Stef Jung is a holistic health coach who just launched a program called Discover Food Freedom. She’s all about helping people reshape their relationship with food and their bodies; a lot of it coming from her own experience. We spoke with Stef about her past relationship with food, the common misconceptions we have with food, and what her new program is all about.
Can you please tell us a bit about you and your personal experience with food and eating?
I grew up in a health-conscious and active household with beautiful role models in regard to nutrition, movement, and body image. However, in my teens, I developed a very tumultuous relationship with food and my body. What started as an innocent diet turned into a 5+ year struggle with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and all the grey areas in between.
At my worst, I was a fad-dieting, self-destructive, calorie-counting treadmill junkie that obsessively stepped on the scale up to five times a day. There were periods where I was binge eating multiple times a week and felt like I had zero control over my actions. No one knew about it, and I was essentially living a double life. I had a very distorted relationship with my body and my inner mean girl was constantly telling me that I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, skinny enough… the list goes on.
After years of self-loathing and eventually hitting rock bottom, I realised that something needed to change. So, I started working with a Health Coach who had also struggled with disordered eating in the past, and it was with her help that I began to rebuild a loving relationship with food, body, and myself.
As I started getting better and began exploring the power of intuitive eating, mind/body connection and a holistic lifestyle in general, I realised that I also wanted to give back and help others with their food, body-image and self-love struggles. I eventually went on to study Holistic Nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and completed my Yoga Teacher Training in India. Now I coach women to help them find their own food freedom.
With ‘Discover Food Freedom’, what is the overall vision and message your program is aiming to achieve?
Discover Food Freedom is my signature 9-week, self-guided, online course, empowering women to unlearn toxic diet culture, overcome binge eating and heal their relationship with food and their body. It’s for anyone who’s sick and tired of being at war with themselves and ready to get out of the binge-restrict cycle.
I’m also a big believer that your relationship with food is a direct reflection of your relationship with life itself. How you eat and why you eat the way you eat has the potential to teach you about your boundaries, your sense of safety, your limiting beliefs, your fears, your values, your ability to feel your feelings, and so much more. It’s all right there, on your plate. So yes, the course is about food, but it goes way beyond that.
Essentially, Discover Food Freedom is what I wish I would have had all these years ago when I was in the thick of my own struggle! Founded in the principles of Intuitive Eating, it gives you all the tools and guidance you need to stop dieting for good, be at peace with food and your body, deal with your emotions without food and become an intuitive eater.
Ultimately, my mission is to help as many women as possible to discover food freedom!
What are the common misconceptions people have with food when trying to lose weight?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that to lose weight, you need to restrict, control, and exert willpower and discipline. But if that worked, then why do people fail so miserably when they decide to embark on a diet?
Most clients that I work with have been dieting in some shape or form for years, and some have even been on and off the diet bandwagon for decades, yet to no success. The reason is simple:
Restriction, be it physical or mental restriction, always backfires (more on that in a bit). Dieting also puts you out of touch with your own hunger and fullness cues, making some external authority the expert on your own body. As you become more physically and mentally food-deprived and disconnected from your body, your mind starts to rebel in the form of increased food cravings and binge urges.
So, can you see how restriction, control, and discipline as a means to lose weight is a full-proof way to binge eating?
Here’s the big food paradox: when you throw out all the food rules and give yourself the permission to eat everything, you won’t want to eat everything all the time (after the initial honeymoon phase, that is). And when you learn to trust yourself around all foods, your ability to live in mind-body attunement and make decisions based on true self-care blossoms. This results in you being able to make nourishing food choices from a place of self-care and self-love rather than from a place of restriction and deprivation.
What are some ways we can enjoy food without guilt?
Overcoming food guilt is a journey. Know that it takes a lot of compassion, patience, and practice to reframe your mindset around your relationship with food and remove feelings of guilt.
A good place to start is to begin with challenging your “good vs bad food” mentality. This absolutist thinking where there is a plethora of ‘bad’ foods and only a handful of ‘good’ foods makes navigating your daily food choices a minefield. To start dismantling this belief, write down all the foods that you label as ‘bad’ and ‘good’. Next, consider how simply by having a belief that a certain food is forbidden or off-limits, it heightens its power over you. It’s like the forbidden fruit effect: when you think you’re not allowed to have it, you want it even more.
How different would life be if all foods were neutral and there was no morality attached to them? Chances are you wouldn’t be so tempted to eat your ‘bad’ foods all the time in the first place.
This only scrapes the surface of how to let go of food guilt, but it’s a great starting point.
Why do many of us tend to binge eat (whether it's sometimes or often)?
I like to think there are three main types of binges: restriction-driven, emotion-driven, and habit-driven.
I briefly touched on the first one earlier: when we are physically or mentally restricting ourselves, our body and mind fights back with the urge to binge. It’s your body’s survival mechanism kicking in. When I say mental restriction, I’m referring to things like having a good vs bad food mentality, telling yourself you “shouldn’t” eat something or feeling like you need to compensate for a cheat meal. You may be physically eating enough, but you aren’t truly allowing yourself the foods, hence it's a mental restriction.
Then there’s emotion-driven binges. This happens anytime you use food to deal with emotions that feel too difficult to confront.
And lastly, habit-driven binges are when your brain has associated certain locations, situations, people, or feelings with binges, due to repletion, and thus it becomes a habit.
If you’re currently struggling with binge eating, a good starting point is to continuously check in with yourself as to which type of binge you’re having and to start identifying patterns.
I want you to know that if your relationship to food and your body affects your life in even the tiniest of ways, then you deserve to work on it. Just because you have no diagnosis or you don't fit a certain weight criterion or it's not as bad as for someone else, doesn't mean that your story isn't valid. You don't have to wait for it to get really bad to deserve asking for help.
And even though you can do this alone, you don’t have to!
If you’re struggling in your relationship with food and eating, you can find out more about Stef’s program here to begin your food freedom journey.