How to fix an unhealthy relationship with food (your body).

social dinner

Maybe you’ve always had an unhealthy relationship with food. Or maybe it’s developed as you’ve been exposed to mixed messages towards food, nutrition, and dieting.

  • Finish your plate (even if you’re not physically hungry)
  • Food is a sign of love and affection and it feels wrong to turn it down
  • So many events and celebrations revolve around food

Or maybe it was comments from family, friends, or various ass holes over the years.

  • Do you really need that?
  • It’s just one, you’ll be fine
  • No one will ever love you if you’re fat
  • And my least favorite, food is fuel (um, no, and here’s why food is not just fuel)

On top of this, we’re bombarded with new and often overwhelming nutrition information. Thus, we’re left questioning if what we’re doing is the healthiest and best approach.

Today’s article is for you if:

  • The scale can make or break your day
  • Everything is a calorie count 
  • You don’t trust yourself around food
  • Life is on hold (dating, career, exercise, events, etc…) until you reach your goal weight
  • You’re always on a diet
  • Exercise has become rigid or a way to combat overeating

Viewing dieting differently

For some reason, the word “diet” either has a negative connotation to it or is associated solely with weight loss. And don’t you sorta cringe a little when you hear it? That’s precisely what we need to fix.

Dieting isn’t solely about weight loss, and going on a diet isn’t about deprivation and restriction. It’s only a word that describes the food choices that we make.

When most people hear the word diet they think of its verb meaning. “To restrict oneself to small amounts or special foods to lose weight.” With this mindset, diets become difficult, tedious, and fucking annoying. 

However, there’s another way to look at it. A more common sense but often overlooked definition. “The kinds of foods that a person, animal, or community eats to sustain themselves.”

Sometimes those choices are to eat lean protein, fruits, and veggies. While other times it’s to drink wine after a stressful day, eat cereal in bed, or order pizza on a Friday night and watch a movie.

What we want to do is get more comfortable and confident with the choices we make.

All or nothing can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food

Our brains like to think in black and white. Which for many of us can lead to all or nothing thinking. We either win or lose, are good or bad, eat this, and don’t eat that, we’re either on or off our diet.

Thinking like this can make it easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. It creates shame and anxiety around our choices. It can lead do us to define our self-worth by the shape of our bodies, physical size (big or small), and a number on a scale.

It can also lead to creating strict rules around what we can and cannot eat. Food and eating are now eating clean or eating dirty. Or eating real food versus eating fake food. 

One way to combat this is by thinking on a continuum. 

  • What does a perfect day of eating for you look like? A 10 out of 10?
  • What does the worst day of eating look like for you? A 0 out of 10?
  • Where would you say you usually fall?
  • How can you level up or down based on your circumstances?

Is it perfect? No, but maybe it gets us to think about it a little differently. 

What is healthy eating anyway? 

Eating healthy is a complicated, objective, and confusing phrase to me. It means different things to many different people.

Ask someone that prefers Vegan what eating healthy is and you’ll get a different response from someone that enjoys the Paleo diet. Ask someone from Japan what eating healthy is and you may get a different answer than someone from France.

Eating healthy and creating a strong relationship with food is less about what you eat and more about how and why you’re eating. It’s not about eating more fruits and veggies or less Big Macs and fries.

A healthy relationship with food is about our emotional response to those choices.

Can you eat Big Macs and fries without feeling guilty, bad, or like you “fell off the wagon?” On the flip side can you not eat fruit and veggies sometimes and be ok with that too?

Read more: What is clean eating and do we really need to call it that? 

What is a healthy relationship with food?

ice cream

Do you know what goes well with a break-up? Ice cream.

And do you know what feels good when you’re sad? Grilled cheese toasties and tomato soup.

Oh, and do you know what goes well with stress? Chocolate … like ALL the chocolate.

And you know what goes well with a long exhausting day at work? Wine …. Bottles of wine ?.

There’s nothing wrong with eating as a way to cope with stress and other uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes it’s the perfect fit.

It only becomes a probably when it’s the ONLY way we cope with these things.

Sometimes we eat because we’re physically hungry which is great. But sometimes we eat for other reasons and creating a healthy relationship with food involves not beating ourselves up when we do.

But it also involves being honest about when it may be a problem we need to work on.

A healthy relationship with food goes both ways. It’s not being overly positive about our body and food choices or body shaming ourselves and our food choices.

It’s about taking advantage of meaningful opportunities with food, without getting food anxiety. You should be able to eat holiday cookies without freaking out. And be ok with ordering takeout because you were not in the mood to eat your prepped meal.

But it’s also being comfortable making choices based on your goals. You should be able to confidently diet, track calories, intermittent fast, and turn down treats or food gifts without feeling shame, guilt, or stress.

It’s being confident and comfortable with our choices around food and being honest about our goals and how we feel about our bodies. 

We’ve become too black and white in our thinking. On one side of the coin, you’ve got the body-positive crowd which suggests loving your body at any size. Which I get and understand, but not at the expense of lying to yourself. If you want to lose weight because you’re not happy with your shape that is ok – it doesn’t mean you hate yourself. 

While at the same time we’re bombarded with advertisements and Instagram models selling us abs and asses. You don’t have to feel bad about not having or aiming for physiques like that.

A healthy relationship with food is also about being able to decipher between when we’re physically hungry and when it’s something else. Are we eating because of physical hunger or because we’re angry, lonely, tired, or bored?

There’s a lot that goes into having a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. And it may be a place that some of us never get to and that is ok too.

How to improve an unhealthy relationship with food

What does a healthy relationship with food look like for you? That maybe be the most important step you can take today. Instead of letting someone else define it for you.

For me, it’s not having food anxiety. I want to be able to eat socially and not freak out if I cannot follow my meal plan.

It’s also being honest with myself about why I’m eating the way that I am eating. Am I doing a detox because I actually want and believe it will detox me or because I really want to lose 10 pounds? Am I eating all the pizza and ice cream because I’m “bulking” or is it just because I’m feeling deprived and want to eat those things?

It’s also not using food as a way to numb and distance myself from difficult or uncomfortable emotions. If we can get better at coping with pain and discomfort we can improve the way we respond to them. One way to do this is by learning to practice compassion and empathy for ourselves and others.

And lastly, get help if you need it. Hire a coach, work with a specialist, or spend some time with a therapist.




Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash