How would you describe your relationship with food? Are you having a healthy relationship with food or…..?
When you go out for a meal, are you constantly worrying about the calories, amount of carbs, or the impact of dessert on your waistline?
Or are you more likely to enjoy the company and conversation over a meal, whilst hardly giving the food a second thought (except maybe to savour the taste)?
Your Relationship with Food
For many years, I was firmly camped out in that first category – food thoughts consumed most of my waking moments. In my dieting phase, I focused on calories, food restriction and “burning off” everything I ate through high impact exercise. In my “clean eating” phase, I focused on removing processed foods, gluten and dairy, and stressing about grams of sugar in everything including fruit.
In both scenarios I was stressed out and rarely enjoyed the moment. I was so blinkered about restricting food and trying to eat perfectly. So here are three things I had to give up in order to heal my relationship with food.
3 Important Things to Give Up to Improve Your Relationship with Food
1. Thinking short term
Improving your relationship with food starts with thinking longer term. Many of the diet and healthy eating plans are short term in their approach (30 days to drop a dress size; 10 days to reduce belly fat; 28 days of clean eating). The problem is that they are not sustainable in the long-term. Sure you can give up gluten and dairy for 30 days, it might be miserable, but it is possible. However, giving up forever? That’s much harder.
The short term-thinking creates a yoyo effect. You’re on your clean eating regime and you do it successfully for 30 days, perhaps you lose some weight in the process, but inevitably when you stop, the weight piles back on and you’re back to your old habits. At some point, most people will binge on all their “not allowed” foods and they’ll be off and then on their healthy eating plan over and over again.
Often people blame themselves and their willpower – why can’t I stick to the program? Why do I keep bingeing on ice-cream? But it’s not willpower, it’s biology that creates the on-off effect.
If you look at all the long-term studies on dieting, you’ll see that there’s a rebound effect: most people lose about 10% of their body weight in the first 6 months (and this is the moment where you think – hurrah it’s working), but the long-term data is much more depressing – in 2-5 years the vast majority of people have put the weight back on and two thirds are heavier than when they started. The research is pretty clear that food restriction just doesn’t work.
So your best bet? Find an approach that works in the long-term. An approach that allows all foods in your house, where you are eating for both nourishment (think salads, soups and stir frys) and also for enjoyment (think cakes, biscuits and chocolate). The more variety of foods I have in the house, the less likely I am to have a blowout on previously off-limit foods. This will definitely bring you closer to healing your relationship with food.
Remove food labels! Take a moment to think about how you talk about food. Perhaps you call chocolate your “naughty treat”, maybe french fries are “bad and unhealthy”, whilst spinach is “virtuous” and apples are “good”. By using these kinds of labels, we place all food into “good” or “bad” categories.
It’s no surprise really – most eating plans put food in a hierarchy. Sometimes food is categorised as “red”, “amber” or “green”; in other diets food has points, or sometimes it’s “free” – all leading to the assumption that foods are either good or bad.
Now, I’m certainly not saying that all food is equally nutritious. Some food gives you more nutrients than others. However, the issue with saying one food is “good” and the other is “bad” is that you are moralising food. So then when you inevitably give into your cravings for cake and chocolate, because it’s “bad” food, you feel even worse about yourself. You end up feeling guilty, ashamed and frustrated because you caved in.
Without the labels, you’re just eating food – it’s a bar of chocolate or an apple. Neither is inherently good or bad, they serve different purposes.
3. The idea of Food as Fuel
I’m guessing you’ve seen at least one post on instagram telling you that food is fuel. Yes, food does provide us with energy, so I can see how the “food is fuel” concept came to be. But this concept misses the point of what food can be in a healthy relationship, because it’s way more than just providing calories to your body.
Food can be about connection with friends and family. It’s about sitting down to an intimate meal, or celebrating a birthday or a wedding. Food is about cultural celebrations throughout the year. Food can be nostalgic (ever eaten something and it takes you right back to being 10 years old?).
Food can be comforting, it can be rewarding. Food as fuel is limited because it robs us of this beautiful way to connect with our community and loved ones.
Healing Your Relationship with Food
After I dropped these three ways of thinking, my relationship with food started to heal and I started on the journey to food freedom. I hope that you too can use these ideas to heal your own relationship with food.