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Eating: It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Are
By Laurie Cossar

I met an old friend of mine last week in the parking lot of our local grocery store. I almost passed him by as I didn’t recognize him immediately.  He had lost a lot of weight since I had last seen him. He mentioned that he had undergone gastric bypass surgery nine months earlier. I had known of his constant battle with his weight and the impact it was having on his health. I remarked that he must be feeling better. He said that while he was lighter, he was till prone to strong cravings and despite the weight loss he wasn’t any happier.  Nothing had changed to improve the underlying discontent with his life.

Happiness was elusive and he was still chasing it.

Is your life still a mess despite your best intentions?

We are now well into the New Year, and many of us have set goals and made ourselves promises that things will be different.  Yet those familiar feelings of despair and defeat lie quietly just below the surface ready to make their curtain call.

You made plans, you read some articles and started following a new guru’s podcasts.  You gathered formulas and potions, wrote out a schedule. You have been going to the gym and eating according to your plan but the enthusiasm is waning and the effort to motivate yourself is already feeling monumental.

You promise yourself that you won’t give up. You will continue to throw yourself into this new venture with renewed vigor.

Yet, those old familiar questions like “what is going to be different this time” and,” how long is this going to last” are singing quietly in your ear. It is almost as if you are sealing your fate before you have given it a fair shake.

It seems like change is equivalent to how much effort and labor you put into it.

What if it doesn’t have to be? What if you are focusing on the wrong things?

The effort may change the behavior, but it won’t change the person.

 I knew this from personal experience. After countless years of struggling with my eating habits, of watching my weight fluctuate, I threw caution to the wind and committed to pursuing a radically different approach. I was exhausted from experimenting with hundreds of diets and workout plans. I had lots of short term success, but never seemed to graduate from the cyclic pattern of dieting. I could never shake the constant worry about what I was eating and the fear that the weight would one day return. Until I changed my focus.

I started by asking myself a different question. “What is driving your behavior”?  I stopped dieting and starting paying attention to my choice-making and my interactions with food.  All the tips, tricks, meal plans and advice from nutrition experts had taught me what to eat and how to eat. None, however, were able to help me understand WHY I was eating.  WHY was I still craving pizza with double cheese?  WHY could I not just eat one cookie when I had just spent the past three months exercising portion control?

Take the focus off your weight. 

I started paying attention to how I was showing up in the world. “Am I congruent with the values I hold dearly? Are my actions consistent with what I want from life?”  I wasn’t even sure what the answer was to either of those questions, but I asked them anyway.  Why, like my friend, wasn’t I really any happier?

I wasn’t finding the answer to those questions in any of the nutrition books I had been studying for over 20 years. The struggle never seemed to end. And that was what I wanted.

Instead, seek to understand the nature of the relationship.

What did I actually want from my relationship with food?  I wanted peace, less conflict.

In the quest for understanding the nature of peace, I turned to books on behavioral psychology, on ancient texts and a spiritual tome. I asked myself, “What is this peace that I am in search of?”.

I found that what it is not, is a commodity that can be purchased. It is not an achievement that can be acquired, but rather it is a grace. A healing of old wounds.  It is a way of being in the world. A way of relating to yourself and those around you. It is not something that can be learned. It is something that must be understood.  Your relationship with food is a reflection of the relationship you have with yourself and the world around you.

Follow your behavior.

You cannot learn about yourself by reading books or surfing the internet. You may learn about human nature, about what makes us tick, but to know yourself you need another grace. The grace of awareness. This is the beginning of understanding.

You need to be willing to pay attention to how you walk through life. How you interact with the circumstances of your day-to-day world. What is the driving force of your life? Rather than to seek the meaning of life, recognize that life is asking that question of you.  And you answer with your responsiveness to life. It’s an inside job. The answers are found within.

When you heighten your awareness, you shed light on areas of your life that you may not be seeing. Your way of reacting to things or to people.  How you may be overly reactive and prone to stress in certain situations. How you choose to compensate and cope with these reactions.

Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This quote has been the underlying genesis of my inner work in finding out what we are doing, at the time we are doing it. Then you build the foundation to make the most powerful choice in that moment.

Start by becoming an observer. A fly on the wall of your life.

As an observer, you can begin to notice the various patterns that show up in your daily behavior. Food choices and eating are one of three, if not all three things.

1) emotional

2) habitual

3) unconscious

When you are inclined to reach for food, take a moment to consider the circumstances before you act.  Especially if a craving is enhancing your desire for food. Cravings are always ignited by a trigger. Can you identify what is was? A person, an argument, a stressful drive into work?  Is it a well-grooved habit that at 11:30 a.m. you reach for a mid-morning boost?  Are you bored, looking for an escape?

Be kind to yourself.

One of the most important aspects of being an effective observer is to remain non-judgmental. It is easy to rain a load of self-criticism down upon yourself when you begin to see things which may not have been obvious to you. Remember, this path is about healing. It is about ending the war within and finding some peace. So be gentle with yourself rather than condemning, remain constructive and curious, as if you were conducting a simple experiment.

Seek first to understand. Be watchful and awake. Be gentle.

My eating has changed but more importantly, the person that is eating has also changed. This simple act of slowing response time down has changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. It started with food and has permeated every aspect of my life. It has literally transformed me, one bite at a time.

Laurie Cossar Bio:

As a longtime nutritionist and health coach, Laurie Cossar has worked with thousands of men and women who have struggled to find a way to eat right, lose weight, and keep it off. While Laurie’s approach has always contained a holistic element, and she has long been interested in both spirituality and psychology, over the past decade she has occupied a unique vantage point at the intersection of various worlds.

In particular, she has served as the Nutrition Lead for Tony Robbins Life Mastery, and has seen firsthand how health and wellness challenges are part of the same stew that keep so many of us from finding our happiness.

What has emerged for her is a realization that something vital is missing, not just from the traditional diet & nutrition landscape, but even, to an extent, the more health & wellness-oriented scene. The way we look at these subjects remains very linear and goal-focused. She offers clients not only a new way of thinking but a process – a proven method for ditching the diets and instead learning how to ultimately listen to yourself and your body and create your own health and nutrition solutions.

Back to May 2018 Issue

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