NOURISHMENT – Recipes for Success

Discover Your Food Story and Write a New Chapter

By Melinda Fulmer

If you find yourself making and breaking the same health resolutions year after year, it’s time to dig a little deeper into why that’s happening, says health coach and certified eating psychologist Elise Museles.

Rather than simply trying out a different diet each new year, you might try uncovering what Museles calls your “food story”—the hidden influences shaping your attitudes and behaviors around food.

“You need to change what’s in your mind as well as your body,” Museles says. Here’s how she works with clients to help rewrite their food stories, as well as her ideas for a more sustainable approach to those New Year’s resolutions.

What is a food story?

Your food story is built from your collective experiences around food, from the special recipes your grandmother made for family celebrations to what you eat when you’re stressed out to the way your father talked about vegetables or the way your mom criticized her body.

“It’s all the messages you have taken from your childhood and the media as well as what your own inner voice is telling you,” Museles says. The good news is that once you discover what’s influencing your actions, you have the power to change it. “You are not stuck in a bad relationship. You have the power to … evolve,” she says.

Some common food stories are:

  • You have a need to control with food, carefully tracking everything you eat and drink for fear that your health and body will fall apart.
  • You feel confused about food, telling yourself you don’t know anything about what to eat or when.
  • Food is your reward, and every treat you’re reaching for, whether it’s a big plate of mac and cheese or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, is justified.
  • Maybe you routinely feel compelled to eat even when you’re not hungry because money was tight growing up and your dad told you not to waste anything on your plate.

Museles, a former attorney turned author, holistic health coach and nutritionist, recently launched a podcast, “Once Upon a Food Story,” to discuss these common themes and how health experts changed their attitudes and habits for better health.

Owning and releasing your story

The first step to recognizing these patterns is to look back at your experiences with food and look for pivotal moments that may have shaped your attitudes.

“Most people can find a time and a place where it all started,” says Museles, such as after a divorce when eating became a comfort or when a relative criticized your weight. For one client, it was when an alcoholic father made dinner time so stressful, she found herself years later avoiding family dinners with her own kids.

For Museles, an unhealthy obsession with “perfect” eating and staying slender began after she got her ears pierced as a reward for losing weight when she was 9, and as she watched her dad padlock the fridge so he couldn’t binge at night.

Monitoring her diet became all-consuming, even threatening her relationship with the man who is now her husband. Once she realized how damaging this perfectionism was, she began working on changing it and focusing on eating wholesome, nourishing foods rather than calorie counting.

Once you recognize your story, Museles says, you can acknowledge it and release it saying, “That’s not my story anymore.” She also recommends sharing your story with others to help you come to terms with it.

Next, she advises clients to start thinking about how they want to feel about food going forward. Do they want to feel peaceful, strong, alive? Do they want meals to be less complicated, or do they want to feel more connected to what they’re eating?

Museles says to envision what you’d like your relationship with food to be like and ask, “How does my story need to shift so I can feel that way?”

Slowing down and connecting with your body

Most important is slowing down and listening to what your body is telling you; eating only when you’re hungry and thinking about the types of foods you would actually enjoy rather than anxiously calorie counting.

What kinds of tastes and textures are you craving? What kind of meals make you feel good? And if your go-to answer is usually mac and cheese, what healthier foods might give you the same feeling of comfort? Would a hearty bean chili do the trick?

Of course, Museles says, it’s also important to balance your blood sugar by including the major macronutrients such as healthy fats, lean protein and carbohydrates at each meal to help you feel satisfied. And if you need an apple and some almonds to make it to dinner, so be it. Listen to what your body is telling you and try to eat foods that nourish you.

In addition, Museles says, stay curious about what you’re eating and why. If you notice that you’re always snacking after work when you’re not particularly hungry, question it. Is it because you are stressed or lonely or bored? How could you overcome that feeling without eating? Could you go for a walk or call a friend instead?

“We do so many things on autopilot,” Museles says. Stay present when you’re around food, and question what you’re feeling when you notice an unhealthy pattern. Don’t judge or criticize, she says, just notice what’s happening.

A better approach to resolutions

When it comes to resolutions, Museles suggests ditching the sweeping changes in favor of smaller, more sustainable changes each month of the new year.

For instance, she says, you might set a goal for January of learning how to meal prep—making overnight oats for breakfast in the days ahead or chopping vegetables on Sunday so you can throw dinner in the Instant Pot the next morning before you leave for work.

“You’re setting yourself up for a successful week,” she says, and reducing the chance you’ll cave and order takeout.

The next month, Museles says, you could try a new workout that interests you, such as that high-intensity interval training class at the gym. From there, you could focus on other healthy goals, such as reducing screen time and getting more sleep, de-cluttering your kitchen or trying new vegetables when they come into season in the spring.

“If you change your habits and your mindset at the same time—when you work on both—that’s where [healthy] habits can really stick,” Museles says, “and it can make a big difference.”

Video credit: Radoslaw Frankowski, Adobe Stock
Photo credit: Amanda Joy Photographics; Heather Golde
Food photography: Elise Museles

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Author

Melinda Fulmer

Melinda Fulmer is a veteran writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience writing about health, food, and fitness. Her work has been featured in major media channels such as the Los Angeles Times, MSN, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Entrepreneur, HGTV.com, Prevention.com, and Details magazine.

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