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Photo of multiple chocolate chip cookiesHealthy eating
Craving Change
Region class promotes a healthier
relationship with food
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By Kathleen McClinton
Mar/Apr 2019

I'm a registered dietitian, not the food police. And, like you, I'm human.

And so it was that when my car broke down during a recent cold spell, I ended up at a fast food joint. That's life. Cars break down, and I had a cheeseburger for supper.

And you know what? It was great.

I tell this story to help illustrate an important point about food, one that is often lost in any discussion about healthy eating. And that is simply this: We live in a hectic world where many outside factors influence our food choices.

Sometimes, the factors that influence our eating decisions can be as unavoidable as a problem with your car. But other times, they can be harder to recognize.

That's because in addition to providing fuel for the body, food plays a key role in our social and emotional lives. We go out for coffee to catch up with friends. We celebrate holidays with gatherings of food and loved ones around a shared table. Successes and special occasions are celebrated with dinners out. We get through difficult work and school assignments with coffee and snacks. And if you buy into movie tropes, relationship break-ups or bad days are soothed with ice cream and cake! Clearly, our reasons for selecting certain foods at certain times can be more complex than we realize or understand.

It's also true that we live in a culture of fad diets, one where our choices are judged good or bad, black or white. Most of us don't do well living under the rigid guidelines, meal plans or restrictions associated with these types of diets. We long for a better, more sustainable approach to healthy eating that better fits life in the real world.

Photo of a woman holding a dessert

That's the approach of Craving Change, a new course being offered by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority for people who want to better understand the factors that affect why we eat, and how that knowledge can help us forge a healthier relationship with food.

Created by registered dietitian Wendy Shah and clinical psychologist Dr. Colleen Cannon, Craving Change is not about weight loss or dieting. It's a starting point for looking at how our eating environments, thoughts, feelings and learned behaviours influence our daily choices around food.

Facilitated by registered dietitians and other health professionals, Craving Change provides a friendly, non-judgmental environment so that participants can realize that a healthy relationship with food is about more than what we choose to eat; it's about being aware and present.

In a word, it is about being more mindful.

Being more mindful doesn't mean we have to change our eating behaviours right away. But it does allow us the opportunity to understand the "why" behind some of our food choices. If we find that there is an emotion that keeps leading us to reach for food automatically, this provides us a chance to build greater awareness and to make a change that better fits our lives.

Being more mindful is also about learning to be less judgmental of ourselves in how we experience the foods we choose. In the course, participants learn that emotional eating doesn't automatically mean you are doing harm to your body. Rather, it is the automatic, eating-without-thinking impulse that may have an impact on health in the longer-term. By better understanding the factors that influence our relationship with food, we can spend less time comparing our plate to everyone else's, and more time thinking about the things that matter.

Food, in and of itself, is not the enemy, and Craving Change helps participants uncover a little more about who they are and about the experiences that have shaped their food-related habits and behaviours. Participants tell me that it's liberating to know their eating choices are no longer controlled by their emotions.

The course is available in three, two-hour sessions, and is offered throughout the year. It is open to adults 18 years of age and up and would be of interest to anybody who would like to:

  • Understand why it's hard to change eating habits;
  • Identify personal triggers for over-eating;
  • Learn to respond to triggers differently;
  • Improve their relationship with food, and adapt healthier eating habits.

A schedule of upcoming course sessions in April, May and June is available in the WRHA's Health Management Program Guide at www.wrha.mb.ca/community/primarycare/guide.php

Kathleen McClinton is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes instructor and chronic disease management clinician with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, February 15, 2019.