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Do you want to have a healthy relationship with food? How are diets destroying food culture?
Your body needs food and nourishment to survive, so you shouldn’t restrict yourself from giving your body what it needs. Yet, harmful diets that perpetuate unrealistic body images and discourage listening to your body get in the way of a good relationship with food.
Below we’ll look at how to have a healthy relationship with food by ignoring diet culture and finding joy in eating.
Why Diets Are Harmful
The pressure to be thin motivates many of us to adopt diets that promise not only to control our weight and improve our health but also to increase our happiness. The underlying implication is that being lean makes us happier by positively affecting our body image, self-esteem, and how others perceive us.
However, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s book Intuitive Eating argues that succumbing to these pressures is often harmful to our physical health, body image, and self-esteem. Why does this happen? According to the authors, it’s because the pressure to adhere to diets gives rise to four negative consequences that damage our relationship with food. These consequences make it challenging to sustain a healthy lifestyle or derive pleasure from what we eat:
- Diets perpetuate harmful body image beliefs.
- Diets increase the risk of weight gain.
- Diets trigger self-judgment and self-blame.
- Diets disrupt bodily awareness and nutritional needs.
Tips to Help You Love Food
Dieting and reducing your food intake has grave consequences on your health, as Tribole and Resch mentioned above. Although dieting promises you wonderful things that you think you want, loving food nourishes your body in the long run.
Here are ways to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and with your body.
1. Listen to Hunger Cues
As you work on freeing yourself from the pressure to diet and learning how to have a healthy relationship with food, practice listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Intuitive Eating says that this practice offers multiple benefits: It helps you notice and fulfill your hunger—which, in turn, prevents extreme hunger and curbs intense cravings, and it enables you to satisfy your body’s needs without falling into the trap of overeating.
The authors offer the following advice for tuning in to your body’s hunger and fullness cues:
1) Practice mindful eating by assessing your hunger levels before, during, and after each meal. This allows you to become more aware of how much and how often your body requires nourishment.
2) Pay attention to bodily sensations that indicate hunger, such as a grumbling stomach or low energy levels. When you experience a hunger cue, eat promptly to avoid excessive hunger—being too hungry makes it challenging to discern what food your body needs and when it’s had enough.
3) Ensure easy access to food by preparing meals and snacks in advance. This eliminates feelings of deprivation that trigger overeating because you can confidently stop eating when you’ve had enough, knowing that you can meet your body’s needs whenever hunger arises.
4) Consume food every three to four hours. This practice is particularly beneficial if you’ve lost touch with your body’s natural hunger cues—consistent meal patterns can help your body regain a reliable sense of hunger.
Distinguish Between Physical and Emotional Hunger
In addition to listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, practice distinguishing between physical and emotional hunger. This will help you recognize when you may be using food to fulfill needs other than physical nourishment. For example, you may be using it as a coping mechanism for emotional discomfort or as a means of distraction.
According to Tribole and Resch, recognizing how you use food to address your emotional needs offers two significant benefits: First, it enables you to make more conscious eating choices based on your body’s physical cues, allowing you to respond to genuine hunger signals. Second, it empowers you to explore alternative and more fulfilling ways to meet your emotional needs, freeing yourself from relying solely on food.
They suggest that you identify your emotions when you catch yourself eating when you’re not physically hungry. This can involve various techniques such as sitting with your emotions and experiencing them, journaling to express and understand your feelings, or confiding in someone you trust to gain clarity.
2. Eat Meals Over Snacks
If you eat only three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and eat them with other people, you can have a healthy relationship with food and promote a positive food culture, says Michael Pollan in his book In Defense of Food.
Why is this a big deal? Those of a certain age will remember the culture of family meals and the benefits gained.
- People socialized around a table, sharing knowledge and intimacy.
- Parents modeled positive eating habits, such as eating healthy portions or not wasting food.
- Children learned manners and how to converse socially.
At one point, American culture was defined by group and family meals. Not anymore. One study found that one-fifth of all eating for people aged 18 to 50 years old happened in the car. And although many families state they eat 3 or 4 meals together a week, those meals resemble little of the old customs.
Family members now tend to forage for their own meals before sporadically making their way to the communal table, if they do at all. As soon as they’re finished eating, they leave the table. Social graces and culture have very little to do with the way American families eat these days. Still, nothing has threatened a healthy food culture more than snacks. Snacking now occurs in places that were once food-free environments. For instance, workplaces have well-stocked kitchens, and a box of pastries or bagels can often be found in work meetings. Times between meals are filled with foods packaged specifically for snacking.
Our snacking culture is so big, that cars were redesigned to support it. Cup holders are large enough to fit a bottle of soda or Big Gulp. Glove compartments are refrigerated. And snack portions continue to grow. These snacks are rarely fruit slices or vegetable sticks. They are flavored, processed refined carbs, hydrogenated oils, salt, and sweeteners. This culture is so ingrained, that changing it must be intentional. The following considerations can help.
1) Eat only at a table.
- A desk or bed or car seat is not a table. To curb your snacking, eat only when you are seated at a proper table.
2) Don’t buy food from gas stations or convenience stores.
- The corn industry’s best client is the gas station. They provide ethanol for your car and high-fructose corn syrup for you. In fact, people spend more money at gas stations on snacks and sodas than on gas. And gas station food is never high-quality and rarely nutritious.
3) Eat with others when possible.
- Communal eating helps curb overeating, likely because there’s an active audience to judge your consumption. You are also more likely to be careless in food choices and mindless about portioning when you eat alone. Food marketers know this and spend millions to make it possible for you to eat quickly by yourself. Plus, when you eat alone, you aren’t supporting a positive or social food culture.
3. Take Care of Your Body
While weight does not define you, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis believes that the care you put into your body does in fact define you and determines where you have a healthy relationship with food.
This message may be criticized and seen as victim blaming. She understands many people abuse their bodies because they have lived through trauma and faced difficult times. Some people turn to food and gain weight as a result of trauma. Other women go in the opposite direction and abuse their bodies via anorexia.
While hard times in life are valid reasons to neglect your physical health for a short time, they are not a life sentence. Your trauma shouldn’t affect your relationship with food in any way. It’s possible to rise above the past and develop a love for food without your trauma getting in the way.
Her advice to you: Staying in an unhealthy body is a choice; she implores women to stop making excuses and justifying living an existence that is less than what they deserve. You can choose to get yourself out of a situation where you’re abusing your body.
You don’t need to be thin, but you do need to be healthy. While you don’t have to look good in a bikini, you should be able to walk up a flight of stairs. Stop filling your body with sugar and chemicals all the time, and focus on fuel that hasn’t been processed. You also need positive fuel for your mind in the form of encouraging input.
If you truly want to love yourself, start with your physical body. Do the work to figure out what’s causing your weight/body issues in the first place. The author studied, went to therapy, and forged new, positive habits to stop the compulsive eating that had been her comfort crutch.
She urges women to understand that there’s no mystery to eating healthy and you don’t need a special diet plan. It can take work to figure out healthy meals you enjoy and a workout plan you’ll stick to, but a healthy and well-cared-for you is worth the effort for a better relationship with food.
Tips on Building a Healthy Body From the Mind Out
Try these strategies when focusing on your physical health:
- Positive mantras. Many women have a lifetime of negative self-talk in their heads. When you replace that voice with positivity (I’m strong, I’m smart, I’m brave), you can begin to believe the truth.
- New content. We are surrounded by images of unattainable perfection in the media. Instead, surround yourself with positive, uplifting role models whose focus is self-love and health. Unfollow perfect Instagram models if it’s making you feel bad.
- Prepare. Anything you want to succeed at, you must prepare for. Creating a healthy body is no exception. Pack your workout bag and schedule your gym time. Have healthy snacks at the ready.
4. Don’t be Afraid of “Bad” Foods
Although Hollis discusses the importance of eating healthy, don’t be afraid to indulge in what are considered “bad” foods from time to time. Finding a good balance between clean eating and having the occasional treat is essential for understanding how to have a healthy relationship with food. The best way to find this balance is to prioritize food satisfaction over food morality. This includes rejecting judgments and biases associated with food, focusing on how different foods make your body feel, and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want without feeling guilty.
Intuitive Eating explains that shifting away from food morality helps you avoid the cycle of dieting, intense cravings, indulgence, and guilt. To overcome this cycle, they suggest focusing on how foods nourish and satisfy your body, rather than labeling them as “good” or “bad.” They recommend the following steps for achieving this:
1) List all of the foods that appeal to you and identify those you’ve been judging as “bad.”
2) Eat each of these so-called “bad” foods, paying close attention to how they make you feel physically. For example, you might identify fries as “bad” and note that eating more than a handful satisfies your taste buds but makes you feel bloated and lethargic.
3) Identify any judgments that trigger feelings of guilt or shame associated with eating these foods. For example, you might believe that fries have no nutritional value, leading to a sense of wrongdoing when consuming them.
4) Examine whether your judgments align with your body’s needs. For example, question why you believe fries have no nutritional value, if this belief truly benefits your well-being, and if fries can fulfill your physical needs when eaten in moderation.
5) Give yourself permission to continue eating the foods that make your body feel good, and allow yourself to savor the experience of eating them without guilt or self-judgment.
Food is so much more than a thing that makes you gain weight. It brings people together culturally, keeps your body well-nourished, and is one of the most important relationships you’ll have in life. Knowing how to have a healthy relationship with food shouldn’t be an optional suggestion—you should actively work to make sure that you and food are on good terms.
What are other ways to help people understand how to have a healthy relationship with food? Let us know in the comments below!
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