5 Ways to Reset Your Relationship with Food

How To Overcome an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

Living with an unhealthy relationship with food can feel suffocating. Unfortunately, diet culture has made many of us believe that the only pathways toward achieving a fit, lean body are through intense caloric restrictions, cutting out all carbs, or avoiding any salt and sugar. 

The reason so many of us fall victim to these dieting fads is based on broad claims stating that they can help you “lose weight fast” or “get toned overnight”. Since most diets are completely unattainable, we experience guilt or frustration when we fail, causing our unhealthy relationship with food to spiral out of control.

Follow along as we explore some of the best tips to help you develop a healthier relationship with food and how you can achieve your fitness goals with more food freedom!

What It Means to Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food 

An unhealthy or complicated relationship with food can take on many forms. For some people, it may mean eating more food even when they're not hungry, perhaps as a way to cope with negative emotions such as anger, stress, nervousness, or disappointment. 

For others, having an unhealthy relationship means that they have rules or restrictions around certain foods and label various ingredients as “bad” or “off-limits” as a way to manage their weight. This can be just as harmful as the first scenario since these individuals are at increased risk for eating well below their daily calorie requirements.

Eating Disorder Warning Signs 

In more serious cases, an unhealthy relationship with food can result in disordered eating. Some common forms of disordered eating include restrictive eating, irregular or inflexible eating, or compulsive or binge eating patterns [1]. 

Here are the most common warning signs:

  • Constantly fluctuating weight 

  • Intense worry or stress about body image

  • Disrupted eating patterns 

  • Constant unhealthy cravings or food preferences 

  • Changes in exercise patterns

  • Mood fluctuations

  • Use of dieting pills, laxatives, or diuretics  

Dieting is a very common form of disordered eating and is usually accomplished for the purpose of weight loss. Evidence suggests that obese women are at an even greater risk of developing binge eating patterns as a result of restrictive dieting [2]. 

5 Ways to Reset Your Relationship with Food

In our society, food is not just something we eat; it gives us the opportunity to connect with people, share experiences, and celebrate happy moments. For these reasons (and so many more), it’s important to begin healing your relationship with yourself, your body, and the food you eat. 

Here are 5 beneficial ways to reset your relationship with food to get you on the path to improving your mental health and well-being. 

1. Recognize that high-calorie foods are not always "unhealthy" 

With dieting comes a very skewed perception of food and nutrition. Oftentimes, diet fads create the false impression that “calories are bad” and to avoid anything that is high in calories. 

Though you may have broken free from this sort of diet mentality, lingering thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions can shape how you view certain foods. In many cases, this can keep us from experimenting with variety and trying new foods for fear of gaining weight. 

A healthy relationship with food begins with welcoming all foods without any restrictions and instead seeing the value in the ingredients beyond the calories. As a general rule, it’s important to eat more healthy foods that are high in protein, fiber, healthy fat, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.

2. Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating is on the rise as one of the most helpful strategies to rest any sort of unhealthy relationship with food. When we eat mindfully, we are free from any distractions such as our phone, computer, or television, and are able to submerse ourselves into the eating experience. This technique allows us to become fully present in the moment to be more mindful of our internal cues [3]. 

Practicing mindful eating can help us slow down, appreciate the flavors with each bite, and recognize when our feelings of hunger slowly dissolve into fullness. When we listen to our bodies, we are more likely to discover a deeper, more meaningful connection to the foods we eat [4].

3. Gain control over emotional eating habits

Emotional eating is a very common habit that arises when people use food as a way to cope or suppress feelings rather than to satisfy hunger [5]. Whether we eat a couple of extra cookies out of boredom or hastily grab a burger after a stressful day at work, we’ve all been there at one time or another.

If your emotional hunger is taking control of your eating habits, here are some helpful tips you can try: 

  • Keep a food journal to track when you’ve eaten throughout the day and record how you feel during those moments 

  • If you continue craving food even though you’re not hungry, try a new hobby or healthy outlet like exercising, reading, or socializing with friends

  • Prepare healthy, satiating snacks in advance such as fresh fruit and veggies, cottage cheese, or peanut butter and crackers

4. Avoid labeling food as being “good” or “bad”

Giving food a label as strictly “good” or “bad” can set us up for failure in the long run. Though there are certain ingredients that are less healthy than others such as high sodium, trans fats, refined sugars, and artificial additives, categorizing foods can spike our cravings for “bad foods” and make us feel guilty for indulging from time to time.

5. Forgive yourself for unhealthy food choices  

Oftentimes, overeating or making unhealthy food choices can cause us to feel bad about ourselves. As a result, we may make irrational decisions about our food intake by cutting calories or excessively exercising. Forming a good relationship with food begins when we forgive ourselves for any “setback” we may experience. 

It helps to keep each meal in perspective and discover a balance between our healthy and unhealthy meals so that we are able to indulge on occasion without guilt or shame. As certified eating disorders specialist Angie Viets once said, “a healthy weight is a place where you are receiving meaning from your life outside of your weight” [6].

Key Takeaways: Establishing a Healthy Relationship with Food

Developing a healthier relationship with food is a slow process that requires plenty of patience and self-compassion. Taking the first step is always the hardest. As you work through these tips one by one, you may find that this process is not as daunting as you once felt it was.

Remember that this is your own journey and it’s important to take the steps that you need in order to improve your overall health and well-being. For further guidance and support, we recommend speaking with a registered dietitian.

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