5 Signs Your Food Relationship Could Use Some Work + 3 Dietitian Tips to Improve Your Food Relationship!Oct 03, 2023
When we think about relationships, we often think about our partners, friends, and family. However, another significant relationship is the one we have with food. In some cases, the way that we think about food and interact with it can hold us back from the life we want to live. So how do we know our food relationship is complicated or even harmful? Our dietitian, Hannah Murray, is sharing five signs your food relationship may need some work and three tips to improve your relationship with food!
Five Signs That Your Food Relationship Needs Work
While many factors may warrant us to examine our relationship with food, these five clues can offer insights into whether our food relationship could use some work.
1.”BLACK AND WHITE THINKING” AROUND FOOD
Labelling foods as “good” and “bad” is characteristic of a compromised relationship with food.
For example: a salad is a “good food” because it is low calorie and ice cream is a “bad food” because it is high in calories. Other common examples of unhelpful food categorization include “junk food”, “clean food”, or “unhealthy food”.
When we label food as “good” or “bad” we attach morality to it which may elicit an emotional reaction. For example, one might subconsciously internalize that they are 'bad’ for eating a food that has been labelled as “bad”. This labelling can cause feelings of guilt or shame which may perpetuate disordered eating or negative body image.
As you navigate your relationship with food, remember that food isn’t inherently good or bad. Eating a variety of foods for a variety of reasons is a part of fostering a healthy relationship with food. You can read more about the Vitality Nutrition “fuel the body, feed the soul” philosophy here.
DIETITIAN NOTE: listen to the Vitality Nutrition podcast episode here where Hannah shares tips for parents on how they can talk about nutrition in a way that fosters a healthy relationship with food for the entire family!
2. WHEN YOU EAT ALONE YOUR FOOD CHOICES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT THAN WHEN YOU EAT WITH OTHER PEOPLE
If your food choices differ depending on whether you are alone or with others it may be a sign that your thoughts or behaviours around food are unsupportive.
For example, feeling guilty if you eat an ‘unhealthy’ food around others, feeling anxious at the thought of eating food prepared at a restaurant, or experiencing more frequent binges when alone.
A fear of eating with others can negatively impact quality of life and one’s ability to enjoy a variety of foods that are physically and mentally satisfying.
3. YOU USE EXERCISE AS A WAY TO COMPENSATE FOR EATING
Exercising to compensate for calories consumed (compensatory exercise) is common among disordered eaters and those suffering from negative body image. It’s often performed to ease feelings of guilt and shame when one eats beyond predetermined amounts, consumes disallowed foods, or binges.
Phrases like “earn it” or “burn it” denote that eating and exercise have a direct relationship. While eating to fuel activity is an important cornerstone of sports nutrition, exercising to be “able” to eat or exercising to compensate for overeating or binge eating can be damaging to one’s relationship with both food and movement.
“Calorie math”, the concept of energy intake and exercise output as a means of manipulating weight, can be a sign that your relationship with food and movement is compromised. Calorie data (eg. calories burned) is regularly communicated via treadmills, fitness app, and trackers. If this metric is internalised as the amount you should or shouldn’t eat then it may be time to evaluate your relationship with food and exercise!
Disengaging from disordered exercise behaviours and creating more compassionate goals around movement can be a challenge. Working with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in disordered eating (like Hannah Murray) can be key as you explore limiting beliefs or unhelpful patterns around food and movement.
4. YOU THINK ABOUT FOOD A LOT
What percentage of your thoughts are about food or your body? For example, planning what you will eat next, evaluating your body in the mirror, fantasizing about certain foods, or reading or watching content related to food and nutrition.
If the majority of thoughts are about food or your body then your approach to nutrition may be taking up too much mental real estate and potentially holding you back from focusing on other important areas of your life! Adopting therapeutic strategies with the support of a Registered Dietitian and therapist can help you adopt strategies to consistently nourish your body while placing less emphasis on food and your body.
5. YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE POOR WILLPOWER AROUND FOOD
If you feel that you have poor willpower around food, particularly in the evening, then it may be a sign that your approach to nutrition needs to change. Individuals who suffer from disordered eating often place rules around eating which create mental and physiological deprivation. Undereating throughout the day can lead to overeating later in the day as a physiological response to hunger. Furthermore, the mental restriction of not allowing certain foods can give those foods more ‘power’ which can cause binge eating or overeating the disallowed foods.
Oftentimes the individual feels that they struggle to ‘control’ their food intake in the evening because they lack willpower. However, in many causes it is not a lack of willpower but a physical demand for nourishment or a mental fixation on foods that have been labelled as “bad” or “off limits.”
Three Dietitian Tips to Improve Your Relationship With Food
There are many strategies and tools to overcome unsupportive thoughts or behaviours around food. Below are three tips from Dietitian Hannah to work towards a healthier relationship with food.
1. REFRAME YOUR FOOD RULES
Strict food rules often lead to disordered eating. Reframing harmful thoughts or food rules to less harmful thoughts or supportive affirmations is an important step in improving your food relationship.
For example, “I can’t eat after 7pm because I’ll gain weight” can be reframed to “my body is capable of metabolising food at any time of day” or “ice cream is a bad food” can be reframed to “no food is inherently good or bad"
The food rules or thoughts that hold you back from a trusting relationship with food and your body will be unique to your life experiences and history with food and dieting. A Registered Dietitian, like Hannah Murray, can help you identify the thoughts that do not support your wellness so that you can rewrite new thoughts and create supportive habits that enhance your physical and mental health.
3. EAT REGULARLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY
“If you are physically undernourished you have lost the game on food relationship” - Hannah Murray, RD
When someone is under-fed, they are not able to engage in other therapeutic avenues to improve their food relationship. When someone is undernourished they are functioning from a primal need for nutrition and energy requirements need to be met as a primary step.
For example, if your goal is to overcome emotional eating you will not be able to address the emotion and create new responses if you are physically hungry or underfed.
Oftentimes, working with a dietitian to establish an approach to nutrition that ensures you are meeting your energy and nutrient requirements needs to happen before working on ‘higher up’ therapeutic strategies like reframing thoughts, working through challenging emotions, and establishing a new perspective on food.
3. TAKE A BREAK FROM FOOD AND BODY FOCUSED BEHAVIOURS
When we have identified that our relationship with food and our body needs work it is therapeutic to remove the focus we’ve placed on food and our body.
This approach will be unique depending on your past experiences and current behaviours. Some examples of letting go of food and body focused behaviours include:
- Stop food tracking and delete food tracking Apps
- Stop checking body weight
- Reduce body checking (eg. reduce time spent looking in mirrors)
- Limit content related to food, fitness, and wellness (eg. videos, fitness posts, wellness podcast, others)
- Limit social media time
Your relationship with food is complex and can’t always be solved on your own. Professional support and guidance can help you transform your relationship with food and overall health. A Registered Dietitian, like Hannah Murray, can help you identify your deep-rooted history with food and provide support to improve your quality of life.
DIETITIAN NOTE: Hannah also works directly with parents and families who are seeking support to build a positive and supportive family food environment for their children or navigate nutrition-related challenges their children are experiencing.
Reach out to our team of Registered Dietitians to get started on your journey to improving your food relationship or book directly with Hannah here. Hannah supports clients in-person in Saskatoon and virtually across Saskatchewan and Alberta including Regina, Edmonton, and Calgary.
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