Whether you have been on one diet or many diets throughout your lifetime, you are well aware that a diet comes with a set of rules. A diet tells you what to eat, what to avoid and when to eat. What you may not realize is that these rules affect your connection with food. Suddenly, you view that piece of bread holding your sandwich together as “bad” and glorify that piece of broccoli with dinner as “good.”
And if you’ve tried a few different diets, you’ve probably found yourself following different (and conflicting) food rules and restrictions. The more rules and restrictions that get thrown into the mix, the more your relationship with food changes.
What affects your relationship with food
Now, when we say, “a relationship with food,” what does that mean? A relationship is defined as “the way in which two or more people or things are connected.”1 So, having a relationship with food is another way of saying how you connect with food. We are all born with a healthy connection to food. Over time, things such as the influence of family and friends, diets and social media can change that connection.
Often, the first place your relationship with food develops is inside the home. If you grow up with a parent who is dieting or dissatisfied with their body, it can change your relationship with food and your body. Maybe you were even encouraged to diet at a young age, leading to many years of fad diets that have negatively changed your relationship with food.
The growing influence of social media has also affected people’s relationship with food. Time spent scrolling through Instagram, TikTok and Facebook can result in an increased desire to be thin and struggling with comparing your body to others.2 These unhealthy comparisons, along with social pressure from friends, may prompt you to jump on the “diet” bandwagon.
So what does a negative relationship with food look like? Here are some examples:
- You feel guilty about eating certain foods
- You feel out of control around certain foods
- You find yourself ignoring hunger cues
- You use a calorie counter or app to tell you what and when to eat
- You avoid foods that you think are “bad” for you
- You force yourself to eat foods only because they are “good” for you
Those behaviors can easily start to affect your mental health and social life. You may find yourself skipping dinner with friends because the menu doesn’t align with your diet. You may feel shame for what you ate over the weekend. What started as a harmless diet can shift toward disordered eating and even an eating disorder.
How to improve your relationship with food
As you work to break up with diets and improve your relationship with food, there are many behaviors that can support you along your journey. Three places to start are “detoxing” social media, practicing intuitive eating and with the support you need, challenging your “fear” foods.
1. Detox from social media
Social media can change the way you view your body and the decisions you make around food. It can be helpful to detox your social media feeds by unfollowing accounts that promote fad diets or unhealthy food behavior.
If you’re not sure where to start, begin by asking yourself the following questions about people or accounts you follow:
- Do their posts make me feel bad about myself, my body or my food choices?
- Do I feel like I need to change my eating behaviors or restrict or eliminate specific foods or food groups?
- Do I feel jealous or competitive after viewing their posts?
As you go through the accounts you follow, if you answer yes to any question above, it may be helpful to unfollow the account. Instead, follow accounts that make you feel good and promote body respect and intuitive eating.
2. Practice intuitive eating
We are all born intuitive eaters—trusting our body to eat when we are hungry and eat satisfying foods without labeling foods as good or bad—but the noise of diets takes us away from that natural intuition. Intuitive eating3 means letting go of rules from diets you’ve been on in the past and honoring your hunger and fullness signals.
To sharpen your intuitive eating skills, try some of these activities:
- Ask one question: We eat for many reasons and often when we aren’t even hungry, like when we’re bored or sad. Before meals and snacks, ask yourself, “What is my motivation for eating right now?” If you find you are hungry or desiring a specific food item, nourish your body with food! And if you find your motivation is from something else, such as stress or boredom, nourish your body in other ways like going for a walk, reading a book or calling a friend.
- Go slow: We live in a hustle-and-bustle world, which often leads to eating quickly in the car, at your desk or in front of the TV. Practice eating a meal while sitting down in a chair at a table with a plate, without distractions. Chew your food thoroughly, set your utensil down between bites and truly taste the flavors you’re experiencing.
- Be a detective: Look at your eating habits with a fresh perspective. Do you always get hungry at the same time each day? Does work stress make you want to dig through the pantry? Working to understand how your body and food desires interact with the world around you can help you develop healthy habits.
3. Challenge your “fear” foods
Making peace with food can take time, and challenging your “fear” foods is an important step in that process. List out the foods that you feel guilty eating or believe are “off limits,” and slowly work on bringing these foods back onto your plate. This may look like ordering regular pizza instead of cauliflower crust. Buy a cookie from your favorite bakery. Sit at the table and enjoy every bite. The goal is that you will reach a point where you can feel confident with all foods.
List out the foods that you feel guilty eating or believe are “off limits,” and slowly work on bringing these foods back onto your plate.
Tips to get started:
- Use your list to make a schedule if helpful. Tackle one new challenge food each week or at a pace that works best for you.
- For additional support, enlist a friend to enjoy the food with you.
- Think of these challenges as experiments: ask yourself questions, journal about your experience and be open to learning about yourself.
If you are looking to improve your relationship with food and desire help on your journey, reach out to a registered dietitian. There’s a lot of freedom that can be found as you improve your relationship with food!
We’ve partnered with Daily Harvest to provide expert advice to help people stay on top of their eating habits. They make it easy with plant-forward menu options to help you get through the week without the hassle.
Updated March 2, 2022