Author: Courtney Conner MS, RD, LD
With this being National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I wanted to focus on food relationships because that is the foundation for disordered vs. ordered eating. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines disordered eating as a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder. You can have disordered eating without having an eating disorder, but if you have an eating disorder, disordered eating is involved. In other words, disordered eating is descriptive in nature, but not diagnostic. Let’s look at what a relationship food looks like and what that really means.
Your Relationship with Food
A relationship with food is one that defines how you feel, think, act, and perceive food and act of eating. When you have a good relationship, you focus on the benefits of food and all the good that it does for your body. A relationship with food doesn’t involve calories, quality of diet, servings, or macros. Instead, it involves focusing on behaviors, thoughts, and emotions surrounding food and recognizing how we are thinking, either positively or negatively, and then changing those negative thoughts to be more positive.
When you have a healthy or positive relationship with food, you might think something like “this sandwich is providing a lot of good nutrients to give me the energy I need to conquer my day.” A negative relationship with food focuses on the bad aspect of food. You might find yourself thinking “this is full of fat; I am going to gain weight from this piece of pizza” when you have a negative relationship with food.
Signs you might have a negative relationship with food
- You feel shame or guilt for eating certain foods
- Some foods are “off-limits”
- You find yourself eating in response to emotions like stress, excitement, nervousness
- You have anxiety or stress before events where food is served
- You avoid eating around others
These signs are often the beginning of a disordered eating pattern, so it is important to recognize when you are having these thoughts and then combat it by changing it to a positive thought.
Make your relationship with food positive
Start by changing your mindset about food. Don’t label your food as “good” or “bad” because that allows you to judge yourself when you eat the “bad” foods. It also allows yourself to feel shame or guilt, as if you have done something bad. All foods are used by body for fuel, so nothing should be labeled as “bad.”
Enjoying your food and planning your meals out allows you to choose foods you like and foods you are excited to try. Then, sit down and enjoy your meal without distractions. Allow yourself to enjoy the tastes, flavors, colors, and texture of the food you are eating. Keep in mind, that food is meant to be enjoyed, and allowing yourself to enjoy it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.
Finally, don’t punish yourself for the foods you ate. Did you overeat or indulge in something less than healthy? Some people find themselves “making up” for this by cutting back on calories or exercising more before or after they indulge. Again, this thinking leads to disordered eating, and it is unhealthy and unnecessary. Instead of focusing on the meal or meals that you overate or indulged, focus on your overall food intake over the course of the week. This will help you keep a healthier perspective when it comes to eating and enjoying food.
When you find yourself having negative thoughts, switch your mindset to a more positive, food loving one. It is easier said than done, but by planning out your meals, focusing on food as nourishing, and by not enjoying every food and meal you choose, you will start to change your relationship with food. Creating a positive relationship will not only increase health, but it will improve your mindset and create a more positive environment for every aspect of your life.