The Big Happiness Interview: How to have a happy, healthy relationship with food

Our annual food fest, also known as Christmas Day, can be especially hard for people who have a difficult relationship with food.

For many, it’s more than just over-indulging, it can have knock on effects, impacting our mental health and body confidence.

That’s why I’m delighted to be talking to Georgia Foster, world-renown clinical hypnotherapist who specialises in resolving emotional issues, including overdrinking, self-esteem and emotional overeating – and the great news is she doesn’t believe in diets. Hooray! Why? ‘Traditional dieting methods don’t work,’ she says. ‘In fact, ironically, it can make people eat more and put more weight on than before.’

Georgia advocates learning how to eat intuitively. ‘I help people discover how to eat calmly and with confidence, and help people change their relationship to food.

Here talks to Georgia about how to have a healthy, happy relationship with food.

Why does dieting make us miserable?

What people don’t realise is the mind works habitually, so as soon as you say you’re going on a diet, the mind will scan your memories for the last time you went on a diet. If it was unsuccessful and it was an experience of anxiety, rejection and you felt isolated, your mind will remember all of those emotions, and the whole experience will be negatively charged from the start.

If you’re in a dieting mindset, Christmas can be miserable.

Study after study show us that diets don’t work. And going on a diet is not an emotionally pleasant experience. Most people who worry about their weight feel alone, isolated and feel it’s never going to get easier and worry even more. If you’re in a dieting mindset, Christmas can be miserable.

How do you change the relationship you have with food?

If you have a problem with alcohol or you want to stop smoking, you can quit – but you can’t quit food. If you have been trying to lose weight for a while, you can end up with a very toxic relationship with food.

Mostly I see people struggling with all or nothing thinking. They think: ‘This food is going to make me fat, or this food is going to make me thin.’ That’s driven by what I call a ‘perfectionist personality’ trait.

Many of us also have rabid inner critic, who is always waiting in the wings for one little moment of failure. That’s when the bingeing comes in. And you start going into that old thinking: ‘What’s wrong with me?’

Many of us have a rabid inner critic, waiting in the wings for a moment of failure.

If you’ve got a history of yo-yo dieting, you need to create a new soundtrack in your mind because your mind will always default to what it’s familiar with, and if negative thinking is the holding pattern, you will not be able to change your relationship with food successfully.

What is hypnosis?

Hypnosis is a natural state. It’s called the alpha-theta brainwave state and it’s what happens approximately 20 minutes before you fall asleep. Once in this state of total relaxation, it becomes easier to change your habitual thinking patterns, which means it’s the perfect time to suggest certain goals or desires to yourself.  

If you want to change your eating habits, imagine yourself in the clothes you want to wear, feeling good about it. If you repeat this process enough, your everyday habits will begin to line up with your goals. Even after just seven days of self-hypnosis, your brain will view the things you’ve been telling it as comfortable and familiar. It will then take these actions on board as real. The unconscious mind sees everything as real, even though it’s imagined, therefore in the reality of life it will become an assumed behaviour.

Will that work if you’ve been dieting all your life?

It’s helping people understand that it’s not about the food. Many of us use food as a drug – it’s a way of self-soothing our anxiety and our fears. Plus food obviously has a physiological effect too. Certain foods will trigger dopamine and we get a ‘food high’ – a chemical reaction to the food.

We’ve got to find ways to produce dopamine in other ways and the best way to do that is by reprogramming the brain with positive thoughts that get you to a calm, confident place. It’s working on your self-esteem, being able to say no, being able to make yourself feel safe.

It’s about tuning out of that negative thinking and tuning into being a healthy, intuitive eater.

Hypnosis is a quick way to do that in 25 minutes a day. I help my clients focus on being calm and confident. It’s tuning out of that negative thinking and tuning into being a healthy, intuitive eater.

Intuitive eating – what is that?

If you’re eating intuitively, you’re allowed to eat anything. You’ve gone to a lovely restaurant and you want to eat what you want? Go ahead.

The dieting mindset has programmed your mind to think that it’s going to take you down the path of overeating again. You don’t trust yourself and there’s no trust in the relationship with food.

The dieting mindset means there’s no trust in your relationship with food

To start eating intuitively, you need to believe in the possibility that you can trust yourself around food. With the old dieting mindset, if you have a ‘stuff it’ moment, you might eat what you want and think: ‘I’ve failed, I’m a hopeless case,’ and there is an unhealthy correlation between your thoughts and eating.

But if you can train your mind with hypnosis to be in a calm space before you eat, there won’t be the drive to eat some ‘forbidden’ food or eat food from a guilt-laden space. But if people eat and then berate themselves, it just takes you in a never-ending destructive cycle.

What is connection with happiness and your relationship with food?

Having a good relationship with food means every day is easy. You just you don’t have to think about it. You go to a lovely cafe, and have a piece of cake with your coffee. Yes, you might go on holiday and put on a bit of weight but you know that’s okay.

Once you get your relationship with food into a better place,  you will have much more time to think about other things, to focus on what really makes you happy. People spend an extraordinary time thinking about dieting. And it’s exhausting. Imagine spending all that time and energy building a happier life for yourself in 2023.

How to break unhelpful eating states

  • Monitor your emotions before you eat by keeping a diary, so you can see what feelings drive you to eat when you are not hungry.
  • Make a habit when you think about eating to play a motivational song to trigger feelings of happiness. The mind will learn over a period of time that food truly does make you happy rather than miserable.
  • Each time you hear your inner critic say something unkind, say the opposite to yourself, such as ‘I don’t have to eat perfectly to feel healthy and happy.’
  • Set your alarm every few hours with the title ‘I am enjoying eating from a calm and healthier space.’

Georgia Foster’s 7-day Weightless Mind hypnotherapy programme is available now.

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