(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Winter 2018 edition on Healthy Relationships. Read the full issue here.)
When we think about healthy relationships, most of us think about our marriage or our relationship with our kids, but do you ever consider your relationship with food? We live in a world where it’s pretty easy to have negative thoughts about what and how we eat. We are bombarded with messages about diets, “good” or “bad” foods, and should/should-nots when it comes to our eating choices. Healthy eating brings to mind visions of perfectly portioned, balanced meals, prepped and packed snacks, and not a cookie or chip in sight.
But what if healthy eating was about more than nutrition? Let’s expand our thoughts on healthy eating to include something that affects our psychological, emotional and social health just as much as our physical health: building a healthy relationship with food.
What is a healthy relationship with food?
This looks different for everyone, but it’s a place where we are at peace with food. Food is more than providing your body with energy and nutrition, it also represents enjoyment, fun, family, culture, and experience. A healthy relationship with food allows us to eat for all of these reasons, without feelings of guilt. It includes ALL foods. It’s where we are practicing self-compassion when it comes to our eating habits, and letting go of perfection.
I’ve worked as a registered dietitian with Northern Health for five years, and seen first-hand the many ways that people struggle with eating. Whether it’s emotional eating, yo-yo dieting, struggling to keep a change, or low self-esteem related to our eating choices, I always encourage moving the conversation past “what I should be eating/not eating” to “why am I eating the way I am?” The majority of our decisions about food throughout the day aren’t necessarily about nutrition and physical hunger; what about habit, cravings, emotions, boredom, reward, etc.? If we only talk about nutrition in discussions about change, we aren’t addressing all the factors that play into our decisions about food. Examining our relationship with food and looking at the reasons behind WHY we are eating allows us to build a foundation for sustainable and positive change to our eating habits and behaviors.
Intuitive eating might be for you!
So, how do you build a positive relationship with food? Start with intuitive eating! Intuitive eating is an approach that helps us listen to our internal cues like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to make decisions about what, when, and how much food to eat. As adults we are influenced by external cues like time of day, diets, food rules, and other messages about how to eat. Intuitive eating takes the focus off these external cues to help us learn to trust our bodies and be comfortable with our eating. It takes time to learn and master a new way of thinking about food and eating.
To get started, here are the first four principles of intuitive eating:
1. Reject the diet mentality. We live in a world that is obsessed with dieting. However, 95% of diets fail. Get rid of diet books and magazines, unfollow “fitspiration” Instagram accounts, and opt out of conversations about diets and weight loss.
2. Honour your hunger. Keep your body nourished with regular, balanced meals and snacks. If you let yourself get too hungry, you may trigger a primal drive to overeat and override mindful decisions about food. Eating regularly and adequately helps establish the foundation to re-build trust in your relationship with food.
3. Make peace with food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what and how much of foods that you like and want. When you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat certain foods, it contributes to feelings of deprivation that can lead to intense cravings.
4. Challenge the food police. Stop labelling food as “good” or “bad.” These labels give us messages that we are “good” for eating “good” foods and “bad” for eating “bad” foods, and sets the stage for having emotional reactions to food that cloud our internal cues for hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Giving ourselves permission to eat for many different reasons (for enjoyment, social interaction, comfort, or just because, etc.) allows us to begin to trust our bodies to be able to make choices about food that make sense for us.
To learn more about building a healthy relationship with food and intuitive eating, work with a Registered Dietitian, sign up for a program like Craving Change™ (see below), or check out some of these resources:
- Intuitive Eating website
- If you have any questions about healthy eating, food, or nutrition, call 8-1-1 toll-free in B.C. to speak with a registered dietitian.
- Body Kindness blog
- Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch on Goodreads
- Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook by Ellyn Satter on Goodreads
- Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May on Goodreads
- Dietitians Unplugged Podcast
What is Craving Change?
Craving Change is a free group program offered in Prince George designed to help people build a better relationship with food. It is a five week workshop facilitated by a registered dietitian and nurse that aims to help people understand WHY they eat the way they do, and provides awareness building tools and change strategies to help people change their thinking in order to build positive eating relationships.
Designed for adults who:
- Struggle to maintain healthy eating habits
- Say they eat for comfort or in response to strong feelings
- Want to feel more in control of their eating
How to sign up for Craving Change:
Craving Change is open to the public and sign up is by self-referral. It is currently being offered four times per year in Prince George. Please call 250-565-7479 and ask to be put on the Craving Change waitlist.