If I could achieve just one thing for my clients, it would be to help them to enjoy a better relationship with food. It can be such a wonderful thing, so good for us and with so many tastes and textures to enjoy. It’s difficult though as there’s so much media coverage around food these days, what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for us, what we ‘should’ and ‘must not’ eat. Then there’s the pressures of society to look a certain way, the quest for the body beautiful and the insecurities brought about by seeing other’s ‘wonderfully perfect’ lives through the filter of social media.
What follows are some things to consider when looking to improve your relationship with food. This is not designed to help if you feel or know that you have an eating disorder. In this instance, you should seek medical help as your health is at risk in the long term. Instead, it’s targeted at the largely unrecognised group in the community who have ‘disordered eating’; you have a poor, negative relationship with food which can strongly impact your mood, making you stressed about food choices and often guilty afterwards and lead to an unbalanced approach to what you eat and drink.
1) Recognise that you must eat and drink
We must have food and water. Without them, we cannot survive. This means that far from being bad for us, they’re the stuff of life. This makes them very different from things like alcohol or cigarettes, where we may look to quit completely. Accept food and drink as an essential and inevitable part of your life and work to better your relationship with it from there.
2) Understand that no single food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’
So often you’ll hear that this is bad for you and this is good for you, but the reality is that no food or drink is either when consumed as a one-off, then it’s just food. Things become good or bad over time when we have too much of certain things or too little of others. With that in mind, you can worry much less about what you have today.
3) Opt for a balanced approach instead of abstinence
Did you ever see the episode of Derren Brown’s show where he placed the animal-loving lady in a room with a kitten inside a glass box? As he closed the door, he gave her specific instructions not to touch the button in the room or the cat would come to harm. There was even a big sign…’Whatever you do, don’t push the button.’ What do you think she did? Of course, the cat wasn’t harmed, but it went to show that human beings in their nature are rebellious. If we say ‘I won’t’ or are told, ‘you can’t’, then it’s probably more likely that we will. And after a period of resistance, we often end up overdoing it in response.
If you know this to be true for you, tell yourself that you absolutely can have the less healthy foods, just recognise the consequences of having too much too often.
There are a small number of people for who going cold turkey and removing a certain food from their diet works. This is usually because they have a very powerful motivation for it, so if you know that’s you then that is of course absolutely fine, you’re always free to do what’s best for you.
4) Eat consciously, because you’re hungry and stop when you’re full
This is a big part of this step and the portion control step. Tuning in to your body helps you to understand if you’re eating because of hunger or emotion. Slow yourself down around food, become conscious of what you’re doing and you may find you eat less or even change your mind before you reach for the less healthy options.
5) Accept that you will slip up, and at this point you only have two choices
As we said in point 1, you are going to eat on all, or at least most of the rest of the days of your life. That means it’s almost impossible to eat and drink well every day, nor do you need to. There are lots of studies to show that taking healthy eating to the extreme is unhealthy, it’s known as orthorexia and it can be harmful to your physical and mental health. Raw food diets and restrictive eating affect the digestive system and are linked with anxiety and depression.
The key with food is that once you’ve eaten something less healthy, you only have two choices:
1) Get back to eating healthily most of the time and then it won’t have made any difference
2) Continue to eat poorer choices and then you know you’ll feel bad about it, your health will worse and you’ll likely gain weight
Which choice would you prefer?
6) Work to remove the connection in your brain between food as a treat or reward
This is ingrained in our culture and society so it won’t happen overnight. It is worth working on though. We often call less healthy foods ‘treats’ or label them as ‘naughty’ which in itself makes eating them an act of rebellion like we discussed in point 3. There are some simple things you can do though:
Regard all foods and drinks as simply food and drinks. They’re not good, bad, treats or anything else. Each is simply a mix of the different nutrients – carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water
When you set yourself tasks and goals and achieve them, reward yourself with things other than food and drink. Clothes can be a good choice as they reinforce the benefits of the new healthier you, as can experiences like days out, things that make you feel good without guilt.
7) Enjoy the less healthy options when you have them
The worst thing of all is to eat something and feel bad about it. Make a conscious decision to have something, and if you’re going to have a less healthy option, choose one that you particularly enjoy, that you love the taste of and when you have it, savour it. Take your time with it, savour every last mouthful and then move forwards without regrets.
Above all else, work on finding a balance that works for you.