Having worked extensively in the health and fitness industry for decades, I have come into contact with so many different people with varying relationships to food. The truth is that so many people don’t know how to have a healthy relationship with food. It’s not something to beat yourself up about because this is where these negative patterns come to be, but it’s quite important to identify where you stand when it comes to the food you eat, and how you can improve the way you view and consume food.
As women, most of us have been brought up in a society that supports negative relationships to food and health. Anorexia, bulimia, obesity, fat shaming, thin shaming, all over body shaming… all of these trains of thought have contributed to us becoming brainwashed into thinking that a certain size and body type is the pinnacle point to be attained. But we’re all different. Instead of celebrating our uniqueness we’ve been made to feel that we need to aspire to be something else. This is where the negative relationships with food start to develop and it shows up in so many different guises.
- Eating to make yourself feel better
- Starving yourself to feel as though you’re reaching your dream weight or body goals
- Restricting meals only to binge later
- Not eating the foods you love because they’re “bad” for you
- Eating anything and everything and then vomiting it up
- Eating simply for the sake of eating
Along my journey, I’ve encountered at least one person who matched up to each of these unhealthy habits. I have to admit that I say this with sadness because this life is meant to be enjoyed and savoured, and every moment should be spent thriving, not worrying about how many calories we’ve consumed.
That’s not to say that I don’t think about what I eat, I do. I am fully conscious of everything I eat and I feel that this is where the difference lies. Being conscious about the food you eat allows you to make a whole-hearted decision about what foods you put in your mouth. Is it going to serve you in a positive way? Is it going to nourish you? Is it something that you are craving? By acknowledging any one of these I can make an appropriate decision related to why I want to eat the food I’m about to consume.
Think about these points and how they apply to the way you eat your food. Do you gobble it up in front of the TV and suddenly look down and your plate is empty? Hmmm… well you’re not alone! And it’s exactly this scenario that is one of the main culprits that contributes to an unhealthy relationship to food.
If you’ve resonated with the above paragraphs at all, then these pointers will help you develop a healthier relationship to food and also help you appreciate and enjoy the food you eat so much more.
1. Be Present When You Eat
By being fully conscious of the food you prepare and put in your mouth, you are fully committing yourself to the act of eating. We are so often found to be eating on the run, in the car, scoffing down a wrap as we run from one part of life to another. Not only does this set you up for a classic case of indigestion, but you also miss out on the entire experience of the food and eating it.
If you’re anything like me, you think that everything about food is an experience. From the preparation to the presentation, to the taste and after-eating feeling of satisfaction. I love to take my time when I cook so that I can pour myself into the meal I’m making for the family. When it comes to eating, it’s all about the look, balance of colours, smell, taste… every element of my food is savoured and then afterwards, I’m 100% satisfied. How often do you consciously consume the food on your plate? Try and take your time with it and experience every sense and emotion it evokes. Be in the moment. It truly is a special experience that should be enjoyed!
2. Avoid TV Or Distractions When You Eat
Eating food while you watch TV is a comforting feeling… and yes, I totally eat pizza in front of a divine movie on a Friday night! But… done consistently and on an ongoing basis, it’s a recipe for developing unhealthy relationships with food. Nine times out of ten, you are focused on the television and not on your food. Before you know it, your plate is empty and you didn’t even notice the food going down your gullet. Always refer back to point number one: conscious eating is an experience to be enjoyed and savoured.
You often also find that when you’ve been eating with distractions you feel like you want to eat more because you “missed out” on the experience the first time around. Sound familiar? Set time aside to enjoy your meal with friends or family and notice the difference you feel in satisfaction afterwards.
3. Eat What You Love… In Moderation
I’ve never been very good at restricting foods from my daily diet (except for meat and fish… obvs), so perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones. I love too many delicious foods to mention and I find it very difficult to accept that I can’t eat them in this lifetime because they’re not very healthy. I’m not being a good advocate for optimal health right now, but I feel that you need to be mature about this.
Things like boiled sweets and lollipops do my head in because they are just pure sugar and so bad for your teeth! I cringe watching kids eat them, so perhaps I am a bit of a hypocrite because I totally restrict my family from eating those sorts of things! But a good old (veggie) burger and chips, pizza, ice cream, chocolate, Woolworths Pecan and Fudge Shortbread or choc-chip cookies! All those good things. I adore them and I still eat them, but not every day. I know my body, I know what I’ve eaten, I know how much energy I’ve expended, so I know when I can eat a whole pizza for dinner and not feel the slightest bit bad about it. But eating one a day? That’s not going to cut it. That’s also not moderation.
Friday nights are my pizza and movie night. I also often find myself face to face with a slab of Lindt chocolate (which I usually share with my family) on a Friday night and I enjoy every moment of it. But then that’s usually enough for me for the whole week. I also make sure that on a Friday afternoon I go for a run and I “earn” my pizza… I know it sounds lame, but this is how I’ve constructed balance in my life when it comes to food and fitness. Everyone is different, but you get an idea of what I mean by moderation and still enjoying the things you love. On your terms.
You have to find your own personal balance and that only comes from listening to and knowing your body.
4. Don’t Skip Meals
The worst thing you can ever do is skip meals, especially breakfast. Think about how long your body has gone without fuel overnight and now you want to wake up, make it go and not give it any sustenance? Breakfast is a must-have, but then so are mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, a decent lunch and delicious dinner. Most people can actually afford to eat more than they currently do, but the funny thing is that they’re overweight from not eating enough food. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s true.
When you’re more hungry, you tend to overeat when the next meal time rolls around. Plus your body has become so run down from not having enough nutrients to keep it going, that when it does actually get some fuel it holds onto it as storage. Kind of like a back-up plan in case you decide not to eat again for an extended period of time.
You can keep your metabolism working regularly and efficiently by feeding your body regularly and when you’re hungry.
5. Know When You’re Hungry And When You’re Full
It’s important to differentiate between real hunger and the need for food, or simply being bored and wanting a snack. This is often the cause of overeating and also eating the wrong kinds of foods. It comes down to knowing and understanding your body once more. The more in tune you are, the easier it is to recognise real hunger pangs and not a simple urge to eat.
The same applies for when you’re mid-chow-down and not willing to stop for anything. We often eat too much and go beyond the point of satiating our hunger and need for food by simply eating everything on our plate. This is especially relevant to people who were brought up with the mindset that everything had to be eaten off their plates at every meal.
I do hate wasting food, but I also know that once I’m full, if I carry on eating simply for the sake of it, I will feel uncomfortable and even ill afterwards. When we eat too quickly, our bodies haven’t yet had time to start processing the food properly and before we know it, we’ve finished our meal, we’ve over-eaten and we feel sick. For that reason it’s important to take your time… enjoy each mouthful and be present in the entire event.
5. Plan Your Meals Ahead
If you plan your meals and snacks ahead of time and shop for them in advance, you can buy only the ingredients you need for healthy, well-rounded meals. You also have less chance of snacking on unhealthy foods, because you won’t have access to them. You’ll start to find that when you only have foods with decent nutritional value at your disposal, your body becomes accustomed to these and starts to dislike junkier types of foods. I’m not saying this is a sure fire way to completely transform your eating habits, but when you’re forced to snack on fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and healthier foods, your body starts enjoying the value they offer.
I sometimes get to the point where I have to go shopping if my choices are limited to toast or cereal bars. My body craves fresh foods but I wasn’t always this way inclined. These days, I know that when I eat I am feeding my one and only body and that I’m giving it the nutrition it needs to thrive. I honour my body and it would be a complete disservice to feed it rubbish.
Food should be celebrated and meal times should be shared, loved and savoured. Try and make some small changes and see how it improves your relationship to food.