If you’re like most people, your relationship with food is probably at least a little complicated.
I know what it’s like to feel at war with food, and I’m intimately familiar with the struggle to make peace with it. But I also know that working toward a peaceful relationship with food is a worthwhile endeavor. And I’m here to tell you that it’s entirely possible.
When I first felt the desire to quit the dieting and disordered eating behaviors that had been with me for years, I had no clue where to start, and I felt alone. The things I was trying to put an end to in my own life were so normal and prevalent in the lives of people around me, so I frequently doubted my motivations and desires to be free from them.
That’s why I wrote this – to help someone else out there who feels alone in her desire to be free from dieting and disordered eating but who might not know where to start. If that’s you, congratulations! You’ve already overcome the hardest part by acknowledging your desire to be at peace with food and with yourself.
These tips are not meant to be more food rules for you to add to your mental checklist; they are simply the steps I took initially that started me on the journey to freedom. I am not a medical or mental health professional, and everything in this post is based on my experience.
Without further ado, let’s start healing.
*All opinions in this post are my own; I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.
Delete Your Fitness Tracking Apps
We might as well start with the arguably most controversial and most difficult tip to implement, right? I can hear some protests coming at me through the computer screen already, but please stick with me.
As someone who used to be married to her food tracking app, I know how difficult it can be to break the habit of recording every bite of food you put into your mouth if you’ve been doing it for a long time. But I can honestly say that out of everything that helped improve my relationship with food and get me on the path to healing, this was the biggest game-changer. Hands down. If I hadn’t deleted that app, I have no doubt I would never have gained freedom from restriction.
When it comes down to it, apps that track calories consumed and/or burned are designed to help people manage calories in versus calories out, along with macronutrients, micronutrients, and a whole lot of other data. Recovering from disordered eating requires less management and more trust in your body’s innate wisdom.
I am in no way suggesting that awareness of nutritional data is bad. In fact, my nutritionist was able to identify that I was not eating enough calories with the help of a calorie-counting app she had asked me to use to record my meals. What I am suggesting is that, for those of us who struggle with our relationship with food, i.e. the vast majority of the female population, this knowledge tends to lead to harmful, or at least potentially harmful, behaviors.
I didn’t record my calorie intake because I was curious – I recorded it so I could control it.
Matthew 18:8 says if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off. While fitness apps can serve a good purpose, and not everyone who uses them has a disordered relationship with food, tracking calories and macros can become a full-blown addiction. You would never hand a glass of wine to an alcoholic. That’s why I think quitting these apps cold-turkey gets you on the quickest, surest road to recovery.
Unfollow Triggering Social Media Accounts
You know the accounts I’m talking about – the ones whose posts you linger on with that sinking feeling in the pit in your stomach and that internal voice that whispers, “I wish I looked like that.” Time to hit the unfollow button.
Learning to love and accept your body can be difficult when you’re constantly being told you’re not good enough. That’s the message our brains get when we unconsciously compare ourselves to the images we scroll through on social media.
Constant comparison is counterproductive if you’re working toward total, radical self-acceptance. This process can be really difficult, and weeding out these little seeds of self-doubt can help you start to see yourself as a whole person, totally unique and worthy of love, rather than as second-best to someone else’s model shots.
Listen to Your Gut
How many times have you gone out to eat with friends, opened a menu, and flipped straight to the “Salad” section? Or, if you’re like me, maybe you Googled the menu ahead of time and have already known what you’re going to order since yesterday.
Food is as much about spontaneity, pleasure, fun, comfort, and culture as it is about nourishment. Beginning to improve your relationship with food involves starting to bring some of these lost elements back into the picture.
So, the next time you’re at a restaurant and you’re tempted to go for the “safe” choice you think might be the healthiest, try to tune into what your gut is telling you. Allow yourself to look over the entire menu, and notice what sounds really good to you.
Then, deep breath… order it.
I used to view eating as a chore. I hated the emotions that came up for me around food, so my inclination was always to just get it done. Eat the food and move on.
One practice that began to change the way I thought of and interacted with food was gratitude. Instead of shoveling a few bites of bagel into my mouth over the sink before heading out the door, I started to treat my meals as sacred.
I put a little bit more effort into preparing good meals and snacks that made me excited to eat, and I arranged them nicely on a plate. Instead of diving right in, I started taking a moment to thank God for the food in front of me and for all of the hands that worked hard to get it there.
Mealtimes are rituals for me now. There are about 795 million people in the world who do not have enough food to sustain a healthy life. Having food to eat is a daily blessing that many of us take for granted. I find that pausing to give thanks serves as a reminder of God’s providence – food is a gift, it allows me to live, and it is good.
Eat A Meal Without Distractions
Going back to my point about food rules, I think it’s important not to turn this suggestion into yet another rule we’re supposed to follow around food. I mention this because I’ve heard this tip given as a way to eat less or to lose weight, and that has nothing to do with why I’m mentioning it here.
Here’s the reason I’m mentioning it: improving your relationship with food starts with re-learning how to eat intuitively.
All of us came out of the womb equipped with the innate ability to know when and how much to feed ourselves. But, as we traversed our paths through life, many of us grew deaf to our bodies’ signals. We replaced them with diet blogs, rules, and restrictions.
When you first start trying to get back in touch with your body’s signals, it takes some work to get back on the right frequency. In order to discern your body’s hunger levels and desires for certain types of food, first, you must listen. And listening requires shutting out interfering noise.
Even if it’s just for one meal per day, try to eat without doing anything else. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and just be present to the food in front of you. It might be uncomfortable at first, and that’s ok. Lean into the discomfort, and allow yourself to feel all of the emotions that bubble up as you do this.
Eventually, this practice helped me to enjoy my meals, not just get through them mindlessly.
Read ‘Intuitive Eating’
If I had to name a single resource that has been the most important for repairing my relationship with food, it would hands-down be the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Everything in this book is pure gold. If you’re at a place where you really want freedom from your struggles with food, pick yourself up a copy. It’s earned a permanent spot on my shelf, and I still go back to it when I need reminders about how to practically handle mental and food-related challenges that pop up from time to time.
Be Patient With Yourself
I wish I could snap my fingers and you would suddenly see yourself the way God sees you. I wish it would make you release the pressing need you feel to control what you eat or how much you exercise or how your body looks.
Like most things in life worth doing, healing your relationship with food takes time.
One thing I wish I had known when I started healing from disordered eating is that there is no finish line. You won’t wake up one day and all of the sudden be a perfect eater – because there is no such thing.
There will, however, come a day when you feel at peace with yourself. Your primary concern in life will no longer have anything to do with food, and a new sense of freedom will replace the anxiety you used to feel.
The road to freedom is not always straight and smooth. Mentally berating yourself for your failures along the way will only knock you further off course. Accept that you will fail, but each failure will be a new lesson in how you can better listen to your body and provide what it needs.
And if you need a little encouragement along the way, come back here for some words of support. I understand how difficult this undertaking is, but trust me – it’ll all be worth it. Freedom is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, and a healthy relationship with food will help you get there.