The health and wellness industry is flooded with products and services that feed off of our insecurities. It has placed a lot of our worth on our weight and appearance. This has ensured that we view food purely as fuel, reward, or punishment.
As a result, food ends up becoming a source of anxiety, stress, and guilt. But isn’t food more than that? Food is not only a source of nourishment and enjoyment; it also plays a significant role in our culture!
Our relationship with food is always oscillating on a spectrum and is directly influenced by several factors. However, by reassessing and working on our relationship with food, we can try and prevent tipping ourselves to the extreme. Having a positive relationship with food is thus critical to maintaining a healthy body and mind.
So what are the factors that affect our relationship with food, and how do we make it better?
Let’s break it down.
Developing a healthy relationship with food is crucial, depending on how we perceive it. When food is seen only as a reward or punishment, it leads to seeking comfort in distress or countering perceived indulgence, creating a harmful cycle. For example, in tough times, people often turn to indulgent foods like ice cream and cake, resulting in overeating and guilt.
To break free from this mindset, it's vital to redefine our perspective on food, recognizing it as a source of fuel, nourishment, and pleasure. Adopting a well-balanced diet tailored to our energy needs ensures optimal bodily function, preventing the harmful cycle of constant reward and punishment.
While it is perfectly okay to use food as an outlet to deal with our emotions periodically, if we use it as our only coping mechanism for sadness, stress, anxiety, and fear, it leads to dependency. We need to realize that food is only a temporary fix; it is not the solution to our emotions. It’s quite common for us to reach out to food because of its easy accessibility; however, this will eventually lead to the punishment/reward cycle. It is also important to acknowledge and be aware of our eating patterns around periods of heightened emotions.
While these may not work for all, it might be helpful to try and find out what works for you. If you feel like you need professional help with this, then seek guidance for the same!
Dichotomous thinking is defined as thinking in terms of binary oppositions such as “good or bad”, “black or white”, or “all or nothing”, etc. We often see this type of thinking in nutrition when we classify foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ or ‘clean’ and ‘unhealthy’. For example, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are ‘clean/healthy’, and foods like cereal, pizza, ice cream, and pastries are ‘bad/unhealthy. Why is this detrimental to your relationship with food? Isn’t it healthy to avoid ‘junk’ food?
No food is inherently healthy or unhealthy. Some offer essential nutrients, while others are enjoyable and tasty. This distinction can lead to restrictive eating habits and the assignment of moral values to food, causing anxiety or fear around 'bad' or 'unhealthy' choices. Individuals with this mindset may feel guilty or anxious, leading to extreme dietary restrictions, which can be detrimental to mental and physical well-being, perpetuating unhealthy behaviors.
Adopt food neutrality by avoiding moral judgments on specific foods. Treat all foods equally, considering the appropriate time and context for consumption. Eliminate anxiety or fear associated with food labels and appreciate it for its intrinsic value. Follow a balanced approach to eating, including both nutrient-dense and enjoyable foods. Differentiate between eating for health and controlling your body, as your mindset shapes your relationship with food. Be wary of toxic thinking, as it can impact mental and physical well-being. Challenge ingrained beliefs and actively shift your mindset to enjoy food without fear or guilt. Remember, changing your perspective is a gradual process, and each step forward matters.
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