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How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food

The reason it feels like such a struggle to eat properly is because we have lost touch with ourselves and forgotten our ability to eat intuitively.

How to get the most out of these Wisdom Quotes:

  1. Put aside everything you think you already know.

  2. Open your mind and heart to receive something new.

  3. Take your time going through each point.

  4. Return to any points that particularly touch you.

  5. In the coming days, listen carefully to the wisdom within you.

* All quotes by Charles Eisenstein, from the course: Dietary Transformation From the Inside Out.

1. The Story So Far

"Most books on diet could be subtitled, “Eat This and Don’t Eat That.” And that would be fine if they were in some kind of agreement with each other and you could read enough of them so you would be able to know what to eat.

But what I found when I was exploring this topic in my early twenties was that they all disagreed with each other, and I was left with a choice of which authority to believe in, hoping that I found the true gospel.

I explored a number of different paradigms of diet and nutrition: raw food, yogic diets, macrobiotics, veganism, blood type diets, metabolic typing, paleo diet, and each of them has its own logic that seemed very compelling.

Some of you may have been through a similar journey from one diet to another, or maybe some crisis in health has just started you down the road of supplements, fasting, and other alternative diets. Or maybe you have just trusted what science says – except maybe you have noticed that science keeps reversing itself every decade or two on really important nutritional issues.

You know how eggs were “nature’s most perfect food” in the 50s and 60s, and then became public enemy number one in the 80s and 90s, and now it turns out they are good for your brain and endocrine system and don’t cause heart disease after all. Or maybe they do. I don’t know.

My point is that the science keeps changing, is riven with disagreements, and besides that is subject to the influence of the food industry.

This is about accessing inner authority. As you will see, to do that is a deep process of unlearning and relearning. It is a journey that might affect your life in profound ways."


We all come to this subject of our relationship with food with our long and sometimes complicated backstories. But whatever those stories are, we can all agree that what we're really looking for is to have a healthy relationship with food.

  1. Consider your story and all the different ways of eating you may have tried. Has all the information that is available about the subject of healthy eating been helpful or confusing for you?

  2. Have you noticed how dietary information keeps changing as they make new scientific discoveries? Can you think of something that you used to eat but then found out was unhealthy? Or vice versa?

  3. Whatever your story, this week you can put it aside and come to this subject with fresh eyes. Be prepared to do some "unlearning and relearning," and to discover a whole new way of interacting with food.

2. It Can't Be That Hard

"Even if you tried to go by the numbers in choosing your diet, all of the different experts tell you that you need different levels of different things. So unless you’re going to become your own nutritional scientist with your own laboratory to verify these conflicting claims, then how are you going to make your decision?

So part of me rebelled against that. “It can’t be that hard!” To eat right, you don’t have to be a nutritionist slash mathematician. Because, look at animals, look at deer, look at woodchucks. They know what to eat intuitively. And they can even heal their own diseases.

I remember reading “Bambi,” not the Disney version, but the original book. It’s not just a little kid's book, you know. In one part after Bambi gets shot he seeks out the proper herbs that he ordinarily avoids because he knows that they’re going to heal him. Animals have been observed in the wild doing this all the time.

When chimpanzees get worms they seek out these leaves that have vermifuge properties and clean out their intestines. So animals know. They can sniff out what is good food and what isn’t.

What happened to that ability with us? Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we trust our senses to guide us to what is healthful or healing for us? And if we could do that then we wouldn’t need all of these authorities.

So that is what I came to in the face of all of these contradictory authorities, each telling me to do something different. I said, “Ok, well, let me find inner authority.”


You don't need to become your own nutritional scientist to figure out the best way to eat. Thank goodness!

  1. Many of us count calories and use calorie-controlled diets to become a healthier weight. In fact, this way of eating is not at all unusual in our western society. Now, don't fall into judgment here, but notice how far removed this is from the natural way of eating that Charles is describing.

  2. "Why can’t we trust our senses to guide us to what is healthful or healing for us?" This is an excellent question, and we will soon discover the answer. Right now, though, the important thing is to realize that, just like animals, we do actually have this innate (built-in) capacity.

  3. If we are born with the ability to eat intuitively and give ourselves what we need when we need it, then why does it feel like such a struggle to eat properly? There is a lot of conditioning around this subject of food and eating. Let us, therefore, continue this journey of discovery with the understanding that it really doesn't have to be so hard.

3. Undoing the Programming

"You see, what I decided at that point was that I was going to no longer trust the authorities, but measure everything against my own bodily responses. Or, in short, I was going to eat whatever I wanted. But the problem was, as I soon discovered, that I didn’t know what I wanted because I had spent so many years being cut off from really feeling and trusting my sensations.

I had been conditioned (and not just in the area of food) that pain is in some way good and pleasure is bad, that well-being comes through overcoming desire, and well-being comes from rising above materiality, rising above the flesh. That is what I thought. That was the formula that I’d been given to be a good person.

I can’t say that I have fully overcome that programming even today. But I can say that I’ve overcome it with food and that I eat whatever I want without any limit or restraint. And what seems like a paradox to many people, is that the result of that is a diet that is extremely healthy.

Ultimately it’s about making choices of what to bring into your body or your life. It’s about recovering our sensitivity and trust, which isn’t only about food. It’s also about self-trust, trusting not just our desire for food but our desires generally. It’s about ending the war against the self.

So we are going to undo the programming that pleasure is bad and pain is good.

It looks like whatever you want is a bad thing. It looks like, if you just let yourself do whatever you want, your life would go down the toilet. You’d stop getting up for work, you’d lie on the couch eating chocolate bonbons and watching TV all the time. You’d end up being unproductive and dissolute. That’s how it looks.

When we are habituated to a life based on control, on self-control, then any break in that control seems to have disastrous results.

Modern adult human beings are pretty much the only creature that intentionally denies themselves pleasure, seeks our discomfort on purpose, and thinks that that is good. Babies don’t do that. Babies don’t say, “You know, it sure would be nice just sit around right now, but I need exercise, so I am going to go and crawl and develop my gross motor skills.” Babies don’t do that - they want to crawl, it’s unstoppable. They want to jump around and climb all over you.

Dogs don’t say, “Um, you know, that would be a really delicious scrap of meat there, but, you know, I think I need to go on a diet so I’m not going to eat that.” Animals and people who are not acculturated to modernity don’t think that pleasure is bad and pain is good. And guess who is the least healthy being generally speaking on this planet. It’s modern adult human beings."


Once we see the programming, we will naturally start to break free from it.

  1. Charles discovered that he didn't know what he wanted to eat because he "had spent so many years being cut off from really feeling and trusting" his sensations. Have you ever stopped to consider if you really know what you want to eat, if you can sense what your body actually wants?

  2. We are used to trying to control so many aspects of our lives, that we have lost touch with ourselves. Is it any wonder that we don't trust ourselves? Fortunately, this can be turned around.

  3. We are the only creature that denies themselves pleasure, and we are also the least healthy being on the planet. If we can see what we are doing to ourselves, we can stop doing it, and start to redirect the course of our lives through living in awareness.

4. Hungry for Something

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who didn’t know about water. It was a hot day and she was thirsty, and the only thing available to her was ice cream. So she had an ice cream cone, and while she was having it, she felt good, her mouth felt moist, and her throat felt nice and cool. Problem solved!

Except then, a few minutes later, she felt thirsty again. So what did she do? She did what worked the first time – had another ice cream cone. And another and another. And she started to feel gross and she was getting fat... (Okay, this isn’t a very realistic story but you get the point.)

And she looked all around her and saw other people weren’t eating all that ice cream. "What’s wrong with me?" she thought, "I’m such a pig. Why can’t I control myself?"

Then, finally, someone offered her a drink of water, and she didn’t want ice cream anymore. The problem wasn’t her lack of self-control after all. The problem was that she didn’t know what she really wanted.

This is an example of what I’m calling displaced desire.

Why would you continue eating when you don’t need anymore food? Why would you do something that doesn’t even feel good? When your appetite for food is fulfilled, why would you keep eating? Is it because you’re just bad? Do you have a faulty appetite mechanism?

That’s where appetite suppressants come in. And there is a whole developing subfield of medicine that basically tries to change your brain chemistry so that you won’t desire more food than you really need.

But another answer is that you ARE hungry for something, but it’s not food. That hunger has been displaced onto food.

How much food do you have to eat to meet your need for community? To meet your need for connection to nature? To meet your need to feel at home in the universe? How much food will satisfy that hunger? No amount will be enough.

So when I see someone overeating, bingeing, or eating more than they need, I actually see a hungry person. I see someone who is making a brave and valiant attempt to meet their needs when those needs are not available to be met."


We have displaced our hunger for true connection and belonging onto food.

  1. Did anything strike you about the story of the woman with the ice-creams? It's a bit of a ridiculous story, but it brings home the point very well that we no longer need to blame ourselves (or anyone else) for our lack of self-control. The problem is that we don't really know what we want.

  2. How much food do you have to eat to meet your need for connection and belonging? "No amount will be enough." Now, this is not about analyzing your past or trying to stop yourself from eating for the wrong reasons. It's simply a reason to pause before you eat, and to understand that there is a hunger in your being that eating will never satisfy.

  3. "Then, finally, someone offered her a drink of water, and she didn’t want ice cream anymore." Just like the lady in the story, our unhealthy habits and addictive behaviours can also be dropped when we tune into what really satisfies us.

5. Allow Yourself the Full Experience

"When I integrate the entire experience, including whatever pleasure or discomfort follows it, then on a body level I know it. And I don't even need to say: okay this made me feel bad last time so I'm not going to eat it. It's not a mental thing. It's embodied learning. and that's why I don't need willpower to refrain from eating another one of these cookies.

So really, the key to this practice is the full experience of pleasure and pain. And that runs contrary to the habits of our culture, which is not only to avoid and defer pain, but also to avoid and defer pleasure.

Our capacity to feel pleasure has atrophied. I'm talking about really, really deep joy and the experience of the richness of life, the richness of relationship that is almost too much to take. You get that sentence in your head: I can't believe it...I can't believe it... That life could be that beautiful challenges normalcy. It challenges life as it is, and it invites us into a release of control, a release of the maintenance of life as it has been.

It's a lot safer to tamp it down and not have those, not fully allow the joy and the pleasure in because it's a challenge to the whole set-up of modern society. So we live these kinds of attenuated lives, these half-lives.

I don't need any willpower to not overeat, even a tiny bit, because I've integrated the feeling of what overeating is. I've sat with it, I've become familiar with it. And it is not attractive to eat more than I need.

Do you need willpower to refrain from jamming your thumb in your eye? That’s how much you should need to refrain from gorging yourself or eating foods that hurt you. That can be the result of this practice – and I call it a practice with good reason, since you will have to practice

It's this kind of elevation of awareness that actually comes very naturally. It's something we've been habituated against in the rush and press of modern life - the constant distractions that draw our attention away from ourselves and the entertainments that bring us out of ourselves. But it is a native capacity that we all have.

And once you start doing it, it becomes a new habit. Even hearing it spoken of will begin to induce that habit, this kind of monitoring of your state of being.

So this isn't like some puzzle that you have to figure out. It's just a matter of exercising your most basic power as a sentient being, which is the power of attention. Everything else follows from that."


Allowing the full experience of eating something educates your body to the point that willpower becomes unnecessary.

  1. "It's embodied learning. and that's why I don't need willpower. Because I've integrated the feeling of what overeating is." Willpower isn't bad, but consider all the self-judgment that comes with not being able to control your food choices. Notice any thoughts that come up as objections to the statement that you don't need willpower to eat healthily.

  2. So there is a new habit that we are to practice here, the habit of attention. As we do this, we are invited to enter into a fuller and deeper experience of life, where we allow ourselves to feel pleasure and pain. And, as we do, to monitor ourselves and notice what happens.

  3. Isn't it beautifully simple? All you need to do is give your attention before, during and after you take something in, and everything will follow from that. It's easy to see how this practice can bring us out of our "half-lives," into the richness of existence.

6. The Three Mantras of Food Sanity

"The first mantra is, "I can eat whatever I want." Or you could say, " I give myself full permission to eat whatever I want.

The second mantra: "I can eat as much as I want." "I give myself full permission."

The third mantra is: "I allow myself the full experience, before during and after, of everything that I eat."

People have told me that these are incredibly challenging and incredibly transformative. Almost something that you'll resist because it works. Yet it's not a trick to make yourself eat less.

If you say, "I give myself full permission to eat as much as I want as long as in the end it makes me eat less than I'm eating right now," then you're not actually giving yourself full permission.

But what happens when you say, " I give myself permission to eat as much as I want,' you're also implicitly giving yourself permission to eat no more than you want.

The inner child won't believe you at first. Really? I get to eat as much as I want? I get to eat whatever I want and you're not going to beat me up? You're not going to get mad at me? And the only thing I have to do is to maximize the pleasure of eating and feel the full effects of it? Really? I don't believe you.

And so the initial result might be a test to see if you really mean it, if there's any doubt. You might end up eating even more. But over time, and it won't take that long, the permission to only eat as much as you want will settle in. Because you really don't want to eat that much. You don't really want to give yourself pain. You don't really want to stick your thumb in your eye.

So it's the combination of that permission plus feeling the after-effects. Not as punishment. Not as, "Okay, I just stuffed myself so now I’m really gonna feel miserable." It's not that you're saying, "I'm going to fully feel the after-effects of gorging on way too much chocolate as a deterrent from doing it again." It's not a punishment.

It's simply trusting that if I fully experience the results of this, I will make wiser choices in the future because I will have integrated the information that I'm receiving through the power of attention. That’s all it is.

You’ve got to watch out for the habit of punishment and reward which will contribute to the problem.

So, those are the three mantras of food sanity: I can eat as much as I want, I can eat whatever I want, and I will feel the full effects of everything I eat."


Remember these three simple mantras of food sanity. But also, please use your common sense if you know that you have an allergy or intolerance for something, or certain medical conditions that require a special diet.

  1. If are used to trying to exercise self-restraint and suddenly you give yourself permission not to, it will come as a shock to the system. You may well find yourself testing the limits, but that's okay, because you're learning to trust yourself and to tune in to a different authority, your own inner wisdom.

  2. "When you say, 'I give myself permission to eat as much as I want,' you're also implicitly giving yourself permission to eat no more than you want." Stop and consider this for a moment.

  3. The third mantra is the key: experience everything fully, before, during and after you eat it. This will mean not doing other things while you're eating, but don't get annoyed with yourself if you're so used to eating in front of the TV or computer that you forget you're supposed to be paying attention. If you are intent on this path of developing a healthy relationship with food, it will come. Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself.

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