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Overcoming unhealthy emotional relationship with food

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

A healthy relationship with food means to learn good behaviors, perceptions, emotions, and mindsets about it. One should create a favorable experience with food rather than negative ones as is the primary goal of a healthy relationship with the food that we consume. Having a good relationship with food is not something that can be achieved overnight, rather, it’s something that you will have to work on your entire life — just as we work on another relationship such as with our partner, friend, or any other meaningful person in our life.

Unhealthy relationship with food is a guilty feeling when someone eats certain food more than required by the body. It can also be overeating or “off-limits” of certain food, binge eating or eating in response to emotions like disappointment, anger, stress, boredom, nervousness. In such cases, food becomes a source of comfort and distraction, leading to overeating and poor food choices. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, poor nutrition, and an increased risk of various chronic diseases.

Understanding the relationship with food
Before one can start working towards a good relationship with food, it’s important to acknowledge the signs and symptoms of a bad relationship with food. According to me, a good relationship with food has absolutely no connection with the quality of your diet or the types of food that you eat, but rather how and why did you choose the foods you eat. When one improves the relationship with food, we tend to notice un-stress and worry around eating and enjoy food freedom.

Listing few signs of a bad relationship with food:
  • Feels guilty about eating.

  • Starts avoiding or restricting foods that are “bad” for you.

  • Relying on the apps or on calorie counters to tell you about you eating for the day.

  • Starts ignoring your body’s natural hunger pans.

  • You have a history of following the latest diet fads.

  • There is an immense stress and anxiety when eating in social group due to fear of what others may think of your food choices.

  • When you experience yourself restricting and/or binging food.

You don’t have to experience all of these signs to have a bad relationship with food. Yet, the sign that your relationship with food could be improvised if you feel any type of shame, guilt, stress, or fear regarding the foods you eat.
It’s also important to realize that your relationship with food may be transient. Sometimes you may eat with complete freedom and have no remorse for the foods you eat (this is great), but other times you may feel guilty after eating certain foods (this is not great, but normal).
The goal of a good relationship with food is to have more positive experiences with food than negative ones. Showing patience and kindness toward yourself is paramount.

Learn to identify your body need’s
When we start listening to the body, it signals us when to eat or not eat. As, a individual everybody has it’s natural ability to regulate their hunger. If people get into the habit of listening to their inbuilt hunger cues or pans, they can easily regulate their appetite and can quantify their food intake.
Mindful choice about eating
Mindful eating plays important role in mending bad relationships with food. It means you are fully present in the moment as well as present mentally during the eating experience. It actually helps to learn how to slow down and savor the food you are eating and can help you learn which food you genuinely cherish. Mindful eating helps in becoming more in tune with your body’s natural hunger and helps feel full.

Forbid terming food as “good” or “bad”
Classifying food under different terms such as ‘Can eat’ or ‘Avoid eating’ and putting labels on them like “Good” or “Bad” gives those foods power over an individual. It will enforce us to judge ourselves when we eat the so-called “bad” food. Also, as a human nature to want something you don’t think you can have, a manifest to cravings. So, analysing all foods as equal, with no food being better or worse than another helps built a healthy relationship with food. When you forbid viewing foods as “good” or “bad,” you take away the food’s power. With time, the craving to indulge in food just because you are in its presence will fade and you won’t feel the need to overeat.

relationship with food

Being mindful of the effect that stress has on eating and food choices it is best to plan in advance your food choices and eating habits during times of stress as it helps in lowering stress. Lack of sleep is a major contributor to increase stress. During stress automatically we human tend to binge eat so the best solution is A good night’s sleep. To avoid such situations, ensure keeping a few healthy food options handy like dry fruits, sugar free dessert or you can try to manage stress by distracting the mind in different ways.

Relate eating with positive practice
If one keeps a positive attitude towards food, it facilitates healthy behavior towards food also cooking new dishes or recipes which include healthy ingredients you like helps. Later you can sit down, relax yourself free from distraction, when you eat them and try to fully enjoy the tastes, flavors, colors, and textures. Constructing a mental time table of your meal plans especially during a busy week is important as it not only saves you time but doesn’t let your stress affect your meal choices. Having a clear and concreate plan will cater well when you might have too many distractions to listen to your body. Instead of giving a reason for your food choices, allow yourself to eat food that you feel is best for you at that very moment.

Lastly, changing the way we think about food can also help overcome an unhealthy emotional relationship with food. Rather than seeing food as a reward or punishment, it is important to view it as nourishment for our bodies and fuel for our daily activities. A shift towards a more positive relationship with food, such as focusing on enjoying the taste and the social aspects of eating, can also help reduce the need for emotional eating


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