You might not think of yourself as someone who is in a relationship with food, but the truth is we all are. What, how, and why we eat is deeply personal as we all have unique histories with food and our bodies. And just like any other relationship, our relationship with food can be complicated.
If you were lucky, maybe you grew up with a pretty normal relationship to food: you were able to eat when you were hungry and didn’t think about food all too much. But for the majority of people things become more fraught over time. Many of us start to second guess our intuition around eating, become fearful of our changing bodies, and rely on diet trends and external cues to tell us how to feed ourselves. As a society, we tend to be hyper-focused on ‘what’ we eat and forget to pay attention to ‘why’ and ‘how’ we eat. But focusing on food choices when you don’t have a healthy relationship with food is often counterproductive and can lead to problematic eating behaviors.
So as a registered dietitian, I actually tend to care just as much about how you feel about what you eat as what you actually eat. If food makes you feel anxious, shameful, or stressed out, your diet is not the problem, your body is not the problem, but maybe your relationship with food could use some work.
So how can you improve your relationship with food? Here are a few things to start with.
1. Try to view food through a neutral lens. As a society, our language around food is typically polarized: foods are purported to be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ based on the latest nutrition trends. However, using this language around food is problematic. Over time you internalize these insidious messages, causing you to feel like you are a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person based on your food choices. But the truth is, food is just food and it doesn’t deserve the power to make us feel poorly about ourselves.
2. Reconnect with your body. Start to pay attention to what it feels like to be hungry or full. Notice what foods you crave, like and want to eat throughout the day. Be curious about how eating different foods and at different times makes your body feel. Gather this information and allow these internal cues to guide your eating without judgement. Research shows that individuals who are able to listen to and respond to their body’s cues without guilt experience more positive body image and better overall health.
3. Eat food that you enjoy. Food is so much more than just fuel and it is meant to taste good. We have this erroneous belief that food can’t possibly be good for us if it tastes good. But we are biologically designed to enjoy the foods that provide us with the energy we need to survive. Some studies even suggest that our bodies absorb nutrients more efficiently from food when we find it to be pleasurable! Appreciate food for the pleasure it can elicit as well as the nourishment it can provide.
4. Practice flexibility with food. There is no such thing as a perfect diet, so attempting to follow strict food rules sets you up for failure. When you have a flexible approach to food you know that your body is capable of finding the balance it needs even when there are variances in your diet. Being flexible means being able to adapt when plans change and not let your food choices interfere with your social life or mental health.
Are you interested in learning more about how to shift your mindset and improve your relationship with food? I work with individuals to guide them through this process via virtual nutrition coaching. Learn more about working together and my approach to nutrition.