8 steps to building a healthier relationship with food

What exactly is a healthy relationship with food? Yes it means providing your body with enough energy and nutrition to support all your body processes and to help prevent disease.......

But it also means having a relaxed approach to eating. It means finding balance through flexibility, choosing preference over rules and being at ease with social, emotional and physical components of food and eating.

Over the last 10 years I have tried my very best to release all negative feelings associated with food, health and weight. In my 'younger years' I became obsessed with 'healthy eating'.

The line between healthy and unhealthy eating became very blurred and I lost sight of what it meant to be and feel healthy. I put rules in place to help give me a greater sense of control, believing that certain boundaries would help me. They really didn't. I became more anxious and dis-ease emerged.

I now practice intuitive eating. I chucked the scales in the bin and have learnt to let go of the diet mentality that kept me stuck in a cycle of eat-guilt-frustration-eat. I have created a neutral view of foods - there are no bad or good foods.......just food, that I give myself unconditional permission to eat. It means I've learnt to trust food and myself again. I have found lasting balance but do have to keep tweaking and remain open to learning.

Here are my 8 steps to making peace with food and building a healthier relationship with it:

1. Stop punishing yourself for what you already ate.

Self berating serves neither you or your body. Do not cloud your eating experience with negative thoughts like, "I should not be eating this” or "I should have had more control” This raises your anxiety, creating even greater disconnect and distrust between you and food. It also has a crushing effect on your self belief and self confidence.

Instead of self criticism, look for understanding with self compassion. Instead of judgement, look with Curiousity, Openess, Acceptance and a Loving attitude toward yourself.

2. Practice mindful eating: sit, chew, and breathe with your food!

As much as we assume we can multitask, we cannot. Developing self awareness is key to connecting with food, trusting it and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you really want.  Take time to notice your food. Actually look at it. Smell it. Feel it. Taste it. Use ALL of your senses! This way you are much more likely to 'hear' your body's hunger and fullness cues and your brain to signal "satisfaction". The outcome? Eating for true hunger and recognising when you've had enough.

3. Practice positive affirmations.

Affirmations are a powerful tool to reverse negative thoughts and reprogram your beliefs, behavior and actions around your eating experiences. They can change the way you see the world and most definitely helped me improve my relationship with my body. Some I like are.......

  • This plate of food is so good for me.
  • My body knows how to use this food.
  • This will enable me to xxx
  • My cells are about to be not nourished with so much goodness.

4. Let go of the need to be and eat perfectly.

I promise you, no one eats perfectly. Perfect does not exist! There are many ways that perfectionism can interfere with a healthy relationship with food. 

  • You may be more likely to relieve the stress of striving for perfection
  • You may be more likely to reach for food when you feel you've failed to hit the mark
  • All or nothing thinking can lead to feeling out of control with your eating
  • You might feel like you are never good enough; this painful thought may leave you feeling undeserving of joy.

Try to release that need - perfectionism is not necessary and remember you are good enough. Think direction instead of perfectionism - stop making rules, approach eating with flexibility and self acceptance and aim to balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.

5. Stop comparing!

Your body and nutritional needs are different from those of your friends, colleagues, sister and your mother! Their relationship with food has nothing to do with you and likewise, your relationship with food is none of their business. Comparing yourself to others only lowers your self esteem and can bring negative feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. You are absolutely unique, just like everyone else!

6. Try not to over analyse.

It's important not to let your healthy lifestyle get in the way of you living your life. If you're out with family and friends, do not worry about the food options. Social occasions are way more than just about the food. Simply choose the best available to you. You can after all, only do your best, otherwise, you will only complicate your relationship with food. If you feel trapped by your 'healthy eating' because of rules and restrictions that you put in place, it may be an indicator it really isn't that healthy after all.

7. If you're reaching for food when you're not hungry then something emotional is going on.

I invite you to stop and ask yourself what it could be. Why are you reaching for that comfort? The most common reasons are anxiety, boredom and loneliness. Now it isn't always easy to know the difference between true physical and none physical hunger. but at least allowing yourself to sit with you thoughts and feelings can be an important step towards identifying your emotions. 

I also want you to know that emotional eating is not bad!  Think of the occasions when you have eaten for pleasure. It felt good yes? We are meant to and allowed to enjoy eating - it's what keeps us going back for more which significantly increases the chances of survival at least! It's when you become aware that (for whatever reason) you repeatedly turn to food as a crutch. 

If this is the case I encourage you to try and identify what you body is really looking for. It could be to find calm and physical comfort, to connect with others or to switch off with something mind numbing and easy.

This was where journaling made a massive difference for me - to explore my feelings and emotions in a safe place. To not judge but really connect and move towards acceptance of my body. 

8. Remember this is it. One life. One body. Look after it.

Feed it because it needs nourishment. So does your mind. Your body is depending on you so that it can function and look after you to the best of its ability. Your body is truly amazing. It works so hard for you and finding some gratitude for all that it has done for you can go a hell of a long way towards finding self acceptance.

Love yourself, it can't wait to love you back! 

Mel x


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