How to Develop and Maintain a Healthy Relationship With Food

Our relationship with food is very important as it influences our well-being and mental as well as physical health. Having a healthy relationship with food means not feeling anxious, afraid, or guilty around food. It means not feeling less worthy after eating a chocolate bar or some chips. It means not being scared of fats or carbs or foods high in sugar. It might represent something else for everybody and everybody’s way of getting there is different.

Early experiences as well as our mom and dad’s relationship with food influence our relationship with food. If our mom used to diet all the time and was unhappy about her body weight or shape it’s very likely that girls will pick up on that as early as at the beginning of adolescence. Comments from peers, family members and others can have an impact on whether we develop a positive relationship with food. For example, if your dad is always looking and commenting the size of your portions, you might feel guilty for eating your plate and this will very commonly result in a bad relationship with food.

No heavy restricting

There is a lot of pressure on everybody now to adopt and live a healthy lifestyle and this often includes changes in our diet. The first thing you should remember is that you shouldn’t include heavy restricting of foods. For example, no-carbs diets or sugar free diets usually don’t work in the long term. They might help you lose weight at first but these diets are not sustainable and most people are not able to stick to them because they are so extreme. At the end, they gain even more weight that they had to begin with. This phenomenon is called yo-yo dieting. Moreover, such diets are not healthy for you! Your diet should consist of all basic nutrients in moderation. And yes, that includes lipids AND carbs! Instead of introducing restrictions, you should aim to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit in your diet.

Another negative effect that heavy restricting might have on you is an adverse impact on your mental health. Naturally, if you decide you mustn’t eat something, you will end up wanting it even more. Therefore, restricting triggers overeating or binging on “forbidden foods”. Binging episodes often bring guilt and a diminished feeling of self-esteem or self-worth. Binging can be a beginning of disordered eating as it can have serious negative impacts on your mental health. As a result of binging, a person’s healthy relationship with food will likely be stained. People on restrictive diets are at greater risk for developing eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. And that’s exactly why you should give up restrictive diets once and for all: they are not working long-term and they put you at serious risk for developing an eating disorder.

Eat when hungry

Another thing that helps you maintain a healthy relationship with food is simply to eat when hungry. It’s not good to wait until you get super hungry as you might eat more than usually in that case. The optimal case is to eat when you feel hunger. Most people have functional protein leptin working in their body that signals the brain when you get hungry or when you’re full and should stop eating. Let’s trust our body to tell us when it needs some energy and plan our meals around that.

Competitive sports

Being a competitive athlete will likely influence the kind and portions of food a person consumes. For example, professional football players need a higher daily calorie intake than regular people because of intense training and workouts. Opposite might go for practicing ballet, gymnastics, or cheerleading. Coaches might demand you to stick to a particular weight and restrict calorie intake. However, all sports mentioned are great, especially if they fulfill and excite you but you should be aware of the greater risk for disordered eating and might have to work harder on your relationship with food. It is important to remember that if you notice any of the symptoms of eating disorders or even just feeling guilty or anxious around food, you should reach out and speak to a dietician or mental health professional. Don’t be afraid to seek help! However, being a professional ballet dancer doesn’t mean you will necessarily develop disordered eating. Just remember to stay healthy!

Let’s help each other

Helping makes us feel good so why not help each other on the way of developing a positive relationship with food. First thing to remember is not to comment on what or how much a person is eating. Don’t infer the consequences eating might have on their health or body, for example, “Chocolate will make you fat” or “Sugar is bad for your skin”. This often leads to guilt associated to eating the mentioned foods. Don’t comment a person’s weight or body shape. Even if your comment is to mean well, it might have adverse effects on mental health of the other person. Remember that everybody is different and everybody needs something else in a given time.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I know I loved writing it! I am working hard toward developing a healthy relationship with food. When I was younger, I used to feel guilty after eating chocolate, thinking it will cause breakouts on my skin. I’m still working on that but it’s good to know I’m getting there – slowly but surely. Developing a healthy relationship with food might be a lifelong process, but I promise you it’s worth it as it improves your view on self and your overall well-being.

If you have any further questions, reach out and I’ll try to answer them. Let me know your thoughts on this post and tell me about your relationship with food. Subscribe to my blog for more truths from the world of psychology!

XX, Ajda