Turning A Negative Relationship with Food Into A Positive One

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According to the National Eating Disorder Association, this only represents two to three percent of the country, but studies suggest that up to 50 percent of Americans have a “disordered” relationship with exercise, their body and food.

Disordered eating is an unhealthy relationship with food and weight. We know our bodies need food in order to function and be healthy, but when eating becomes a source of shame and fear, then an unhealthy relationship with food has formed.

So what does an unhealthy relationship with food look like?

You may have an unhealthy relationship with food if:
  • You have rigid rules about food (specific times for eating, what food you can eat, the amount of food you eat, etc.)
  • You feel guilty about eating
  • You binge
  • Binge eating is followed by feelings of guilt and shame
“It’s impossible to say that we shouldn’t have a relationship with food,” said Kary Woodruff, a registered dietitian at TOSH –The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, Utah. “My work with patients – regardless of their nutrition goals – is to help them improve with the way they look at food so it develops into a healthy and nourishing relationship.”

Here are some tips that Woodruff recommends to foster a positive relationship with food:

Mindful eating
Mindful eating means being present and in the moment when you’re eating. It’s one of the best ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. To eat mindfully, avoid distractions such as the computer, television, or eating in a hurry.

“When you eat mindfully, you engage all of your senses – what the food looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like as you chew it, and of course what it tastes like,” Woodruff says. “There’s no better way to really enjoy our food than by eating mindfully.”

Mindful eating doesn’t take a lot of time either. Even taking five or 10 minutes to enjoy your snack can make it much more satisfying. You’re also much less likely to overeat when you eat mindfully because you’re much more aware of your hunger and your fullness.

Examine how you view food.
Do you view food as the enemy? As something that either causes weight gain or weight loss?

“While answers to these questions can be elements to what food means to us, if we encompass a broader perspective of food we can improve our relationship with food,” Woodruff says.

For example, when you view food as something that nourishes you, something that gives you energy to enjoy your day-to-day life, as something that helps you celebrate and enjoy social occasions with friends and something that gives you the nutrients to achieve optimal health, you can improve our relationship with food.

Try it! Ask yourself, “What are all of the ways in which food enhances my quality of life?”

Look at what you expect food to do for you.
Examine if food has become a coping mechanism for you. Is food something you turn to when you’re stressed? Sad? Overwhelmed? Experiencing anxiety? If that’s the case, you need to be aware of it.

“Once you’re aware, you can look to develop other ways in which you cope with your emotions,” Woodruff says. “If you’re sad, can you reach out to a friend? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, can you take some time to come up with an action plan for what you can control? If you’re feeling anxious, can you try journaling or writing out your emotions? If you’re stressed, can you see if some exercise or a walk can help alleviate the stress?”

It’s natural for food to provide some level of comfort, but if it becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism, it’s time to develop other ways to cope. If you need support, a therapist can be a helpful resource, Woodruff says.