Why I Gave Up on Trying to Motivate Myself to Eat Healthy

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Last weekend, I gave a talk at a small conference focused on personal growth for moms. My presentation included a few of my usual topics, like busting the myths that there are “good” and “bad” foods and that willpower is an essential piece of the healthy-eating puzzle.

Then, I added on a concept I’ve been working on with clients but was including in a public talk for the first time: the idea that if we need motivation to eat healthy, we are out of alignment.

Instantly, hands were in the air. I was quickly humbled as it became clear that for many people in the group, this was not the mind-blowing nugget of wisdom I thought it was.

Instead, I had confused everyone.

For the next few minutes, I listened to their questions and did my best to clarify why I believe, despite a widespread narrative to the contrary, that motivation is not what we need to move us forward.

However, I’m not at all confident that my explanation did the trick. So, in this article, I’d like to give it another go.

Let’s start by defining our goal.

The goal is NOT healthy eating.

Whaaat? But certainly healthy eating is a noble and worthwhile pursuit?

Sure, it can be. But it wasn’t for me. And if you’re reading this, I’d be willing to bet that it’s not a great goal for you either. Because when we prioritize healthy eating above all, we put physical health up on a pedestal, justifying its pursuit even if it comes at the expense of our mental and spiritual well-being.

We need to think bigger than healthy eating.

We need a goal that elevates ALL of who we are. One that brings us into balance instead of out of it.

That goal is food freedom.

I define food freedom as a relationship with food that nourishes our body, mind, and soul, thereby allowing our food to fuel us to fully live a life that we love.

With food freedom, there’s no obsession, shame, or deprivation. No body-bashing. No rules. And no need to motivate yourself to eat in the way you think you “should.”

At its core, food freedom actually has nothing to do with food. Instead, it’s about being in a loving, accepting, and trusting relationship with your body – and with (all parts of) your self.

Think about it. If you truly loved, accepted, and trusted your body, you would listen to her.

You’d honor her cravings.

You’d allow her to enjoy the act of eating.

You wouldn’t cause her pain by eating too little, too much, or foods that don’t make her feel good.

Instead, you’d seek to give her pleasure by choosing foods that make her feel energized, vibrant, and alive.

And here’s the kicker:

If you were in a loving, trusting, and accepting relationship with your body and all parts of your self, you would just DO all of this, because you couldn’t not.

When we’re in alignment in mind, body, and soul, we naturally do what’s best for us. There’s no need to go through a process of motivating ourselves. We don't have to THINK about making choices that promote our health and well-being - we just DO.

It's not that trying to motivate ourselves is bad. It's just that looking at healthy eating through the lens of motivation misses the mark.

It's like trying to teach a bird to fly by explaining the physics of air pressure and thrust.

If the bird could understand you, your explanation wouldn't bring him any closer to soaring through the skies. Instead, you would probably make him anxious and cause him to worry that he'll mess it up. He'd start making pro and con lists (to leave the nest or not to leave the nest?). He'd calculate wind patterns and wonder how many wing flaps he should aim to do per minute. He'd ask every creature that flew by how they maximized their flying experience.

The poor bird would be so caught up in analyzing everything that he'd forget that he has always known how to fly. All he has to do is get out of his head, listen to his instincts, and allow his body to do what it craves to do.

In the same way, we possess the inherent knowledge and desire to eat in a way that nourishes our body, mind, and soul. We've just gotten mixed up as a result of all of the noise out there.

Therefore, our task is not to figure out the motivation piece. Our task is to realign ourselves in body, mind, and spirit so that we can access the knowledge that already exists in our DNA - and the food freedom that is our natural state.

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