How To: HAVE A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
With foods being labeled as "good" and "bad", endless lose weight quick gimmicks, and societal pressures to look a certain way, it can be hard to develop a positive relationship with food. If a healthy relationship with food is not established, there can be an increased susceptibility to an eating disorder.
At least 30 million Americans of ALL ages and genders suffer from some sort of eating disorder which is substantially less than the number of people that suffer from depression in the United States (16.2 million).
Food is NOT the Enemy
Do not demonize food. Avoid labeling foods as bad, off-limits, unacceptable, etc…
Refrain from “yo-yo” dieting (cyclical process of gaining and losing weight, commonly due to fad diets). It’s not good for digestion or metabolism. Typically all the weight lost and then some is gained back once the fad diet ends.
Shake the "DIET" mindset all together! Dieting has a negative, discouraging connotation. Diets are usually short-term, quick fixes, and restrictive. Concentrate on creating gradual, long-term lifestyle changes. Make enjoyable changes in your nutrition because those are more likely to be lasting.
If you do fall off track, just let it go. Forget about it. Move on. There is NOTHING you can do to change what's already been done. There is no need to dwell on it; that will only foster negative feelings and emotions. Focus on making the most out of the remainder of the day.
Do not feel guilty in any way, shape, or form when it comes to food.
Build a Lifestyle Focused on HEALTH, not Perfection
I am a huge perfectionist, so please hear me when I say don’t strive to be perfect. The saying of "progress not perfection" may be overused, but it’s an essential motto for perfectionists to keep in the back of their mind. My parents always told me to try my best. And that’s all we can do each day.
Numbers (measurements, weight, body fat %, macros, calories, grams, etc…) are important but they are not everything; your life should not revolve around or be dictated by these numbers.
There are ups and downs in life, but especially a fitness journey. The ups and downs are both a pro and a con. With there being downs, you have the opportunity to try new exercises, recipes, routines, ways of eating, etc. and in doing so you will learn a tremendous amount about yourself in the process; your personal motivation, perseverance, mental strengths, and capabilities. That’s the beauty of exercise and nutrition, not only do you get to transform your body but your mindset as well.
Don't compare yourself to others! Everyone is at a different part of their journey, has different nutritional needs, and most importantly- everyone has their own struggles that you are not even aware of. Take care of YOU.
Learn Moderation – NOT Restriction
If you spend your energy focused on what you cannot have, that will fuel your desire of wanting what you cannot have.
Too much of anything can be bad. Same goes for the opposite, too little can also be bad. Don’t get too restrictive with your eating habits.
Orthorexia is defined as the obsessive fixation on eating healthy foods while systematically avoiding foods deemed as harmful, bad, fattening, and unhealthy. The structure gives a feeling of safety from overindulging and confidence/assurance from the ability to control food intake. When one falters, the knee-jerk reaction is to tighten the reins, get stricter, which feeds the obsessive fixation on food and can lead to destructive eating habits. Be aware of this.
Stop eating when you're comfortably full. Enjoy your food but don't overeat. If you overeat and then regret doing such, that's just going to correlate negative emotions to the food that you just ate.
Allow for flexibility if something goes awry. Every single meal doesn't have to be 100% perfectly planned and measured. You cannot plan every detail of your life no matter how hard you try. If you DO allow for flexibility and something DOES go awry, it won't crush your mindset or motivation.
Know and accept that slip-ups will happen. Instead of viewing them as mistakes, letdowns, or failures, view them in a more positive light. A little blooper is just a learning experience that better prepares you to take on adversity in the future.
When you do slip up, please do NOT punish yourself. Just because you had a little extra dessert, ate out too much the past week, or didn't stick to your plan isn't cause for punishment. DO NOT mentally beat yourself up, starve yourself for the rest of the day, do extra cardio to "exercise it off" or go to the gym with that mindset, etc... This mindset can be detrimental to your body image, eating habits, and mentality. Punishing yourself for “failing” is unhealthy, unproductive, and leads to disappointment.
Mental Health Shapes Physical Health
Be aware of and prioritize your wellbeing – take care of your mental health and happiness first and foremost. If it doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it. If it’s mentally and emotionally draining, change it. Once you are mentally in good place, things will go much smoother and seemingly fall into place.
Try to avoid emotional eating. It's easy to celebrate or cope with food, but if it becomes a habit it will be hard to shake. We can attempt to use food to mask the emotion we’re feeling, but sooner or later we'll have to face and deal with that emotion head on. Emotional eating may work in the moment, but not in the long run.
Figure out what works for your lifestyle. Some people like to work out in the morning; others would much rather hit the snooze button. Some people crave sweets; others crave crunchy, salty foods. A basic, cookie cutter meal plan and workout program is not going to work for everyone. Just because someone lost 25 pounds on the keto diet doesn’t mean that you will too. Find out what works best for YOUR body, your schedule, and your happiness.
Be conscious of how you feel when you eat well and nourish your body vs. eat junk. Pay attention to: mood, energy levels, confidence, body image, bloating, digestion, motivation. If you see positive differences when you eat well, you’re going to be more likely to continue to do so.
Take it one day at a time. I LOVE to plan so it can be easy to get ahead of myself, look too far into the future, and get overwhelmed with how far I have to go to reach my goals/get where I want to be. Instead, take a step back and look at how far you've come. Reflect on your accomplishments thus far. Focus on the present. Focus on making choices each day that put you in the best position to reach your goal.
Watch the Company You Keep
The people around us have a profound impact on our attitude and outlook on life which is why it’s so important to be surrounded with people who will lift you up, cheer you on, help, and support you endlessly.
Don’t hide what you’re eating from roommates, loved ones, friends, significant others… If you find that you’re stashing food in secret places or indulging when you’re NOT with certain people, consider the people you are surrounding yourself with. It may seem harsh, but it’s true.
This point is really disheartening, but some people aren’t the most encouraging when a friend/family member starts to eat better or workout. They lack support and seem to only have pessimistic comments to make. It takes an incredible amount of willpower, courage, and motivation to make a lifestyle change. That person may be jealous or struggling with their own motivation, so try not to take it to heart.
Why do people feel the need to make negative comments about someone trying to better themselves? What happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? If you can’t be positive or encourage someone who is choosing to prioritize their health, don’t say anything. There can be such criticism, disapproval, and judgement targeted towards someone choosing to eat healthy. Yet it seems to be forbidden for that negativity to be directed towards someone brushing off and ignoring the importance of nutrition and physical activity. It is such a double standard but it is the world we live in folks. Sometimes you just need to keep your head down and keep on moving.
"I could never do that / Why are you doing that? / You won't last / That won't even work / That's too expensive / I'm choosing to live my life, I'm not going to deprive myself of my favorite foods / Food is meant to be enjoyed / I don't want to eat rabbit food." Don't let others pressure you, feel bad, or question your choices. It’s YOUR body. Taking care of your body doesn't impact them, it impacts you.
Have a Plan
Yes, I know I said take it one day at a time, but you do need to have some sort of plan. It’s much easier to reach a goal/create good habits when you have a set plan.
Invest in or create a meal plan for yourself. This way, not only will you have a set plan, but when you go to the grocery you’ll know exactly what you need to get. You’ll spend less time wandering the aisles, make better choices, and be less likely to make hunger-based decisions and buy more than you actually need.
Food can either hurt or heal you. Choose foods that heal you and won’t lead to food-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or metabolic disorders. Opt for fresh, wholesome foods and stay away from processed, sugar-filled, nutrient-lacking foods.
Set guidelines in your eating/exercise habits that won't budge = drinking 1 gallon of water per day, always eat breakfast, make it to the gym 3 times a week, etc... By doing this, you will allow for flexibility while still maintaining some sort of structure.
Some food is straight up soul food. Not every day do you get to have your family’s cooking, grandma’s banana bread, or a meal from your favorite restaurant growing up. Don’t deprive yourself of that. I strongly believe in PLANNING to have a treat meal. Set aside one day a week to indulge in your favorite dinner and dessert. It’s not only beneficial for your body, but it makes a huge difference in your mental health and maintaining a healthy relationship with food.
When it comes to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with food, it is a process. Just like any other sort of relationship, you have to work and put forth effort to maintain the level that you want it to function at. Just focus on taking it one day, one meal at a time.
Statistics drawn from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders and National Institute of Mental Health.