You’ve writ­ten about the im­por­tance of ac­cept­ing and lov­ing your­self. What is­sues do we face if we don’t do this? There isn’t an ounce of sus­tain­able change that I have wit­nessed that hasn’t be­gun from a place of kind­ness, self-love and self-ac­cep­tance. If we come from a place of crit­i­cism and blame, al­ways judging our­selves harshly, we might make some progress but the minute we step out­side ‘the plan’, the minute we ‘fall off the wagon’, we’ll be­gin speak­ing to our­selves un­kindly again.

Neg­a­tive self-talk only leads to us feel­ing lousy about our­selves. And what do we do when we feel lousy about our­selves? Many of us have habits around food and al­co­hol that are de­signed to numb us from chal­leng­ing emo­tional states, or try to make us feel bet­ter. So we’re more likely to bounce be­tween health-sup­port­ing and lousy habits. If we be­lieve deep down that we’re not worth tak­ing very good care of, that is go­ing to show up in how we treat our­selves and con­se­quently in the way we eat, drink, move, breathe and per­ceive.

How can we learn to ac­cept our­selves? It’s some­thing that re­quires time and pa­tience. For some it will take quite a lot and oth­ers will tran­si­tion quickly. One way we can be­gin to do this is to bring cu­rios­ity rather than judg­ment to our sit­u­a­tion.

Let’s say we have a ten­dency to pol­ish off a whole block of choco­late at the end of the day, even if we tell our­selves we are just go­ing to have a cou­ple of squares. No­body does that think­ing they are go­ing to feel fan­tas­tic af­ter­wards! So why do we do what we do when we know what we know? If we gen­tly en­quire as to what might have been the stim­u­lus for us to eat in an un­re­source­ful way, we may be able to un­cover what we were re­ally look­ing for in that mo­ment. We might have had a stress­ful day at work and the su­gar in choco­late gives us a bliss­ful rush that helps to turn down the in­ten­sity, or we may have had a fight with our part­ner and we’re look­ing for com­fort. If we can iden­tify what we were feel­ing be­fore we reached for the choco­late, we can look for other ways to sat­isfy that need.

Be­ing cu­ri­ous and ex­plor­ing what might be hap­pen­ing in our in­ner world, rather than judging it or shut­ting off from it, is an act of self-love. We’re tak­ing the time to take bet­ter care of our­selves rather than dis­tract­ing our­selves from what we’re re­ally feel­ing.

Do you see many peo­ple with symp­toms of or­thorexia, and do you think the ‘clean eat­ing’ move­ment is partly to blame? Dis­or­dered eat­ing is on the rise and or­thorexia ap­pears to be no ex­cep­tion. Or­thorexia typ­i­cally be­gins in­nocu­ously with a com­mit­ment to im­prove health. Where it goes wrong is when this be­comes an ob­ses­sion where strict food rules and plans be­gin to take over and any de­vi­a­tion from ‘clean’ eat­ing is met with guilt and self-loathing.

It’s dif­fi­cult to say where the blame lies. How­ever, I do be­lieve, for all of our sakes, that we need to be mind­ful about the lan­guage we use around food and eat­ing. Food isn’t ‘clean’ or ‘un­clean’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ or ‘un­healthy’ – it’s nu­tri­tious or it isn’t and it is far more ac­cu­rate and help­ful to talk about the food that we con­sume in this way.

How can peo­ple ap­proach healthy eat­ing in a more bal­anced way? A gen­tler ap­proach can em­brace a de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity, or what some like to call ‘zig and zag’. A ‘zig’ meal is made up of nu­tri­ent-dense foods, real (not pro­cessed) foods and no al­co­hol, whereas for a ‘zag’ meal the fo­cus is more about the com­pany you are in, be­ing play­ful and re­lax­ing. Zags are part of a healthy and sus­tain­able life­style.

If this ap­proach is go­ing to serve some­one’s health, I might guide them to zag once a week, or for three out of their 35 eat­ing oc­ca­sions (if you eat three meals and two snacks each day, this is 35 eat­ing oc­ca­sions a week). Some will eat more fre­quently than that, some less fre­quently – but let’s take 35 as an av­er­age. For oth­ers, five zag oc­ca­sions bet­ter suits them. That’s still 30 meals that are of a nu­tri­tion­ally high qual­ity. You en­joy those zag times, but, when you live mostly as a zig, the zag takes very lit­tle toll on your over­all level of well­be­ing.

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