WHAT A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD LOOKS LIKE, AND HOW YOU CAN GET THERE

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Fostering healthy relationships are essential for a happy, meaningful life.  Here’s why the one with your body has less to do with the food you put into it, and more to do with your intentions and mindset.


BY: KAYCIE LINDEMAN, RDN

There’s a lot of conversation today that includes the phrase “healthy relationship with food”. If you’re someone new to this phrase you might be curious: why is everyone talking about this? What does a “healthy relationship with food” even mean?

Today’s culture teaches you that you cannot be trusted to properly nourish your body. It encourages you to follow a set of “rules” when it comes to what, when, and how you eat. When you break these “rules” it is expected that you compensate.

The result? You are left with feelings of uncertainty, rigidity, and shame.

Not ideal, right? If you are someone who has experienced these feelings in one way or another, you know how painful and unpleasant they can be.

So, how do you change the landscape of how you think and feel about food? Where do you even start? You have to unlearn these things that society has instilled deep within you. And you have to understand your relationship with food before you can heal it.

But first, what is a healthy relationship with food anyway?

A healthy relationship with food involves a trusting relationship with your body. You can trust your body and your body can trust you. You trust that your body is functioning to the best of its ability, and your body trusts that you’ll provide it with the proper nourishment in return.

It doesn’t involve a set of rules telling you when, how, or what to eat. It involves you listening to your body and responding to its needs accordingly. There are no “good” or “bad” foods, so in return there isn’t any shame or guilt after eating a certain food. It tends to be more peaceful versus chaotic.

Ultimately, a healthy relationship with food fosters a sense of freedom and adaptability allowing you to experience a fulfilled life outside of critical and obsessive food thoughts. Now, doesn’t that sound pleasant?

Unfortunately, there’s a reason this relationship isn’t your norm.  We live in a society that is obsessed with dieting, moralistic eating, weight loss, and thin bodies. This is also known as diet culture.

And, diet culture is incredibly pervasive.

Don’t believe me? The other day I was in the car for fifteen minutes. Within that fifteen minute time frame I heard three radio advertisements promoting dieting and weight loss plans. Imagine if you were exposed to diet culture three times every fifteen minutes within a sixteen hour time frame, assuming you are sleeping the other eight hours of the day.

That would amount to a total of 192 exposures in one day!

Even if you aren’t completely paying attention, you are still exposed to diet culture on some level 192 times within a 24-hour period. That’s a lot, and these diet culture exposures could include multiple things.

It could be a before and after picture on Instagram that’s reinforcing the idea that one body, often the thinner one, is better than the other.

  • It might be Chipotle’s new Facebook advertisement that is promoting their Keto, Paleo, and Whole30 bowls.
  • You might be in the break room at work enjoying lunch as your coworker talks about how they’ve already “failed” their diet.
  • You might be out to dinner with friends who are talking about their new exercise regimen and how it is keeping their “weight in check”.
  • You might be watching your favorite television shows on Hulu and the new Weight Watchers commercial comes on.

These are only a few examples of how diet culture can infiltrate our lives. After all, we are all human, and this consistent messaging leaves us vulnerably susceptible to diet culture’s pervasive ways. No wonder working toward a trusting, flexible relationship with food is so difficult.

The cards are already stacked against you.

But the thing is, it’s important to be aware so that even in the most difficult times, that the complications around forming a healthier relationship with food are not entirely your fault.  These obstacles come from the environment we live in, and its obsession with diet culture.

If you keep this in mind throughout your journey, you’ll find strength even it the most taxing times because it ultimately starts with understanding:

You have to understand your relationship with food before you can heal it.

After all, your current connection with food didn’t simply develop overnight. It likely has been influenced by experiences and learnings that have occurred throughout your entire lifetime. That is what makes your relationship with food so complex and why understanding it can be incredibly useful. Here are a few ways to start learning about what has contributed to your current relationship, and how to unlearn these past beliefs to open yourself up to new ones that help you.

1. Think about your past and how your food ideals have evolved.

Consider making a timeline that includes when you first started thinking about food. Include different diets you have tried or food “rules” you enforced. Think about your mood, thoughts, and feelings during these different food-related adventures.

What did you like?

What didn’t you like?

Why did you end up stopping?

What wasn’t working?

2. Journal your thoughts around food and your body.

You can consider journaling about specific food- and/or weigh-related moments that stick out to you. Some questions you may consider exploring:

  • What was the food environment like when you were growing up?
  • What did the people you looked up to think about food and their body size? Were they always trying to lose weight? Were they trying every new diet on the market?
  • When did you first notice thoughts about changing your body size?
  • Have there been times when your thoughts about food and your body size were neutral? What changed?
  • How do you understand the effects of food on the body? Where was this information learned?
  • What types of food and weight messaging are you continuously exposed to?
3. Be flexible and make room for new ideas.

With each piece of the past that you untangle and unlearn, you are making space for personal growth and a newfound freedom around food.

I invite you to stop looking externally when it comes to your food choices, and to start making decisions that are authentic to your body’s needs. As you start to understand your relationship with food, you will simultaneously start forming a new one.

One that cultivates compassion, trust, and flexibility. One that is unique to the individual you are, because that is how nourishing your body is supposed to be.

Understanding your relationship with food is a process, so it takes time.

Like most things in life, it is not a linear endeavor. You may feel enticed into trying a new diet along the way, and there are bound to be setbacks.

Overcoming the struggles around diet involves a lot of vulnerability, perseverance, and commitment, but it can be a fulfilling journey to embark on.

After all, you deserve a relationship that nourishes your mind and body.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ANNE SOPHIE BENOIT

Kaycie Lindeman, RDN is a Registered Dietitian in Minneapolis, MN. Having worked with cancer patients in the clinical setting, Kaycie advocates for the supportive role of nourishing foods in one’s body during treatment and beyond. Through her experiences, Kaycie extends her work towards helping women who are ready to reclaim their health through a non-diet approach and stand up to society’s unrealistic beauty standards. 

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