Living in a society that normalizes unhealthy and disordered behaviors often for the ironic sake of 'health,' it can be difficult to find a neutral relationship with food. If you feel that your relationship with food is not the healthiest it can be, you are not alone. According to one study, 75% of women surveyed endorsed unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies. The good news is, it is never too late to start rebuilding a healthy relationship with food and your body! Below are 7 steps and shifts that can help you find a healthier relationship with food.
1. Accept That 'Perfect' Eating Does Not Exist: With the many mixed messages about food, eating and dieting we get in a single day from celebrities, media and those around us, it can be hard to let go off this perceived pressure that there is a 'perfect' way to eat. The truth is that there is not one right way to eat that is correct and perfect. By adopting this mentality, the easier it will be to begin accepting your own wants, needs and preferences around food rather than the 'shoulds' you may be allowing to influence your choices now.
2. Let Go Of Food Labels: It is common for our society to label foods as 'good' or 'bad' or 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' and furthermore, to then internalize the message that one is 'good' or 'bad' for eating said foods. But our bodies need certain nutrients to work, just like fuel in a car; and to fuel ourselves, we can incorporate foods of all kinds. And yes, that includes often villanized carbohydrates and fat! All foods can be a part of healthy, balanced eating without any judgement necessary. When we stop looking at food with labels and don't keep certain things 'off limits,' we are able to tune into what we are actually wanting and in return will feel more satisfied.
3. Begin To Trust Your Body: We are all born with an internal regulatory system that intuitively tells us when we are hungry, when we are full, when we are satisfied, or have a craving. For example, a baby has no idea what a calorie is, nor how much they 'should' be eating. But with their internal regulatory system, they are guided to recognize hunger, fullness and satiety. When we diet, we override our internal regulatory system and become disconnected from it. So instead of ignoring a craving or the feeling of hunger, try honoring it. Our bodies are extremely smart and when we begin to re-trust our bodies signals and instincts, we are able to build a healthier relationship with food.
4. Step Away From The Scale: If you find yourself relying on the scale to dictate your food choices amongst your feelings towards yourself and body, stepping away from the scale is the wisest choice you could make. When our food choices are influenced by a goal to lose weight or control our weight, we are often compromising listening to our bodies. By letting go of the scale, you are making a crucial step in trusting your body.
5. Find Healthier Ways to Cope: If you struggle with emotional eating, try to connect and name what you have felt in the moments you have found comfort in food. Whether it is anxiety, sadness or loneliness - try to think of what you may need in those moments. Maybe it is a listening ear, love or support. We cannot avoid uncomfortable feelings, but we can better equip ourselves to handle these emotions when they come up next time. Watching TV, listening to music, writing your thoughts out, or going for a walk can all serve as a a great distraction and a healthier way to cope.
6. Disengage with Diet Culture: To embrace a non-diet approach to eating, it is important to disengage with things that reinforce our society's toxic diet culture. This can include a variety of things such as unfollowing social media accounts and not purchasing magazines that promote dieting or beauty ideals. You could also make an active choice to not partake in conversations with loved ones or peers when diet talk comes up. By distancing yourself from that narrative, you are reminding yourself that dieting and restriction holds no place in your life.
7. Reach Out For Help: If beginning to rebuild a healthy relationship to food seems overwhelming, know that this is a completely valid feeling! Unlearning many of these thoughts ideas, thoughts and actions that seem very normalized by our diet culture can be challenging. If you are feeling stuck and are struggling to find your way out of the diet mentality, seeking the support of a non-diet, HAES registered dietitian can be a great step in finding food freedom.