Maintaining a healthy relationship with food—what is it and why is it important? Most people entering into a diet program for any goal have no idea how important this concept is. A healthy relationship with food can be defined in a number of ways, so defining what a poor relationship with food is will help us understand this better.
Defining a Poor Relationship with Food
A poor relationship with food is when we are controlled psychologically by food to the point where we feel powerless or out of control. This can include but is not limited to: being anxious around food, developing obsessive food habits, binge eating followed by extreme guilt, being unable to withstand temptation, drastic changes in weight loss and weight gain, and never being able to turn our mind off from food. Food has total control over our behavior and is often accompanied by depression, negative self-image, and social anxiety.
Defining a Healthy Relationship with Food
Having a healthy relationship with food is essentially the exact opposite. We feel free from the influence of food and temptation. Food is not viewed as good or bad but simply as a choice. There is balance and the desire to overeat is at a minimum or isolated to only holidays.
Factors that Affect Your Relationship with Food
So how does this develop? In most cases, outside of the fitness world, a poor relationship with food develops at home when you’re growing up. Food might have been labeled good or bad and you might have heard comments about your body. This is a high-risk environment for disordered eating—I can state from personal experience that this is very common in all walks of life.
Within the fitness world, most disordered eating stems from competing in figure, bikini, bodybuilding, and other styles of competition that involve judging appearance. Participating in a “sport” where you have to severely restrict your diet—limiting what, how much, and when you can consume—because you’re judged on your physical appearance creates the perfect formula for developing an unhealthy relationship with food.
The psychological and physiological effects of deprivation become unmanageable for some and they lose control for months after a competition. They gain an impressive amount of weight and, in some cases, much more than they lost before the competition. Depression and disordered eating set in and become a daily battle, at least until the next competition. They then use competing to “get back on track,” but do not realize they are digging themselves further into a hole.
Ditch the Labels
Unfortunately, there is no real step by step process that we can take to ensure we maintain a healthy relationship with food, but there are some principles we can follow to help our mindset. One of the most important principles is to not label foods as good or bad. As soon as we start categorizing food in a negative way, we allow certain foods to become forbidden from our diet completely. This causes an increase in temptation above baseline, which can only last for so long. Instead of trying to avoid temptation, work to look at food in a way that reduces temptation.
Choosing Balance and a Guilt-Free Mindset
Keep balance in mind—there are foods that will bring us closer to our goal and there are foods that will slow us down. Either way, they are both ok to consume provided we accept the aftermath of that decision. We must not feel guilt or negative emotion following those decisions. It is simply a choice. We are changing our eating habits for a purpose. It is not something that is forced upon us where there will be a consequence if we do not adhere to the new diet. The feelings of guilt and failure are simply created by our own mind.
Choice Over Restriction
Feeling restricted is an outlook, and we want to avoid this as much as we can. It comes from comparing what we were doing before to what we are doing now. If that outlook changes, we are no longer going to feel as restricted. This can only happen when we truly accept our choice to change. We must look at what we choose to eat simply as a choice. It is not a forced choice, despite the way you might feel. That choice needs to be accepted whether it is moving you closer to or further from your goal. We need logical thinking; we must put emotional thinking to the wayside. This will take practice.
It's Not All or Nothing
Another type of behavior that we need to stay away from is the “all or nothing” mentality where we eat everything off plan when we know we cannot be on point. We often justify this behavior with the belief that we will negate any effort if we cannot be 100%. That could not be further from the truth. It is about being as consistent as we can be given the circumstances. Having the best “overall grade average” is how we succeed in what we are trying to accomplish.
If we can maintain a healthy relationship with food when adopting a new pattern of eating, we will greatly increase our overall quality of life and our chances of reaching our nutrition related goals. Feeling powerless over food and food controlling our life is no way to live. This robs us of our happiness. Remember, the food we choose is our choice. People should not have influence over what we eat and how much. They should have no say in our actions. Leave emotion out of it, especially guilt and negativity. It is a choice, a purpose, a goal, and the acceptance of the actions we take.