Overcoming an Unhealthy Relationship With Food

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
— World Health Organization 2006

From an outsider’s perspective, I gave the appearance that I was doing everything possible to be “healthy”. I ate an array of fruits and vegetables. I turned down desserts and ate a minimal amount of sugar. I rarely skipped a day of exercise and ran several miles every day. From society’s viewpoint, I was successful when it came to doing all the “right” things for being healthy in the eyes of our culture.

However, I was killing myself in the process.

In fact, doing all the things that were supposed to be “healthy” were actually hurting me, physically, emotionally, and mentally. My eating habits were rigid and obsessive, negatively impacting the quality of my life. I had sacrificed relationships and experiencing the fullness of life because of the time and energy that my unhealthy behaviors occupied.

Truthfully, nothing I did was ever enough. There was always another pound to lose, more ways to control my food intake, or longer distances to run. These sabotaging behaviors with food and my body were a vicious cycle that ultimately developed into a full-blown eating disorder.

The sad thing is that diet culture is so prevalent in our lives every day that it has become the new normal. We sacrifice everything that is truly important and meaningful for the sake of following a “healthy diet”, but there is nothing healthy about this.

The Dangers of Dieting

Whether you have struggled with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, chronic dieting, or any form of disordered eating, having an unhealthy relationship with food can cripple your ability to truly thrive in life.

Sadly, unhealthy eating behaviors are often hidden under the guise of being “healthy”, but what is being sacrificed in the name of health?

Maybe you have missed out on important moments with your children or family because of fear of eating certain foods. Perhaps you have found yourself stuck in a cycle of guilt and shame when it comes to eating and how you feel about your body. You may go through diet after diet only to find yourself frustrated with an unsustainable way of living.

Our culture has trapped us into a belief that our health is defined by numbers, but our health encompasses so much more than weight, BMI and clothing size. Health is reflective of the nature of our eating habits, how we treat our bodies, and the quality of each aspect of our lives - not just simply how much we weigh.

So how do you begin to transform your approach with eating to one that is more compassionate and conducive to a fulfilling life? This is a process that unfolds slowly but ultimately leads to overcoming the dieting mentality that can often leave you frustrated, dissatisfied, and mistrusting of your own body.  

Practice Awareness

Cultivating a healthy and satisfying relationship with food begins with understanding where you are. Coming to the realization that dieting simply doesn’t work is the first step toward reclaiming your life from self-sabotaging behaviors around food and your body.

Take a realistic assessment of the current behaviors you are engaging in and ask yourself if these efforts are benefitting your whole life or bringing you down. Truthfully examining your life in this way is not easy and can even be painful, but this will help you better understand how to move forward. What have you given up or sacrificed in your pursuit of healthy eating? Do you feel unhappy in other aspects of your life as a result of your food behaviors? Being aware of where your relationship with food and body is now is fundamental for change.  

Redefine Health

The definition of health has sadly been hijacked by a multi-billion dollar dieting industry. We are taught that we are healthy if we deny ourselves pleasurable foods, exercise religiously and kill ourselves in the process. It’s time we wake up and redefine the measures by which we determine health.

Understand that achieving a certain weight through unrealistic means is not a healthy behavior whatsoever. Nourishing our bodies appropriately and cultivating an approach toward living that encompasses self-care and body appreciation are indicators of good health, not the pursuit of weight loss. Ultimately, we are healthier individuals when we adopt this type of lifestyle that supports every aspect of our being, including our physical, mental, spiritual and social wellness.

Fear-mongering in the name of health is commonplace in our culture, but rejecting this definition of health can support an entirely new way of living and thriving.

Seek Professional Help

Exposing unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around food and body can feel shameful or embarrassing at times. Perhaps you feel like you are struggling through this confusing journey alone, unsure of how to piece together the different parts of your life that are controlled by an unhealthy relationship with food.

It is important to know that you are not alone. Seeking out professional help can be instrumental in helping you overcome an unhealthy relationship with food. This may include working with a registered dietitian specialized in intuitive eating and a therapist/counselor to begin renegotiating how you approach food and body.

Above all, know that you do not need to sacrifice the things you love or enjoy any more. You can rediscover what health means for you, outside of the confines of a sabotaging dieting culture. Ultimately, your life is worthy, and you are deserving of wellness in each aspect of your life.