How do I know if I have a healthy relationship with food?
Do you ever reflect on the nature of your relationships with your partner, family members or friends? Have you found yourself thinking about things like - is this person that I am dating good for me, do they bring out the best in me and do they make me feel good? Or do you perhaps ask yourself - do I need to set stronger boundaries in my relationship with that family member, do I enjoy spending time with them and how often would I like to see them moving forward? Or maybe you may have reflected on whether - you still have a good time with that friend you have had your whole life, whether you still have things in common and if the friendship is something that you want in your life moving forward. It is important for us to aim to nurture healthy and enjoyable relationships in our personal life.
Yet do you ever ask yourself what your relationship with food is like?
- Do you have a love-hate relationship with it? Really considering yourself a foodie but then finding that you feel guilty for eating.
- Do you have an abusive relationship with it - and turn to it in moments of extreme sadness/boredom/stress, punishing your body with it, not really even enjoying what you are eating at all?
- Do you have a loving and nurturing relationship with it - where you use food mostly to nourish and take care of your body/your wellbeing and enjoy some indulgences from time to time without guilt?
How would you describe your current relationship with food? Does eating and being around food bring up positive emotions and associations for you or lots of negative emotions and associations for you? Whilst of course everyone is different, here are some signs that you may not have the healthiest relationship with food:
You feel extreme guilt after eating. When eating and making food choices leaves you feeling guilty and bad, this is a good indicator that perhaps you don't have the most positive relationship with food. Either it could indicate that you are making lots of food choices that you know are not the best for you, your body and your health or it could indicate that you have set yourself very strict guidelines around what it is "okay" to eat and feel guilty when straying beyond these guidelines. In either case, those feelings of guilt often indicate that your relationship with food may not be a positive, nourishing and enjoyable way of interacting with food.
You think about food/ obsess about food a lot. When thoughts around food take up a lot of your mental space and time, this is an indication that your relationship with food may have become a bit dysfunctional. Now of course there is nothing wrong with looking forward to your next meal or planning what you are going to eat. Yet if thoughts about food/ what you should/shouldn't eat seem to occupy a lot of your mental space, this is a good indicator that your relationship with food is holding you back in your life rather than serving you. If you are devoting so much time and mental space to food, just think about how much time you aren't spending enjoying your life, planning for your future, building your dreams, being creative etc.
You don't enjoy eating or aren't getting any pleasure from food. Food should be a source of pleasure and you should enjoy eating. If eating your meals has become a chore or just something you do out of necessity, it may be that you don't have the most positive relationship with food. Whilst food is absolutely fuel and something that should work to boost our physical and mental health, it is also important you are enjoying or deriving some pleasure/joy from what you are eating.
You have lots of very strict food rules. Everyone is different and different ways of eating will work for different people. You may find for example that you body does well if you don't eat too many dairy products or that eating dinner by 7pm helps to you sleep better and works well for your body. However, if you have too many rules around what you should be eating and when you should be eating, this can become harmful and create a less helpful relationship with food. This is especially the case if you see your food rules as very strict rules that you have to adhere to all of the time, rather than being flexible guidelines that you just try and stick to as often as you can.
You don't know what eating "normally" looks like anymore. You may have been someone that is always either "on a diet" or has "gone off the rails" and you may have noticed that you fluctuate between periods of being really strict with your food intake and then feeling really out of control with your food intake. This may mean then that you don't know what that happy place in between looks like anymore. You perhaps don't know how to eat unless you are following some very strict diet rules. When you are relying on a set of external rules or principles rather than trusting and being able to listen to your own body for cues as to when to eat, this is a sign that perhaps your relationship with food isn't serving you. (When someone is struggling with an eating disorder or has been in this cycle of restrict/overeat for many years, for some time, they will have to follow some external guidance around when to eat and what to eat, in order to start tuning into their body more effectively and developing normal hunger cues again).
You dread social occasions or situations in which you will have to eat with or around others. This fear may come up because you worry that you won't find something "on-plan" that you will be able to eat whilst out. The fear may be because you worry what others will think of you and your food choices. The fear also may be that you don't trust other people to prepare food for you because you don't know what they may add into the food and you won't be able to control exactly what you are eating. Whatever is driving that fear of socialising around food, it can indicate that your relationship with food isn't serving your mental and emotional health.
There is no such thing as the "perfect" relationship with food but a good questions to ask yourself is, are my interactions with food uplifting me, nourishing me and serving me and my life/health or are they draining me, leaving me feeling down/guilty and affecting my mood negatively? Just like any relationship, our relationship with food has ebbs and flows but also just like any relationship, it can often flourish with some nurturing.
If you would like some help to heal and rebuild your relationship with food, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free 20 minute phone consultation.
"Doing things like playing music, something that's so natural and basic to human function, running around in nature, eating delicious food. These things are intrinsic in basic, primordial to human beings, so that's sort of a way to return to a blank canvas, allowing my true personality to return." - Ezra Miller