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The bottom line

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The bottom line

Your relationship with food is personal unique and requires regular work to keep it healthy. Though it may seem impossible to fix your bad relationship with food it’s possible to get to a state in which food no longer controls you and instead fuels your overall well-being.
As you navigate your relationship with food remember that food isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s the labels you put on it that give it power.
A healthy good relationship with food means welcoming all foods with no restrictions seeing the value in food beyond calories and remembering that your value as a human isn’t dictated by the food you eat.
Taking the first step to fixing a bad relationship with food is scary and difficult but well worth it in the long run.

How to start having a good relationship with food

It’s one thing to hope for change — and it’s another to actively try to make change happen.
First remember that you’re your own person. You have your own history with food your own food preferences and every right to navigate this journey in a way that suits you.
That said below are some helpful tips.
1. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat
One sign of a good and healthy relationship with food is allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat.
When you create rules around when you can and can’t eat you’re setting yourself up for hunger feelings of deprivation and fear of food.
Whether you overeat at lunch or have a few extra cookies for dessert you still deserve to eat when you’re hungry or want to. Your body deserves food no matter the day or situation.
2. Eat when you’re hungry
Every person is born with the natural ability to regulate their hunger. You can see this with children who can easily tell when they’re hungry or full. Although as people age they begin to lose this ability for a number of reasons.
Despite your parents’ best efforts how often did they tell you to clean your plate? While their intentions were good this told you as a child to ignore signs that you were full and eat until other stimuli (e.g. a clean plate) told you that you were done (1Trusted Source).
Along with this diet culture has taught people to rely on an arbitrary number of calories to tell them when they’re done eating for the day instead of eating until they’re satisfied.
Still the closer you can get back to listening to your natural hunger cues the better you can regulate your appetite and manage your food intake (1Trusted Source 2Trusted Source).
3. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating has become the cornerstone of fixing a bad relationship with food. It involves eating in the moment and being fully present for the eating experience (3Trusted Source).
When you eat mindfully you’re eating free of other distractions such as your phone the TV a book etc. Rather you take time to make gentle observations such as the taste and texture of the food how your hunger and fullness cues change and your enjoyment of the food.
Learning to slow down and savor the food you’re eating can help you learn which foods you genuinely enjoy and also become more in tune with your body’s natural hunger and fullness regulation.
What’s more it can help you identify the reasons for your food choices. Are you eating because you’re starving and will eat anything in sight? Do you want to eat the food because you think it’ll make you feel better emotionally or physically?
While you eat try to answer some of these questions:
What flavor and texture am I noticing right now? Do I enjoy it? Am I only eating it because it’s available or because I really wanted it?Does this food hit the spot? Does it satisfy the craving I’m having?Has this food solved a problem like I may have thought it would?How is this food changing my appetite? Do I notice my hunger going away?How do I emotionally feel while I eat this? Does it bring me joy guilt anger?Was I actually hungry? If not why did I decide to eat (e.g. emotional eating cravings boredom)?
Some of these questions might be difficult and hard to address. Writing your thoughts down in a journal may be helpful. The key is to answer these questions without judgment and instead with a curious mind.
Over time these observations can help you identify the reasons for your food choices and whether other healthy coping mechanisms may be warranted.
If you’re interested in giving mindful eating a try check out our free 21-day mindful eating challenge.
4. Welcome all foods in your diet
Ascribing a food as “bad” gives it unnecessary power. Indeed certain foods are more nutritious than others and contribute to improved health. Still eating a single food isn’t going to miraculously affect your health in any way either.
When you label a food as “bad ” you automatically put it on a pedestal. Usually people call foods “bad” when they taste good and aren’t very nutritious (e.g. high in sugar fat salt). Yet as soon as you tell yourself you can’t have something the more you’ll crave and want it.
A research study demonstrated this phenomenon. A group of self-proclaimed restrictive dieters and non-dieters were given a milkshake and then put into private rooms where they could have as many cookies as they wanted (4Trusted Source).
Interestingly non-dieters were much better at regulating their intake and stopped when they felt satisfied while the dieters ate significantly more cookies. This was attributed to a process known as “counter-regulation” (4Trusted Source).
Essentially the dieters felt that since the milkshake already “broke” the rules of their restrictive diet they might as well overeat the cookies (4Trusted Source).
When you allow all foods into your diet you’re better able to control your intake as you know these foods are always available. However when you restrict foods and believe they’re a rarity you’re much more likely to overdo it and subsequently enter an endless cycle of guilt.
Contrary to popular belief it’s quite rare that you’ll always want cookies or cake. When you allow all foods into your diet you’ll notice that your cravings for certain foods start to diminish (5Trusted Source 6Trusted Source).
This phenomenon is called habituation. It states the greater exposure you have to a food or flavor the less interesting and appealing it becomes (6Trusted Source).
So start viewing all foods as equal with no food being better or worse than another. When you stop viewing foods as “good” or “bad ” you remove the food’s power. Over time you won’t feel the need to overeat it when it’s around.
5. Mind your plate
Imagine a life in which you don’t have to justify your food choices to yourself or anyone else.
Most people are constantly giving themselves or other people an explanation for their food choices. For example “I’m eating ice cream because I had a bad day” or “I have to have a salad for dinner because I didn’t have time to exercise.”
Instead of giving a reason for your food choices allow yourself to eat food that you feel is best for you at that very moment.
SummaryDeveloping a good relationship with food takes time patience and kindness toward yourself. Allow yourself to navigate this journey without judgment and take it day by day.

Identifying a good relationship with food

A good relationship with food is like any other relationship — it takes time practice and a lot of patience.
It’s important to understand that your relationship with food goes deeper than fueling your body. Unlike animals that eat solely for survival humans eat for a variety of reasons such as joy pleasure culture tradition socialization and to fuel their bodies.
When you start to appreciate food as more than just a fuel source you can begin to see value in it and develop a healthier relationship.
Signs of a good relationship with food include:
You give yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you enjoy.You listen and respect your body’s natural hunger cues.You eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.No foods are off-limits.You don’t obsess over the number on the scale.You don’t let the opinions of others dictate which foods you eat.You don’t feel the need to justify your food choices.You understand that you’re not defined by the foods you eat.You enjoy all food in moderation.You choose foods that make you feel your best.Calories are not the focus of your food choices.
If you’re looking at this list and thinking “I’ll never get to this point ” you’re not alone. Many people struggle with the idea of ditching the diet mentality and pushing away years of the diet culture messages they’ve been getting since a young age.
Instead of focusing on checking off every item on the list try to approach one at a time at a pace that suits you.
SummaryA good relationship with food involves welcoming all foods in moderation eating foods that you enjoy not allowing food to control your life and knowing that the foods you eat do not define your value as a person.

Understanding your relationship with food

Before you can work toward a good relationship with food it’s important to pinpoint the signs and symptoms of a bad relationship with food.
A good relationship with food has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of your diet or the types of food you eat but rather how and why you choose the foods you eat.
When you improve your relationship with food you’ll notice a lot less stress and worry around eating and more food freedom.
Here are the signs of a bad relationship with food:
You feel guilty about eating.You avoid or restrict foods that are “bad” for you.You have developed a long list of rules surrounding the foods you can and cannot eat.You rely on calorie counters or apps to tell you when you’re done eating for the day.You ignore your body’s natural hunger cues.You have a history of yo-yo dieting or following the latest diet fads.You feel immense stress and anxiety when eating in social settings due to fear of what others may think of your food choices.You find yourself restricting and/or binging food.
You don’t have to experience all of these signs to have a bad relationship with food. Yet the telltale sign that your relationship with food could be improved is if you feel any type of shame guilt stress or fear regarding the foods you eat.
It’s also important to realize that your relationship with food may be transient. Sometimes you may eat with complete freedom and have no remorse for the foods you eat (this is great) but other times you may feel guilty after eating certain foods (this is not great but normal).
The goal of a good relationship with food is to have more positive experiences with food than negative ones. Showing patience and kindness toward yourself is paramount.
SummaryA bad relationship with food usually involves restricting or overeating foods regular dieting and feeling shame or guilt upon eating certain foods.

Seek professional help

Your relationship with food is complex and can’t always be solved on your own.
Getting professional support and guidance can help you transform your relationship with food and overall health.
Fortunately there are many highly qualified dietitians therapists and other healthcare providers that you can work with to identify your deep-rooted history with food and provide tips to help you navigate it.
SummaryYour relationship with food has a deep-rooted history and you can’t always resolve your food issues on your own. Seeking professional help from a dietitian or therapist may help you navigate your relationship with food and find solutions.
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