It’s probably a bit un-PC to admit this, but the way I look is important to me. I need to be a very certain weight/size to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see.

(Feel free to roll your eyes here and talk about how sad it is that I feel the need to conform to societal norms, but honestly, I don’t care. Being happy with what I see in the mirror makes me feel good and quite frankly, I like feeling good.)

Being my ideal weight/size has a natural enemy however, and that would be my love of food. For most of my life a pitched battle has raged between those two things.

Eventually that battle got so bad that, for roughly 20 of my 35 years on this earth, I spent every minute of Every Single Day obsessing about food. I’d go for a ride in the morning and spend the whole time thinking about what muffin I would eat at the coffee shop afterwards. The second I sat down at my desk at work I’d be wondering what I might have for morning tea. I’d be chowing down on said morning tea and already casting my mind towards lunch. Most days it would be rare for me to go for more than an hour without putting food in my mouth.

Was I even enjoying all this eating I was doing? Nope, because I was also weighing myself every morning (as soon as I woke up, but after a wee of course) and living and dying by what I saw. If the numbers were ‘good’, I’d carry on my merry way. If the numbers were bad I’d get depressed and angrily tell myself to exert some self-control dammit! And by morning tea that self-control would have been tested and found to be wanting. And I loathed myself for that lack of self-control.

I thought because I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic that I didn’t have a problem with food.

I was wrong.

If you’re thinking about food all day every day, then you have a problem with it.

It took me an awfully long time to realise this, but once I did, it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to do something about it. And so started the long and slow process of re-training the way my brain looked at food.

Here’s what I did to break the rather unhealthy cycle I was in. The below isn’t intended to be prescriptive, nor it is based on anything but a sample size of one (me). But since it worked for me maybe it will help others struggling with the relationship they have with food too.

Contents

STEP 1: I stopped looking at food as a reward for exercise

“I’ve gone for a three hour bike ride today so when I get home I can eat whatever I like.”

“I did a two hour run this morning so that totally justifies eating this entire pizza.”

While I do appreciate the health benefits (mental and physical) of exercise, for most of my life exercise has been a license to eat without fear of gaining weight. I know exactly how many calories I expend for any given exercise activity and for a long time I replaced those calories almost exactly with the food I was eating. If I had a day where I didn’t exercise (rare) I would get hugely anxious about what I put in my mouth and try to restrict my calorie intake. If I was successful in restricting my intake I felt deprived, and if I was unsuccessful I would hate myself for having no self-control. It was exhausting.

In the end it was just easier to make sure I exercised every day as it beat feeling deprived or hating myself.

That made the first step in re-training my brain pretty obvious: I needed to break up the relationship between exercising and eating.

I did this simply by consuming the same amount of calories every day (the baseline amount my body needed), regardless of whether I exercised or not.

Doing the above stopped me looking at food as a reward for doing exercise and killed my obsession with calories in vs calories out. It took a while but finally exercise became all about health and well-being for me and nothing to do with food.

STEP 2: I stopped having crap in the house

Human beings are funny. We don’t just eat to fuel our bodies to get through the day. No, we also eat out of boredom and when we’re emotional.I am no different to other humans in this regard so part of re-training my brain with regard to food meant I had to stop heading for the fridge whenever I got emotional or bored. This became particularly important when I started to work from home because it was a pretty short walk from my desk to the kitchen.

So what did I do?

I stopped having crap in the fridge or pantry. It took about 100 unsuccessful forays into the kitchen looking for a (now non-existent) sweet treat, but eventually my brain realised there was no point going there anymore. Now when I am upset I go for a walk and if I am bored I go on twitter

(I know people with kids will say but it’s a bit hard not to have crap in the pantry when you have kids. With all respect, if you shouldn’t be eating something because it’s crap, maybe your kids shouldn’t be eating that thing either?)

In short, if it’s not in your house, then you can’t eat it. Try it for a month and take note of how often you go foraging in the kitchen out of boredom. Trust me, you will find alternate cures for boredom and emotion when you can’t sate them with food!

STEP 3: I quit sugar

I am not keen to get into an argument here about whether sugar is evil or not (it is). But I will assert with confidence that most of the Western world eats too much sugar because frankly, it’s hard to avoid it. I know that I was certainly eating way too much of the stuff and I was keen to come off it for a while and see what it did for me. So I did Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar program and here’s what I found:

  1. My digestive system, which had always been terrible, started to work much, much better (better poo, less popping off).
  2. The stomach bloating that used to plague me in the afternoons disappeared.
  3. I seemed to be carrying less fluid all over. This meant the muscles in my arms and legs looked more defined and I looked fitter than I actually was.
  4. I was eating more fat yet not gaining weight.
  5. My skin looked better.
  6. I found it much, MUCH easier to keep my weight stable.
  7. I stopped craving a sweet fix after every meal and in the evenings.

When I say ‘I quit sugar’ I mean I did Sarah’s program (which I found quite gentle and easy to do) and then once I was finished I stuck to the basic principles of it without being obsessive. I knew I really had sugar beat when I ate tomato sauce one day and it tasted grossly sweet to me. Up till that point I’d have tomato sauce on everything.

So I have stuck with the whole quitting sugar thing. For me it is a healthier way of eating … and one that doesn’t make me feel deprived.

STEP 4: I stopped eating low fat food

In line with the above, I stopped eating anything that was ‘low fat’ because ‘low fat’ simply translates to ‘we’ve replaced the fat with sugar’.

STEP 5: I changed the way I looked at fat

For years fat has been public enemy #1 and I, like everyone else, have avoided it like the plague. But fat has an awful lot of good points – the major ones being its satiety factor and the fact that our brains need fat to function. These days, instead of snacking on lollies I snack on nuts. I seem to be able to eat a LOT of nuts and avocado without gaining weight. Eating more fat also means I don’t feel hungry all the time.

STEP 6: I started eating before I got hungry

This one is pretty simple – I eat three regular meals at the same time each day. I don’t wait till I am starving before I eat because I make pretty terrible food decisions when I am starving. In between my three regular meals I snack on stuff like nuts, or avocado on toast. (I find it hard to over-eat either of those two things, but it’s super-easy to over-eat lollies.)

STEP 7: I stopped baking

If I bake it is generally something out of a packet and thus full of crap. Going by the photos I see on Instagram though, a LOT of what people bake is full of crap (sugar mainly), even when cooked from scratch. When I bake, two adults and one toddler polishes off whatever I bake in half a day. This isn’t healthy for anyone in my house so I decided to stop baking. Going back to #2 above, it seems that no-one in this house has self-control if there is crappy food at hand. Yet when the crap isn’t in the house, we don’t really miss it. So in the end there is no real hardship not having it there.

If you loooooove baking however and can’t bear the thought of stopping – then make it good stuff. Alexx Stuart has a blog full of real food/lox tox recipes. For instance check out her Anzac biscuit recipe here.

STEP 8: I started focusing on what I could eat rather than what I shouldn’t

Now I know what you’re thinking: Gee, what a deprived life you lead Kelly if you never get to eat yummy things anymore. Here are two reasons why I don’t feel deprived:

  1. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I can’t eat. I focus instead on what I can. And believe me there is plenty of yummy stuff that I can eat that is healthy. As I mentioned above, I don’t miss the crap food when it’s not in my house. But if it is there and I try not to eat it, then I will feel deprived.
  2. Since I am not eating crap every day, when I am at a restaurant or a party and something yummy presents itself to me, I eat it AND enjoy it. Revolutionary! I can’t tell you how lovely it is to tuck into a piece of pavlova without thinking to myself gawd, I am going to have to run for an hour tomorrow to work this off.

So there you have it. On conservative estimate it took about two years for me to fully work through the above and break my obsession with food but now that I have, maintaining the weight I like to be has never been easier.

And honestly, life is a lot more fun when you’re not thinking about food every minute of the day.

Hello there! Just checking in to let you know I’ve written a follow-up to the post above here, all about creating good habits around food that help you spend less time thinking about food!.

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Newsflash: “This just in — Diana Potter wants the world to know the truth about her longstanding on-and-off relationship with food. In a hastily called press conference following the explosive announcement that she’s ending her career as a professional overeater, Potter said today:

‘Despite the swirl of rumors surrounding my relationship with Rich Food, it is not true that we are getting a divorce. We remain good friends, and we will continue to have respect and even affection for each other. However, the excitement and magic are gone, and we’ve agreed it’s time to move on.’

“Stay tuned as we follow the twists and turns of this absorbing human drama being played out under the bright glare of public scrutiny.”

Yes, the excitement and magic of uncontrollably stuffing myself with food are gone now. But what a ride it was! I vividly remember the passions my “forbidden love” for food aroused in me: desire, ecstasy, despair — a classic romantic rollercoaster.

Only it was a roller-coaster with only me on it. A wild ride, yes. But a lonely one.

Meanwhile, during the many years I lived this way, the vast, incredibly rich drama and excitement of real life — friends, interests, love, social activities, growth toward goals — went on. And finally the day came when a tiny voice from the deepest part of my mind and heart broke through to protest my fat, lonely life. At last, I began to want more.

It took awhile, though, for that tiny voice of reason to strengthen until it could override the unreasoning fears that food and fat had helped me control for so long. But in therapy, I gradually began to respond to it.

I’ve told you about some of the first actions I took to express my growing desire for change: reading self-help books, writing down my feelings, even loving teddy bears as a step toward having the courage to love the people around me — and to let them know it.

Finally one day I presented myself for therapy, scared of revealing how “bad” I was, fearful of criticism, and amazed that I was actually taking the chance of reaching out to an “other” for help after keeping my distance from others for so long.

How to change your relationship with food

If you’re on Instagram, you know it’s filled with perfectly photoshopped photos of someone’s salad, smoothie bowl, their “Keto lunch,” “Cheat day” meal, or whatever is trendy right now. But how you ever think about the fact is that every one of us interpret those pictures in a very different way?

For example, someone who is looking to lose weight, this person may think, “*Holy st! That must be tons of calories**”; ‘followers’ might be cracking their brains by trying to remake it…

Someone like me who is following Ultimate Portion Fix – I wonder what the container count is; while a busy super-mom may be shaking her head wondering, “How the hell do you have time to prepare it?”

Whatever may be going through your head is a good indicator of your relationship with food. A healthy attitude towards food and healthy eating habits are crucial to achieving your weight loss and weight-management goals.

Here are a few traits of people who have mastered this attitude:

1. They eat food for fuel and health, not to “deal with” emotions

People with a healthy relationship to food see food as a fuel that nourishes their body, allowing them to power through workouts; keeps their body and brain in tip-top shape.

They understand that food isn’t a cure for sadness, boredom, stress, anxiety, or loneliness.

*Interesting fact: Whether you ‘over-eat’ or ‘under-eat’ – you will gain weight.

2. They eat according to their goals

I like to use the example of babies. Babies eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are satisfied. How come that we, as adults, let outside influences to rule over our eating habits?

How often did you give in and ate when you weren’t hungry? Or you had a case of “fake hunger” and devoured everything in sight? How did it make you feel? Guilty? Are you disgusted with yourself? You need to ask yourself “What is my goal” and adapt your eating habits to achieve that goal.

I use the Beachbody Portion-Control Containers. It is a simple and sustainable lifestyle. There are seven colored containers (each color represents a food group). It shows you how balanced eating looks like without counting calories or your macros. This “program” helps you portion out exactly the right amount of food, so you never eat too much or too little. It also helps you to ‘eat on a schedule,’ so your metabolism keeps burning.

Interesting fact: The less frequently you are eating during your day – the slower your metabolism will become. Hence, no weight loss.

Majority of my clients had the idea that the less they eat – the skinnier they become. I was shocked! And horrified! Many of them ate only once a day (it was a huge meal, but still!!).

’Starvation diet’ is definitely a no-no in my world. Starvation diets have far-reaching adverse effects on the body. Starving to lose weight changes the metabolism, reduces lean muscle, reduces bone density, and decreases strength. Is it worth it? Absolutely not!

Interesting fact: Whether you have a lot of body fat, or none – ‘skinny fat’ is real. It’s simple: if it juggles – its fat.

When you find yourself in these moments, a little guidance can help you to develop a healthy relationship with food.

The key is to understand your body’s signals and then respond to those cues without feelings of guilt or judgment. Ultimately it will lead to a more positive body image, far less eating disorders, and increased possibilities of taking on other healthy lifestyle habits (I’ll tell you about those in the next blog).

3. They don’t allow food to control their lives

“I must go and try that new pizza place”….. “Oh, McDonald’s has a new burger. We must go and try it!” Have you ever said that? Who hasn’t? People with a healthy relationship to food don’t obsess about food to the point where it obstructs their everyday life.

On the other hand, if you are declining invitations to events because you are anxious about you overindulging on bar food or bottomless booze. You know you are in deep trouble (with food)

4. They don’t “make up” for an imperfect eating day

I call the “cheat day” my “treat day” because I do treat myself. Mindfully, of course. On this day, usually a Thursday, I take my time to fully enjoy my treats (French truffle fries, a slice of Pistachio Mille Crêpes cake and a glass of Guinness Draught). Yum!

5. They don’t compare their body or what they eat to others

We are all unique in body, mind, and spirit. Hence, our bodies are not meant to look like one another, and we are not all supposed to look like supermodels or superheroes. Even the supermodels don’t look like supermodels in real life.

My heart breaks whenever I meet a new client, and she shows me an Instagram picture of some ‘fitness-model’ (heavily photoshopped), and she says: “This is how I want to look like!” Nobody is THAT perfect!

What I strive for is a robust and healthy body with confidence that lights up others as well. Being fit is a feeling. A feeling of happiness, gratitude, at least for me. But it may mean something else for you, and that’s ok!

How does one know if their relationship to food is wobbly?

Well, if these sound familiar to you, you have some work to do:

  • You are almost always dieting (or attempting to);
  • You get anxious and frustrated when your weight goes up (and there you go ‘on a diet’ again);
  • You go to the gym only because you ate something “bad” the day before (instead of working on a healthy and fit body);
  • You eat only “diet” foods;
  • You skip out on social events because you worry about a large amount of food you will consume (and yet at home you eat the whole pantry);
  • You associate food with emotion (stress, boredom, happiness, sadness, etc.) then feel guilty afterward.

It is a never-ending vicious circle. You feel something, and you ravish everything in sight (or don’t eat at all), then your diet. These constant yo-yo diets inflict damages on your metabolism and your mental health. And that will hinder any weight-loss goals. Even worse, it can lead to some severe eating disorders.

There is no ‘instant insight and realization’

A mental shift won’t happen overnight. It took you some time to get to that place, so it will take some time to get out of it. You can start by being aware when you find yourself in one of these negative behaviors (please, be honest with yourself). Baby steps like understanding the triggers of your emotional eating will guide you out that vicious circle.

Will you fall off the wagon? Yes, you will! But guess what? As long as you don’t make it a habit – there will be progress. And even slow progress is progress (there is always something positive you can focus on).

When you can easily skip a date with the gym to meet your spouse at a bar, or enjoy a few potato chips without agonizing, you might devour the whole bag. You know your relationship with food has entered a whole new level.

“No matter how long you have traveled in the wrong direction, you can always turn around”

The choice is yours and yours only!

Also read: Is healthy food really expensive?

When I think about having a normal relationship with food (by which I mean a relationship that’s mostly uncomplicated by diet culture’s rules), I think about housemates I used to live with when I was younger.

Back then, when I was struggling with my body image, I was always envious of the girls I lived with. Unlike me, they had healthy relationships with food: They ate when they were hungry, they left food on their plates when they’d had enough. They didn’t step on the scale…at all. They ate what they wanted and what they enjoyed: spaghetti and meat sauce, brownies that someone’s mom baked, a bowl of ice cream. To my knowledge, my housemates didn’t feel guilty about anything they ate (and if they did, they never, ever talked about it). I don’t think they ever counted calories, restricted food, or went on a diet. When I talked to them about my eating struggles, it was difficult for them to relate. I don’t think thoughts of dieting or body image ever even occurred to them, or at least not in any kind of persistent way. I remember that one of my housemates would leave half-eaten bags of candy in her room, and I wondered how in the world she didn’t feel the urge to plow through it all at once, like I would, or at the very least, how she resisted any urge to, like I’d have to. My housemates just ate, and it was so normal.

And by the way, when I say “normal,” I just mean making decisions about food that come from your own feelings, desires, cravings, and needs, as opposed to external rules.

This many years later, after becoming a dietitian and living and learning, here’s what I know: Normal eating has everything to do with our relationship to food and nothing to do with our actual diet. Everyone’s diet is different, but normal eating isn’t the food we choose, it’s how and why. Normal isn’t the same as healthy, or some version of “calories in, calories out.” It doesn’t mean eating tons of vegetables, or complying with any official nutrition recommendations. It’s about our emotional relationship to food and eating.

Normality can be a strange, subjective concept. But what I’m talking about is what you see in healthy babies and young kids. After all, we are born as normal eaters. If you ever watch a baby or toddler eat, they choose what they want, and only if they’re hungry. When they’re full, they stop. They listen to their bodies and eat accordingly. This behavior is innate, but many of us lose our connection to it as we get older because of outside influences. It sounds strange, but if you’re a chronic dieter, you might not even remember how to eat according to your internal cues. After being inundated for years by fad diets and fearmongering around food, we develop fear, guilt, shame, suspicion, and anxiety about food and eating. This impacts our perception of what eating normally is.

People who have been on restrictive diets with long lists of rules have often lost their natural hunger and fullness cues, because they rely on calorie counts, schedules, meal plans, and devices to tell them when and how much to eat.

They allow what and how they think they should eat to influence them over what their bodies are telling them. And to be clear, I don’t think individuals are at fault for their eating behaviors or should be blamed for somehow failing to be “normal.” And I don’t mean to pathologize or criticize ways of eating that are not what I’m calling normal. (It’s tough to talk about this without using words that inherently assign value, so I want to be clear about what I mean.) We’re all doing the best we can while we’re absolutely flooded with messaging about how we should eat.

Signs You Have an Unhealthy Relationship With Food

Are you a frequent dieter? Do you consistently monitor your weight? Do you generally stay away from junk food — unless you’re sad, stressed, or angry? You might exhibit exceptional health — but your relationship with food could be suffering.

It’s possible to take weight loss too far, but you can also maintain a healthy weight and still struggle with eating and self-esteem. Plenty of people exhibit disordered eating habits without meeting the criteria for an eating disorder — and their health can be at risk, too. Here are the signs your relationship with food could benefit from some much-needed TLC.

1. You eat differently in public than you do at home

Do you ever feel guilty for eating what you “shouldn’t”? | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

You’re the person at the office who always brings a salad for lunch. Co-workers poke fun at your “rabbit food” as they enjoy their leftover pizza from last night’s greasy dinner, but you shrug off their comments. You know that as soon as you get home, you’re probably going to order a small pizza for yourself and eat the whole thing anyway — and there won’t be anyone around to judge you for it.

There’s a reason you do this — it’s name is guilt. Feeling like you have to hide what you eat isn’t healthy — but there’s something you can do about it. Anne Ricci suggests in her Huffington Post article to snuff out the “shoulds” in your eating life. “I should have eaten a salad instead of pizza” makes you feel guilty for eating pizza. Instead, she says, make it an active choice to change. “Next time I order pizza, I want to have a salad with it, and not eat the whole pizza in one sitting.” You’re allowing yourself to make a conscious choice, instead of feeling guilty about a past choice you can’t change.

2. You measure your exercise in calories

Your workout is about more than calories. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Any exercise you engage in from day to day depends on what you’ve eaten — or what you plan on eating later. The activities that burn the most calories are at the top of your list. Instead of measuring your workouts by distance or time, you focus only on the amount of calories you burn. If you eat a brownie for dessert, you’re probably going to sweat until you burn off every calorie in that treat. That’s your active lifestyle in a nutshell — and you wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately, this “calories in, calories out” concept may be causing even more strain between you and your food. According to Authority Nutrition, you really can’t define how healthy or unhealthy a person is based on how many calories they eat. The quality of the calories you consume matters more, and so does the intensity and variety of your fitness routine. Burning off the 300 calories in that brownie doesn’t change the fact that the brownie isn’t nutritious. Working out for 2 hours to “make up for” your cheat meal doesn’t make you any healthier.

3. You’re always dieting

Dieting isn’t as healthy or effective as you think. | iStock.com/Rawpixel Ltd

You’re always on the lookout for the highest-praised diets on the market. Once one of your diets ends — or fails — it’s not long before a new one begins. You’re on a permanent diet — even though you never seem to end up satisfied with the results. In fact, you can’t even remember the last time you went an extended period of time without following some kind of diet plan.

Repeating a habit, despite evidence that it’s ineffective, could be considered an unhealthy obsession. The dieting mindset as we know it, Dr. Michelle May wrote in The Huffington Post, doesn’t work. Diets are expensive, time-consuming, and rarely produce the long-term results we’re after. Many people who lose weight while dieting gain it back — and then some. Instead of looking at your relationship with food from the outside in, May says, start by changing what’s on the inside first. If you want to love what you eat, you may first need to learn to love the body you’re feeding.

4. Your scale rules your life

Do you weigh yourself every day? | iStock.com

Every day starts the same way. You wake up, stretch, get out of bed, and immediately check your weight. You could — and sometimes do — step on the scale with your eyes closed. That number is extremely important to you. It not only tells you whether or not you made “good” choices yesterday, but also contributes to your decisions today. Can you eat an extra piece of toast for breakfast this morning? Will you order a salad without chicken for lunch today?

While weighing yourself can be an effective way to lose weight for some, it’s possible to take it to an unhealthy extreme. Your food choices and fitness routines shouldn’t depend on the numbers you see when you step on the scale in the morning. Use it as a tool to track positive progress — but don’t let it influence every decision you make for the rest of the day. You don’t have to toss your scale out the window, but if you feel like you’re obsessing over it, maybe put it on the top shelf of your closet for awhile.

5. You think about food in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’

Is butter a carb? That’s bad, right? | iStock.com/lolostock

In your mind, foods are either healthy or they aren’t; good, or bad; allowed, or banned — there’s no middle ground or “cheating” allowed. It’s a good day when you eat only good foods, but a bad one if you let yourself eat too many foods that are off-limits. Even your self-perception (“I was good today because I didn’t eat bad food!”) might depend on whether or not you eat the right food.

This way of thinking hurts much more than it helps. One study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that black-and-white thinking related to food and eating behaviors likely makes it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. When you restrict bad foods, punish yourself for eating them, and associate any food with negativity, it becomes almost impossible to enjoy the experience — even when you’re eating healthy. Thinking about food shouldn’t make you miserable — and neither should eating it.

6. You swap high-calorie foods with no/low-calorie substitutes

Is low-cal always better? | iStock.com/nyul

You consider chewing gum a snack. And whenever you have a choice between a food you love and a lower-calorie not-so-lovable alternative, you always choose the latter. If it has negative calories, you’re down. And you’re always the one listing off endless substitutions to your waiter whenever you order a meal. While these all might seem like health-conscious practices on the surface, it shouldn’t be a consistent struggle.

Are gum and celery really the solution to all your problems? According to TIME, habits like chewing gum before meals — especially in an attempt to lose weight — aren’t always effective. While you might sidestep junk food cravings or avoid a second serving now, it’s likely you’ll end up eating more calories later on to compensate. Chewing on celery when you’d rather swallow potato chips isn’t necessarily going to stop you from eating potato chips. It just might delay the inevitable.

7. You eat your feelings — often

Are you an emotional eater? | iStock.com

Reaching for ice cream after a stressful day at work is normal — sometimes. But you do this daily, if not multiple times in one day. You eat when you’re sad, when you’re bored, sometimes even when you’re happy. Often, indulging makes you feel better. Most of the time, though, that feeling doesn’t last. You might even wish you could stop handling every problem in your life with food by your side — but you can’t.

If you eat when you’re stressed, angry, bored, sad, or lonely, you’re probably an emotional eater. Mayo Clinic defines emotional eating as using food to soothe or suppress emotions. Too many nights filled with too much comfort food doesn’t improve things much, either — especially if you’re also preoccupied with the way you look. Mindful eating experts encourage emotional eaters to sit and savor every bite, and acknowledge the feelings that come with them. The greater your self-awareness, the better the relationship you can build with the food you eat.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, this only represents two to three percent of the country, but studies suggest that up to 50 percent of Americans have a “disordered” relationship with exercise, their body and food.
Disordered eating is an unhealthy relationship with food and weight. We know our bodies need food in order to function and be healthy, but when eating becomes a source of shame and fear, then an unhealthy relationship with food has formed.

So what does an unhealthy relationship with food look like?

You may have an unhealthy relationship with food if:

  • You have rigid rules about food (specific times for eating, what food you can eat, the amount of food you eat, etc.)
  • You feel guilty about eating
  • You binge
  • Binge eating is followed by feelings of guilt and shame

“It’s impossible to say that we shouldn’t have a relationship with food,” said Kary Woodruff, a registered dietitian at TOSH –The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, Utah. “My work with patients – regardless of their nutrition goals – is to help them improve with the way they look at food so it develops into a healthy and nourishing relationship.”

Here are some tips that Woodruff recommends to foster a positive relationship with food:

Mindful eating
Mindful eating means being present and in the moment when you’re eating. It’s one of the best ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. To eat mindfully, avoid distractions such as the computer, television, or eating in a hurry.
“When you eat mindfully, you engage all of your senses – what the food looks like, what it smells like, what it feels like as you chew it, and of course what it tastes like,” Woodruff says. “There’s no better way to really enjoy our food than by eating mindfully.”
Mindful eating doesn’t take a lot of time either. Even taking five or 10 minutes to enjoy your snack can make it much more satisfying. You’re also much less likely to overeat when you eat mindfully because you’re much more aware of your hunger and your fullness.
Examine how you view food.
Do you view food as the enemy? As something that either causes weight gain or weight loss?
“While answers to these questions can be elements to what food means to us, if we encompass a broader perspective of food we can improve our relationship with food,” Woodruff says.
For example, when you view food as something that nourishes you, something that gives you energy to enjoy your day-to-day life, as something that helps you celebrate and enjoy social occasions with friends and something that gives you the nutrients to achieve optimal health, you can improve our relationship with food.
Try it! Ask yourself, “What are all of the ways in which food enhances my quality of life?”
Look at what you expect food to do for you.
Examine if food has become a coping mechanism for you. Is food something you turn to when you’re stressed? Sad? Overwhelmed? Experiencing anxiety? If that’s the case, you need to be aware of it.
“Once you’re aware, you can look to develop other ways in which you cope with your emotions,” Woodruff says. “If you’re sad, can you reach out to a friend? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, can you take some time to come up with an action plan for what you can control? If you’re feeling anxious, can you try journaling or writing out your emotions? If you’re stressed, can you see if some exercise or a walk can help alleviate the stress?”
It’s natural for food to provide some level of comfort, but if it becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism, it’s time to develop other ways to cope. If you need support, a therapist can be a helpful resource, Woodruff says.

Disordered Eating: 9 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

Disordered eating–the less serious, but much more common version of an eating disorder–is an unhealthy, obsessive relationship with food. Disordered eating is so common that it’s arguably, and unfortunately, “normal.”

While 10% of Americans will experience a full-blown eating disorder at some point in their lives, a 2009 national survey of over 4,000 women ages 25-45 found that 65%—that’s right, almost two-thirds—struggle with disordered eating. And men aren’t immune either, especially as unrealistic male body standards become more entrenched in the media and our culture..

What’s the Difference Detween an Eating Disorder and Disordered Eating?

In a nutshell, disordered eating is an unhealthy, obsessive relationship with food and weight. Disordered eating is, no pun intended, the “lite” version of an eating disorder. Some of the same behaviors occur as in eating disorders, but to a lesser degree.

And while disordered eating isn’t a diagnosable disorder, it does place one at risk for a full-blown eating disorder—disordered eating as gateway behaviors, as it were.

Plus, disordered eating often goes along with depression and anxiety—it’s really hard to hate your body, deny yourself food, and not feel anxious, worthless, or less-than.

So this week, here are 9 signs of disordered eating. Again, it’s all on a spectrum. But if you decide your relationship with food could use a tune-up, rest assured you’re in good company—and listen on to the end for 4 tips on what to do next.

Disordered Eating Sign #1: Black and White Thinking About Food

You think of foods as either all “good” or all “bad,” and you’ve accordingly cut out entire food groups, like carbs or fat, because you worry they’ll make you fat. Or, you might skip a meal, like breakfast, to save the calories. Finally, you only eat foods you’ve vetted or know the caloric content of.

Disordered Eating Sign #2: The Perma-Diet

You’re basically on a permanent diet, or at least dieting more often than not. As a result, your weight yo-yos accordingly, and as a result of all the deprivation, sometimes you lose it and binge.

You’re certainly not alone: a national survey of over 70,000 people found that 38% of women and 24% of men were currently trying to lose weight. And it starts early, not just after a desk job and a couple of kids: 53% of high school girls and 43% of high school boys were either trying to lose or gain weight.

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7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

June 22, 2017 Blog

7 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

In our weight and image-obsessed culture, it is very easy to feel very overwhelmed about food. This “complicated” relationship can sabotage our very best efforts, leave us feeling down and simply take the fun out of eating. Who wants that? However, it doesn’t have to be this way! To help us dive into the 7 signs of an unhealthy relationship with foods, I have invited my friend and fellow dietitian, Vincci Tsui to share her thoughts. Vincci has a private practice in Calgary where she helps her clients ditch the “diet culture” and reclaim their relationship with foods and their bodies! I absolutely LOVE Vincci’s work. Be sure to follow her on social media, grab her free e-book and check out her awesome website!

Most people know about the three main eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. However, many are unaware that they may have disordered eating. Disordered eating is defined as a variety of disturbed, abnormal eating behaviours. A survey conducted amongst over 4,000 American women aged 25-45 found that 3 in 4 women reported disordered eating behaviours, with 1 in 10 suffering from an eating disorder. 74.5% of the women surveyed also reported that “their concerns about shape and weight interfered with their happiness.”

Disordered eating is often ignored, or worse, celebrated or prescribed in our fatphobic, “wellness”-obsessed culture. Are you curious if your “clean eating” might be too clean? Here are some signs that your relationship status with food is “Complicated”.

7 Signs that Your Relationship Status with Food is Complicated

You agonize over every morsel of food that passes your lips, and pore over ingredients lists with a fine-toothed comb. Even then, you give most foods the side eye, convinced that Big Ag or Big Food are hiding something from you. No one seems to be able to accommodate your dietary needs (Gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, GMO-free and guilt-free) and if you had your way, you wouldn’t have to eat at all! Especially not after what food has done to you!

Yet at the same time, you love food. You love food “too much” – isn’t that what got us here in the first place? Food is always there when you need it. It comforts, calms, soothes and numbs… and then makes you feel awful and guilty and you’re back to being enemies again! Rinse and repeat.

2. You Categorize Foods as Good or Bad

For most of us, it starts innocently enough. As kids, we’re all taught about junk food (though these days they’re often being called “sometimes” foods or “fun” foods.)

Whether you use the term “good/bad”, “clean/dirty”, “real/fake”, the real problem arises when you let these characteristics transfer onto you. It’s a “good day” if you eat “good” foods, and you admonish yourself for being “bad” if you eat “bad” ones.

3. You Live According to Strict Food Rules… And Beat Yourself Up When You Break Them

“Nothing with more than five ingredients.”

“No food after 7 PM.”

“No going back for seconds.”

It doesn’t matter whether your rules are about what, when or how much you eat, what matters is that you’re in control. And when you start losing your grasp, you do what you know best, and that is to grab tighter.

3 in 4 women have some form of disordered eating. Are you one of them?

4. You Let the Scale Make or Break Your Day

You weigh yourself at the same time every morning. Naked, because “every bit counts”. You step on and off a few times, hoping that that extra half-pound is from stepping on the scale funny.

If the number goes down, it’s a good day. You’re doing “everything right”. Maybe you’ll even let yourself eat something. If the number goes up, it’s a bad day. You question everything you ate the day before, and wonder how to make up for it today by cutting back on the food and/or spending a few extra minutes at the gym.

If the number stays the same, then it depends if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty person.

5. Everything is a Calorie Count

The #1 thing for you when it comes to food is not the taste, the flavour, the texture, or even the cost. It’s the calories, and how it fits into your “calorie budget.” Same goes for exercise. Never mind the fact that exercise alone doesn’t really promote weight loss, despite the multitude of other benefits – you know exactly how long you have to spend on the treadmill to “burn off” your lunch and “save up some calories” for dinner.

Whether you count calories, points or macros, food means nothing more to you than a number… that you want to keep as low as possible.

Do you want to break free from the calorie counting? Find out more:

6. You Don’t Trust Yourself Around Food

Your house is a “No Snack Zone” because if there’s even a fun-sized chocolate bar in your home, you know that it’s going to end up in your stomach in no time flat, and you’re going to find all its little fun-sized friends too.

You feel powerless against the foods that you crave, and you’re convinced that you might even be addicted. You feel that you need structure, rules and control in order to eat well.

7. Your Life is On Hold Until You Reach Your Goal Weight

When you live in a larger body, it seems like the world wants you to put your life on hold until you reach your goal weight. Chairs are too small, doors are too narrow, clothes don’t fit. But what if you are holding yourself back on things that you actually can do right now?

Are you telling yourself you can’t go out to socialize with your friends because there’s “nothing you can eat”?

Worried that you won’t find love, have friends or land your dream job at your current size?

Convinced that life would just be better if you lost the weight?

Bottom Line:

If you see yourself in some of the above statements, remember that it’s OK. You are not alone.

As cheesy as it sounds, recognizing the problem is the first step. I will admit that even a year ago I was blind to how pervasive and problematic disordered eating really is, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t “unsee” it in my clients, family and friends.

As a few first steps, I invite you to approach your eating with curiosity, not judgment. Question your food rules. Ask yourself why they are rules for you and how they have served you, then ask yourself what would happen if you let them go… Even if it’s just for a meal. As an experiment.

If this post resonated with you, be sure to download Vincci’s free eBook, which walks you through the first 7 Steps to Start Healing Your Relationship with Food & Your Body.

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