By Marie-Evè Caplette
Can having the desire to “eat well” or having a perfect diet cause harm more than benefits?
Unfortunately, the answer is often yes.
When it comes to health and wellness, nourishing your body shouldn’t come at the expense of your mental health and well-being. Many people develop unhealthy food and weight obsessions.
Developing a healthy relationship with food is important and is something that most of us need to work on.
So what does a healthy relationship with food look like?
Our relationship with food has little to do with what we actually eat. You can eat nutritious foods all day and have a healthy relationship with food, but you can also eat non-nutritious foods all day and you can still have a healthy relationship with food.
Having a good relationship with food is not about what we eat. It is about why we eat, and how those choices make us feel. Here are a few tips on how to nourish your relationship with food.
A positive or neutral attitude towards food
A healthy relationship with food means welcoming all foods with no restrictions and seeing the value in food beyond calories.
This can mean letting go of certain rules that we have set for ourselves. Letting go of food-related behaviours that cause us stress and negative emotions, such as restrictive diets and guilt-inducing rules, can be greatly beneficial. The key word here is “guilt”.
In terms of food “rules, a “rule” could be important for one person’s needs, but for some people, the same “rule” leads to anxiety, guilt, and an unhealthy obsession with what you eat.
For example, not eating peanuts can make a lot of sense to a person who is allergic to peanuts and not cause obsessive thoughts. Also, someone could choose to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, with the rules that this implies, and feel great about this decision.
It’s important to look at whether your food rules help you or if they generate anxiety, stress and obsession. We live in a society where diet culture is pervasive, and for most of us, our food and nutrition beliefs and our relationship with food are impacted by the diet culture messages.
A healthy relationship with food includes flexibility and allows us to honour the different roles of food in our lives.
For example, food has the following roles, to name a few:
- It nourishes our body allowing us to have energy
- It is an important part of our society and culture to share a meal with others
- It plays an emotional role when we eat food that makes us happy and satisfies us
It’s not about giving in to all your heart’s desires and eating whatever, whenever. Rather, it is about recognizing that our diets can vary based on our different needs and making conscious choices accordingly.
Eating in a perfectly imperfect way
A healthy relationship with food also means recognizing that it is useless to aim for 100% compliance with nutritional recommendations. In fact, putting too much energy and thoughts into nutrition can negatively affect our well-being. Did you know that there is a term to describe the obsession with healthy eating? It is called orthorexia. This term is not yet considered an official eating disorder, but health professionals recognize it exists and has harmful consequences, especially at the psychological level.
In short, being flexible with our diet allows us to maintain a balance so that we can enjoy all foods, even if they don’t completely fit with strict nutritional recommendations.
How to develop a healthy relationship with food?
An intuitive eating approach promotes eating with intention rather than following a set of rigid rules, can help improve one’s relationship with food. It involves listening to your body and your hunger and fullness cues and not letting external cues like rules and restrictions guide what you eat.
Hopefully, these tips help you start to work through your relationship with food. It is important to emphasize that developing a healthy relationship with food can be difficult to achieve alone working with a dietitian can be a great help in this process.