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What’s Your Food Issue?

What’s Your Food Issue?

    Cheesecake-a-holic

    So, what’s your food issue? Come on, you can tell me. It’s just us. Is there just one issue or are there several? Is it a constant or does it come and go? Do you over-eat? Under-eat? Perhaps you alternate between the two? I have in the past. Is your issue minor or major? Do you lie about it? Have you? I have. Does it have a negative impact on your emotional and mental states? Your life? Relationships? Career? Is it worse in certain situations or under certain circumstances? Are there specific triggers? That cheesecake photo doesn’t help! Do you ever feel out of control? Weird? Ashamed? I have. Are you ever preoccupied with food? Only when I’m awake. Have you started and stopped a bazillion diets? Like… totally. Do you eat one way when people are around and another way when you’re alone? What hidden chocolate? Do you eat when you don’t need to? Yep. Do you medicate with food? Reward yourself (or maybe your kids) with it? Are you ever defensive about your eating habits? Am not, you are.

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    A Common Issue

    In my humble opinion (and it’s almost impossible to verify and quantify this educated guess-timation), almost everyone has some kind of food issue. It might be some occasional (and relatively-minor) over-eating, it could be a full-blown eating disorder (with potentially life-ending consequences) or it could be anything in between. There is indeed a lot of space between disordered eating and an eating disorder. If a score of ten on the Healthy Eating Scale (the one I just invented for this post) is perfect eating (does it actually exist?) and zero is total dysfunction, I think the majority of us live someone between three and seven with occasional visits to one and nine. These days, I mostly live around seven to eight but back in the day, I spent plenty of time in the vicinity of three. So, where do you (mostly) live on the soon-to-be-world-famous Craig Harper Healthy Eating Scale?

    Honesty

    When it comes to exploring and dissecting people’s eating habits, one of the most elusive things to find is total honesty. Complete transparency. Why? Well, lots of reasons but mostly because we don’t want people to think we’re freaks. So, in order to look and sound normal (which is a myth anyway) we lie our arses off. Ironically, we actually lie our arses on.

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    Think about it.

    And it’s this lack of honesty (that is, deception of others and deception of self) that is probably the biggest barrier to health, healing and transformation for most of us. As long as we keep bullshitting ourselves and others (about our eating habits, behaviours and decisions), we fail to address the underlying issues (they’re always there) and we continue to inhabit our make-believe world. We also fail to deal with our food issues in a logical and practical manner and finally, we keep the cycle of mental, emotional and physical destruction in motion.

    A Story

    A few years back, I worked with a woman who would wait until everyone was asleep (husband, kids), roll her car down the driveway, start the engine on the street, drive to a twenty-four hour store and buy herself a large tub of ice-cream. Following her purchase, she would sit in the car and shovel in four litres (a gallon-ish) of ice-cream with a spoon she had brought from home. She would then dispose of the evidence and drive home. Usually in tears. She ‘enjoyed’ this nocturnal ritual at least three or four times a week.

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    When I met her, she had been doing this for years. After a month of reading her (largely fictitious) food diary (the one I asked her to keep), I knew she was lying about her eating habits and I told her so. That went down well.  One day in the middle of a rather heated and emotional exchange, she blurted out the truth to me. I was the first person she had ever told. Tears, snot, anger and finally, some acknowledgement and honesty. And a little relief.

    Progress at last.

    I later discovered that the ice-cream trips were just one part of a destructive eating cycle that had been going on for years. It started when she was a teenager and continued for two (and a bit) decades. The day she told me the truth was the last time she ever binged and the first time she had been totally honest with anyone (about her eating issues). Yes, I’m sure. It was also the catalyst for significant (and lasting) weight-loss (over 20 kgs). When she revealed her secret to me, I didn’t judge her, criticise her or question her. I simply hugged her and told her I was proud of her for being courageous and honest. We then put our minds to creating a practical plan for her to do better. Her embarrassment, fear and shame simply fizzled out of existence as we consciously and constructively went about the business of change. It’s amazing what can happen when someone receives love, acceptance and support rather than (the anticipated) judgement, condemnation and criticism.

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    Doctor Who?

    To illustrate how broad-reaching this issue is, I’ll share with you an interesting fact about my client: she was (and still is) a doctor. That’s right; intelligence, education and knowledge don’t necessarily have anything to do with how we complex creatures behave around food. Knowing what to do and doing what we know are very different things. Her career was a big contributor to her embarrassment about her eating habits. When she started to communicate with me like a person with issues – rather than a qualification with a reputation – the floodgates opened and the wheels of progress rolled into action.

    While I don’t have an eating disorder (as such), I have certainly been a skilled exponent of (periodic) disordered eating over the years. Apparently forty-ish year-old (am so) endomorphs don’t need a slab of cheesecake each day. Who knew? So not fair.

    While there’s no simple answer, quick-fix or one-approach-fits-all solution to this problem, a good place to start is honesty, awareness and acknowledgement. Not self-loathing or self-pity, just total honesty and a genuine willingness to do and be different.

    Now, I know you have thoughts, ideas and experiences you’d like to share on this topic, so start writing. Even you Scaredy-Cats who never comment. We don’t bite.

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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