A healthy relationship with food entails giving yourself unconditional permission to eat items that make you feel good both physically and mentally. There are no forbidden foods, and you don’t feel guilty about consuming items that are traditionally called “good” or “bad.”
Developing a positive relationship with food is not something that can be accomplished immediately. Rather, it’s something you’ll have to work on for the rest of your life, just like you’d work on a relationship with your partner, friend, or any other significant person in your life.
Identifying your relationship
A good relationship with food, like any other, takes time, practice, and a lot of patience.
It’s critical to recognize that your relationship with food extends beyond simply fueling your body. Unlike animals, which eat purely for survival, people eat for a number of reasons, including joy, pleasure, culture, tradition, sociability, and to feed their bodies.
When you begin to perceive food as more than just a fuel source, you can begin to see its value and create a healthier connection with it.
The following are signs of a healthy relationship with food:
- You give yourself complete license to eat the foods you enjoy.
- You pay attention to and respect your body’s natural hunger signals.
- When you’re hungry, you eat, and when you’re full, you stop.
- There are no forbidden foods.
- You aren’t preoccupied with the number on the scale.
- You don’t let other people’s opinions influence what you consume.
- You don’t feel the need to justify your eating habits.
- You recognize that the meals you eat do not define you.
- You eat everything in moderation.
- You select foods that make you feel good.
- Calories are not the primary motivator for your dietary choices.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ll never get to this point,” you’re not alone. Many people struggle with the thought of abandoning the diet mentality and rejecting years of diet culture messaging they’ve been exposed to at a young age.
Instead of focusing on crossing off every item on the list, try to tackle one at a time at your own pace.
See also How to Eat Healthier
How to Build a Positive Relationship with Food
1. Eat only when you’re hungry
Every person is born with the ability to control their hunger. This is evident in children, who can easily discern when they are hungry or full. However, as people age, they lose this ability for a variety of reasons.
How many times did your parents advise you to clean your plate, despite your best efforts? While their intentions were excellent, this taught you as a child to ignore signs of fullness and eat until other stimuli (e.g., a clean plate) signaled you it was time to stop.
In addition, diet culture has trained people to rely on an artificial quantity of calories to tell them when they’re finished eating for the day rather than eating until their content.
However, the closer you can come to listening to your natural hunger cues, the better you will be able to regulate your appetite and manage your food consumption.
2. Give yourself full permission to eat
Allowing oneself unconditional permission to eat is one symptom of a good and healthy relationship with food.
When you make restrictions about when you can and cannot eat, you set yourself up for hunger, emotions of deprivation, and food dread.
3. Accept all items into your diet
Giving a food the label “bad” gives it undue authority. Certain foods, in fact, are more nutritious than others and lead to better health. However, eating a single dish will not have a miracle effect on your health.
When you name food as “bad,” you automatically elevate it. People usually refer to foods as “bad” when they taste delicious but aren’t very nutritious (e.g., high in sugar, fat, salt). However, the more you tell yourself that you can’t have something, the more you crave and want it.
Allowing all items into your diet allows you to better control your intake because you know these foods are always available. When you restrict foods and believe they are rare, you are much more inclined to overdo it and get into an endless cycle of guilt.
Contrary to common perception, you will not always want cookies or cake. When you incorporate all foods into your diet, you will notice that your desires for certain meals begin to fade.
This is referred to as habituation. It asserts that the more you are exposed to a meal or flavor, the less fascinating and desirable it becomes.
So, instead of perceiving all foods as better or worse than others, start viewing them as equal. When you stop categorizing foods as “good” or “evil,” you deprive them of their potency. When it’s around, you won’t feel the need to overeat it as much.
4. Consume food with awareness
Mindful eating has emerged as the cornerstone of repairing a strained connection with food. It entails eating in the present moment and being completely present for the dining experience.
When you eat thoughtfully, you’re not distracted by other things like your phone, TV, or a book. Rather, you take the time to make modest observations about the food, such as its taste and texture, how your hunger and fullness indicators change, and how much you enjoy it.
Slowing down and savoring your food can help you discover which foods you truly appreciate, as well as become more in tune with your body’s natural hunger and fullness regulation.
5. Keep an eye on what you’re eating
Consider a life in which you do not have to justify your food choices to yourself or others.
Most people are always justifying their dietary choices to themselves or others. “I’m having ice cream because I had a poor day,” for example, or “I have to eat a salad for supper since I didn’t have time to exercise.”
Instead of justifying your food choices, let yourself to consume what you believe is best for you at the time.
Your relationship with food is personal and one-of-a-kind, and it needs consistent effort to keep it healthy. Though it may appear hard to change your negative relationship with food, it is possible to reach a point where food no longer controls you and instead fuels your general well-being.
Remember that food isn’t intrinsically good or bad as you handle your relationship with it. The titles you apply to it are what gives it power.
A healthy, positive relationship with food is accepting all foods without constraints, understanding the value in food beyond calories, and remembering that your worth as a human is not determined by the food you eat.