Tips for Building a Healthier Relationship with Food
Today’s world of celebrity endorsements, social media, and fashion, fitness, and health influencers means we are bombarded every second of the day with societal ideals of what the “perfect” diet should be for the “perfect” body. It seems that someone is always touting the next health fad. Even seemingly harmless “healthy eating” can be taken too far in the form of orthorexia nervosa, and dietitians are certainly not exempt from this. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, this disordered eating pattern can be defined as “an obsession with proper or ‘healthful’ eating.” This could take many forms, whether it be a fixation on certain ingredients, types of food, special diets, or something else. This is often preceded by obsessive compulsive behavior, and can lead to anxiety and body image issues.
This week marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and now is the perfect time to highlight some tips to live by to stay healthy at every size and maintain a healthy relationship with food.
Here’s a few tips to live by to help foster a positive body image and healthy eating patterns:
Banish the food police.
That little voice in your head that is telling you to swap a cookie for a salad so that you don’t get fat? That’s the food police. Trust me, you won’t get “fat” by eating one cookie. There are no good foods or bad foods – everything can fit in moderation. We just shouldn’t eat too much of one thing, and we should choose foods most of the time that are minimally processed, give us energy, and make us feel good.
Get the diet mentality out of your head.
Stop going on weight loss diets that promise quick results with pre-purchased supplements, shakes, and packaged meals. Stop obsessing about calories, counting your “macros”, cutting out entire food groups, or doing whatever cleanse is popular on your social media news feed these days. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules based on preexisting health conditions, but many people don’t require any special formula to lose weight. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle choice, not a quick fix.
Eat (and drink) mindfully
Take the time to sit down and enjoy your meals. Try not to eat standing up in the kitchen, in front of the TV, running out the door, or in the car on the way to work. Enjoy the flavors, textures, aromas, and traditions around foods, and eat more slowly. This not only makes eating a more meaningful experience, but will fill you up faster.
Hone in on hydration
Oftentimes when we think we’re hungry, we might just be dehydrated. Although there’s no set amount for how much water we should be drinking daily (the old saying of 8, 8 ounce glasses per day just doesn’t hold weight), many people do not stay hydrated enough. Let your thirst guide your liquid intake, but don’t let that hydration be in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages like lattes, soda, or sports drinks. Try spicing up your water with cucumber, lemon, lime, mint, or frozen berries, or opt for unflavored sparkling water.
Move in a way that you enjoy
The key to making an exercise routine sustainable is to find something that you actually like to do. Whether it’s swimming, hiking, Zumba, yoga, biking, or walking, there’s no wrong exercise if it’s something you like and can push yourself at. Never been a runner but want to get into it? You’re probably not going to want to sign up for a marathon, but maybe you could start with a 5K. Set reasonable goals for yourself.
Pay attention to intuitive eating cues
That is, eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full. For many, that may be easier said than done. Try not to eat out of boredom or use food as a coping mechanism for depression or loneliness. Really listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Is your stomach growling incessantly? You should probably eat something. Are you feeling full but really want another bite because it looks so good? Put the fork down and safe the rest for tomorrow.
Respect your body
If you’re tall and you have bigger bones and broad shoulders, you’re probably not going to fit into a size 0. Likewise, not everyone who is a size 0 should be labeled as having an eating disorder and told to “eat more.” Sometimes, genetics is just the name of the game. Be careful not to jump to conclusions about other people’s health based solely on their body size, and set realistic expectations for your own.
Do not use food as a reward
When you achieve the health or personal goals you set for yourself, don’t turn to food as the “reward” or comfort for that. Instead, do yoga with a friend, take an art class to get the creative juices flowing, read a good book, get a massage, or buy yourself that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. You get the picture.
Celebrate health in a way that doesn’t focus on body image
We all know people who have lost weight and are really proud of it. Although we can certainly celebrate that, we need to be mindful of how we do so. Gradual, intentional weight loss while building healthy habits is great, but dropping weight unintentionally very quickly, or aiming to lose weight when already at a healthy body weight can signal disordered eating or underlying health problems. You never know what that individual may be struggling with, so rather than saying “you look so skinny” or “have you been losing weight?” say “you look healthy” or “that outfit is really flattering on you.” Compliment people on things other than their body type. By turning the focus away from body type and shifting it to other things you like about that person (their smile, their eyes, their energy, or sense of humor) you are acknowledging things that tie into their physical, mental, and emotional health without putting so much emphasis on weight or body type.
In summation, be kind to yourself and your body. Live mindfully, and that in turn will transfer to a healthier relationship with food and self.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, find out more or get help at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org