Food — it can hold so much weight, both literally and figuratively. We as humans need food to survive; its nutritional support sustains us, fueling our body with energy that sustains us both short-term to complete our day-to-day tasks, as well as long-term to nurture physical growth and repair.
Yet, with so many high fat and calorie food choices out there these days, it’s hard not to associate food with negative consequences like weight gain, cravings, shame, and increased risk for health complications. In other words, with so many unhealthy options, it can be hard to form a healthy relationship with food.
However, mindful eating and a healthy relationship with food are crucial because your physical and mental health tie back to what you put into your body.
With a conscious effort and a positive attitude, Able is here to guide you through attaining a healthy relationship with food.
Food is about more than just the “what”. In addition to what foods you choose to eat, meals are about the where, when, and why.
We gather together to cook meals and share them with family and friends, whether it’s with new acquaintances we met ten minutes ago or with people we love and have known for years.
How do you eat your food? Do you engage with food in good spirits and allow yourself to feel joy when you eat or do you restrict yourself, rigidly plan each item on your plate, and meet yourself with guilt, anger, and judgment if you deviate from your strict plan?
A healthy relationship with food means that you allow yourself to engage in the whole experience that eating food brings and feel joy when consuming the foods you eat. This relationship is remorse and anxiety-free.
When you live in harmony with your food, you develop a healthy relationship with food that helps you maintain a healthy body weight and a healthy lifestyle.
A healthy relationship with food has several components. Let’s explore each.
The first step towards healthy eating is to make sure that you are flexible about eating. This means that you feel comfortable when your regular food preferences change and accept these deviations as normal and inevitable, even if you sometimes reach for junk food.
Perhaps the only thing consistent in life is change itself, so it is perfectly natural for your routine to deviate from your original plans sometimes.
A key element to flexibility when it comes to food intake is to omit the notion that your meal plan is a strict regimen you must follow at all times with no distractions. It is not fun to forbid yourself from eating certain treats; in doing so you set yourself up to feel guilt, dread, angst, and remorse when you inevitably do eat those foods on occasion.
You cannot always predict your own physical and mental states that influence your eating habits: your moods will change from day to day, and so will your body’s physical capabilities and demands.
That is why flexibility is essential to a healthy relationship with food — it allows you to accept the natural changes to your normal daily routine and sometimes eat differently because you do not have strict rules. When you end restrictions and rigid food rules, you set yourself up for long-term success and a happier, healthier relationship with food.
Your body needs food for energy: hunger is a biological signal that your body uses to talk to you. Just as the fuel gauge in your car signals when your gas tank needs a refill, hunger is a natural gauge that signals when your stomach needs a refill.
As such, to maintain a healthy relationship with food, you need to permit yourself to eat.
On the same token, just as you were born with cues to tell you when you are hungry, you were also born with cues to tell you when you are full.
Slow down and notice when you start to feel full. If you take your time to enjoy your food, you also allow yourself time to evaluate whether you feel full and satisfied or whether you still need more fuel. When you eat without flexibility and adhere to rigid restrictions, you stifle your natural biological cues.
You might not feed yourself enough with strict rules, which could leave you even more hungry and likely to overeat at the next mealtime, for example.
Choose your food wisely; base your decisions on what tastes good and nutritious to you so that you can enjoy your food and properly fuel your body at the same time. When you trust your body and respect your natural biological cues, you create a positive experience that fosters a healthy relationship with food.
In conjunction with listening to your body’s cues for hunger versus fullness, pay attention to what foods satisfy these cues. Notice what foods nourish your body and provide you with lasting fuel versus what foods make you feel bloated, sleepy, or heavy.
Additionally, you should pay attention to how different foods affect your physical and mental states and when you eat these different foods. In other words, notice why you eat the foods you do when you do.
A good way to do this is to keep a food journal for a week or two and record when you eat and what foods you eat each time you feel hungry. This journal will help you recognize patterns such as stress eating candy or ice cream, mindlessly consuming chips while you binge your new favorite TV series, or consistently eating dinner late at night only to realize you are far more hungry at that time and tend to overeat.
Another key element to laying the groundwork for a healthy relationship with food is to avoid labeling ‘bad foods.’
When you implicate negative associations with certain foods, you set yourself up to feel guilt and remorse whenever you crave or indulge in these foods. Try adopting the philosophy that everything is okay to have in moderation.
It is unrealistic and impossible to give yourself the rule that cake is bad and that you should never consume this food or find enjoyment in it.
Instead, build a relationship with food where you can recognize that while it is true cake is not nearly as healthy as an apple, the cake is not ‘evil’ and is still okay to consume every once in a while, especially if it gives you pleasure.
As long as you eat a well-balanced, label-free diet, you are on the way towards a healthy and sustainable relationship with food that allows you to have positive associations with mealtimes.
If you only allow yourself to consume specific foods, you set yourself up to become obsessed and anxious about what you eat, leaving you with negative associations around certain foods.
Get creative and eat many different types of foods.
You should be able to indulge in all types of foods as long as you indulge in moderation and build a well-balanced diet that incorporates a variety of regular meals and snacks. Nourish your body with lasting energy.
Make it a point to have foods that provide you with ample nutrition at the base of your diet, and then build around this base with a variety of other food types to create a good balance that leaves you feeling happy, healthy, and positive about your meals and lifestyle choices.
Finally, when you establish your relationship with food, you should remember that relationships are hard work and that nobody is perfect, including you! If you make a choice that leaves you with a negative association with food, don’t flood yourself with harmful, unforgiving thoughts.
Food is a dynamic and multi-faceted experience because you and your body are also a dynamic and multi-faceted entity. You are more than just your weight or shape, so do not let this become the center of your relationship with food.
Be kind to your body, maintain high self-worth and image, and keep in mind that eating is social and emotional as well as physical. If you remember these principles when you eat, you are on an excellent trajectory for a healthy relationship with food that allows you to enjoy what you eat without negative self-judgment.
To have a healthy relationship with food, you need to maintain flexibility, listen to your body, avoid labeling foods, include some variation in your diet, and be kind to yourself. Remember that you are human.
What you choose to eat consistently and over larger periods affects your lifestyle, so be kind, accepting, and understanding when working on your food relationship. A healthy relationship with food is attainable, but it can be hard to establish and takes constant work to maintain.
Every little bit of progress counts, and focus on smaller achievable goals and visible results with your relationship with food. The change starts today!
Feel like yourself again with Able — get your nutrition plan now to help you establish, maintain, and nurture the healthiest relationship with food for a happier, healthier you so that you can feel better from now on and for good.