Have you ever heard of the phrase "relationship with food"? Lately there has been conversation that references this concept. But if you haven't heard of it, you may be wondering what exactly this means. After all, how can someone be in a relationship with food? And how exactly does one have a "healthy" relationship with food? Where do I even begin? It makes sense you might have all of these questions and more.
Let's start with what a relationship with food is.
The web definition of a relationship is:
The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected
Think of a positive relationship you have with another person in your life. You are connected to them in one way or another through that relationship. Now think about the features of your relationship that make it a positive one. Although it's probably not a perfect relationship, it most likely brings enrichment and joy to your life. It probably also features strong values of trust, support, and communication. And since no relationship is perfectly harmonious, it must involve plenty of understanding, forgiveness, and doing your best in the face of challenges.
Now take these features of a healthy relationship and apply them to food. The relationship we have with food isn't all that different! Food is something we have to have a relationship with several times a day and it is one of our most important relationships.
A Healthy Relationship with Food Is...
Just like human relationships, a healthy relationship with food is one that features trust. Trusting your body and your body trusting that you will listen to it and be the provider of its needs. Your body communicates its needs to you and you listen to those needs - whether they are survival, hunger, satisfaction, or emotional. Your body then depends on you to care for it and respond to its needs accordingly. In return, food provides support through nourishment and satisfaction.
Like all relationships, your relationship with food is not one of perfection and you won't always make seemingly perfect decisions. But in a healthy relationship, you can still trust that your body will adapt and thrive even in these situations.
Most importantly, when you have a healthy relationship with food and you trust your body, you will have freedom and space for what matters most in life, whatever that is for you.
Ellyn Satter provides this definition of "normal eating", which is another great example of what a healthy relationship with food looks like.
A healthy, positive, and trusting relationship with food should be the norm, yet why is it elusive to so many?
Challenges of Creating a Healthy Relationship with Food
Unfortunately, having a healthy relationship with food is not the norm in our culture. Our culture teaches that our body cannot be trusted with decisions regarding health and well-being. That we must follow a set of rules and exert control over our body and choices.
Don't believe me? Think about how much messaging you're exposed to daily regarding dieting, weight loss, and thin bodies. Messages of "portion control", "guilt-free" and "zero calories" riddle the fronts of food packaging. Before and after photos come up while scrolling through social media. Restaurants now feature choices that fit the latest dieting trends. Your friends talk about their latest diet or "lifestyle" for "managing their weight".
These messages are only a few of many many examples. And they are impossible to escape. They tag our bodies and food as the enemy that must be controlled. It can be so easy for the ways of our culture to become our norm with these messages constantly inundating us. No wonder a trusting and positive relationship with food is so hard to come by these days.
If you feel far from having a healthy relationship with food it is not at all your fault. It is the fault of the environment and culture we live in. Building a healthy relationship with food is a real challenge in the midst of diet culture. Going against the cultural norm can be a scary and isolating experience. The path of sticking with these cultural ways may seem easier and more enticing. But think hard about this for a moment - is this really the easier path? By rejecting these messages and rules imposed by the culture and making a truce with food and your body, you will discover a life of peace and contentment with food.
Building a healthy relationship with food is a process of unlearning, relearning, trusting, and persevering and it is 100% possible. You deserve to have a nourishing and joyful relationship with food and you can start today.
A Healthy Relationship with Food Starts with Understanding
The first step towards building a healthy relationship with food is understanding. It is important to gain a deeper understanding of what your current relationship looks like and what has shaped it over the years.
Think back to your school days. Did you ever have a teacher give you a test on the first day of class? While this always seemed like the worst start to a new school year, the teacher had a method to their madness. What they were most likely doing through this test is taking an assessment of your prior knowledge. Every student comes to class with varying levels of knowledge and experiences. The teacher takes an assessment of this first to determine what and how they need to teach.
Just like taking an assessment test, doing an assessment of your food-related past and knowledge is a critical first step to achieving a long-term, healthy relationship with food. Besides, having a deeper understanding can then help guide you towards the next steps of building your new relationship.
Take a moment to reflect on your past and how your thoughts and feelings towards food have evolved. Consider exploring the following questions to get you thinking:
- What was food like in your house growing up?
- How did the people closest to you think about food and their body?
- What are some of your first memories about food? About your body? When did you notice these experiences and thoughts starting to change?
- Have there been times when you've felt neutral about food and your body? When was this and how has this changed?
- What are your current thoughts and feelings regarding food? Your body?
- What types of food and body messaging are you exposed to?
These are just a few questions to get your thinking started. There are years of history with food under your belt and therefore you cannot expect to understand it all in a matter of minutes and with just a few questions. Your relationship with food is one that is deep and complex and will take effortful thought and unpacking to really understand. And it will take time. There may be parts of your food-related past that you've never explored and may not be ready to and that's okay. Although with each piece you unpack and work to heal, you are making space for a new relationship to grow and flourish.
You're Deserving of a Healthy Relationship with Food
Establishing a trusting and positive relationship with food is so much easier said than done. The truth is that it is really hard and will not be a linear process. It is a process of unlearning, relearning, setbacks, and perseverance and will most certainly take time. It may make you sad, angry, and confused. That's okay. Allow yourself to feel those feelings and give yourself the space and time you need to adapt to these changes.
Notice any judgmental and chaotic thoughts and extend compassion and care to yourself. After all, the goal of creating these healthy relationships is all about caring for yourself in a better and more compassionate way. A newfound relationship with food is waiting for you, one that is authentic and unique to YOU. You are so deserving of it and you can start today.
So What's the Next Step?
Wondering what's next? After starting to understand your past relationship with food how do you move forward with creating a new one?
Well you're in luck! I have created a FREE guide with 6 simple steps to start healing your relationship with food today.
Click here to download your FREE guide and start your journey toward food freedom and joyful living.