Medically reviewed by Serena Benali, Registered Dietitian on November 19, 2022
An unhealthy relationship with food can take a toll on your wellbeing. Food is so central to our day-to-day life that it can become a constant stressor in your life.
You may be dealing with certain behaviours and mindsets around food for so long that you’re not sure if they are normal.
If you think you have an unhealthy relationship with food, it can be overwhelming. You may not know where to start, but don’t worry I got you covered!
In this blog, I’ll share with you 10 signs of an unhealthy relationship with food and 5 strategies to start changing your relationship with food to one that is healthy and happy. Plus I’ll be sharing with you our Free Healthy Relationship with Food Starter Guide.
10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food
You’re never at peace with what you eat. You either feel deprived for not eating what you want or feel bad about the food you ate.
You have rules about what you can and can't eat - not talking about foods you avoid for medical or digestive reasons.
You often make promises to yourself that starting tomorrow or Monday you’ll eat healthier.
You often overeat and feel uncomfortably full.
You ignore or try to suppress your hunger.
You often eat in response to emotions and cravings.
You have an all-or-nothing mentality with food. You’re either on a diet or not. You’re either bingeing or restricting.
You spend a lot of time thinking about food. What you’re going to eat or what you have eaten.
You feel guilty or “bad” after eating. PS: Check out our blog on food guilt and the best 6 ways to overcome it!
You sometimes wish you just had a “normal” relationship with food.
If you’ve answered yes to these questions you most likely have an unhealthy relationship with food. The good thing that comes with this is awareness. We cannot change that in which we are not aware of. Secondly we now begin to notice things that we maybe didn’t realize were unhealthy and in that comes the opportunity for change.
5 Ways to Develop a Healthier Relationship with Food
These five strategies below are designed to help jumpstart your healthy relationship with food.
1. Stop Dieting
If someone would have told me in the height of my binge eating that not dieting anymore would actually help me develop a healthy relationship with food I would have thought… Lies!
Turns out it was true and the farthest from what I thought I needed, which was self-control and willpower.
It may seem counterintuitive but dieting may be one of the biggest causes of your unhealthy relationship with food. Dieting teaches us to follow food rules, eat foods we don't love, and ignore the cues of our body. Dieting is a temporary prescription that is generic and not sustainable (hello Keto diet!).
Dieting doesn’t teach us how to develop lasting habits nor does it get to the root of our unhealthy relationship with food.
Instead, focus on health and a healthy relationship with food with the first step to getting there being the end of dieting.
2. Let Go of the All-or-Nothing Mentality
Our culture loves to swim in all-or-nothing mentalities like 'go hard or go home’, ‘no pain no gain’ and ‘be all in or get all out.’ So it makes sense that these mentalities find themselves in our relationship with food.
Thoughts of ‘I’ve ruined the week, I’ll start over Monday/tomorrow’ or ‘new diet starts tomorrow I’m gonna enjoy all my favourite foods because I won’t eat them again’ are common all-or-nothing mentalities with food.
These thoughts come with good intentions but they do the opposite of what they’re intended to do. They perpetuate an unhealthy relationship with food. They keep the pendulum swinging from one extreme (over consumption) to the other (restriction).
This place of unbalance wreaks havoc on your ability to find a healthy place with food that is sustainable.
We want to live in the zone of balance, after all the pendulum's natural state is in balance. When we stop going from one extreme to the other we begin to nestle in that place of balance.
Finding balance with food isn’t about eating perfectly either, because there’s no such thing as eating perfectly.
Instead, balance is about being able to eat in moderation: eating whole fresh foods because it feels good, eating until you're comfortably satisfied because it feels good and having cake because it feels good and you don't feel the need to eat all the cake because you know you can enjoy some again.
3. Enjoy the Food You Eat
Any health enhancing habits or behaviours won’t last long if you’re not enjoying them or the process of them and that is especially true for eating!
When you eat food you enjoy and receive all the pleasure from the eating experience and when this happens you are more conscious of what you are eating and because of that you make the right food choices for yourself.
The prescription here is simple: enjoy the food you eat. As Evelyn Tribole, founder of Intuitive Eating says “If you don't love it, don't eat it, and if you love it, savour it.”
4. Find Out What is Driving you to Food
Finding out what is driving you to food or why you eat when you’re not hungry is a crucial part in discovering what you’re truly hungry for.
Start slowing down before you eat and check-in with yourself. Ask yourself why are you about to eat? Are you hungry? Bored, stressed, happy or procrastinating? (my personal favourite 😉)
There is significant wisdom and guidance available to you if you pause and slow down and tune in to see what is there.
5. Tools Beside Food to Sooth
Food is the bestest friend you could ask for. It’s always there for you, it soothes you and brings you pleasure, it never asks for anything in return… However nice it may be in the moment when it becomes our main tool to celebrate or sooth ourselves when we are feeling down, stressed or bogged down with life, it becomes a problem.
Now that we’ve come to understand why we’re turning to food (number 4), it’s time to add some tools to the tool box!
Brainstorm a list of 4-5 things you can do to de-stress, care for yourself or bring you some pleasure. Ideally these activities should be low or no barrier (accessible, things you can do in 5 minutes or less). Some ideas to give you some inspiration: making a hot drink, spending time with your pet, listening to music, playing a game, journaling etc.
Our Self-care Guide is a 7-step guide that can help you set up a sustainable and effective self-care routine. You can use the promo code: Care for 50% off!
Like I mentioned, food is a great tool to sooth, unwind and bring pleasure but it can become destructive when it’s our main tool to cope with unpleasant feelings and sensations.
Next time you find yourself turning to food to soothe, ask yourself: how else can I nurture myself in this moment. You may be pleasantly surprised to see what comes to you when you pause and inquire.
Key Take Away: Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food
People's relationships with food are more complex now than ever. Learning how to have a healthy relationship with food can be one of the greatest gifts you give to yourself.
Our greatest joy at In Good Nutrition is helping people develop healthy, happy relationships with food. I would love to support you on your journey to a healthier relationship with food and we can begin today with my FREE Healthy relationship with food Starter Guide.