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Yes, it is possible to have a healthy relationship with food

If I asked you to describe your relationship with food, what would you say?

Some might answer that they have a healthy relationship with food while other people might say it’s complicated.

Whether you’re from column A or column B (or a little from both), eating can be a complex process.

Developing a healthy relationship with food can be difficult thanks mostly to diet culture.

Let’s explore how two key culprits of diet culture that may be impacting on your ability to have a healthy relationship with food and how to navigate around it.

1. Diet culture’s “food rules”

Diet culture would have you believe that in order to be healthy, you have to follow “food rules”.

Food rules are those strict ideas that we might hold about certain foods.

We might deem some foods to be “good” or “bad”, “clean” or “unhealthy” and ultimately not eat them.

Some people might follow strict rules; they may tell themselves that certain foods are off limits, or that they can only eat at certain times of the day. It could even be a small, subtle thought that tells you that you’re only allowed to eat one cookie.

How food rules impact your relationship with food

Following food rules can be stressful, and can make you crave those “forbidden” foods more.

Restriction leads to deprivation.

It might leave you thinking about the so called “off limits food” all the time.

So, when an opportunity to have that “forbidden” food arises, a person may think “screw it!” and eat the entire box of cookies!

It may lead to eating past the point comfortable fullness, usually resulting in physical discomfort and feelings of guilt. And unfortunately, the cycle of restriction starts again.

Giving yourself full permission to enjoy all foods enables a happier, healthier and more sustainable way of eating.

How to break free from food rules and develop a healthy relationship with food

So how do you overcome this exhausting cycle? By granting yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, and having trust in yourself and your body.

Making peace with food to have a healthy relationship with food involves learning to understand that all foods have a place.

All foods are allowed and are accepted as being morally neutral. There is no “good” or “bad”, nor is a person “good” or “bad” for eating any type of food!

Instead of following food rules, the focus is on honouring natural cravings, and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness signals to guide when, what and how much to eat.

This way of eating can be much more satisfying and flexible.

When first hearing this, many people worry that it will lead to uncontrolled overeating. However, this is not the case – research has shown that this approach can lead to people having better control over their eating patterns (1,2).

As your body and brain learn that all foods are available, there is no longer a sense of urgency around food. Your body is clever and knows what it needs to stay nourished and energised. Hence, you will crave a wide variety of delicious foods which are both nurturing and enjoyable.

Remember to be kind with yourself when healing your relationship with food. It is not uncommon to have food rules, particularly as we are living in a culture which is obsessed with dieting and body size.

The wonderful thing about “food freedom” is that it doesn’t need to be perfect!

2. Diet Culture’s “Food Police”

Diet culture encourages us to judge ourselves and others for our food choices.

These judgements may manifest as an internal ‘food police’, an internal voice which enforces the ‘laws’ of diet culture, encouraging you to follow the rigid food rules we just mentioned.

This is the part of you that decides we have been “good” if you eat your fruits and veggies and “bad” if you eat a bowl of ice-cream. This assumes that food choices are moral and reflect the kind of people we are, when really this is not the case.

How the Food Police impacts your relationship with food

In our society we are taught repeatedly to associate our intake with emotion, with the feeling of guilt being perhaps the strongest example.

Your internal food police targets these emotions encouraging you to feel guilty for being hungry, choosing to eat dessert or, dare I mention, actually ‘eat carbs’.

This constant voice becomes too loud to allow you to listen to our body’s internal cues.

As a result your ability to recognise hunger and cravings is distorted and rather than relying on your body, you may follow restrictive rules which shape our diet, rather than being intuitive to what your body is telling is it needs.

How to break free from the Food Police and develop a healthy relationship with food

Firstly, challenge those Food Police!!

Though it isn’t easy, you may find the following tips helpful in silencing the food police and creating a kinder relationship with yourself and your food choices:

  1. Neutralise how you think about food – one characteristic of the voice of the food police is to talk in absolutes, suggesting that certain foods are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad’. However, this isn’t the case at all – there are many ways to be healthy and it involves eating a range of foods, none of which can be individually classified as good or bad. By introducing a sense of neutrality where foods do not carry a moral value, we can better listen to our body and its internal cues.
  2. Trust your body and its cues our bodies are designed to send us signals when we need to eat, and listening to these cues may allow us to eat intuitively to meet our own individual needs. These cues, such as how hungry we feel, can become ignored when we instead focus on external messages about the best way to eat. Read more about strategies to support listening to such internal cues.
  3. Be kind to yourselfdiet culture may encourage you to see your own body as the enemy. Reflect on your innermost thoughts and how you speak to yourself. By bringing awareness to your self-talk you may be able to recognise the negative language of the food police by replacing it with language that is more compassionate. When a negative thought about yourself arises actively stop it and replace with a more kind to you – remember – it is ok to feel hunger. It is ok to eat when you are hungry. It is ok to eat the food that you want to eat.

Conclusion

Making peace with food to have a healthy relationship with food involves learning to understand that all foods have a place.

Diet culture has made us believe that we need to follow certain food rules to be healthy. Which subsequently has resulted in our internal food police making us feel guilty when we break those food rules.

The journey to making peace with food can take time and is unique for everyone, but it is possible.

If you would like guidance in your journey to develop a healthy relationship with food check out my Breaking Free video series.

What steps do you take to have a healthy relationship with food? Leave a comment below!

References

  1. Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutr J [Internet]. 2011 Jan [cited 2020 Aug 20];10(9):1-13. Available from: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9
  2. Provencher V, Bégin C, Tremblay A, Mongeau L, Corneau L, Dodin S., et al. Health-At-Every-Size and eating behaviors: 1-year follow-up results of a size acceptance intervention. J Am Diet Assoc [Internet]. 2009 Nov [cited 2020 Aug 20];109(11):1854-61. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002822309014357
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Melissa Gray

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