Oftentimes we tinker with our diets in some shape or form in order to feel better or differently about ourselves. The fact of the matter is – we all have some type of relationship with food because we are human and we have to eat to live. Consequently then, the relationship we have with our food is developed throughout our lives and more often that not changes because of internal and external factors. These factors range from our physical need to eat to psychological, nutritional and external pressures to look a certain way or follow a specific diet. We should however strive to have a healthy relationship with food, free from stress and pressure. We should aim to eat in a way that nourishes our bodies, supports of physical activity and makes us happy. Let me share with you some simple and practical tips on how to have a healthy relationship with food.
Here is the deal – diets don’t work. We have developed hundreds of different diets and ways of eating but not one of them have provided us with ‘the answer’. If there was a diet with a 100 % success rate, we would all be on it. Diets tend to work only temporarily due to one common fact, cutting calories. What you should be working on instead is a long term, sustainable way of eating. A way of eating that is suitable for YOU.
Focus on educating yourself about the many nutritional benefits of food. Take the time to pay attention to how certain foods make you feel both physically and mentally. Don’t cut out food groups ‘just because’, instead eat the foods that fuel your body and foods that help you thrive. Learn to enjoy treats without any guilt. Self-imposed restrictions can result in eating binges, psychological manifestations such as preoccupation with food, increased emotional responsiveness and distractibility. Keep in mind that if you have been through a roller coaster of dieting you will need time to learn how to become more familiar with what your body truly wants and what it thrives from. However, do not let the time dishearten you. Developing a sustainable way of eating will help you in the long run and improve your quality of life. Restrictive diets will only bring you temporary results and more frustration.
Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism, it has become increasingly popular as a way of self-calming and as a method of changing eating behaviors. Mindful eating encourages us to gain awareness of our eating experiences and has little to do with the concern of calories, carbohydrates, fat, protein, weight on the scale or any type of restrictive diet. It instead focuses on the sensual awareness of the food. It encourages us to become familiar with what foods we like or the proportions we prefer.
No one has the same experience with the same food every time. The idea is for people to have their own experiences and to be in the moment. To begin practicing mindful eating you should avoid distractions such as screens, eating on the go or the focus on calories. Re-connect with your hunger cues, remember what its like to feel hungry and what it is like to feel full. Digestion starts in your mouth, so don’t forget to chew properly! When you chew properly, you have already started the breaking down of food. Make sure you sit, chew and breathe when you eat. Avoid mindlessly inhaling your food.
EXAMINE HOW YOU VIEW FOOD
The food you fuel yourself with is EVERYTHING. It impacts your energy, your mood, your skin and even your personality. It all begins with what is on your plate. You get to choose how good you feel, and learning which foods work for your unique body is essential for optimal performance in every area of life. Honor where you are, and start to tune in. The best fuel for you may not be the same as anybody else.
Unlearn the concept of good vs bad food and re-connect with how certain foods make you feel. Do they make you feel sluggish, bloated or energetic and happy. Yes, some foods are more nutritionally beneficial while others are not so much. However there is not one single food group that makes you gain body fat or another which makes you shed body fat overnight. You should focus on what foods make you feel fueled and satisfied. Avoid listening to external messages about super foods or foods that are demonized.
EAT WITHOUT GUILT
Food is not your enemy, food is fuel and nourishment for all of the processes that happen in your body, all day, every day. Food needs to fuel your biochemical processes as well as your daily activities. Don’t look at food as only a caloric value, or as good or bad. A plate of broccoli is not a miracle food with healing powers, and a slice of cake is not the demon that destroys your health. Enjoy what you eat weather it is a healthy meal with veggies, proteins and fats or even a slice of pizza. Don’t cloud your eating with negative thoughts of what you should or shouldn’t eat. There is no shame in enjoying food, it is normal to take pleasure in eating and enjoying a meal, we are not made to beat ourselves up about every bite.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Find an activity you love to do. Being physically active should not be a punishment for what you ate. Just like we are human and we need to eat to live, we are also made to move our bodies. Too often we hear that we should burn off the food that we eat, or we should burn a certain amount of calories in order to earn a meal. However, exercise as punishment for eating is a slippery slope. Focus on moving your body on a regular basis so that you develop healthier habits around movement. Take any opportunity you have to move your body, from cleaning your house, to walking daily or hitting the gym. Don’t feel ashamed if you sometimes need to rest as your body benefits from resting and recovering rather than stressing from strenuous exercise. Remember it is what you do consistently over time, not what you do sometimes which counts.
Having a healthy relationship with food isn’t about being perfect. It is about balance and practicing good habits consistently and over time. Stress of any sort can increase cortisol (a stress hormone) in your body which then decreases blood and oxygen flow to the stomach, therefore affecting your digestion negatively. Stress can be physical, through over-exercising, lack of sleep or emotional. Practice breathing to help relieve some stress, or do a relaxing activity such as reading, or brisk walking outdoors. Develop a relaxed approach with food, this can help you with weight maintenance and overall better health. Try to slow down when you eat and become aware of how different foods make you feel.
A healthy relationship with food should not be directed by people who lead by ‘my way or the high way’ approach. It is so important to educate yourself. Take snippets of information from all sources, but never follow one individual and do only what they do. I am a big believer in educating ourselves about health so that we can make informed decisions. We are all UNIQUE, our energy needs differ, our preference for food is different, the way we move our bodies is different. If all of these factors are different then we cannot expect to be eating the same way. Practice having a healthy relationship with food that meets your nutritional requirements , fuels your activities and makes you feel good and happy.
Disclaimer – I am not a health care professional. This blog provides general information and discussions about health and wellness. The information and other content provided in this blog are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.