By LaTricia Morris, Author, Illustrator, Integrative Wellness Counselor and the Founder of Eden Life Ministries and See Kids Thrive
Over the years, I’ve watched women wrestle with their eating in a number of ways. The struggle happens on so many different levels and can stem from so many different roots.
As complex as it all is, I can’t tackle the whole of it here but I did want to touch on one common hurdle I see mark the end of the race for so many health efforts – that’s coming from a place of deprivation.
In a way, it is very natural to us. When we dive into a cleanse or a fast, or are just getting into a new plan to improve our eating, we tend to find ourselves mulling over the whole list of what we “cannot” have. This is especially so where we get hungry and start thinking of all the things we’d normally eat to satisfy our cravings. We start thinking “ooooh, I’d like this – oh wait, I can’t have that either!
Much of this is because the neural pathways in our brains that process food options and choices have been developed around those foods and have been reinforced for years, if not decades. Those thoughts and attitudes toward different foods have literally, albeit ever unintentionally, been hard-wired into our brains.
However, thanks to neuroplasticity (the ability of our brains to restructure based on new information, perceptions and learned thought processes) we have the ability to retrain and reroute those neural pathways toward better food choices and a healthier attitude about it all. BUT, we have to respect that the process takes time.
There are no short-cuts for this. This is not 21 days like many have taught for years. The process of taking a new way of thinking or behaving and making it a habit takes about 63 days. That may seem daunting but bear in mind that the brain is doing an incredible work in that time that will absolutely alter the rest of your life, if you but let it.
Healthful eating is not something some people were made to do and others weren’t. It’s a trained skill and you’re more than capable of learning it.
Many people wonder how I’m not even tempted to put stuff in my mouth that others seriously wrestle to walk away from. I am able to do it easily because God has walked me through the process that has helped me to address the root issues that were spurring the MANY eating issues I had and to rewire the thoughts and perceptions I have toward foods, leaving no desire or even cravings to eat Modern American foods.
I once was so not into Chard. Now, I love it. For many years, I felt almost powerless to my food choices but I now know that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ve come to understand that my health efforts have nothing to do with “depriving” myself but nurturing and taking care of myself. The Health Freedom God has given us is not about being free to eat whatever we want exempt from the consequences that come from those choices. Food and health freedom is about being released to enjoy the foods that love us back – the foods God gave us to bring healing to our bodies, to build us up and equip us to live our lives optimally, in full spectrum.
It’s a sad fact that most people have no clue how good their bodies were designed to feel. Too many people count their bodies among life’s burdens rather than God’s blessings. Not eating sugar-laden, counterfeit foods of this world is not a form of deprivation. Pairing back down to the basics and enjoying a diet rich in fresh, organically grown produce is a gift and a privilege too many in the world would be abundantly grateful to have.
I love how Lisa Terkhuerst puts it in her book “Made to Crave,” where she says (and I’m paraphrasing) “I have these boundaries to define the parameters of my freedom.” She talks here about how God has given us boundaries in life which apply to foods as well. Those boundaries do not deny us freedom but rather define the space in which we are free to eat and live in security, without fear of what may be lurking around. It’s not punishment. It’s not denial of some “finer things in life.”
God’s provision is good, exquisite, plentiful and life-giving.
What we have to understand is that when we come from a place of deprivation (thinking in terms of what we can’t or don’t get to have) we don’t come from a victor’s mindset but one that pushes us closer to a survival mindset. Here, we think along the lines of “look at all I can’t have… I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” Any time a human being finds themselves submersed in discontentment and a place of perceived scarcity, they will desperately seek a way out. I’ll quote my husband here, as he spoke in terms of our take on marriage “those who go in looking for a backdoor will find one.” Same goes with food. When we come in with a negative, defeated mindset, we’ll come up with any number of excuses to ditch it and move on. This usually ends in extreme eating and binging when we finally “release ourselves” back to our old ways of eating.
This sort of deprivation (survival-based) mindset primes us to think even more about the food and prompts us to eat more, only making the cycle and struggle worse.
It’s not that it all has to be so hard but we have a way of making the struggle way more than it ever should be. This is just not sustainable.
So, how do we break these patterns? While it may take some time and effort, it can be done. You can retrain your brain to LOVE eating healthfully and to have zero desire to eat the foods you once struggled to avoid.
Here are some of my keys to doing just that:
1. Catch & Replace
The Word tells us that we are to take our thoughts captive. You’ve got to be on guard to catch the thoughts that are keeping you trapped and to intentionally replace them with thoughts that align with your goals and what you know to be true.
If you’re thinking: “I just don’t have the willpower.”
Try thinking: “I’m not letting that food have mastery over me.”
If you’re thinking: “I’ve tried a thousand times and just about everything. I always fail.”
Try thinking: “My victory here is secure. I am NOT about to just hand it over this time. This time I WIN.”
If you’re thinking: “I’m just going to be so hungry all day”
Try thinking: “This is more than plenty and if I really need more, I’m free to/will be able to get it later.
If you’re thinking: “It won’t taste good. It just won’t have the flavor this will.”
Try thinking: “These foods are amazing! I can’t believe I never realized how many options there are or how good it could be!” (yes, even when you’re not feeling it, you can at least remind yourself of all the good it’s doing for your body.)
If you’re thinking: “I just don’t like healthy foods/_____________(parsnips, kale, fill in your own blank)”
Try thinking: “I’m just trying to find the way I like it prepared best. That may not have been exactly what I’m looking for but I’ll just go with a different recipe/prep it different next time.”
If you’re thinking: “But a life without cake…that’s TERRIBLE!”
Try thinking: “You know, I could eat that and I’m sure it would taste good but it really doesn’t resonate with my current health and wellness goals or what I want for my future.”
It’s not that you can’t have cake ever again but realize there are PLENTY of other options out there that are better suited to your health and wellness goals.
2. Bring Success into Your Present Tense
Looking positively toward the future and planning for success is highly beneficial, even critical in your overall success. Still, don’t underestimate the value of declaring those realities into your now moments. Don’t just tell yourself you’re “going to eat better” as though it is still something lingering on your to-do list. Instead, speak from a place of “I don’t eat that way anymore… I am so glad that I’ve finally really committed to do this for myself. No more putting it off – now is absolutely my time!”
While we’re at it, why don’t we bring up past successes too? Don’t tell me how many times you felt you failed over all. Look at all those meals and all those days you disproved the notion that you can’t do it. You made it through July 21st of last year, you can make it through today and you’ll do it again and again with even more finesse. Count your victories and watch how quickly they’ll keep piling up!
3. Dig with Your Eyes Before You Dig with Your Fork
Instead of sitting around thinking of all the things you “can’t have,” be intentional about thinking of all you can do with the things you can have. Don’t veg out with your phone, scouring pictures of cupcakes and wonder why a salad now doesn’t sound so appealing – you’re not prepping your brain or stomach to eat it.
We eat with our eyes (and noses) first. Pick up a good, healthy recipe book with LOTS of pictures. (I often tell people to nab a healthy vegan cookbook. Even those not looking to go vegan can find incredible benefit from a recipe dedicated to making the most flavorful dishes with fruits and vegetables taking center-stage.)
Start locking in on the abundance that could be yours and all the things you really can do with fresh, whole food ingredients. Seriously, you’re hard-pressed to ever really run out of options or get bored. You may find a handful of go-to’s but the recipes out there could go on for eons.
4. Declare the Victory That’s Already
Christ has already done a COMPLETE work for you. You lack NOTHING you need to be successful. He didn’t die on that cross or let sinful man cast such abuses on Him so you could live in and from a place of defeat and deprivation. He came that you would have live and have it MORE ABUNDANTLY! It’s a gift freely and already given.
We’re not meant to live in captivity and lack but in freedom and abundance. It’s up to us to renew and reshape our thoughts around that truth as we retrain our thoughts toward life, our food choices, and ourselves. Recognize and appreciate the abundance within your reach and the rich future it primes you to walk out.