Last year, a woman named Andrea decided to do my health coaching program. She wanted to lose weight, so she expected that we'd spend most of our time talking about diet and exercise. But she soon learned health coaching tends to involve your whole life, not just your body.
At our first session, Andrea was shy. She felt self-conscious, and she didn't have much faith that she could change her eating habits, since she'd tried before and failed.
"I just can't bring myself to eat salads all the time," she said. "I know they're good for me, but, I don't know. That's not who I am."
"Well, who are you?" I asked.
She shrugged. "I love to bake. I have a serious sweet tooth," she said. "And I'm Italian, so I grew up eating pasta and bread. And I love visiting my family and having a big meal together. I don't want to give up those things. They're a part of me."
What Andrea was describing was her "food identity." What's that, you ask? It's a collection of beliefs about yourself that plays a huge role in how and what you eat.
A few months ago, there was an NPR article by Anna Kusmer called "From Collards To Maple Syrup, How Your Identity Impacts The Food You Like." Basically, it says this: foods that "fit" with your identity taste better to you.
The article's tagline sums it up nicely: "If you're Southern, macaroni and cheese with collard greens may taste better to you than to someone from another culture." According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, this held true for both American Southerners and Canadians, who "preferred the taste of maple syrup over honey in trials when they were first reminded of their Canadian identity."
Naturally, this is an observation, not a law of physics. There are plenty of exceptions. But there is a surprising amount of truth in it – especially when you interpret it so it's not just about heritage, but about your greater "food identity."
My friend Kate is a great example of how "food identity" impacts your diet. A few years ago, she switched from processed foods to a clean-eating diet.
"I've always been skinny—it's in my genes," she said. "I grew up eating trash, and I actually took pride in it. Like, Look, I can eat a whole pizza and not gain weight. But later, after I got into yoga, I realized I wanted to be healthy . I started thinking, I'm going to make roasted vegetables instead of mac 'n' cheese. And that became my identity—someone who took pride in eating well."
If you want to learn more about your food identity and how you can Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Feel Great In Your Body........Sign up for your Breakthrough Session today!
There are two important things to understand about food identity":
1. Even if we don't realize it, it's affecting our decisions.
For many of us, our beliefs are hidden beneath the surface. We might never say them out loud, but they're still there, directing us toward or away from certain foods and habits.
But that doesn't mean we can't discover them. If you're not sure, just describe to a friend what you like to eat and why. Chances are, that will show you your food identity.
2. We can change it - and/or work with it - so that it serves us.
That's what Andrea did.
For the next six weeks, we worked through what she wanted to believe about herself, and she went from "I'm overweight and unhealthy; I eat a lot of pizza," to "I am healthy; I eat well."
The first week, Andrea had a hard time. She overate, then felt horrible the next day. "I feel fat, and I feel like I failed," she told me. "But I don't know what to do! I can't help it. This is how an Italian baker eats. I feel like I'm betraying myself if I try to eat differently."
So we looked for workarounds.
I told her she didn't have to give up those things that she loved. Being Italian, and being a baker, can fit into a healthy lifestyle. It's not always about saying "no." It can be about saying "How can I make this work?"
Over the next couple weeks, Andrea looked for recipes for cakes and breads that used less sugar, avocado instead of oil, and unprocessed almond flour instead of bleached white flour. And she still had dinner with her family – she just made sure to fill her plate mostly with greens, and keep the lasagna portion small.
By doing those things, she was able to create a diet that aligned with her identity and helped her lose weight.
It's not always about changing your identity. Sometimes it's about understanding it, and working with it - instead of trying to work against it.
A few months after our sessions, Andrea called me. "Sonia," she said, "I hope you tell all your clients what you told me about identity impacting your diet. It was so, so helpful."
"That's great!" I said. "How are you doing?"
"Amazing," she said. "I've lost twenty pounds. Thanks to the work we did.”
It's possible to change your food identity. The first step is to identify what your existing beliefs are. Then, think about what beliefs you'd like to have.
· What are some things you believe about yourself, around food?
· What would you like to believe about yourself? (Check out this link for a Moti Minute on changing your beliefs!)
· What would happen if you chose to focus on that second set of beliefs?
· What are some workarounds you might use, in order to create a healthy eating plan that's in line with your identity?
If you want to learn more about your food identity and how you can Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Feel Great In Your Body........