I believe that regardless of any specific goals, whether focused on fat loss, maintenance, muscle gain, performance or health improvement, having a healthy relationship with food should always be the number one priority.
Let’s take two separate individuals as an example. One has a diet based on wholesome, natural foods that include no processed foods such as cakes, biscuits and packaged snacks. The other includes processed foods regularly and a wide variety of nutritious foods. You might think the first person removes certain foods from their diet, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about their relationship with food. From the outside looking in, we don’t know how different foods make these two individuals feel or why they choose to eat the foods they do. An individual’s relationship with food is very personal and involves understanding how the brain makes choices.
Here are some signs of what a healthy relationship with food looks like:
- Understanding balance in the diet
- Knowing there is a place in the diet for all foods
- Not labelling foods “good” and “bad” or “clean” and “dirty.”
- Not feeling the need to justify your food choices
- Seeing food as fuel and an essential part of your day-to-day life
- Not feeling guilty after eating certain foods
- Listening to hunger cues – eating when hungry and stopping when full
- Not looking at foods as numbers (e.g., a banana is a banana, not a banana is ~120 calories)
- Not constantly worrying about numbers (calories, macronutrients, scale numbers)
- Enjoying food
- Enjoying social situations that include food and not thinking twice about going because of the food that will be there
On the other hand, here are some signs that your relationship with food might need some work:
- Your diet is overly restrictive
- You restrict your favourite foods and then binge on these foods when you give in to cravings.
- Labelling foods as “good” and “bad” or “clean” and “dirty.”
- Using exercise to ‘earn’ food
- Avoiding social events due to worrying about food and drinks
- Saying, “I can’t eat that” or “I shouldn’t eat that.”
- Constantly thinking about and fantasising about food
- Not allowing yourself to eat when you are hungry
- Always giving the latest fad diet a try
- Allowing no flexibility to your diet
Here are some focus points if you do think some of the above signs relate to you:
- Try and put more focus on listening to your hunger cues.
- Start allowing yourself to eat when you are hungry.
- Allow yourself to leave some food on your plate if you are full.
- Allow flexibility in your diet.
- Allow yourself to consume all the various foods that you enjoy.
- Include a wide variety of foods and colours in your diet
- Focus on how you feel after different foods
- Focus on your energy levels throughout the day
- Allow yourself to go to social situations and focus on enjoying them and making memories with friends and family, not the food.
- Put more trust into your body – listen to what it wants and what it is telling you it needs
Working on your relationship with food can be challenging, but it is possible and worth it.
I have three final tips for anyone wishing to work on their relationship with food.
- Reach out for help. Some people can improve their relationship with food independently, but not everyone can, and there is no shame in needing support. If you are unsure where to begin or think that creating a healthier relationship with food seems impossible right now, please get in touch with a qualified professional.
- Remove any negativity around you and anything/anyone promoting guilt around eating. Make sure you surround yourself with supportive and positive people and encourage a healthy relationship with food. Ensure your social media feed contains accounts that inspire and motivate you. If a post pops up that causes you to think negatively, I suggest unfollowing them. Ensure all posts on your feed are helping you to feel good about yourself and your journey.
- Pay more attention to your body and your hunger cues. Start listening to your body and how it is feeling. Remove any distractions while eating and focus on the food and how it makes you feel.
We live in a world where nutrition can be extremely confusing. When you read constantly conflicting information, it can be hard to know who and what to believe. However, having a healthy relationship with food is vital to long-term health and should be your number one priority regardless of your specific health-related goals. Please feel free to reach out if you want more personalised advice on your relationship with food.