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May 29, 2014

The Key to Breaking Your Food Obsession: Exposure

As I put the finishing touches on my Food Obsession Boot Camp online course, I fully realized the many factors that go into hyperawareness around food. And probably 90% of it is mindset work, with the last 10% being about actual physiological signals like hunger.

That being the case, that’s good news! Because it means that we have the power to change how we interact with food, since much of it starts in the brain.

Awareness around food is great. In fact, it’s how we discern what’s healthy from what’s not, but awareness is also a spectrum. 

On one end, you have zero awareness. These are people who don’t know anything about healthy eating, don’t care to know and simply don’t focus on it at all. They will tell you, “I never think about food.” Which, might be good, except that since they have no education around healthy eating, they tend to grab whatever without thinking of the health or body composition consequences.

On the far other end, you have obsessive awareness, to the point that thinking about food in any/all capacities is at the forefront of your mind most minutes of the day:

What time is my next meal? How long has it been since I last ate? How many grams of protein have I eaten so far today? How many carbs do I have left in my “carb bank” for the rest of the day? Is this too many carbs? I wonder if I am in a caloric deficit or a caloric surplus today? How much water have I drank today? I don’t know if I’ll have enough protein to feel full at dinner? Where I am with my servings of veggies? Am I eating too much fruit? I really should stay away from dairy. Gluten, too, maybe, considering my neighbor just found out she’s gluten-intolerant. Maybe I am too? And on and on and on …

And my personal favs, a game I played for years —> Asks self on way home from work: What sweets and treats do I have at home? Which leads to two scenarios: Gosh, I hope I have the willpower to resist them tonight after dinner! I didn’t last night! OR, I don’t have any sweets at home, and gee, I deserve something something for the long, hard day I had–I’ll make a quick stop at the store! :(

I used to be super obsessed with everything having to do with food. I got a taste of nutrition education when I began training for my first fitness competition and I was immediately hooked.

Of course I was. It feels really, really good to be in control of your body, and being obsessive with food can feel like control.

Only, control is the opposite of trust. 

And when we start not trusting our process, our own bodies or even our inner voices when it comes to how we feel, look and think, we can get into trouble.

Learning about nutrition and then the excitement of implementing what we learn is fun. I get that, and I did that for many years, but the problem ended up being that after five years of reading everything under the sun and racking up more nutrition “rules” than I could even remember (never mind implement!), I was so confused that the only way I could feel in control was to monitor every single little thing regarding food, effectively letting it take over my life: obsessive awareness.

So how do you stop trying to control and begin to trust?

The answer is EXPOSURE.

Exposure to the precise foods that you are most scared of being around. Exposure to those illicit foods that go on the “don’t eat” list. Exposure to a week with no food prepped (figure it out!). Exposure to restaurant eating and ball parks and the movies and every single place you are scared of going because, “What will I do about food??”

Exposure is the fastest way to train yourself to make the best choice anywhere you end up. Exposure is the fastest way to remove the fear between you and certain foods. Exposure is the fastest way to dissipate the urgency of needing to EAT IT ALL RIGHT NOW UNTIL IT’S GONE BECAUSE COME MONDAY I WON’T BE ABLE TO EAT IT AGAIN.


You can have any food at any time. It’s always available to you. Food is abundant. Even on Mondays. Even on the day you “start your diet.” Today, right this minute! Any food you want is a phone call, drive or recipe away.

This may seem counterintuitive, like “Jill, I thought we were supposed to clean our our pantries and just not have it around?” I get that. And I do think that’s the 1.0 version. But the 2.0 is eventually where we want to get: the goal is to be able to BE AROUND any food and not have it control you, yes? The key here is practice, isn’t it? And you don’t get any practice if you just say “out of sight, out of mind,” because the second it comes “in sight,” you won’t have a prayer of controlling yourself. In fact, the fastest way to assure that you WILL eat it all is to put on the “off-limit” list :)

Understanding and exposing yourself to the very foods you most fear and then learning to taste them and move on is the ultimate in control, right? It’s 100% TRUST in yourself to be discerning and make the best choice possible wherever you end up and then TRUSTING that it’s all just fucking fine. Seriously. Perspective.

The reason you can’t control your eating when you are around sweets and treats is because you have put them up on a pedestal, and then deprived yourself to the point that THEY control YOU.

When you allow yourself to be around the foods you fear, you start to learn that they are not scary. And you learn that eventually you really don’t need them. At all. Sure, there’s a ramp up period where you will probably eat them, overeat them, feel stress around them, but IT WON’T LAST. The reason it’s lasted this long is because you’ve sustained this crazy relationship with the food via deprivation. So of course the second you’re exposed to it, you overindulge.

But exposure creates normalcy. It brings perspective.

Which is all this is: perspective.

How you choose to see food, and then how you interact with it. Thinking you are going to gain 10 lbs with a single “wrong” food choice is not perspective. That’s insanity. But I don’t blame you for being scared of eating the wrong thing every minute–it’s what this industry and it’s endless “rules” have taught us.

But now’s the time to start unlearning all of which has made you incredibly scared up until now.

Food is not scary, and a single meal, day or even month does not make or break a physique for the long term. YOU HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO FIGURE ALL THIS OUT. There’s no urgency. There are no wrong moves. There’s only lessons, gaining perspective over time and eventually trusting in yourself to handle it all.

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Teach, Practice

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