Having a healthy and balanced relationship with food can be really challenging.
We see messages every day that says there’s “good” food and “bad” food or that you should eat this and never eat that.
Food is our nourishment for our physical bodies and nourishment on a cellular level, so it’s incredibly important to pay attention to consuming a wide variety of foods that contribute to your health and prevent chronic disease.
But food is also more than just that physical nourishment. It’s a way of connecting to others, to other cultures, exploring new things, experiencing pleasure and enjoyment from it.
Food is something we can’t live without — meaning that it’s present in our day to day life for as long as we live, and most of us eat 21+ meals a week which is 21+ opportunities to nourish our bodies or 21+ ways we stress and overthink about food.
But stressing out about food can sometimes contribute to more unhealthy behaviors than just practicing balance.
So in this video, I’m going to take you through 5 steps to practice to begin making a healthier relationship with food.
First things first, cultivating a healthier relationship with food isn’t impossible and it’s not something that happens overnight. It requires a lot of self-compassion, patience, practice, and many times professional practitioners who can support your journey.
You’re also not alone if one of your goals is to cultivate a healthier relationship with food.
There are so many factors that influence and play a role in our unique relationship with food. These factors include cultural, evolutionary, social, family, individual, economic status, and psychological.
It’s not uncommon for people to use food as a coping mechanism to deal with such feelings as stress, boredom, or anxiety, or even to prolong feelings of joy. This is called emotional eating.
While this may help in the short term, eating to soothe/bandaid/or to numb your feelings can increase the negative feelings around food which can cause further stress and attention on food.
What Does a Healthy Relationship with Food Look Like?
It may feel difficult to even define what a healthy relationship with food looks and feels like.
Let’s start there by sharing what healthy relationships with food might be like — as they’re different for everyone.
- Having a healthy relationship with food could mean that you enjoy foods that you understand are promoting better health outcomes. For example, recognizing that eating enough protein per day contributes to maintaining lean muscle mass or that eating healthy fats can be good for cardiovascular and brain health.
- Or that eating whole-food carbohydrates give you the energy to fuel your day and allow you to carry out the actions you need to take.
- It can also mean that you feel little to no guilt, shame, or regret around your food choices.
- It could mean you may be more mindful during the times you do eat, slow down to enjoy the food for what it is.
- It tends to mean eating until you’re comfortably full and eating again when you feel physical hunger.
- It’s about giving yourself open relationships to all foods—not identifying something as clean/dirty or good/bad or on/off-limits.
- It’s things like not planning a makeup meal or assigning planned cheat days to binge or overindulge.
Some examples of unhealthy attitudes to food can include:
- “I feel awful so I deserve to eat things which are bad for me.”
- “I’ve got no willpower.”
- “I’ve eaten one so I might as well eat the rest.”
- “I shouldn’t waste food.”
So now that you have a snapshot of what a healthy relationship with food may look like and why it’s important, here are five steps to practice to help you cultivate a healthy relationship with food.
I recommend grabbing a journal and actually writing your thoughts out on paper, giving yourself 5 or so minutes per section to really explore this for yourself.
1. Explore What A Healthy Relationship with Food Looks Like for You
Start by journaling and defining what a healthy relationship with food looks like for you. What’s most important for you to feel or experience around food?
There is no right or wrong answer here!
2. What Is Blocking You from Having That Relationship with Food?
Next, identify where the gap is between how you define a healthy relationship with food and what your current experience and daily actions are.
What’s working to align with your definition and what’s not working?
3. What Actions Can You Take?
With the areas you’ve identified as not working or not aligned with your definition of a healthy relationship with food, journal and brainstorm what practices you could implement in your day-to-day life especially around mealtime, that will support you and expressing a healthy relationship with food.
So, for example, let’s say one of you are challenges that you’ve identified is that you often feel really stressed around mealtime, one practice that you might implement is to take two minutes before each meal and do a few rounds of deep breathing.
Not only will they support your body on a physiological level by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, but it will also help you digest your food better, it will help you retrain and reframe your mind to start to adopt a new mindset around your meal times – this takes a lot of practice, patience, and slow progression but day after day this exercise can easily impact your relationship with food in a positive way.
4. Identify the Emotions You Experience Around Food Choices
The fourth step is to pay attention to your emotions, feelings, and stories that you tell yourself about your food choices, and around your mealtimes.
Paying close attention to the stories that you tell yourself can really give you a lot of insight into what deeply is in your mind about your relationship with your food.
I’m a big fan of journaling because it’s going to help you express your feelings and emotions around food in general but also around meal times which a lot of these triggers or stories or my insides will often pop up around the time you eat food.
Keep a journal recording your feelings and emotions.
This could be that you notice you eat more food or numb out by eating food because you’re really stressed or overwhelmed or anxious.
It could also be that when you eat foods that you have deemed “good or “bad you feel a sense of guilt or pride or shame or regret or any other emotion that strongly identified with eating a “good” or “bad” food.
5. Bring Awareness to Your Experience with Food
Lastly, simply observe your thoughts around it, call it out, and bring awareness to it.
As soon as you start to shine a light on those old thought patterns and beliefs, the stronger you’ll become at intervening and taking an action that’s more aligned with how you want to eat and live.
Know that it takes a lot of compassion, patience, practice, and support to really help you reframe your mindset around your relationship with food.
Remember, this is a journey.
It’s okay to want a healthier relationship with food while experiencing thought patterns that aren’t aligned with that.
It’s okay to have days where your inner conversation is completely positive and to have the next day be more challenging.
It’s okay to make big strides and have a few mental setbacks. This is part of the journey and the process!
There is no such thing as all-or-nothing, or perfect.
One of the things that can really help support a healthy relationship with food is to create a healthy lifestyle that’s fully unique to you, rather than following plans or some idolized way of eating.
Download my guide for creating healthy habits with ease. One thing I walk you through in it is how to define what wellness looks like for you and then how you can create habits that support that vision.
This helps you move away from feeling like you need to follow a specific plan and helps you better emphasize what works for you.