5 Ways I've Learned to Have a Healthier Relationship With Food
Trigger Warning: Mentions eating disorders, mental illnesses, numerical weight loss, and includes abusive comments I heard growing up that may be triggering.
I've always struggled with my relationship with food. Growing up, I was one of eight and my parents never really taught us how to have a healthy relationship with food. There was no such thing as moderation, just eat what you can before it's gone, which led to my siblings and I getting to the point where we would eat literally full boxes of cereal or entire loaves of fresh baked bread by ourselves. My parents would reward us for doing well in things (sports, school, getting no cavities, etc.) with foods we loved and didn't get very often, and we always had to finish what was on our plates, even if we didn't like it or if we were full.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I was taught that my worth was somewhat attached to my looks. I would hear comments all the time at home and in public like, "You need to stop eating so much, you're gaining weight," "We put you in sports so that you don't get fat and ugly," and "Look at those rolls." Due to these comments and other instances, by time I was in high school, I was in a vicious cycle of battling both anorexia and a binge eating disorder.
It didn't improve when I went to college. The internship I was in, unintentionally, placed a lot of value on eating only "good food" and losing weight, and I watched as mine and a couple other people's eating disorders got worse. Doing Metifast was encouraged, drinking apple cider vinegar was encouraged, exercising a lot and going to the gym was encouraged (which can be a healthy habit, but not in the way it was talked about then), and so many other habits that I've since realized were extremely unhealthy and toxic habits.
I have spent the last three years working on trying to get better in my relationship with food and creating healthier eating habits. I'm getting there, but unfortunately for me, my eating disorder is now deeply intertwined with my depression. When I get depressed, I either stop eating or I eat everything in sight; there's no in between. Once I finally get out of a depressed mood, I just feel so much shame and guilt for the way I ate that it takes me a while to get back into my healthy habits I've created for myself.
I've been in therapy since the beginning of July, which has helped a lot. I've developed a new mentality when it comes to food and the way that I view it. I've learned other coping skills for when I get depressed, and I've learned to appreciate and love my body for what it does for me and not for what it looks like.
I wanted to share this blog today with you because I know that I'm not the only person who struggles with an eating disorder I'm not a health expert and I'm not saying that these tips will "fix you" because healing can be an incredibly slow and painful process, but I'm hoping that just maybe, if you need them to, they might help you as well.
Let's get into it, shall we?
There Is No Such Thing As Good Food or Bad Food.
Food is Food.
I'm sure you've heard something along these lines before, "You just need to stop eating bad food and start eating good food instead." This statement alone makes me feel guilty for what I've been eating because if we're really being honest, what makes something a "good food?" When I did Keto last year before my wedding, they defined fruit as a "bad food" and cheese and bacon as "good foods," whereas other diets may say the opposite. I've learned that you can't win with this mentality.
Every food serves a purpose, whether it's to nourish our bodies, our minds, or our souls. We use food for so many different reasons, like meeting up with friends, celebrating holidays, getting to know someone, we like that specific food, etc. Sometimes food makes you feel better and being mad at yourself for enjoying or wanting certain foods when you're sad, depressed, celebrating, having cramps, just wanting a sandwich, etc. is just going to make it harder for your brain to view food in a healthy and moderate way.
Make Food Not Special
I saw this video on Tik Tok where this nutritionist (I don't remember his handle) was talking about some ways to combat binge eating. The one that really stood out to be was to make food not special. He basically said, if you allow yourself to buy a snack or certain food that you really like, but never really get often, every time you go to the grocery store and keep it on hand for yourself, you'll be less likely to binge eat that food because you're not worried about "Oh this is a special food, I'm not going to have it again/for a really long time."
I don't know why, but this actually really helped me when it came to binge eating sweets. When my husband and I first got married and I was trying to be healthy, I was super strict about not having sweets and snacks in the house, and if we did, we were only allowed to have one each. I would literally eat entire boxes of ice cream bars in less than two hours because "it's okay, I won't be buying this again for a while."
After watching that video, I started buying more snacks and sweets during our grocery runs. At first, I still had a really hard time not mindlessly eating or binge eating when I was depressed and sometimes I still do, but I know I'm making progress. I have an entire batch of cookies on my counter that I made last night and I've only had one so far. I have my favorite type of ice cream in the freezer that I bought two weeks ago and haven't opened yet. I'm less likely to want to buy things I'd overeat at the store now because I know that it's not a special food and I can buy/have it whenever I want to.
Buy Individual/Snack Packs Instead of Family Sized
I heard a nutritionist say that mindless eating is apart of binge eating, and the way that this happens is because we all tend to buy and eat from the big bag/big containers of food whenever we want a snack. By portioning out your snacks instead of just eating from the bag/container, even if it becomes mindless eating, there's an end that isn't the bottom of a family sized bag of chips that was supposed to last you three weeks.
Now there are a couple ways you can do this. You can buy the family sized, because it is cheaper and you get more, and separate them yourself into ziplock bagged snack sized portions.
You can also limit yourself to a certain amount or number of a snack every time you eat it. This way you're still allowing yourself to have it, but you're working on telling yourself, "I don't need to eat this entire container. I can have a bowl of chips/a couple cookies/a scoop of ice cream/etc."
Lastly, you can also buy the individual snack packs and just limit yourself to one a day.
Don't Deprive Yourself to Reach Goals
I was always told throughout my life, "If you want to lose weight, be healthier, and get in shape, you have to give up carbs and sugar." I did Keto for roughly six months, and while it was really effective for me, I hated it. I constantly craved bread and sweets because while Keto has substitutes for those, they don't really cut it some days.
Now that I'm older, I've been told that I should allow a "cheat day" once a month while I'm on a diet. That never worked for me because I'd make it to my "cheat day" and it would turn into a cheat week and then a cheat month and then I wouldn't be on a diet anymore.
The best way I have discovered to motivate yourself to be healthier and help in my weight loss is to not cut any foods out of my diet. I've been working out and trying to get healthier since July without any foods being off-limits, and I've lost about 8lbs so far. How? By being consistent in my healthy habits (working out, walking to work, going to bed earlier, etc.), cooking at home more, limiting but not getting rid of the foods I tend to overeat, and allowing myself to enjoy food for what it does for my body and mind.
When you deprive yourself, you just crave it more so let yourself be allowed to have it whenever you want. Trust me, you don't crave it as much when you don't cut it out; if anything, you get bored of it really quickly.
Reward Yourself For Completing Goals With Non-Food Items
I'm very much prize motivated and consequence motivated. I need something to happen when I reach a goal or complete a task and when I don't When I was on Keto, I'd reward myself for reaching specific weight goals with the foods I wasn't allowed to have. Again, this didn't work out because it put this food on a pedestal as being special, a treat, or something I needed to be good enough to earn, and I'd end up going overboard OR I would just ignore my goal and eat it anyways.
Rewards are great for motivation, but make them something not food related in order to make the goal more appealing to reach. My go to prizes now are things like pedicures or a new outfit. I tend to stick to things that I don't get very often, but aren't going to throw me off my health journey or inevitably cause me to feel ashamed or guilty when I have a hard time stopping at one.
So that's the end of what I've learned so far, and I hope for all of you who struggle with an eating disorder or in your relationship with food in general that something on this list helps you too.
I want you to know, from someone who is in and has been in the same shoes as you, that you don't have to feel guilty for eating, you don't have to feel ashamed that you struggle with this, and you are worthy of being able to eat and enjoy food.
It's taken me a long time to get to the point of having a healthier relationship with food, and I definitely still have a long way to go, but if you need someone to talk to about this, please feel free to reach out to me. My inbox is always open.
Take a shot for everyone struggling with their food relationship right now and toast to making progress and getting better,