11 Tips to Help You Repair Your Relationship with Food
by Tiffany Walking Eagle | 9-minute read
Please note, I’m not a therapist or nutritionist. I simply share what I’ve learned from my own struggles with the hope it will help others. As you should with everything you hear and read, take what I write with a grain of salt. If you suffer from depression, an eating disorder, or any other mental health struggle, please seek professional help. You’re worth it. <3
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week just ended, and it’s got me thinking about how vitally important a healthy relationship with food is.
As someone who has tried so many different diets, cleanses, detoxes, and the like in an effort to find “healthy,” I have certainly damaged my relationship with food along the way. Can you relate?
Finding whatever the heck “balance” is is a lifelong journey (and sometimes, quite frankly, a battle), and learning to reverse some of the negative thought patterns and destructive habits associated with food that have been pounded into our brains is a freakin’ process, let me tell ya. However, letting go of food guilt, frustration, and restriction it is so worth it!
Here are eleven practices and truths to remember to help you along in your journey toward a healthy relationship with food.
Calories are not the enemy.
Did you know that a moderately active 9-year-old needs to eat around 1,800 calories a day? That fact is pretty shocking when you think about that bizarrely common diet tip that advises eating 1,200 calories a day to “be healthy” or “lose weight.”
Calories aren’t evil little minions that sneak their way to your thighs and post up there in the form of fat. Calories are energy, and we all need energy to live.
I’m not here to tell you how many calories you should be eating every day, but I will tell you this: calories are not the enemy, and it’s so important to be eating enough. Calories are not are not earned; they are required.
Food has no moral value.
“I’m being so bad, eating this bowl of ice cream.”
“Oh, I’m only eating these Cheezits because it’s my cheat day.”
Eating Cheezits is not cheating! Enjoying a bowl of ice cream is not immoral!
We have got to stop with this rhetoric that assigns moral value to food. You can’t control what other people say or how they think, but you can try to be more mindful of how you think about food.
Nutritional value does not equal moral value. Broccoli is good for your body, and pizza is good for your soul, and both foods have nutritional value. ;)
Replace the word “cheat” with “treat.” And avoid calling any food “bad.”
Avoid mindless eating. Be present.
Despite what you may be thinking, I’m not suggesting you avoid mindless eating because of the calories necessarily. Ask yourself, how does mindless eating serve you?
I definitely struggle with a see-food diet. If I see food in front of me, I just want to keep eating it, regardless of hunger. An open bag of chips, pretzels, those chocolate-covered almonds my mom leaves on the counter in her kitchen—it’s easy to just keep munching without even thinking about it.
If you are hungry, please eat! If you haven’t had enough calories, please, please eat some more. But food is something that should be enjoyed, and mindlessly inhaling food just because it’s accessible isn’t likely to make you feel that great.
Even more importantly, when you just eat because you’re bored or because food is near you, you might not be listening to your body’s cues. It’s vital to learn how to listen to your body when it tells you that you are hungry and when you are full.
So, when you reach for that handful of pretzels, candy, chips, or chocolate, savor the crunch and the taste, and stop eating when you feel satisfied. (Easier said than done, but practice builds habits!)
Find coping methods outside of emotional eating.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with comfort food. However, consistently turning to food for emotional support simply will not solve your problems.
The question I think we all should ask ourselves is how is this serving me?
So sure, treat yourself to that glass of wine or bowl of mac and cheese after a stressful day, but you should also think about proactive, positive ways to mitigate stress and negative emotions outside of eating.
Would chatting with your best friend help? Maybe doing yoga or going for a walk for 30 minutes? Reading a book? Listening to your favorite music? Journaling?
If emotional eating has become too much of a struggle, try getting professional advice from a therapist.
Focus on how food makes you feel.
Food should make you feel good in a multitude of ways. Never eating french fries just because of the calories may not be a good reason, but if eating fries makes you feel bloated and gross in a way you cannot tolerate, then don’t eat them.
Pay attention to what you eat and how much you eat, and how that makes you feel physically, and use that as a guide in your eating habits.
Listen to your body.
I’ve been practicing being aware of how I feel after I eat certain foods and using that as a guiding factor in how I eat. Sometimes, I feel good after eating a salad; other times, I feel fantastic after a few tacos. I try to eat balanced meals that make me feel good because I value my body, not out of food guilt or restriction.
Assess your negative habits surrounding food.
What do you focus on when you look at a plate of food? Are you thinking about the number of calories it contains? Are you wondering how many grams of carbs, fats, and protein it has?
I’ve tracked calories on and off over the years. I would never say that tracking your calories or macronutrients is inherently bad. Many people have found food freedom through tracking their calories, and others utilize tracking to reach certain fitness goals. Nothing wrong with that at all!
I know for myself, I have to be mindful of how I’m viewing food when tracking. I can tend to get a little too obsessive, and I’ll find myself calculating every macro and calorie while I’m eating rather than actually enjoying the food! Because of this, I have to give myself breaks from tracking calories and avoid viewing food based on caloric value.
Do you stress about going out to eat for fear of high calories? Do you tend to turn to food for emotional support? Do you skip meals because you “cheated”? Assess any negative habits or thoughts you have related to food and work toward changing them.
Stop restricting foods.
Raise your hand if you’ve tried every diet in the book and cut out carbs, fats, and all things delicious, only to GORGE yourself on all the foods you couldn’t have once your diet ends? * Raises both hands and feet *
You wanna know why that happens? Because restrictive diets simply are not sustainable.
You wanna know what the secret key, the NUMBER ONE most important aspect of a “diet” or particular way of eating that works? Long-term sustainability that results in dietary adherence.
So what does that mean? That simply means that the best diet for you isn’t keto, or vegan, or paleo, or South Beach, or gluten-free, and nope, not even low-carb. The best diet for you is the one you can stick to.
(I hate the connotation of the word “diet.” Can we change it?)
Let me expound on that point a little bit. The best diet for you is one you can stick to and maintain a healthy body and mind; one that makes you feel good, not tortured; one that doesn’t cause you to overeat or undereat. The best diet is a way of eating that stems from a place of food freedom rather than restriction.
A novel concept, isn’t it?
Restricting certain foods from your diet can cause a disordered eating mentality by labeling certain foods as good or bad.
Fried foods are “bad,” so we attempt to cut them out of our diet, but face it, Becky: you love fries. Frankly, who doesn’t? So instead of labeling fries as evil, allow yourself to have fries once in awhile and enjoy them!
Allowing yourself to eat the foods you love frees you up to practice moderation. When you keep on restricting the foods you love, you increase your chances of bingeing on them when you do eat them. When you’re not coming from a mentality of I’m not going to eat a single carb/no sugar/zero fat for the next month, you’re less likely to feel the need to overeat.
Apart from your doctor’s advice, allergies/intolerances, or religious/ethical beliefs, allow yourself to eat the foods you love in moderation.
Make homemade versions of dishes you love.
If it helps you find a more sustainable way of eating, try getting creative with the foods you love. Make french fries or zucchini sticks in an air fryer. Bake things in the oven. Look up ways to make sauces or recipes you love a little bit lighter.
For example, I LOVE the zuppa toscana soup they serve at Olive Garden, so I figured out a way to make it a bit lighter on calories by subbing regular milk for heavy cream and using Italian-seasoned chicken sausage instead of pork sausage. It still tastes delicious!
I am NOT suggesting you stress out about calories or cooking light all the time! I’m just saying that if you’re trying to be conscious of your intake but still want to eat foods you love, no need to torture yourself by completely giving them up. There are plenty of ways to get crafty with cooking and satisfy your cravings in a way that serves you nutritionally and emotionally.
Honor your hunger and respect your fullness.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s important to learn how to honor the cues your body gives you in regard to eating. Don’t starve yourself when you’re hungry. Eat! In the same token, don’t keep stuffing yourself when you’re full, because feeling overly stuffed doesn’t feel good either.
Were you always taught to eat everything on your plate as a kid? Have you thought it best to ignore your hunger pangs?
The process of learning to listen to bodily cues takes time, but it is certainly worth it.
Know that no particular way of eating is right for everyone.
The simple fact is that there really is no specific diet that offers the key to perfect health. There just isn’t. You have to find what works for you, and what works for you won’t necessarily look like what works for others. Again, a way of eating that you can adhere to that promotes a healthy relationship with food is best.
What you eat is your business.
Have you ever gone out to eat with friends and everyone else is ordering salads, but you are craving a juicy burger or hearty plate of pasta?
Do you worry about posting photos of your food on social media for fear of what your keto/vegan/paleo friends might think?
Well guess what? What you eat is your business, and your business alone. The way you eat is designed to serve you and no one else. You don’t owe any other human an explanation for what you eat.
Don’t be a slave to your cravings, but don’t consistently ignore them either! Get that burger or pasta. Post that photo of your meal because it looks pretty, dangit. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty for the way you eat.
Hmm, I mentioned fries a lot in this post…I must be craving them! I’m going to have a few with my dinner. :)
Anyyyway, how is your relationship with food, friend? Is it balanced or struggling? I’d love to hear your stories and struggles. Share this post to help promote a positive mindset toward food! Let’s replace fad diets and make healthy relationships with food the new norm!