The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.
We all think we have a healthy relationship with food because we tell ourselves we’re eating healthy and looking after our bodies but when it really comes down to it most of us struggle to maintain that relationship. There is a fine line between eating healthily & mindfully and constantly obsessing over the food you eat; it isn’t always easy to see when we cross the line.
Every day our brains are berated with food media, adverts on the radio and television, posts on your social media, billboards for the latest food products – there is no escape. You aren’t even safe in the supermarket, years of research and billions of dollars have gone into the psychology of how we shop making our food markets a minefield to navigate without getting sucked into the consumerism.
In the last six hours my own Facebook feed has showed me these sponsored ads all relating to either food or body image:
Just think about your morning routine:
- You wake up in the morning – most people check their phone first thing, so you scroll through Facebook, see these ads – now you’re hungry.
- You get up, shower, maybe listen to the radio where you’ll hear more adverts for food.
- Head to your car, where there is probably a flyer for some sort of fast food outlet on your hanging on your door, lying on your step or stuck on your car windscreen.
- During your drive to work the radio blasts you with adverts and every lamp post you plast is projecting the latest offer from one food chain or another or you pass by cafes with adverts in the window boasting breakfast deals or lunch specials.
- By the time you get to the office at 9 you’ve probably already seen or heard over 100 adverts for food.
Think back to when we were young and how simple the idea of eating was, we ate when we were hungry; there was no counting, no points, no weights, food was fun, uncomplicated and fuel for our bodies so we could keep playing, climbing, learning and living. Then at some point everything changed. There came a time when our childhood innocence became marred by the idea of being fat, being pretty, being just like everyone else, all of a sudden we were plagued by body image ideals and food rules.
I remember as a child, learning about the food pyramid and how certain foods were good and others were bad, there was no middle ground. There was one worksheet we had to complete in Year 2 which was made up of an empty table with two sections, good and bad; we had to go through a selection of magazines cutting out pictures of food we found and putting them into the good or bad side of the table…still to this day I can clearly see my finished sheet, the bad column was full to the brim with pictures of cakes, sweets, chocolate and burgers, while the good column was sparse with a few images of fruit, vegetables and grains…
Why were we not taught about moderation? Why were we given such a black and white view of the fuel our bodies need? From as young as four children have a fear of food instilled in them under the guise of teaching them to eat healthily when really we should be teaching them to eat real food, mindfully.
As we grow all these things we were taught as children manifest into obsessions, eating disorders and warped realities of what and when we should be eating. Should we be eating three times a day and not snacking, five times a day with two of those being snacks, just two large meals a day; should we be eating only 500 calories twice a week or drinking tea instead of eating? Should we be avoiding all carbs or just not eating them after 4pm? Should we be avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar, meat, tap water, bottled water, kale, corn, soy? Does your brain hurt yet? Mine does.
Not everyone has an unhealthy relationship with food, there are people who have no problem eating simple and clean, loving their bodies and maintaining a balance a lot of us struggle to even find. How do you tell if your relationship with food is an unhealthy one?
- Do social situations where food will be served cause you stress, do you immediately start panicking about what you will and will not be able to eat?
- Do you find yourself worrying about what you should and should not be eating, do you feel overloaded with information that makes choosing food difficult?
- Do you follow rules and advice from books and articles to the letter despite how it may make you feel? Do you allow these rules and suggestions to impact your food choices to the point of causing stress?
- Do you worry that eating a certain food or food group will negatively effect your weight and / or health causing you to avoid it to an almost obsessive level?
- Do you turn down invitations to see friends because of where they are going and a fear of what you may or may not be able to eat there?
- Do you find yourself being easily triggered by advertising and social media images of processed foods?
- Do you find yourself constantly thinking about food, be it planning your next meal, what you will eat at a restaurant or what you will have for lunch when it is only 9am?
- Do you find yourself eating because you think you should be an not because you are hungry?
- Do you find yourself eating quickly during a meal and feeling uncomfortably full afterwards, often with stomach pain or extreme tiredness?
- Do you find yourself eating when you are sad, stressed, angry or bored?
If the answer to any of these questions is a yes then it may be time to look at your relationship with food and the way you approach loving and caring for your body. After years of being taught all the “rules” of eating, reading all the latest research and being told which foods are good and which are bad how do you go back to simple? How do you undo what your brain has learnt?
Will power, planning and a lot of positive reinforcement.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind to improve your relationship with food:
- Remove all the rubbish from your social media.
In this day and age there is no hiding from advertising but you can limit yourself; go through your Facebook likes, who you’re following on Instagram and Twitter and cull, get rid of anyone who constantly posts processed or fast food, try instead to fill your feed with inspiring images of wellness and fitness as well other things you enjoy that don’t revolve around food, any foodies you do follow should be those that post simple, clean meals to inspire you in your own kitchen.
- If you can’t eat it responsibly, don’t keep it in your house.
If you cannot help but binge on a whole family size bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate then don’t buy it. Keep the temptation out of your house. If you know you eat too much pasta then leave it off your shopping list next week and try something new instead.
- Focus on your food and eat mindfully.
When you sit down to eat a meal, even if it’s a snack, allow that to be your main focus, stop watching TV, scrolling through your phone or reading while you’re eating and focus on what is in front of you. Eat with your family, sit down and talk, reconnect.
- Eat slowly and enjoy what you’re nourishing your body with.
Eating your meal should not be a race, no one is going to steal your food, it’s yours, don’t panic eat. Take your time building each forkful, savour each mouthful and indulge in the flavour, don’t let yourself eat anything that isn’t full of flavour, it should be cooked with care and love and that should be evident in every bite…do not let yourself suffer through bland boring food for the sake of eating.
- Eat when you’re hungry and not just because you think you should be.
Let your body tell you when you’re hungry, don’t just think that because it’s 8am you have to have breakfast or you have to have lunch at 1 and then dinner at 6, wait for your body to tell you it’s hungry and then eat. On the other hand don’t let yourself starve, don’t punish your body by making it wait too long when it is hungry – this is what causes you to binge on anything and everything you can get your hands on.
- Listen to your body, before, during and after you’ve eaten.
You need to learn to listen to your body, become friends with your body, learn what it likes and it doesn’t like, what agrees with your tummy and what really, really doesn’t. Before you eat figure out a) if you’re hungry and b) what you really want – do you need protein, fruit, something crunchy? While you’re eating make sure you go slow, enjoy your food and most importantly, stop when you’re full, don’t push it until you’re stuffed and ready to pop, there is no need to be a glutton. After you meal make sure you take note of any adverse reactions, there may be some foods your body doesn’t want – for me these foods include gluten, dairy and potatoes, each one makes me feel bad in various ways.
- Use a knife and a fork.
When you sit down to eat don’t be lazy, pick up your knife and fork, fork and spoon, what ever cutlery is appropriate for your meal and use them properly. Don’t just sit and push your food around with a fork stabbing aimlessly at what ever is on your plate.
- Appreciate where your food has come from.
Food doesn’t just appear in your fridge. It’s not magically created (at least it shouldn’t be) in a factory. Take the time to appreciate that someone worked hard to grown or rear your food and I don’t mean you have to get all worship the gift but just keep in mind how amazing the process of growing and harvesting what’s on your plate really is. This is also a really good way to encourage you to buy better, local, produce.
- Avoid processed foods.
Real food doesn’t have ingredients, real food is ingredients. Anything that comes in a packet and is made in a factory is not real food, even if it’s labeled as organic or healthy, most of it – but not all, which is why you should always read the label – is pumped full of sugar and chemicals to make it taste better and leave you craving more.