Ways to Improve Your Relationship With Food

Food is a source of great pleasure in life. From savouring the aromas, textures and flavours of food, to experimentation in the kitchen, and food’s association with celebratory occasions, such as wedding breakfasts and Christmas. Along with the socially cohesive effect of dining with with friends and family, a lot of joy can derived from food. Conversely, it can also be a source of great anxiety and guilt, as well as being associated with obsessive or controlling behaviours. It can be fair to say that the relationship between humans and food is complex.

The fact that a large number of us experience fears and anxieties around our diet and the foods we eat is perhaps unsurprising, given the emphasis that is placed on favouring one diet over another, and the conflicting advice over which foods to eat and which to avoid. Add to this the challenge of fitting in maintaining a healthy diet around a busy lifestyle, whilst also providing our body with the nourishment it needs to meet out fitness routines, and things only get more complicated. At times, it can feel as though you are stepping through a minefield, where the bombs are moved with each step. It can be confusing to say the least.

In an ideal world, we would eat healthily the majority of the time, but also not feel guilty about the treats we indulge in every now and then. As well as serving the function of fuelling our bodies, food should be a pleasure to be enjoyed free from guilt. But, how easy is it to achieve that balance? Is it possible to eat healthily and indulge in comfort foods without being ravaged by fear or guilt? Well, surely this is what a healthy relationship with food looks like.

It seems perhaps that the answer can be found in changing the ways in which we think about food, it is about changing our mindset. Rather than thinking about what you are eating in terms of achieving a goal, such as losing 5lbs, start thinking about food as a way of nourishing and caring for your body. By making this subtle change to your thought patterns, you will shift food from being the enemy (i.e. what is preventing you from losing weight), to the hero that fuels you. This doesn’t mean that you should choose your foods absentmindedly, the focus should still be on eating healthy foods the majority of the time, but that you should choose foods on the basis of their ability to make you feel healthy and well. Rather than selecting foods based on a restrictive or fearful mindset.

Another way to help improve your relationship with food, is to listen to your body. Many of us fall into the trap of limiting calories in excess during the day, in order to be ‘good’, only to be hit with uncontrollable hunger later in the day, which can lead to binging and the inevitable guilt. By becoming in tune with your body and listening to the signals, and responding, you can take back control of your appetite. Ultimately, providing your body with the energy it needs, when it needs is what a ‘good’ diet looks like.

In order to have a healthy relationship with food, we need to let go of the guilt we feel when we indulge in a treat. Whether it’s a cheese laden pizza or an oozy jam doughnut, we all have our weaknesses, but the trick to combatting the guilt we feel around food is to stop viewing the pleasure we take from these foods, as a weakness at all. We should all allow ourselves the opportunity to indulge free from the mental anguish of guilt, and one of the benefits of not imposing too many dietary restrictions on ourselves, is that we can then learn to take control of our cravings and not feel the need to binge when we do choose treat ourselves.

Having a poor or wanting relationship with food, isn’t limited to feeling guilt at a blip in an otherwise healthy diet. Our emotions can be tied up with our relationship with food, which can result in emotional eating, where food is used to fill an emotional void. If your find yourself regularly reaching for a family sized sharing bag of Doritos after a bad day at work, or when things haven’t gone quite to plan, then you may need to reacquaint yourself with your emotions. Why not try talking things through with a friend, or even just having a good cry, rather than reaching for the crisps? Your mind and body will thank you for it.

Ultimately, fostering a healthier relationship with food takes time and often requires that you work on changing the way you think and feel about yourself, as well as your diet. Making simple changes to the way you think can go a long way, but if you are feeling concerned about your relationship with food, then speak to your GP for expert help and advice. Alternatively, get in touch with Beat, the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders.