Do you ever feel as though you are slightly scared of food? - If I eat this...will I put on weight? If I have a bite of that...will I end up hating my body even more? If I try this...am I just going to feel guilty and bad afterwards? - You love the taste - but you just don’t like how the food makes you feel afterwards... fat, bloated and sad ..that you overate - once again.
Many people have a dysfunctional relationship with food. Part of the reason for this is that now we have so many products available to us that we are told are “food” but which are completely devoid of nutritional value, are very calorific and often also manufactured so that they are highly addictive. These ultra-processed food-like products tend to cause us to form a very unhealthy relationship with food. They are manufactured so that we crave them and yet they are doing no good for our body.
The more a food has been processed – the more baggage it comes with for your body and your health. So, looking at just how processed a food is can be a great (and nice and easy) way to judge just how good it is for your health – without having to worry about tracking macros, using any scales or reading any labels. Avoiding this ultra- processed food most of the time can also be a great way to re-build a much healthier relationship with food (real food - that is nourishing for your body).
So the starting point is real food i.e. unprocessed or minimally processed food – you the know the stuff you can recognise from the natural world e.g. vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans, fish, steak …we can see where this stuff came from in nature. Processing describes anything that is then done to this natural stuff, like salting, pressing, curing, heating etc. and the more of this processing that has happened, the worse the food becomes for you (and the more random unhealthy ingredients that are likely to have been added). So most of our food undergoes some processing, even to make olive oil, the olives need pressing and to make bread the wheat needs milling. Bread is however a perfect example to show how the more you process food – the worse it becomes for your health. Bread made from the whole grain, still containing the fibre and B vitamins is much better for you than white, refined bread that has had a lot of the nutrition removed (and often a lot of sugar and salt added to it too). Now the worst foods are those that have been so processed that you can barely even find the natural food that they came from e.g. muffins (and no the blueberries don’t make them a natural food), cookies, cakes, many ready meals, chicken nuggets, fish fingers…you get the idea. These are also the foods that are incredibly addictive (whilst being horrible for your health) - therefore causing you to develop this love-hate relationship with food.
When you are eating real food - natural food (and not this ultra-processed stuff) - there is no need to feel guilty about eating food. In fact our body needs real food and all of the vitamins, minerals, fibre, protein, fats and energy that we get from this. When you are eating this real-stuff there is no need to feel guilty - because you are doing your body good by eating it! When you are eating this real stuff your body’s hunger hormones also work much. more effectively - allowing you to eat just when you are hungry and stop when. you are full. Now I’m not just talking about salads here - I’m talking about the whole range of foods that are not ultra-processed e.g. fish, oats, unprocessed meat, olive oil, nuts, seeds..even things like dense-rye bread, whole-wheat pasta, cheese, yoghurt ...these foods (whilst they may have undergone a bit of processing) still have a lot of nutritional value - they are still pretty close to their natural state.
So if you have noticed that you have a love-hate relationship with food - ask yourself whether you are eating “real food” or are actually just feeling awful about food because you are choosing these “ultra-processed -food-like” products. I mean, it is fine to eat these things occassionally but if cookies/cakes/ready-meals/processed-meat/chicken nuggets etc. are staples in your diet -then it is no wonder you feel so guilty when you are eating them. To be honest they probably should not be labelled as “foods” at all, given that they have virtually no nutritional value for our bodies. So avoiding those foods that look nothing like the natural products they came from, that are packed with additives and that have a long self-life ...is going to do your health a great deal of good. Go for food closest to its natural state and you really can’t go wrong. Then when you are going for more natural foods why feel guilty about eating - when we need to eat to live, thrive and stay strong?
“I looked at him nonplussed. I realised that I have spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of my consciousness. I have reached a point where I believe that nutritional ideal is to eat nothing at all, and that the only reason people eat is because they are so greedy they cannot stop themselves from breaking out and ruining their diets.” – Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’ Diary