Do you ever feel like you’re all over the map when it comes to food? Some days you’re pumped up about eating everything and anything. You have a big appetite and really enjoy eating. Other days you might feel the urge to cleanse your body by eating very simple foods, and eating feels more like a tool to help you feel your best. What’s going on? Are you food bipolar or is this a normal part of eating?
In last week’s article, I talked about why one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to eating and our food choices. This week is all about the Phases of Nourishment, a concept I learned from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Change and fluctuation are part of nature. You find them everywhere. The moon has a cycle of distinct phases. The menstrual cycle has very specific phases. Our circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, can be broken down into phases. And of course, there are the four seasons. Cycles that repeat certain phases over and over are part of existence.
Here are 11 phases of nourishment, which are a natural and normal part of being a human who eats. I’ll give a brief description of the phase, when it’s being expressed in a healthy way and a not so healthy way, and how each phase might relate to something else going on in your life. Keep in mind these are not necessarily followed in order. Some people may go through all stages at different times in life, while others may never enter some of the phases. The length of time spent in each phase also varies, from a few days to months or years.
1. The Cleansing Phase
What it is: This phase might be marked by a desire to detoxify with juicing, fasting, or simple foods as well as letting go of foods that no longer serve you. There might be a sense of loss in letting go of some foods, and a discipline that you embrace. This can be a spiritual time as you connect inward.
Healthy when: You cleanse from a place of inspiration, not fear. There’s a beginning and an end to the cleansing. You feel refreshed and renewed and ready for what’s next.
Unhealthy when: You fear that everything is toxic and the only way to be healthy is a constant cleanse.
What else might be going on: You might also be letting go of things or relationships that feel toxic and no longer serve you, or simply declutter your home or schedule.
2. The Building Phase
What it is: This phase is when you have a big appetite but you don’t seem to gain weight. You have bounds of energy and are driven to be more active. You might be drawn to denser foods like meats, oils, nuts, nut butters. You’re grounded and present.
Healthy when: you honor your appetite and desire to feel full, without judgement.
Unhealthy when: you grow addicted to feeling pumped and high all the time, and rely on caffeine or energy drinks to push yourself continuously.
What else might be going on: You are fully in your power at work, in relationships, in who you are. You feel expansive and open to growth.
3. The Sustaining Phase
What it is: You’re in the groove of things with your body, nothing special is going on, just routine food and life. May be a plateau for those trying to lose weight. Food is often not the focus, as other areas of life take precedence.
Healthy when: You don’t over-analyze this phase thinking it’s wrong or something needs to be fixed. Relax into consistency and routine.
Unhealthy when: You feel you have to fix something that isn’t broken.
What else might be going on: Other areas of life may be taking your time and attention, and/or you’re settling into routine in other areas of life.
4. The Emotional Phase
What it is: You feel called to eat based on your emotions and it feels uncontrollable.
Healthy when: You don’t fight but embrace and listen to your emotions and feed them what they need.
Unhealthy when: You deny your emotions and try to fight emotional eating. You judge yourself for having emotions that have needs.
What else might be going on: Anything that brings up uncomfortable emotions.
5. The Celebration Phase
What it is: Pleasure becomes the most important part of eating, and you’re drawn to pleasurable foods.
Healthy when: You trust your body in feeding it’s pleasure, knowing that you and it will recover from indulgence.
Unhealthy when: You fear this phase, believing you will never come back from it. Or you live in this phase all the time, being okay with good feelings, but fearful of uncomfortable ones. When you become imbalanced toward pleasure all the time, it’s a sign of immaturity.
What else might be going on: Holidays, vacations, or something inside that craves pleasure.
6. The Learning Phase
What it is: You feel called to learn and experiment with new ways of eating or new nutrition philosophies. You read and ask advice to gather information. It’s exciting.
Healthy when: You have a sense of discovery and nourishment, learn new strategies, embrace the learning process and let go of not needing to be perfect or right all the time.
Unhealthy when: You get stuck in your head, forgetting body wisdom and only value facts and knowledge.
What else might be going on: You’re attracted to personal improvement and education.
7. The Fanatic/Fundamentalist Phase
What it is: You’re drawn to follow a specific diet, lifestyle or regimen rigidly but with a purpose. The whole field of nutrition tends to be stuck in this phase.
Healthy when: It gives us a big wave of energy to accomplish a task and allows us to practice commitment and wholeheartedness.
Unhealthy when: You are seeking perfectionism or certainty, you are creating more separation with those around you than is healthy, you are more committed to perfection than what works.
What else might be going on: A deep search for health, well-being or weight loss. There may be other areas of your life where you act fanatically.
8. The Death Phase
What it is: Food loses its appeal, or nothing seems to work. You may be bored or indifferent toward food.
Healthy when: You understand this is a natural and often necessary phase that allows something to end, and a new beginning to take hold.
Unhealthy when: You stay stuck here and turn to foods that harm or contribute to actual death.
What else might be going on: illness, depression, stuck in a personal rut, not able to move on in a job or relationship or life.
9. The Healing Phase
What it is: Using food and/or supplements like a medicine to heal from or prevent illness. Taste preference comes secondary to the desire to heal.
Healthy when: You learn to embrace self-care by nourishing yourself.
Unhealthy when: You become overly fearful of eating “the wrong” foods and eating comes from a place of fear instead of healing. You may cling to this way of eating even after you’ve healed.
What else might be going on: Illness, chronic disease, signs or risk factors for disease.
10. The Anything Goes Phase
What it is: You may have bizarre cravings, eat much more or less than usual, eat at odd times, and it doesn’t seem to make sense.
Healthy when: You allow this phase to pass through, and be aware when it’s time to ground yourself again.
Unhealthy when: You stay here indefinitely.
What else might be going on: Life feels chaotic or turned upside down, your life is being rearranged.
11. The Surrender Phase
What it is: A time to go with the flow. You may be in circumstances that have you eating in a different way than you prefer.
Healthy when: You can let go and surrender to what is. Realize that health isn’t always the most important thing and that sacrifice is okay.
Unhealthy when: You’re stuck in a job or living arrangement that doesn’t allow you to nourish yourself or serve you.
What else might be going on: Tight economic times, staying with relatives, in a hospital, travel, work or school schedule.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What phase might you be in now? What makes you think so?