5 Signs of a Healthy Relationship with Food
This is the second part of my blog post on the importance of cultivating a healthy relationship with food. If you haven’t read part one yet, you can check it out here!
Alright, friends. Now that we’ve done the challenging work of holding the mirror up to ourselves and observing (without judgment) what our personal relationship with food is, it’s time to (again, without judgment) consider some ideals to strive for to make this very important relationship even healthier.
Listen, if you’re not interested in improving your relationship with food or if you’re happy with where you’re at and don’t feel like you need or want to make changes to how and why you eat what you eat, that’s OKAY! I personally love exploring these sorts of topics because it helps me find clarity and understanding of who I am and it can also be really validating. If that’s not your experience, take what you want from this blog series and leave the rest!
In today’s post I’ll outline five signs of a healthy relationship with food. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not a perfect 10 in all five of these aspects- don’t worry, neither am I. But you can only strive to be better once you’ve identified areas that need improvement, so pick one or two of these areas and just do your best! Remember that, like with any relationship, there will be good days and hard days. As long as you’re trying your best, you should be proud of yourself 😊
Let’s jump right in:
1. Mindful and Intuitive Eating
Buzzword alert! I’m sure you’ve been told before that it’s important to eat mindfully. Even the new Canada Food Guide, updated in 2019, includes mindful eating! But what does that mean? It basically means that when you’re eating, you’re not on your phone, watching TV, driving, working, or worrying about some past or future event. All of your attention is on your food. Ideally, you also took a few deep breaths to relax yourself before starting to chow down, to ensure your body is in a prime state to digest your lunch! Mindful eating goes beyond eliminating distractions though, and includes a component of gratitude for the food you get to eat. This helps you chew slower, improve digestion and satiety, and may even help you feel fuller quicker.
Intuitive eating is paying attention to subtle emotional, mental, and physical cues in the body to help you develop an understanding of your body’s needs (and desires) as related to the food you consume. It goes hand-in-hand with mindful eating because when you’re mindful, the signals your body is sending you become much more clear. In a nutshell, eating intuitively is about not giving into cravings right away, and instead having an inner dialogue to understand why you’re reaching for that box of cookies. Are you actually hungry? Or are you bored? Sad? Angry? Celebrating? It’s also about honouring your body’s needs and desires without shame, guilt, or judgment.
2. Moderation and Balance
Another popular word: moderation. Everything in moderation. A lot of the time, when people have health goals they are working towards, food becomes something that all of a sudden has morals attached to it. “Oh, that donut is BAD! If I give in and eat it, I’ll be bad too!” Yes, different foods have different nutrient content. Some are very nutrient dense, and some are very low in nutrients. But that doesn’t mean you should attach morality and blame yourself when you choose to eat a less nutrient dense food. Just remember to eat in moderation and use your common sense when choosing what to eat.
Balance is also a key aspect of having a healthy relationship with food. It’s understanding what your body needs and wants, when, and why. It’s knowing that if you have a particularly indulgent brunch, your whole day hasn’t gone to crap, so you shouldn’t justify continuing on a binge for the rest of the day. Instead it’s recognizing that you have the ability to re-focus and restore balance by listening to your body and its needs. Please note that when I say balance I’m not talking about starving yourself after a big meal or doing 90 mins of cardio at the gym because you ate a slice of cake! NO! It’s simply about having the grace to understand that in the grand scheme of things, there will always be another opportunity to make a choice more aligned with your health goals so punishment is not necessary.
3. Enjoyment Without Guilt or Comparison
I feel like I’ve already touched on how important it is to eliminate the guilt-trip, but I wanted to make this a separate point because it’s so important. We can get into really nasty loops of negative self-talk when we get into the habit of guilting ourselves. The more negative our inner monologue is, the less self-worth we have, leading to increased poor choices. As I’ll touch on in point number five, you need to try to be your own best-friend and be your number one support. Allow yourself to recognize the counterproductivity of the guilt trip, remember the balance and moderation, and let yourself enjoy your food without inner self-flagellation.
Now, for an equally difficult feat: banishing comparison. These days with social media, it’s almost IMPOSSIBLE not to compare yourself to others. So I just wanted to point out that everyone is on their own journey and chances are you have no idea what the person you’re comparing yourself to has been through or what they are currently fighting or going through. Even if you think you know, say it’s a particular family member of yours or close friend that you can’t help but compare yourself to, there’s a very good chance you actually don’t know the whole story. It’s also important to remember that whatever they’ve got more of than you (“self-control”, leaner legs) does not automatically mean there’s less for you.
I know from experience that these two are especially hard. Remember that these are ideals to strive for. Just do your best.
4. Clear Priorities
This point is an important one and one that I know a lot of people struggle with. It is having a clear understanding of the role that food plays in your life and your priorities when it comes to health. So many people have a difficult relationship with food because they are so hung up on some meaningless priority, like seeing the number on the scale below a certain amount. Chances are if you aren’t happy where you’re at right now, even when you hit your goal, you’ll find your lacking in some other aspect of your life.
Someone with a healthy relationship with food sees food as life force energy, and a beautiful thing that ebbs and flows and changes with the seasons just like us. It’s really our number one ally in health, and someone who has a good relationship with food recognizes that. They eat to feel strong, vibrant, and vital in their body. They eat to live a long and happy and healthy life. They don’t eat according to numbers in a calorie-counting app or according to the next best diet. It’s easy to get caught up in this way of thinking, but if you’re reading this now and know you struggle with this, maybe all you need is to put your hands on your heart and ask yourself lovingly “What truly matters to me? What am I doing for simple external validation? Where do I find unconditional happiness in my life as I am right now?” Now that is a good place to focus.
5. Self-Compassion and Kindness
This one is obvious, but an important reminder, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. No matter where you are on your health journey, having self-compassion will always help (and never hinder) your progress. True self-compassion is being your own best friend and loving yourself unconditionally no matter the choices you make. It’s also about being hopeful for your future and knowing that you have it in you to kick-ass and make better choices in the future, no matter where you’re at right now or where you’re coming from. Sometimes, you just need a pep talk and who’s to say you can’t be the one to brighten your own spirits! I love to tell myself “everyday in every way I’m getting better and better.” This applies not just to our relationships with food but every other aspect of our lives. Yes, it takes constant reminding, but if you don’t believe you’re worth it, you won’t ever make the progress you want no matter how bad you want it.
If you choose one of these to work on for yourself, let it be this one.
There you have it! Those are my top five signs of a healthy relationship with food. I hope you had a couple “a-ha” moments reading that. If you did, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below 😊 I’m also interested in hearing about your experience with this stuff- how has your relationship with food grown and changed over time?
As always, if you know someone that you think would enjoy this blog post, please send it their way!