Relationship with food

Never underestimate the value of a healthy relationship with food and eating. We know a lot about what to eat, but are we paying close enough attention to why we choose the foods we do?  When we understand more about and how our thoughts, feelings and past experiences impact what we eat, it can help take us one step closer towards truly eating well.    

Find out what your relationship with food really is like   

Simply put: it’s how you feel about food and eating

When I first brought up this topic at home, my husband gave me a confused look and said – what the heck is a relationship with food?  This made me realize, although we all have this relationship, we may not all notice it or understand it.  That’s okay – that’s what I’m here for! 

How we relate to food includes all the thoughts, emotions and actions that take place around food and eating. 

  • Certain foods may bring:
    • joy
    • stress
    • guilt
    • fear
    • or many other thoughts and emotions  
  • You may find your struggle with emotional eating – using food as a way to celebrate, soothe, or numb feelings. 
  • You may tune into your mindful eating and notice all the amazing flavors & textures of a food.  Or, you may realize you’ve eaten a whole meal without truly tasting any of it.

Here’s another way to think about it:  When you’re deciding what to eat, you may be factoring in the cost, how much time it takes to prepare, the taste, health qualities, how hungry you are…the list goes on. 

  • Is there any part of this process that feels really tense?  
  • Does it ever feel like you’re battling it out in your brain to make a choice about food?  
  • Or do you ever feel like the choice you did make about eating impacts your whole mood for the day?  
Emotional eating
Photo by Thought Catalogue on Unsplash

Why should we be paying attention to your relationship with food?

Do you ever take a look at someone’s grocery cart, notice their lunch at work, or scan their meal as you walk by their table at a restaurant?  The truth is, we all notice these things!  What thoughts go through your head when you’re noticing these things? Some of the obvious ones are thoughts like ‘Oo that looks good!’, Or ‘not what I’d choose’.  But start digging a bit deeper: do you start making assumptions about that person, based on their food choices? Maybe assumptions about who they are as a person, whether or not they are ‘healthy’, or eating ‘right’?  

Now, if you have all of that internal dialogue around what other people are eating, can you imagine the thoughts and judgements you are having about your own food choices?  

But at the end of the day, the food we eat does not make us good or bad people.  If you eat an organically grown heirloom tomato at lunch it doesn’t make you any more worthy or valuable than the person who ate a regular tomato (or no tomato).  And on the flip side, if you decided to grab a milkshake for a snack, you aren’t stupid or lazy or any of the other negative thoughts that may come up.   

Through the years, in my work as a dietitian, I’ve talked to clients from all walks of life, many with chronic illnesses or diseases. One common thing I’ve found is that no matter how much money you have, or what level of education you have, at the end of the day those with a dysfunctional relationship with food had a really difficult time working towards becoming healthy.  I realized, it isn’t just how much we know about food or nutrition, but how we think about food and eating that has a ripple effect through so many parts of our lives, and can either support or tear down our wellbeing.

Repairing a dysfunctional relationship with food

As you start listening to the subtle (or not-so-subtle) thoughts you have around food and eating, you may start to notice tension or frustration. You might realize, your relationship with food is just not working right now.  Just like any relationship, when things are dysfunctional, it can impact our physical and mental health.  When our relationship with food is off balance, we may find it difficult to make healthy choices, cope with emotions, or fully enjoy our lives. 

Aim for a neutral approach towards eating

Once you understand how you relate to food, you can begin to make shifts towards more neutral approaches to food and eating.  When we think of all foods as simply nourishing our bodies or our minds, this frees us up from judgement around ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods.  

When food is just food, we can truly understand that it’s just one part of our health – not the only part. This can open the door to understanding that there are so many other ways to support our health overall.  A healthy relationship with food can also allow us to truly enjoy all the other important parts of life too.

Positive Eating Relationship
Photo by Caju Gomes on Unsplash

Picture a world where going back for seconds at dinner, simply meant that you were more hungry than usual that day and you are just listening to your body’s cues.  Or you decline the birthday cake, just because you don’t truly like cake.  Or, after a heartbreak, you end up going for a walk, take a bubble bath, and call a friend to help you cope.  For some people, this exists – maybe not every day, and every time, but it does exist. A healthy relationship with food can support a really amazing quality of life. 

Reach out for help

For many people, this neutral approach is not easy.  It takes a lot of work, and it’s okay if you need help with this – a counsellor or therapist may help you to find other ways to cope with emotional eating, for example.  A dietitian may help support you in finding new or different ways to eat that still supports your health.  You may start talking to friends, family, and coworkers about what you’ve learned, challenging the ‘norms’ around foods, and you may even need to set boundaries to help protect your new relationship with food.  

Repairing a dysfunctional relationship with food takes time and effort – but I know it can be done!  I’ve had clients come back and tell me that they’ve allowed themselves to enjoy bread again, after truly fearing it for years.  I’ve had people report back to me that they now include dessert at supper from time to time, with little to no guilt attached. You can hear the excitement in their voices because the stress around food has subsided – it’s like an invisible weight has lifted off their shoulders.

Make peace with food

So, are you ready to feel the freedom that comes with a healthy relationship with food?  It’s time to reconnect with eating, and make peace with mealtimes.  You can start working on it today – or whenever you’re ready.  And if you need help, all you have to do, is reach out

*Note: this article is intended for general purposes only, and is not intended to replace individual medical or health advice from a regulated health professional or mental health provider.  Please seek one-on-one support for specific health concerns with your trusted health care provider.