You are what you eat, or are you? (Spoiler alert; you’re not). Many of us experience a negative relationship between our physical appearance and food. This connection, unfortunately, can lead to eating disorders, low self-worth, and feelings like shame, guilt, judgment, and fear. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these concerns, this article explores how to heal your relationship with food with helpful tips to get you started on your self-love journey.
14 Signs You Need to Heal Your Relationship with Food
Having an unhealthy relationship with food has nothing to do with the quality of food you consume, the number of calories, or the macros. Instead, it involves your perceptions, emotions, learned behaviors, and how you feel about yourself when you eat. But before you learn how to heal your relationship with food, let’s discuss the signs;
- You avoid eating around others
- You feel guilt or shame after eating or after eating certain foods
- You overeat without realizing it
- You eat when you’re not hungry
- You eat after feeling angry, stressed, nervous, or sad
- You’ve tried several diets, but you never seem to receive your desired results
- You link your food choices to your mood. For example, if you eat healthy, you feel like you’ve had a productive day
- You tie how and what you eat to your self-image
- You experience stress or anxiety about eating in public
- You feel embarrassed about your portion sizes
- You have a long list of restricted foods
- Talking about your diet with others causes you stress or anxiety
- You worry about foods that are “bad” for you and feel poorly about yourself after consuming them
- You ignore your body’s natural hunger cues
11 Tips to Help You Heal Your Relationship with Food
1. Practice mindful eating
If you’ve been following our mental health articles for a while now, you know we love mindfulness. And healing your relationship with food is no exception. Mindful eating is a helpful technique that involves eating with your senses and allowing your anxious feelings and fears to fade into the background. Sit down with your meal and engage all of your senses: Look at it, smell it, and taste with pure gratitude. If possible, eliminate any distractions and focus your attention to your meal.
2. Eat when you’re hungry
We’re born with the ability to sense our hunger signals, but as we age, we lose touch with our bodies. Whether it’s societal norms (stick to strict eating schedules), distractions, or learned behaviors in childhood, learning how to align yourself with your body is key to healing your relationship with food. To start, assess how you feel when you eat, have a craving, or cook a meal. Ask yourself, “Am I eating just to eat? Or am I actually hungry?”.
3. Don’t punish yourself for the past
Did you eat something you consider unhealthy? If so, it may be tempting to punish yourself for your past food choices by restricting your calories or overexercising. But these decisions are not only unnecessary but damaging to your physical and emotional wellbeing. Instead, evaluate your food choices within a week rather than a 24-hour window. When you focus on all the healthy decisions you made during the week, you’ll feel better and learn to cut yourself some slack.
4. Step away from social media
Repetitively watching the lives of fitness influencers who often stick to the fantasy reel and shy away from showing hardships won’t serve your best interest. Rather, it will make you feel worse about yourself and lead to unhealthy comparisons. Try to limit how much you scroll and evaluate how you feel when you do and your resulting eating behaviors.
5. Eat what you want
When you have an unhealthy relationship with food, you become obsessive about creating a long list of foods to avoid. Instead of placing so much pressure on yourself and avoiding your cravings, which will only cause you to overeat, combined with more self-criticism, allow yourself to enjoy eating foods you love. Besides, chocolate has several health benefits, and there’s always room for pleasure in life.
6. Stop labeling your food
This food is bad, I can’t eat that, and this one is good, I can only eat that – sound familiar? Labeling foods good or bad leads to increased feelings of judgement, shame and guilt. You haven’t done anything bad if you’ve eaten a piece of cake or overate. It’s natural to have cravings. While quality plays a role in health, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing mindset. All foods can be a part of your healthy diet.
7. Eliminate stress
It’s a lot easier to preach than to practice, but eliminating your stress will help you. When you’re stressed, you’re less likely to be mindful with your eating, listen to your hunger cues, and make health-conscious decisions. Therefore, try to prioritize self-care when possible. A part of healthy living includes taking care of yourself, receiving high-quality sleep, and loving the person you are.
8. Reduce explanations
Do you ever make statements like “I’m eating this pizza because I’ve had a bad day” or “I didn’t exercise today, so I can’t have dessert”? Instead of justifying why you’re eating certain foods or restricting yourself, eat the foods you want merely because they make you happy. That’s reason enough.
9. Plan your meals
Do you have a busy work schedule? Stressed about how much time you have in a day? If so, try meal planning to increase time for mindful eating. Meal planning will give you more time to focus on the present moment – less stress equals more happiness and self-love.
10. Let go of perfection
Perfection doesn’t exist, and the more you strive to be perfect, the worse you will feel about yourself. Instead, heal your relationship with food one step at a time and be kind to yourself along the way. You’re human, and you’re doing your best – it’s okay to make mistakes.
11. Move your body to feel good
When evaluating how you treat yourself with your eating habits, exercising isn’t too far from being in second place. Why? Those who struggle with self-worth may also use exercise as punishment. For example, if they overeat one day, they may increase exercising the next or restrict their eating to match their level of exercise. Like your eating habits, your exercise is an opportunity to accept yourself, and move your body because it feels good, not because you ate something “bad”.
When to Seek Help
If your eating habits disrupt you from living your life, it might be time to speak with a mental health professional. Yet, the relationship with food is a complex topic and can be linked to intergenerational trauma, childhood memories, and other psychological concerns. Therefore, even if your functioning is unharmed, speaking with a therapist or dietician can be very helpful and cathartic.
While it may feel overwhelming to heal your relationship with food, it is possible. Remember, you are more than your eating choices, and try to love the person you are as you work towards healing. You got this!
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