Back in 2002, I was newly married with no job and no kids — which meant that I basically was free all day to do whatever I wanted. (If I could just go back . . .)
Since I’d spent most of my life dieting and failing, with a seriously unhealthy relationship with both food and my body, I had recently decided that I needed to start focusing on health rather than just losing weight.
So I started reading up on nutrition and how the body worked. I spent lots of time at Barnes & Noble and scoured websites to find whatever information I could on how to fuel my body properly.
This new mindset was a complete 180 from the way I used to think.
Fear and Food
Before, I couldn’t have cared less about what nutrients were in the food I was eating. The only things I cared about were how many calories the food had and whether it was something I “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating.
I had an adversarial relationship with food, and it was characterized by two things: fear and force. If I thought that a food would make me gain weight, I tried not to eat it. If I thought it would help me lose weight, I would deliberately insert it into my diet and make myself eat it.
Foods I loved to eat were on the forbidden list — and because they were off limits I craved them even more. And the healthy foods that would help me lose weight became less appealing because I was “supposed” to eat them.
The dysfunctional relationship I had with food put me at the mercy of it — it had power over me. Even though I obviously was choosing what to eat, I didn’t feel in control of it.
So up to that point, my main criterion for deciding which food to put in my body was whether it would make me thin or fat. And I knew this needed to change.
I realized that if I was going to change my relationship with food that I needed to start doing things differently. I needed to start thinking of food as something that worked for me rather than against me. I needed to figure out exactly how the foods were truly affecting my body, not just how they affected my looks.
And the only way to do that was to educate myself.
I read every book I could get my hands on that explained the basics of food and nutrition. And in my excitement to go deeper, I decided to take a class at the local university, which in my case was Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Two days a week after work, I drove down to the GSU campus for my nutrition 101 class — and let me tell you, the whole experience put me way out of my comfort zone.
For one thing, the campus was right smack in the middle of downtown Atlanta, an intimidating venue for sure (especially at night). For another, I was by far the oldest person in the class. I felt super self-conscious.
But the combination of being outside my comfort zone, the newness of what I was doing, and knowing that I was choosing this experience so that I could educate myself and take charge of my health was exhilarating.
The class covered all the basics: the role of carbs, fats, and protein in my body’s day-to-day functioning, how certain foods overloaded the digestive organs and contributed to disease, and how vital micronutrients are to the homeostasis of our bodies.
By investigating and understanding what was actually happening inside my body — rather than how it showed up on the outside — I was changing my relationship with food. I was taking charge of my health and giving myself new (and better) reasons for choosing the foods I would put into my body.
When I successfully completed that class (being 32 years old, not hungover, and actually interested in the topic — plus having to pay for the class myself — made it easy to get an A), I wanted more. So I decided to keep going.
And much to my surprise, four years later, I became a registered dietitian.
How Educating Yourself Helps You Lose Weight
You can make the same changes I did. By learning how food actually works, you can escape the diet/failure downward spiral — and let weight loss take care of itself.
Here are three ways that learning about nutrition and health makes that happen:
1. You take control over food. You know the old saying, “Knowledge is power”? Well, it’s true.
That’s because knowing what’s really going on means that you’ve taken control. You’re no longer in a passive, victim role. You’ve taken charge and taken responsibility. And when you do this, you’ve got power.
Power gives you confidence. Power makes you take positive, forceful action instead of acting from a place of fear. Having power means you’re making the decisions instead of waiting for someone else to tell you what to do.
And feeling powerful means you frame “failure” as a way to learn instead of feeling defeated and throwing in the towel. Which means that there is no failure — and therefore no more of the confidence draining that comes with dieting.
Taking control puts you in the driver’s seat and makes it so much easier to make the right choices without having to use willpower.
2. You improve your relationship with food. Once you’ve decided to take the reins, you’ve eliminated the fear/force aspect of food that goes hand-in-hand with the diet mentality.
When you change your perspective to one of investigating and wanting to understand, the fear evaporates. Fear thrives on uncertainty. It can’t co-exist with awareness and clarity.
Diet mentality creates a fear-based relationship with food because it puts food in two categories: good or bad. When you start learning about nutrition, however, you quickly see how limited that viewpoint is.
Diets love to scare you into avoiding entire food groups (carbs) or varieties of foods (nightshade vegetables WTF) — rather than explain the nuances behind what these foods provide. After all, you wouldn’t buy their diet if they didn’t use these kinds of fear tactics.
The ways food affects your health are enormously diverse. And when you understand what’s going on inside of you, it’s easier to choose the foods that support your health.
Plus, without the specter of failure just waiting to take you down when you “cheat” and eat one of the “bad” foods, you have so many more options. This means that you can tailor your diet to fit your lifestyle and preferences. This more relaxed approach to food helps you make peace with it instead of it being fear-based and adversarial.
Finally, learning about nutrition changes your outcome. Instead of using food in an effort to fight against your body and lose weight, you start using food to work with it for improved health and longevity. You shift from force to choice — from resistance to synergy.
3. You feel more inspired. This one is my favorite because it has to do with setting and achieving big goals — the surest way to transform your body.
Learning something new puts you in a creative space, which injects excitement back into your life. It makes you feel alive. Feeling alive makes you feel possibility — it reminds you that you can do anything. It reconnects you with your potential.
When you feel the true power within you, you see yourself differently. Dieting and failing repeatedly for makes you feel like a total failure — and over time you’re brainwashed into believing that you don’t have what it takes to change your life.
Except you do. And when you choose to take charge by learning, it makes you more on fire to do more big things. It turns that switch back on inside of you that makes you want to achieve and evolve.
Learning is the stepping stone between who you are now and who you become. And the more you learn and become, the more you start to resemble who you were born to be.
And guess what? The fully realized version of you has no trouble making healthy choices — and so she lives in a body that has no weight to lose.
If I Can Do It, You Can Do It
Listen, if a former chronic dieter, fast-food junkie, and bulimic like me can convert herself into an expert on food and nutrition, I’m here to tell you, you can, too.
Actually, you really don’t need me. You have all the power inside of you to permanently change your relationship with food. You have the power to become an expert on how food affects your body, even if you don’t decide to become a registered dietitian.
In fact, you can become so much more than that. Your knowledge of nutrition and how to take charge of your health can be the springboard to a whole new life.
Because the basis for a vibrant, fully lived life is health.
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