efforts, rather than character flaws—signs that you’re weak and incompetent, for example—you’ll be more likely to learn from your not‑so‑healthy eating behaviors and improve your approach. By contrast, when people attribute healthy-eating setbacks to a lack of ability rather than to, say, not planning properly or making the right effort, they’re much more likely to quit when the going gets tough.
As any history professor or CEO will tell you, failure has the ability to teach us a lot. In fact, many argue that failure isn’t just instructive and normal; it’s vital. But why is it that while we certainly can learn from healthy-eating detours, they often end up making us feel like down-trodden wimps? Well, for starters, how we perceive personal setbacks like these matters big time. The solution: Cultivating self- compassion can help you clap back at your inner self-critic in ways that will actually improve your eating behavior. I’m serious. As an example, consider this: If you tell yourself “I overate at dinner because I have no self-control,” you’re much less inclined to improve your approach; by contrast, acknowledging that “I overate at dinner because I didn’t really plan properly or I wasn’t actually paying attention” gives you something specific and constructive to work on. It’s about reframing the reasons you didn’t eat the way you planned and focusing on how to improve your strategy in the future.
Contrary to public perception, self-compassion isn’t some kind of New Age‑y hall pass that encourages free-for-all eating; it actually helps keep impulsive eating behavior at bay. Self-compassion is really a matter of treating yourself with kindness, not harsh criticism and side-eye, when things don’t go as planned. People assume that being hyper-self-critical keeps us in check, and that if we practice too much compassion around food or the state of our bodies, we’ll lose our edge and let it all go. But it’s actually quite the opposite because shame and feelings of inadequacy are common triggers for reward-seeking behavior (read: sugar- bingeing) that isn’t in sync with our big-picture goals. One major reason self- compassion helps people recover from perceived food fumbles is that without the shame spiral, the what-the-hell cycle basically has nowhere to go, because you don’t need to escape the unpleasant feelings that typically follow.
In this way, having self-compassion doesn’t promote more unconscious indulgences; rather, it makes it easier to approach eating missteps with curiosity, to learn from them, and then do better next time. Sounds pretty good, right? When you disappoint yourself with your eating behavior, instead of throwing shade and raising your voice (inside your head), get analytical. The goal is to become aware of what your emotional stumbling blocks are and how they affect your food choices; this way, you can learn from setbacks, rather than letting them kibosh your progress.
Excerpted from the book THE FOOD THERAPIST by Shira Lenchewski. Copyright © 2018 by Shira Lenchewski. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.
Shira Lenchewski, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, author, and nationally recognized nutrition expert with a private practice in Los Angeles. Pulling from her clinical nutrition Master’s degree at NYU and residency at Mount Sinai, Shira has a meaningful understanding of the intersection of food, biochemistry, and physiology; but she prefers to ditch the white lab coat. In her debut book “The Food Therapist”, Shira shares her refreshingly modern and sanity-preserving food therapy approach, helping readers hone the skills needed to put their get-healthy intentions into daily action, such as planning ahead wisely, tuning into their fullness cues, and harnessing willpower.