How Do I Know If I Have A Good Relationship With Food?

February 28, 2022

How do you relate to food and eating? Having a good relationship with food seems to come naturally for some people. However, for others, food can sometimes be seen as the ‘enemy’ or a source of stress and anxiety.

This article will help you assess your own relationship with food and provide strategies to start healing if this is something you are struggling with. 

Topics discussed in this article include:

  • What does it look like to have a good relationship with food?
  • Signs of a poor relationship with food
  • Strategies to start healing your relationship with food
  • How to know when to seek professional help

 

What does it look like to have a healthy relationship with food?

A good relationship with food can take time, practice and patience. It’s important to acknowledge that food is about more than just fuel. The human experience includes eating food for reasons such as joy, pleasure, socialising, culture and tradition

Here are some signs that you have a healthy relationship with food:

  • You give yourself unconditional permission to eat foods that you enjoy
  • You don’t have banned or ‘off-limits’ foods
  • You don’t obsess over calories or macros
  • You aren’t easily influenced by the opinions of others about what to eat
  • You eat when hungry and stop when you’re full
  • You are able to enjoy all different types of food in moderation and ways that make you feel good

A healthy relationship with food means having mostly positive experiences with eating. It can be normal (although not ideal) to have occasional guilt when eating certain foods, but the goal is to be able to eat with complete food freedom. 

 

pizza on table with slices being removed

 

Signs of a poor relationship with food

As healthy babies and young kids, we are born with an intuitive ability to eat according to our hunger and fullness. Food should not cause you to feel anxiety or stress, however as we grow up we can be exposed to messages about dieting and fearmongering around certain foods (for example, carbohydrates).

This can encourage you to develop food rules or exclude certain foods from your diet. You might feel guilty or anxious when trying to eat those foods and find it easier to avoid them. Or you may find that you feel ‘out of control’ around them. There are certain personality traits such as perfectionism or impulsiveness that can increase the risk of food anxiety. 

People who have been on restrictive diets can lose touch with their natural hunger and fullness cues. This might happen when they rely on calorie counts, schedules, strict meal plans and devices to tell them when and how much to eat. 

Other signs of a poor relationship with food include:

  • Feeling guilty about eating
  • Having a list of ‘banned foods’ or strict food rules
  • Anxiety when deviating from a set meal plan or calorie/macronutrient goal
  • Ignoring your natural hunger and fullness cues
  • Having a history of dieting or weight loss efforts
  • Restricting and/or binge eating
  • Discomfort when eating in social settings with concern that others are judging your food choices

 

girl sitting on kitchen bench with food looking sad

 

Strategies to start healing your relationship with food

Healing your relationship with food is a journey, not an overnight transformation. It will take time, patience and some self-reflection to challenge your feelings and habits around food. 

There are several steps you can take to start healing your relationship with food.

 

Reflect on your ‘food story’.

How has your relationship with food changed over the years? Were there any triggering events that affected your feelings around food or your body? Spend some time thinking about your history with food. You may like to write or journal about it, or chat to a support person. 

 

Stop punishing yourself for what you ate yesterday.

Beating yourself up or dwelling on the past does not help you. It can reinforce negative thought patterns and contribute to a binge-restrict cycle. You don’t need to restrict food or skip meals if you had a ‘bad day of eating’. Try to see your next eating occasion as an opportunity to nourish yourself. Be compassionate and speak to yourself the same way you would speak to a friend.

 

Give yourself unconditional permission to eat foods you enjoy.

Acknowledge that there are no ‘bad’ foods. Remember that food is about more than just fuel. It is 100% okay to eat just because you enjoy it! Instead of separating foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, you could try to think of foods as existing along a spectrum of ‘more nutritious’ to ‘less nutritious’. All foods can have their place within a balanced diet, including chips or chocolate. 

When you allow all foods in your diet, you are actually less likely to binge or feel out of control around these foods. This process is called habituation, and it means that increased exposure to a food or flavour makes it less interesting and appealing over time. 

 

Practice mindful eating.

Take time to sit and enjoy your meal. Engage all of your senses in the experience. Try to avoid distractions such as the television or using your phone while eating. Devote your attention to what’s on the plate in front of you and try to eat slowly, chewing your food well. If you think that you might be eating for emotional reasons, you might find our article on how to stop emotional eating helpful. 

 

Respect your natural hunger and fullness cues. 

Notice when your body is showing you signs of hunger, such as a rumbling stomach, low energy levels or difficulty concentrating. Eat when you feel hungry and stop eating when feeling satisfied. Avoid skipping meals or snacks because this can override your natural appetite signals. Regular eating every 3-4 hours is a helpful tool to support getting more in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. 

 

Don’t compare or let others influence what you eat.

Know that your plate is your business, and you don’t need to take someone else’s opinion on what you should be eating. Don’t compare your plate to how your friends, family or coworkers eat because they have different nutritional needs to your own. 

 

man sitting at table with oatmeal bowl, mindful eating

 

How to know when to seek professional help

Have you been struggling for a long time with a poor relationship with food? It might be time to seek professional help. Your relationship with food can be complex especially if your ‘food story’ is tied in with difficult events in your life.

Some important people to have on your team include your doctor, a psychologist or counsellor and a dietitian. You can reach out to our dietitians at Plant Nutrition and Wellness who are highly qualified and experienced in the areas of eating disorders, disordered eating and emotional eating.

 

Summary

Having a positive relationship with food means that you embrace all types of foods without restrictions and guilt, respect your hunger and fullness cues, and can allow intuition to guide you rather than relying on calories or macros. 

Taking steps towards healing your relationship with food includes understanding your own ‘food story’ and seeing food as more than just fuel. If you’re struggling on this journey, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. You are welcome to book a discovery call with our team.

 

References

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0379572120975874 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4117136/
  3. https://eatingdisorders.dukehealth.org/education/resources/starvation-experiment
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2703585/

 

This article was written by PNW Clinic dietitian Megan Boswell. 

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