If you had to describe your relationship with food, what would you say? Maybe something jumps immediately to mind, or maybe you've never considered your relationship to food before.
When you think about food, do you experience feelings of guilt, fear, or shame? Do you think of food in terms of punishment or reward? Does each food you see automatically earn a label of "good" or "bad"? If you had to guess, what percent of your day do you spend thinking about food or your body?
Hopefully these questions gave you some brief insight into what your relationship with food is like and what it might mean to improve your relationship with food. Many people think that diets and restriction are the path to improving their relationship with food and their body but that couldn't be further from the truth.
Your relationship to food develops over the course of many years and experiences, so there isn't a list of quick steps you can check off to develop a more positive relationship to food. However, there are a few small things you can do to start slowly shifting your relationship with food
1. Ditch the Fitbit or Tracking App
One component of an unhealthy relationship with food is that it dominates your time and mental space. Using apps to track your calories, macros, and/or physical activity just keeps you focused on micromanaging your intake and is a major barrier to relating to food in a positive way. While it may feel scary to eat without these tools at first, the freedom from focusing on the minutiae of each and every item you put in your mouth is key to decreasing guilt, shame, and obsession around food.
2. Revamp Your Social Media
Social media can be a major source of comparison and judgement around food and exercise. If you spend any time at all scrolling through social media each day, following people who post about extreme or unrealistic workout habits or eating perfectly just sets you up for judgement and guilt around your own food choices. Try following accounts that promote positive body image, incorporating all kinds of foods, or that don't talk about food or bodies at all, such as accounts centered around travel, nature, animals, or positive quotes.
3. Practice Permission
Making foods off-limits creates a ton of guilt and shame and sets you up for a chaotic relationship with food. When you practice permission, you are recognizing that, while some foods may have more nutrients or serve different purposes than others, food is not a moral issue. You are not "good" for eating vegetables or "bad" for eating desserts. Food is just food. When you give yourself permission to eat all foods, you remove judgement from the situation and that is a major step toward cultivating a healthier relationship with food.
4. Choose Exercise You Love, Regardless of Calories
Food and exercise are often closely linked because exercise is frequently viewed as a form of punishment for eating past fullness or for eating a food viewed as "bad". No wonder many people don't enjoy physical activity! The next time you exercise, ask yourself if you would still be doing that activity if there was no chance that it would change your body. If the answer is no, it's probably time to look for a new form of activity. Forcing yourself to exercise in this way may seem unrelated to your relationship with food, but it reinforces judgement around food and disconnection from the cues your body is sending you.
5. Consider Satisfaction
When was the last time you ate what you truly wanted to eat, without guilt or judgement? Choosing satisfying foods is a key component in having a positive relationship with food and is often a missing piece when people are used to following rules to decide what to eat. Deciding to get the sandwich you want instead of the salad you feel like you "should" get or having some ice cream in the evening instead of trying to fend off your chocolate craving with fruit can be a great way to enjoy eating more, as well as slowly start building up a more positive relationship with food.