It's Not You; It's Me - How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Food

March 2023

by tiffany ricci

A moment on the lips, forever on the hips. 

Don’t be wasteful; finish your food. There are starving kids in Africa who would love to eat this food. 

Better hit the gym after all those treats! 

Is it any wonder why so many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food? Phrases like this from often well-meaning people can cause us to stress and worry about what we eat. However, a good relationship with food is not associated with the quality of your diet but rather the how and why behind the foods you choose.  

A healthy relationship with food can be complicated because we cannot live without food. Our bodies need food to provide energy and necessary nutrients. We relate to others around food - we celebrate with food and come together over food. Food can be a creative outlet and a means to serve others. This is why relationships with food can be so complex. It's more than just fuel - food connects us as humans in a myriad of ways.   

How do you know if you have an unhealthy relationship with food? Here are some classic signs:  

  • You have a history of yo-yo dieting or following the latest diet trend.  
  • You feel guilty about eating.  
  • You classify food as good or bad and associate your worth based on the foods you eat.  
  • You do not listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues.  
  • You fear what others think about the food you eat.  
  • You have food rules that tell you what you can and cannot eat.  
  • You feel out of control around or addicted to certain foods.  

This is not an exhaustive list of behaviors that indicate a poor relationship with food. However, the bottom line is that your food relationship needs work if you feel stress, worry, guilt, or shame when it comes to eating.   

Conversely, a healthy relationship with food is like a healthy relationship with a person - one that is at ease with no pressure. It's food freedom. And that looks like this:

  • Permission to eat the foods you enjoy.  
  • Listening to your hunger and fullness cues.  
  • Not obsessing about food, and choosing foods that make you feel good.  
  • Eating to fuel your body, and sometimes eating to fuel your soul.  
  • Listening to your body and not the opinions of others.  
  • No guilt or shame about the foods you choose.  
  • Not being defined by the foods you eat or choose not to eat.  
  • No off-limits foods; enjoyment of all foods in moderation.  

If this seems like an impossible outcome when it comes to relating to food - take heart. Developing a healthy relationship with food may not be easy, but you can achieve food freedom. Like all things worth obtaining, a healthy relationship with food takes time to cultivate. There may be layers of disordered eating patterns and thoughts that need undoing. But it's a journey worth exploring.   

Here's how to get started addressing and improving your relationship with food:  

  1. Permission. You need to give yourself unconditional permission to food. Remove labels you've given food, such as good, bad, clean, healthy; and just eat. Food is an inanimate object with no inherent worth and no power over you. Unconditional permission removes the restriction and deprivation associated with previous rules and dieting structures. When nothing is off limits, food is not as tempting or guilt-inducing as it once was. This is a difficult but necessary step to undertake.   
  2. Mindfulness. Be mindful of what you're eating. Eliminate distractions, sit down for meals and snacks, and pay attention to what you're doing. This allows you to focus on your hunger and fullness cues. This also takes practice - especially if you've always eaten with distractions. Use your senses - smell the food, notice the presentation, feel the texture, taste all the parts of the food, and take note. Identify why you're making the choices you are making with food. Are you ravenous and in need of immediate energy? Are you bored, lonely, frustrated, or stressed? Will food improve the situation, or do you have another coping tool that will prove more effective? Ask these questions with curiosity and not judgment.    
  3. Fuel adequately. Avoid skipping meals and follow a consistent pattern of meal and snack intake. This will help balance your blood sugar levels and associated hormones and prevent you from becoming hangry. It's difficult to address your relationship with food when you're low on energy. Creating a consistent eating schedule can also help you pay attention to hunger and fullness cues because biology will not override your mindful food approach.   
  4. Seek professional help. Sometimes healing the relationship is too much to do on your own. You might need professional support from qualified registered dietitian nutritionists or therapists to help you navigate this journey successfully. Guidance from these experts can help you find solutions to have food freedom.  

We benefit from investing in our relationships to keep them vibrant and healthy. The same goes for our relationship with food. It's one with deep roots that touch nearly all aspects of our lives. If it is an unhealthy association, it will take time, patience, and grace toward yourself and the process to develop freedom with food.    

It's worth the effort, though. To be free of guilt, shame, worry, and stress surrounding food. To see food as a gift, a way to connect with others, and fuel for our activity. If you've found yourself wrapped up in a dysfunctional relationship with food - I encourage you to step out in courage and start moving toward food freedom. Then you can fully enjoy the thousands of meals and snacks in your future!  

Originally printed in the March 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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