At first glance, many people will answer yes to this question.
They eat a reasonable amount of fruit and vegetables (OK, most could do with eating a few more veggies) and a varied diet with a reasonable balance of food types. Therefore they have a reasonably healthy relationship with food – right? (Note overuse of the word ‘reasonable’ here!)
To answer this question, we need to ask ourselves, what is a healthy relationship with food. I often find the easiest way to do this is to start by asking what is NOT a healthy relationship with food.
In my work as a health and well-being coach helping clients to build a healthy relationship with food, I come across many examples of behaviour that can be classed as unhealthy including:
- A black/white mentality when it comes to food. Healthy eating is good however stressing over every little morsel of what you eat or what you don’t eat is not. Whether it is 8-/20 or even 95/5, the key is in a balance.
- Yo-yo dieting. Some people are either on a diet or off a diet. It’s obvious if they are on or off by what they are eating, when they are eating and how much they are eating. Whilst they do at times manage to lose weight, they quickly put it back on (- and more), when they then return to their normal eating.
- Serial dieters are on a lifelong diet, going from one latest fad to the next. As a result they have a tendency to be overweight or obese with all the associated health problems and risks, their health is compromised and they experience varying mood swings in tandem with their weight swings.
- Obsession with weight or food. Gaining enjoyment from food and obsessing about food all day long are different spectrum of a scale: gaining pleasure from food is healthy, day long obsession is not. Similarly, a healthy awareness of calories or weight is desirable whereas obsessing over every calorie or ounce of fat or needing to religiously stand on the scales on a daily basis is not.
- Diet Everything. This is where all food is judged by its calorie or fat value and all thoughts of nourishment and nutrients have gone out of the window. Sweeteners, sugar alternatives and diet foods replace real food resulting in a risk of lack of essential vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients.
- Starve/Binge – Skipping breakfast, missing meals will lead to the desired lack of calories intake early on in the day but will also likely result in binge eating on the very foods you wish to avoid later in the day.
- Mindless eating. Eating on the run, eating at the computer or TV and late night fridge raiding are all examples of mindless eating. Your attention is elsewhere and there is no surprise that you feel like you haven’t eaten at the end of it.
- Emotional Eating – upset, bored, lonely or stressed – no wonder no matter how much food we eat to try to make ourselves better, we never feel like we have had our fill. As the saying goes, If hunger ain’t the problem, eating ain’t the answer!
- Cravings – Most often cravings tend to be for high sugar, fat or salty processed foods such as chocolate, sugary foods, crisps and such like. It is pretty much unheard of to find people craving lettuce or broccoli for instance! Very often the foods we crave are those we eat the most of.
- Slim Not Healthy. We can unfairly judge people who are overweight or obese as having an unhealthy relationship with food when it may simply a case of taking too little exercise and too much of a good thing (or not such a good thing rather!) i. not quite having got the formula correct in terms of what to eat and how much. Being slim or within ideal BMI however does not necessarily equate to healthy. In fact, most of us have known slim or skinny people whose diet is anything but. An unhealthy relationship with food can be present regardless of shape or size.
- Secret Eating – Whether the issue is avoidance of eating, claiming to have already eaten or public portrayal of healthy eating whilst binge eating on unhealthy foods in secret, these are all examples of unhealthy behaviours.
- Obsessive Exercise – Whilst we are on the subject of unhealthy, there is also the issue of balance over exercise. We all know that there are a multitude of health benefits from doing regular exercise and hands up, I fall squarely within this camp. However obsessing about the need to exercise or stressing over missed exercise can be an extreme form. On the subject of exercise, some people instantly convert any exercise into additional calorie allowance for spending on unhealthy foods leaving the net benefit of exercise questionable.
- Unhealthy Thinking and Beliefs. Many people with an unhealthy relationship with food also have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies – obsessing and beating themselves up about their size or shape. Often deeper beliefs or thinking which they themselves may not even be aware of underlie this.
So how well did you do on the above? There is no one size fits all solution to an unhealthy relationship with food. At the same time, there is a sliding spectrum from a mildly unhealthy relationship with food to a severely unhealthy relationship with food which could border or even be classed as an eating disorder.
Each person is individual and whilst we can theorise about what may be behind this including low self-esteem, poor body image, a desire for control or quite simply, just long-standing bad habits, a personalised approach is essential to find out the specific factors involved for each individual.
Building a healthy relationship with food requires identification of key aspects. It involves addressing deeper issues such as identity, thinking and beliefs, before going on to mentally and physically put in place healthier habits and behaviours. Often environment needs addressed too.
I use a range of powerful techniques to help clients build a healthy relationship with food, moving them from a place of obsession, control (either in control or out of control), self-loathing or simply longstanding unhealthy habits and behaviours, helping them to stride out on a bright new path of properly healthy.
If you would like to build a lasting healthy relationship with food, do get in touch for an initial fully confidential chat. Similarly, if you know anyone who could benefit from my help on this, feel free to share this post or pass on my contact details.
As a health and well-being coach and therapist, I help clients with a wide range of health and well-being issues including building a healthy relationship with food, sustainable healthy weight loss, healthy eating and lifestyle habits, stress, self-esteem, sleep and much more.