During my days at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, we talked about primary food. IIN's founder, Joshua Rosenthal, believes that secondary food is the actual food you eat. For him, primary food is your career, your relationships, your spirituality, and exercise.
The basic premise is that if you can heal these other parts of your life, then you can heal your relationship with food. Intuitive Eating posits the opposite. If you heal your relationship with food, you can heal the other parts of your life.
Regardless of whether it's the chicken or the egg, diets don't work. So, what does? If you want to be happier, the answer might be in positive psychology.
I skimmed through my old notes from a lecture at IIN about positive psychology. This lecture was based on the work of Martin Seligman.
Here is the gist:
1. Focusing on what is already good makes you happier.
We know for certain that hating your body doesn't help you love it.
Seligman wanted people to think about what was good in their life, not just focus on the bad.
One easy way to do this is what he calls the "3 blessings exercise." Every day you write down 3 good things that happened and why they happened.
The more details, the better.
A study at USC showed participants who wrote more details of their gratitude did best. They were "more elated, excited, and alert than the other groups. [They were also] less tired, sad, and lethargic."
That's pretty compelling evidence. Focusing on what is already good in your life is at the very least energizing.
Spending hundreds on juice cleanses might make you feel more energetic. But journaling what you're grateful for is FREE!
2. Figuring out what your current strengths are makes you stronger.
When I was first coming around to accepting my body, I tried a new strategy in the mirror. I would just look in the mirror and see one thing that I liked. Sometimes, it was my eyelash. Sometimes, if I was really feeling myself, it would be my thighs. Eventually, I was able to look in the mirror and say, "Damn, Girl!"
Seligman would call this the "Engaged Life" or the "Good Life." He encourages people to find out their signature strength. Instead of squeezing at parts of your body that you dislike, he suggests you find your flow. This is like finding the eyelash that you like IRL.
In not such a weird analogy, this means finding what you're good at. If you're good at knitting, knit for work. If you're good at coding, become a computer engineer. If you're good at solving mysteries, become Sherlock Holmes. Fill your days with something that you find joy and ease in. I know. It's easier said than done. But didn't people used to say that about diets?
3. Apply your Strengths to Others.
Remember how last week I was raving about volunteering? Well, there's some science to that. Seligman points to research on this. He says that meaning in our lives amplifies the good things and the pleasant things in our lives.
Something powerful happens when you combine your strengths with altruism. It's an alchemy of positivity.
He writes that doing something good for someone else made people happier for longer. In his Tedtalk in 2004, he even suggests that having "meaning" in our lives has led to better health.
As much as we want to believe that getting our dream body will make us happier, it's not a straight shot.
Take a moment to enjoy your life. Find out what you're good at instead of making yucky smoothies. Do what you're good at for others. It'll all work better than dieting to make you happy.