……..and How to Have a Healthy Relationship with the Food You Eat.
It makes you mad doesn’t it?
You have a good friend or someone you know from work who appears to be lucky enough to go through life without ever having to give a second thought to what they put in their mouths or how they fuel their bodies.
They never seem to put on any weight regardless of what they eat.
Yet, other people become completely consumed and overwhelmed by eating to the point that their relationship with food becomes dysfunctional and unhealthy. It becomes the central focus point of their lives.
Why is this so?
From what I have observed over the years, dysfunctional eating can become a struggle for almost anyone, at any age and of any gender. Sometimes we just have to ask ourselves, “What is normal eating?”
I often notice this problem with younger people because of image marketing and peer pressure. This is most unfortunate as youth is short lived and should be enjoyed to the utmost.
Another thing I have noticed is, quite often dysfunctional eating begins with simple dieting strategies.
Over time, these dieting plans and programs morph into something much bigger; they no longer resemble a sound health and weight management plan.
This video about unhealthy eating habits tells the story of how a young lady learned to cut bad foods out of her diet before a pageant. Check it out.
The Struggle of Dysfunctional Eating Disorder
Dysfunctional eating starts to disrupt normal life when it interferes with the healthy intake of food. It is called dysfunctional because eating is no longer about consuming food to satisfy a nutritional need or to satisfy hunger but instead is used for other reasons, which are usually egregious in nature.
Healthy Weight Network describes dysfunctional eating as eating to alleviate anxiety, numb pain, for comfort or to relieve stress.
Binge eating disorder or dysfunctional eating can go way beyond eating behind the veil of emotions; it can entail not being able to identify when you are full or satisfied or simply not knowing, or being in touch with how much food, your body needs.
It can also mean eating too much for the sake of pleasure, letting food control your life and living to eat instead of eating to live.
Unfortunately, many people are hooked on carb rich foods like highly processed junk food, potato chips and sugar laden drinks and treats that tend to plague our society these days.
Many experts believe low food value carbohydrate intake is one of the main reasons for the astronomical obesity rates in the United States with one third of adults now considered to be obese. And worst of all, this appears to be a worldwide trend.
Put simply, with dysfunctional eating patterns food has more power over you than you have over it.
You struggle to justify eating this or skipping that but you never really get in touch with the simple concept of “food for sustenance” so you can see why people need some special form of help here.
Understanding Your Relationship With Food Profiles and How You Eat
One way dysfunctional eating begins is when people start categorizing their food into good and bad categories.
Good foods become safe, easy to consume without guilt while bad foods become forbidden and only consumed in secret and with horrible feelings.
Severe deficits in food intake can begin to skew the view of safe and unsafe foods.
Often long periods of food deprivation will lead to an over-consumption or binge eating of a particular food type.
This food is now deemed dangerous or harmful because it caused you to have a binge. In reality, the lack of overall intake resulted in the binge of food, but the disordered eating pattern and the unhealthy food relationship will not allow that view to be seen.
Does all of that sound too complicated? Then how about this?
Maybe you ate too much at lunch, so you decide to skip dinner. Then at dinner, you’re starving and eat way more than you need because you gorge on a pile of pepporini pizza. Now you know it must be the pizza…….it is way too tempting. Can’t eat that again, or you might overdo it. This is one way you can start a dysfunctional relationship with food.
Those who perceive food as comfort will fall into the emotional eating trap, reaching for chips, ice cream, and pizza when they are stressed, angry, lonely, or bored, leading to guilt, shame and regret.
Those who see food as something pleasurable will habitually over eat, which also leads to feelings of guilt, shame and regret.
Many people simply are not in touch with the key concepts of healthy eating, such as portion control and moderation as these strategies elude people who struggle with ballooning weight and proper nutrition.
Of course the examples are plentiful, but it’s important to focus on doable solutions so you can have a more healthy relationship with food.
15 Easy Weight Loss Ways to Form a Better Relationship With the Food You Eat
1. Know the Feeling of Hunger
It may sound strange to some but many people do not know what hunger really feels like. They don’t understand the physiological cues of hunger; they will either ignore them or never let them happen.
Psychology Today recommends you get acquainted with the feelings of both hunger and fullness. The more you know about these two states, the more you will be able to recognize them.
And on that note, it’s also important to mention that many of us simply are not in touch with just how little food our body needs in one sitting to feel satisfied; typically it is 75 to 90% less than what many people consume in one meal so portion control becomes a huge factor in regulating our daily dietary requirements.
2. Don’t Punish Yourself
I have come across a number of people who will punish themselves for what they had to eat earlier in the day, or even yesterday. They do this by starving themselves, skipping meals, taking laxatives or over exercising.
It is important you stop these punitive steps immediately if you want to stop damaging your view on food.
3. Be Aware – Practice Mindful Eating
The practice of mindful eating is supported by almost every eating disorder website, dieting website, healthy food website and nutrition website.
So, what is it?
Mindful eating is the practice of being present and actively participating in the meal you are eating. Take the time to smell the aromas, chew the food, take in the visual delights of the meals and actually pay close and deliberate attention to each and every bite.
Try it sometime whether you have a problem or not……it is an amazing experience.
Mindful eating does not happen in the car during 5 o’clock rush hour. Stop and smell the roses, or in this case, your beautiful pot roast.
4. Don’t Eat Just to Fill in Time
Many dysfunctional eating patterns emerge when we are younger. We start to eat to fill up time. This has probably happened to most of us when we were young……we were thoroughly bored in the supermarket so mum, grandma or grandpa gives us a lollipop to keep us busy.
These types of habits follow us into adulthood. If you aren’t physically hungry, stop eating. It will take some practice, but you can do it!
5. Make a Habit of Always Eating at the Table (not in front of the TV)
If you struggle with eating when you’re not hungry then eating only at a formal dining space can give you a real advantage.
This method doesn’t restrict food content, quality, or type; just how you consume the food you eat.
Snacking to fill time can be a huge problem. So make it a rule only to eat in a formal dining setting.
6. Don’t Let Food Rule Your Life
Be mindful of the old saying; eat to live not live to eat.
You have established a healthy eating routine, and now some friends want to go out to eat. What should you do?
To maintain a healthy relationship with food, you have to let these situations happen without freaking out. It’s ok to eat out of your usual pattern, just choose the healthiest meal for you, and move on.
Remember food getting in the way of your social life is a sure sign of a negative relationship with food.
7. Stress and Food Don’t Mix
Stress can actually drive your eating patterns. If you’re not aware of it, then it can destroy any attempt at healthy eating. It’s a good idea to keep a journal to keep track of your life’s stresses and see how it is driving your craving for foods.
Write something daily and soon you will be able to see the pattern that is causing your problem.
Do you notice you only crave that triple cheeseburger and a large Coke when there is a deadline coming up?
Is the only time you eat half a cheesecake when your boss has just screamed at you or you are bored or lonely?
What activities in your life are driving you to eat the way you do? If you can figure out these eating patterns, you are going to be able to start to shape different responses to your emotional stress.
Instead of diving into a basket of fries, you can choose to fall into a pair of yoga pants or go for a long walk to help alleviate the stress you’re feeling. The point is, there is always a better option than food.
You just need to discover what it is.
8. Start a Food Journal
A food journal for someone who is looking to change their relationship with food is going to look very different from a food diary for someone who is just trying to track calories.
Emotional eating and disordered eating have many elements that are not related to actual food consumption. The level of stress for the day should be considered when writing in a food diary. How you felt when you began eating and how you felt when you were done eating should also be documented.
Recording the emotional elements of food will allow you to track how certain foods, triggering events, and even emotional states, make you feel and eat.
These days there are plenty of good food journal or diary apps available online……just go to Mr Google and make a choice. Read a few reviews first will give you some ideas.
9. Ban Trigger Foods from Your Home
With binge eating episodes, often the problem starts with a particular pattern or food.
A Huffington Post story I read recently says that to avoid binge eating, one thing you can do is avoid keeping your personal trigger foods in the house.
If your binges always start and end with biscuits, chips, ice cream and other junk food, then you shouldn’t keep those foods in the house. Not having triggering foods in the house will help you avoid the binge in the first place.
If there are foods you love but you always end up binging on them then go out for a treat once or twice a week instead.
It is easier to buy a scoop of ice cream once a month than to live with eating a half a gallon of ice cream three times a week. Find a way to work around the craving and the binge.
One trick that often helps is, as soon as you feel the urge coming on to eat something bad have a big glass of water first.
10. Use Portion Control
One problem many people have is that they sit down with an entire bag of their favorite snack and then watch TV while eating until the bag is all gone. This is a trap that always leads to over eating.
Single serving packages are fantastic because they teach you when the portion is finished.
The bag is empty so you have a cue to stop eating.
If you do buy large bags of treats, then you should portion them out into individual sizes or take a small bowl to snack on. This way you are still getting the cue to stop eating when the portion is done.
I used to have this problem with potato chips so I would weigh a 25 gram serve and that was it. I got used to it over time and then changed to homemade popcorn with no bad additives…….just a bit of olive oil or salted butter. What I call a progression of improvement. Works for me.
11. Stop Using Weight as a Measure of Your Worth
Often negative relationships with food grow from the fact that our self-worth (how we see ourselves) stems from our weight. The desire to be thin begins to outweigh any other feeling we may have. The problem with this is that many times people are not able to view their body with an accurate and unbiased eye.
Often people see themselves much heavier than they actually are.
Other people, especially those who have developed anorexia or other eating disorders will see distorted images of their body. These images don’t accurately reflect what their body mass index shows or what other people see.
You have to learn to love yourself and your body.
Also, there are cases where people simply place all their thoughts into how they look or how much they weigh; they neglect to appreciate their own worth based on personality, their level of caring for other people or their general goodness and decency.
You need to work hard on this poisonous and debilitating thought process…….if you are having trouble with this one then I strongly recommend you get some professional help as it can be a hard road to break from.
12. Quality NOT Quantity
When people develop unhealthy relationships with food, they begin to do strange things, such as choosing radical diets that include eating biscuits before a meal, drinking diet shakes for most of the meals or only eating cabbage soup for 5 days, just to name a few as I have come across dozens more.
Since you want to change how you view food, change what you are eating.
Aim to increase pleasure and satisfaction while you eat more nutritious foods as this will allow you to indulge in the experience of eating and reconnect you with your body’s natural response to good clean food.
Forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t like or chronically undereating is just reinforcing a weak relationship with quality food.
13. Ditch Your Rules
One of the key signs of a poor relationship with food is having too many dietary rules…..this could also be called fads.
These rules could include things like how much you allow yourself to eat, how many times a day you allow yourself to eat, restricting healthy fats or even regulating the number of times you chew your food.
The more rules you have, the more likely it is that you have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Make sure you write any things you do like this in your journal.
14. Free Yourself from Guilt
Every eating guide available talks about releasing the guilt associated with food.
Chances are if you’re eating, it’s because you are hungry and you need to eat. Don’t let every little thing you eat turn into a huge guilt trip. We all need some fuel to keep going. It is just the choice of fuel that makes the difference.
Beating yourself up all day because you had that office doughnut is not going to do anything productive for you or your health.
Instead, forget and release. You can do better tomorrow.
Instead, learn the art of moderation. This means eating a healthy nutritious diet on a regular basis while indulging on occasion and managing proper portions. A tip; buy smaller dinner plates……and don’t go back for seconds.
15. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you have tried everything you can think of to help yourself with your relationship with food and still find yourself struggling then it may be time to seek professional help.
There are many organizations out there dedicated to helping people with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food.
There is no shame in admitting you need help sorting out why you have these problems with how you deal with food. Please DO NOT be afraid to ask for help.
It takes great strength to admit when you need help but once you do you are well on the road to recovery. The rewards are well worth it.
Some Final Thoughts on Easy Weight Loss Sloutions
Unhealthy relationships with food can start anywhere, anytime and at any age.
With our culture’s obsession for physical perfection, it is no wonder both men and women begin to obsess over how food will affect their appearance. I am sure most of us have fallen victim to the peer pressure dumped on us about our physical attributes (or lack of) at some time in our lives.
I have witnessed this time and again over the years with quite devastating effects. So please don’t fall prey to someone else’s insecurities……..and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Food should be something you eat to provide your body with fuel and to maintain energy levels. And yes, food should be enjoyable as well……but you may have to adjust your lifestyle to accommodate your new goals.
If you are frequently eating because you are sad, you need to cope with stress, or because it seems to be the only way to deal with your anxiety, you may be developing an unhealthy relationship with food so check it out.
Eating disorders, obesity and being overweight can all be indicative of unhealthy relationships with food that include starvation, binging, skipping meals, yo-yo dieting, creating rules about what you can and can’t eat, lack of self-control and perceiving food to have other purposes besides how it is intended.
If you can begin to mend your relationship with food and eating and gain a healthy perspective, you will become healthier, lose weight, have new-found energy and stop the undue mental suffering associated with how you deal with food.
Do you know someone with any of these problems……..then please like and share, it may just help them and that would be great.
Stay well and take care – John – your Active Ageing Activist and Coach.
Shane MCLEAN says
Good article John and congrats on making the articles of the week. When it comes to habit change (something alluded too in the video) it’s advisable to start small and build from there. Good work John
John Falkinder says
Hi Shane…….thanks, I really appreciate your comments. And I agree, start small and build on your gains. It is all about progression and continuous improvement. Cheers – John.