Your Relationship With Food is Key in Achieving Your Health Goals
Because February is such a big love and relationship month, I thought it would be timely to write about a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately: our relationships with food. This is arguably one of the most important relationships we’ll ever have- after all, the stuff literally keeps us alive and plays a massive role in our health and wellbeing (or lack thereof).
I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with food lately and how it’s shifted and changed throughout my life. I touched on it a bit in a blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about counting macros (which you can read here). For many years, two of my biggest hobbies have been strength training and cooking, so I naturally spend a great deal of time thinking about food. These two hobbies add so much joy to my life but can sometimes be at odds with one another. For example, when my current fitness goals are to add strength and improve body composition but my culinary/foodie goal of the week is to create the world’s most perfect charcuterie board (lol). It gets tricky! I’m not going to lie, it can make for a tense relationship with what I eat.
Do you ever feel like what you eat is both your greatest ally and most formidable foe? You’re not alone.
Over the past few weeks as I’ve been considering the complexity of my relationship with food, I couldn’t help but notice how the people I surround myself with all have their own complex relationships as well. It’s clear to me that this is something that most, if not all, adults struggle with on some level- whether consciously or subconsciously.
So over the next couple of weeks, I wanted to explore this in one of the best ways I know how, writing about it, to hopefully help bring to light your personal relationship with food. This week’s post will be a bit of an introduction and a prompt to guide you in exploring the quality of this very important relationship for yourself. I’ve even included a few journal prompts if you’re interested in diving deeper into this topic. Next week I’ll outline in more concrete terms what it means to have a “healthy” relationship with food; i.e., ideals to strive for in our connection to what we eat.
Before I dive a bit deeper into this topic, I think it’s worth mentioning that this is simply my take on this subject and based in part on what I learned while studying holistic nutrition and on my personal experience.
A Complicated Continuum
I think, like all relationships, our relationship with food exists on a continuum. On one extreme end, we have disordered eating like orthorexia, anorexia, bulimia, etc., which are all disorders that are founded on the necessity of order and control. The strange thing about the opposite end of this continuum is that it isn’t quite as clearly defined.
That’s the paradox here- it’s precisely the need for strict definition, order, and control that contributes to the unhealthy relationship to food found in the most extreme cases of eating disorders… but having absolutely no order can be detrimental as well! So, an ideal relationship with food is more like a Goldilocks zone between order and disorder, structured and free-flowing. It depends on our ability to dialogue with our bodies and our self-awareness as a whole.
Communication is Key
Just like in any other healthy relationship, communication is key. (No, I’m not saying you have to start talking to your food!) I’m talking about internal communication; a dialogue within us, with our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves regarding what is needed in that moment from our food. What nourishment do we seek? In other words, like all other relationships, the first step to a healthy, fulfilling relationship is to cultivate self-awareness.
How can one have a healthy relationship with food if they aren’t first aware of their own needs and desires? If you’re completely lacking self-awareness, sadly, chances are you don’t have a great relationship with yourself or the food you eat. You may see yourself and your health as separate from your (both physical and emotional) environment and the food you choose to feed yourself. You might be mistaking unrelated physical and emotional cues (for example: fatigue, boredom) as signals to eat. Whatever the case may be, developing self-awareness and simply becoming aware of your relationship with food is in a way one of the most important steps of actually having a healthy relationship with food.
So, let’s get personal. How is your relationship with food? Have you ever considered that you have a relationship with what you eat or have you typically seen yourself as entirely separate from what nourishes your body? How do you typically view food? Do you view it as fuel, a reward, a pacifier, a punishment, or all of the above? What external environmental factors (like family, friends, media, etc.) have influenced your personal relationship with food, if any?
Take a few moments to consider these questions. If you’re interested in really diving deep into this, I’d recommend grabbing your journal and giving yourself 10 to 30 minutes just to write whatever comes to mind from these prompts. You may find that you’re reminded of a certain habit of yours, a specific memory from your past of an event that may have shaped the way you interact with food. These questions may also prompt other questions that you can begin to answer for yourself in your journal. Allow yourself to mostly write in a freeform style- putting pen to paper for your allotted time and not stopping until that time is up- as this form of journaling can help us access ideas, thoughts, and beliefs we don’t typically access consciously.
Now before you start to explore your personal relationship with food, I want to remind you of something that we’ve talked a lot about in many other blog posts on this site and that is the importance of self-compassion. This is a pretty sensitive topic for a lot of people and it’s easy to get down on ourselves while thinking about food and what we eat. So, before you begin, set an intention for yourself to remain free of judgment, self-criticism, and negative self-talk. You might also want to start by writing down three things you’re grateful for about food, your relationship with food, and/or your body. I know this might make some of you roll your eyes, but it seriously makes a difference in opening ourselves up for a meaningful inner dialogue.
Remember, the point of this exercise in self-awareness is to become more in tune with ourselves and our relationship with food. Food is such a huge part of our daily lives (even if you aren’t a fitness fanatic and foodie like me) and so many of us have set huge health-related goals which food plays a major role in, yet we have such difficulty following through with these goals. Since everything is truly connected, I believe that only by examining our relationship with food and getting really clear on how we choose to nourish our bodies will we be able to start making strides in achieving our health goals.
Stay tuned for my post next week about my top tips for having a healthy relationship with food! Until then, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. How is your relationship with food? Did this post bring up any surprising realizations for you? Also, if you have any friends or loved ones you think would benefit from reading this post, please send it their way!