How to build a positive relationship with food

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A positive relationship with food is the ‘how’ of nutrition which can be simply defined as ‘eat to live, not live to eat’. Why is the ‘how’ of nutrition so important? Because your relationship with food affects your perception of body image. Having a poor body image leads to poor medical health, physical health, psychological health and social well-being…and for people who diet, weight issues.

Do you feel shame and guilt around food or with eating? These are signs your food relationship needs work, for the sake of your self esteem and body image.

You can practise building a healthy relationship with food by:

1. Eating normally.

The ‘how’ to a health relationship with food starts with ‘normal eating’, and not depriving yourself of the foods you truly feel like.

2. Use of positive language.

Don’t talk about diets as this gives the impression they are a superior way of eating.

Avoid labelling your food as “good” or “bad”/“naughty“. Or even “clean”, “raw” and “paleo” which is a current trend that is harmful to food relationships and body image. Food is MORALLY NEUTRAL. Judging food does not make it superior to other foods. This behaviour takes the enjoyment out of eating and it leads to an unhealthy obsession around food, which are risk factors for eating disorders. Positive language to describe food includes ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ food.

The language people use to comment about a person’s appearance and even themselves, can also be a problem. Do you ever find yourself saying to a friend, “Wow have you lost weight?”, or “I’ve put on a few kilos, I need to start a diet”. This language is also harmful. It gives the impression that weight loss is the ultimate goal in life and it makes us healthy. So much research points to the opposite! But why do we still follow this ‘cult’?

Please work on changing your language for the kids, as they are so impressionable. They are too young to understand anything different to what you are telling them. We don’t want to set them up for the negative food relationship and body image behaviours that you have potentially learned.

3. Focus on what your body does and can do rather than what you want to change.

Love and accept your body. Your body is amazing! Appreciating and respecting all the things your body can do will help you to feel more positive, and reduce the preoccupation you may have about changing your body.

It is important to remember that you cannot change some aspects of your appearance. Your height, muscle composition and bone structure are determined by your genes. Whilst a person can change some things, it is important to understand that there is no right or wrong when it comes to body shape or appearance. When people engage in this behaviour, they do so thinking they will feel better about themselves and life will become better for them. These practices do not usually achieve the desired outcome (physically or emotionally), and can result in more intense negative feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt, as well as place a person at greater risk of developing an eating disorder. You have the power to change the way you see, feel and think about your body. Action it today!

4. Eat in a relaxing environment focusing on enjoying your food.

Preferably with the TV off…

5. Eat slowly.

Eating slowly and chewing your food well will help you to taste and enjoy food with all of your senses (sight, sound smell, touch and taste). When you eat slowly your body is more likely to signal to you when you have had enough food, without eating too much or becoming too full. The brain registers fullness about 20 mins after the stomach is full.

Eating slowly allows your brain to catch up, so you can eat enough for nourishment and pleasure without eating too much.

6. Use positive enhancing thoughts.

Say positive things to yourself every day. When you hear something often enough, you start to believe it. If you happen to catch yourself saying something negative, get into the habit of rephrasing it. Eg. Change “I am…{not doing well/lazy/fat etc }” to “I’m having a thought that I am…{not doing well/lazy/fat etc}”.

7. Show gratitude to your food in the way it nourishes you and provides enjoyment.

The French have it right through their salutation, “Bon Appétit”. And since learning Japanese, the Japanese also have it right, with their word “Itdakimasu”.

8. Don’t view eating and life as a need for perfection, but a process.

Look at the bigger picture. No one day really matters much on its own.

9. Set positive, health related focused goals rather than weight loss related ones.

Rephrasing goals from weight focused to well-being related are positive, achievable and realistic.

Setting goals purely about weight sets you up for failure, as you cannot control how your body responds to the restrictive eating practises of dieting, and how your genes respond, particularly in the long term. Everyone is different. The research shows that weight is regained plus more within a few years.

Take care of yourself through eating in moderation, listening to what your body really needs to eat, and being physically active. The weight will take care of itself later.

10. Avoid making body comparisons to others.

Everyone is different and this is what makes a person special. The media do not help with this point. Limit exposure to unhealthy food and body practises. Don’t believe everything you see!

11. Be kind to yourself!

Full stop.

Another word on the kids:

It is important for parents/carers to set their children up for good nutrition practises and self esteem in adulthood, as it overall increases their quality of life and ability to become productive members of society. You are the biggest role model for your kids, but are you the best role model?

*****

For more information about body image visit:

http://www.nedc.com.au/

http://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

Are there any other behaviours you believe help improve relationships with food? I’d love to hear them in the comments section.

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