Do you struggle with consistency in healthy eating?
Do you have a hard time aligning your eating with your good intentions long-term?
Have you ever stopped to consider what relationship you have with food?
We don’t often think we even have a relationship with food, and yet we do, and it’s pretty intimate.
Think about this: if you’re like me, you spend as much or more time with food than you do with many of the loved ones in your life — several hours a day or more.
And yet, food has become so much more to most of us:
▪ we use food for pleasure
▪ we use it for comfort
▪ we turn to food when we’re sad, depressed, hurt
▪ we use food to socialize
▪ we use it as a reward
▪ we do it when we’re bored
▪ food can also be a chore
▪ we use food as gifts
▪ we turn to food when we’re lonely
▪ food can be associated with sex
▪ food is equated to health
▪ sometimes, food becomes an obsession
▪ it definitely can be an addiction
▪ food can make us hate ourselves
▪ food is the center of many billion-dollar industries
So, what is your relationship with food?
There’s a fine line between thinking carefully about what we put into our bodies and obsessing over it or restricting it dangerously. Eating is the body’s way of providing fuel. It isn’t supposed to be complicated but I have found in my practice that many people are confused about what to eat and what not to eat, when to eat and why they are eating. That ‘why’ is a big one. It leads to specific issues such as emotional eating or binge eating. Some of us just can’t seem to get a handle on the whole nutrition thing.
So if you’d like a few tips, here are some suggestions to put your relationship with food into perspective.
1. Eat food mindfully.
Our body has some pretty significant built-in cues to tell us when to eat and when to stop eating. But we’re not always listening. The practice of engaging all of our senses to guide our eating-related decisions is called mindful eating. Mindful eating can help us acknowledge our response to food without getting into judgment. Just take a moment to think before you open your mouth and put something in it. No judgment, just know you have a choice.
2. Eat when you are physically hungry.
Emotional eating is typically to soothe unpleasant emotional thoughts or feelings. And stress and anxiety, being the most common, often cause us to crave higher-calorie, fattier foods. When we use food to try to soothe an emotion, we mask what that emotion is trying to teach us and instead replace it with regret or guilt for eating whatever we grabbed.
3. Stop eating when you’re comfortably full.
Babies are born knowing to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are comfortable. But as we grow up we are exposed fad diets, advertising, food used as a reward, etc., many of us unlearn this beautifully balanced way of eating and begin to overeat. To stop eating when you are comfortable, eat slowly. It has been proven that it takes 12 minutes or more for food satisfaction to reach the brain.
4. Eat breakfast.
Regular breakfast eaters have more energy, better memories and lower cholesterol. They also feel healthier overall and are typically leaner than their peers who don’t eat a morning meal. Starting your day with a healthy, balanced breakfast with proteins, fats and carbs and not high in sugar is the key to healthy eating. Your Mother was right, always eat breakfast!
5. Don’t keep problematic foods in the house.
Once you know your specific patterns with eating, you can take small steps to redirect them. One strategy I recommend is no longer keeping a particularly tempting food in the house, so you’d have to leave home after dinner to get a taste. If, for example, you really love ice cream, rather than having it sitting in the freezer calling your name, you might go out once a week for ice cream.
6. Don’t sit down with the whole bag.
Hitting up your local ice cream shop also has the benefit of providing your treat in a single serving size. If you have a cup or a cone you know when you’re finished, as opposed to sitting there having one spoonful after another straight out of the carton. At home, it is best to simply serve yourself in a cup or bowl rather than sitting down with a whole carton of ice cream or a family-size bag of chips.
7. Know the difference between a snack and a treat.
Letting your self get too hungry is a recipe for overeating. Snacking is a smart way to make sure you’re not ravenous come dinnertime. But snack choice is crucial to both keeping you full and keeping your healthy eating plans on track. A treat is purely for enjoyment, while a snack is something you eat between meals to stave off hunger. Nuts or fruit or cheese could be a good snack, but chocolate – a treat.
8. Give yourself permission to enjoy eating.
These tips aren’t plausible if we don’t make time to value our relationships with food. So many times we forget to take the time to eat and eating does take time. I suggest looking ahead at your day and making sure you have enough time carved out to eat, rather than planning to scarf something down in the three minutes you have between afternoon meetings. And it’s not about feeling guilty for missing something else by making time to eat, it’s about truly believing you are worth sitting down and eating food.
After a long list of rules and habits like the above, even the healthiest eaters might feel a little overwhelmed. The key to taking in all this advice healthfully is remaining balanced. In the end, let’s teach ourselves one simple thing: food is just fuel. Most of us need to eat less. Food isn’t love or entertainment or anything else like that. It’s just fuel.