Releasing my Emotional Connection to Food

I knew that ashram living wasn’t going to be easy for me. Out of everything I expected to experience during the course of my trip – the meditation, curriculum, 4-5 hour yoga classes, traveling through a foreign country alone, it was the two meal a day schedule that shook me up the most.

Being limited to eating twice a day meant that I’d be faced with having to work through remnants from my disordered eating past. I knew I was ready to deal with these straggling bits, but it scared me nonetheless.

One of the emotional hooks I’ve had to work on throughout my pursuit to healthy living, has been addressing my anxiety around situations where I have little control over what I eat and the timing of my meals. While I’ve healed much of my disordered eating patterns with the education I received in holistic nutrition, fantastic therapists, self inquiry and hard work, teaching myself to remove this emotional attachment to food hasn’t been an easy task.

When you eat, it feels good. When I eat… it feels good. But how do we eat and just… feel nothing?

In yoga, food is seen as fuel, nothing more, nothing less. Food gives us what we need to survive. It doesn’t need to be fancy, complicated, or pretty looking. It just has to be nourishing and useful.

This isn’t to say that one can’t take pretty pictures of food, create recipes, enjoy meals with friends and family, or plan plating arrangements for hours on end. It just means that when we do choose to eat, that we do so in a way that detaches our current mental state with the food we’re ingesting.

I interpret releasing my emotional connection to food as finding a space within myself where I can nourish myself without becoming attached to the food I’m putting in my body. Where I can eat out of love for myself instead of an act used to overcome frustration, sadness, loneliness or guilt. And where I’m confident that I’m giving myself exactly what I need instead of what I want.

To me, it’s about connecting with myself, eating what’s right and caring about little else. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but so amazingly freeing once you’ve grasped the concept.

Granted, it sounds all good in theory, but how does one go about it?

Engrossing myself in the study of yoga in the country that started it all seemed like a pretty good plan to me!

I’m an all or nothing girl, as you will learn.

The first couple of days at the ashram were hard for me. I tried eating only two meals a day but I was hungry all the time, so I started making breakfast for myself and eating fresh fruit in the afternoon.

I learned how to live in the moment and focus on other things that didn’t involve food. I didn’t plan my meals, I didn’t think about future meals and I tried to remind myself that there was always going to be food available, that I didn’t have to worry.

I learned to build patience. I sat in silence in front of my plate for 5 minutes before I began eating.

I learned how to listen to my body. I ate what was on my plate, took 5 minutes to meditate, then assessed whether or not I was still hungry.

… and I took a picture of every meal so that I could remind myself that it’s possible to attain happiness, contentment and fulfillment from so many places in my life than just with the food that’s on my plate.

Here’s a rundown of the soul food I enjoyed during my stay at Sivananda ashram, Neyyar Dam, starting with the meals served in the dining hall,

the snacks from the health hut (the fruit shop located at the ashram),

the snacks I took with me on my adventures,

and the breakfasts I prepared…

Once I let go of the fear of being unable to locate gluten-free foods, or worrying that I’d go hungry, I was surprised by how happy I was, healthy I felt, how free my choices had become, and how well I became at dealing with my emotions instead of relying on food to do it for me.

Have you struggled with an unhealthy relationship or emotional connection to food?

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  1. Thanks for this post, Leanne.
    I’ve been lurking on your blog for the last few weeks and felt moved to comment! I understand exactly where you are coming from. I have overcome my emotional eating (mainly – nobody’s perfect) and stopped using food as an emotional crutch, losing 40kgs in the process. However, sometimes I feel that the pendulum has swung too far and now I am obsessed with eating right (is it orthorexia?). I also get panicky about when I’m going to eat and whether there are healthy choices. I have to be mindful of my tendency to think about food too much and planning everything. So glad to see others understand how I feel!?
    Awesome blog btw.

    • Thanks for stopping by, saying hello, and sharing your thoughts, Madeleine. You’re right, it is nice knowing you aren’t the only one going through something. That’s why I like being open about struggles and challenges on the blog. It always results in learning that there are SO many people out there on a similar path!

  2. This too, is my favorite post! I really connected with it. I still struggle daily with food issues (even with knowing better). i’ve tried to force myself into situations where I didn’t have food readily available, just so I could actually feel hunger, or see that i’d be ok without carting food around with me. I tend to graze (especially when i’m anxious) because it’s scary to think about being hungry or not having “my kind of food” somewhere… unfortunately, this practice leads to eating even when full, feeling bloated and gross often. I justify it by saying.. well Its vegetables or it’s healthy, although the behavior isn’t . I’m really trying to listen to my body.. not continue “picking” after i’ve eaten a meal. I really want to learn a better practice of mindufl eating… not just shoving different “bites and tastes” just because they are there. Following through with what the inner voice is saying is the toughest. I’ll hear it, but ignore it. Almost feel an entitlement to whatever food I want, just because it’s healthy…… I’m trying to let go and not let food run my life in that way. Your experience sure is helpful and gives hope.. thanks for your insight and for opening up!

    • Hi Trisha, I love the idea of forcing yourself into those situations to learn how to deal with them in a healthy way. I think that’s a great approach! Thanks for sharing your struggles with us :)

  3. What a fascinating post and experience. I have a much healthier relationship with food now than in the past but I could never get as zen about it like you’re supposed to in yoga. I do see food as fuel but not as simply as you described. When I was in treatment for my eating disorder was actually when I felt the most freedom and peace about food because it was totally out of my control what I was going to eat and I just surrendered. So I can relate to that, it WAS amazing but I’ve found a practical balance in my life now. Not so zen but not so crazy ;) It’s workin’ out. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. I thought this was a great post. I am dairy intolerant and I really went through a stage in my life after being diagnose of being scared I would not have anything to eat and that I would go with out. It was a stressful time and I understand going to an unknown country and being fed 2 meals a day would probably of set me off as well. We went to europe and I nearly had a breakdown over the stress of trying to eat things not containing dairy and not being able to speak the language. It has take time to come to terms that there will always be something that I can eat…. even if it’s a piece of fruit! ;-)

  5. Thank you so much for this post! It has come at a perfect time for me. I’m ten days out from a big overseas adventure which involves me being absolutely in the middle of nowhere in a developing country and being physically active all day every day for two weeks. Apparently the diet will be entirely meat (which is really good) and potatoes (which won’t work well) and dairy (disastrous). Have been doing lots of planning about how to take enough food of the right nutritional value, how NOT to seem paranoid and precious to the other people travelling, how to not be in control…basically all the things you talk about!

    • I totally feel you on the control piece! My gosh, I was a wreck before I left for India. When I do it again… I’ll just let GO of all of that stress because even in the smallest villages, I was able to find something – fruit, rice, arrowroot, heck, I even got a box of puffed rice cereal. There will always, always be something and it’s so much better to just accept that so you can move on to enjoying, what sounds like, an AMAZING trip! Wow!

  6. You really inspire me. I have struggled with my eating for 8 years, recently having a very bad period. I only function when i have a structure and totally struggle when i don’t, which i havn’t for the last week and have been out of control. But ready your posts have inspired me to turn over a health new lease- that food is for fuel that can be enjoyed and not to stress over eating out or what the scales say. Thanks! :)

    • I’m glad I could be part of that realization :) Good luck, Abi!

  7. Such a great post- sometimes I find myself in the same boat, worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to find something I can eat when I travel. This is a nice reminder that as long as there’s SOMETHING I can eat, that’ll do until I can find the healthier option I prefer. No need to let something so little get in the way of a wonderful experience.

  8. I love that you meditated before and after the meals. My biggest issue right now is how fast I eat. I can’t seem to slow down until it’s gone and then afterwards I remember I wasn’t supposed to be eating fast! Somehow thinking about it as mediation makes sense to me and seems like an easier way to remember to slow down. I love also that food = fuel. Nothing more. It’s so hard to remember that, but I’m going to tuck that away in the back of my brain next time I want to mindlessly snack.

    • If you’re a fast eater (as I am) sitting in front of you food before you eat it and just closing your eyes will be one of the hardest things you ever do! haha so interesting. But I found when I did it, I ate so much slower. It’s a really cool experiment!

  9. Thanks for this post. I appreciate being able to read your thoughts on your journey towards freedom and more intuitive eating, especially since I just got home last night from a 4 week trip abroad where I was definitely nervous about not being sure of what foods would be available and when. It was certainly a challenge to figure out how long I needed each meal to last me and how to enjoy it, even if the culture I was in did not have foods that I have, due to disordered eating, deemed “good” or “bad.” I understand what you mean about how challenging situations like visiting the ashram, good therapy, and hard personal work certainly bring about positive results. Even just a year ago, I don’t think I would have made it through my travels without a major breakdown, if it hadn’t been for the recovery work I’ve been doing. Thank you for your site, it’s definitely an encouragement to me and helps me to keep moving forward.

  10. This is a great post. I’m struggling with this very issue now. I used to have enormous anxiety about food and I NEEDED to have control over what I was eating. I’ve come along way since then, but it’s still great to have a post like this to read through to keep me moving forward. Thanks for such a thoughtful write-up!