Our society is obsessed with bodies. Everywhere you look, there are advertisements for weight loss programs, gyms and diets. Social media stars and celebrities gush over methods they used to tone up and slim down. Our food and diet haven’t escaped notice either. Fad diets claim that eating nothing but coconut oil or restricting your eating window to one hour a day is the way to drop the pounds. The packaging on food in stores is loaded with terms such as low-fat, sugar-free and low carb.
But it doesn’t stop at body image and weight. These weight loss tactics also prey on your emotions by telling you that the only way you’ll be happy, successful or full of self-esteem is by changing the way you eat. This can lead to a fractured relationship between you and your food. Read on to discover what the problem is and how you can break free to heal your relationship with food. (1)
Do you need to heal your relationship with food?
How do you know if your relationship with food needs work? Well, let’s start by looking at what a healthy relationship with food looks like. The key to a healthy relationship with food is the lack of fear and anxiety.
You shouldn’t have feelings of fear or anxiety when you look at food, no matter what type of food it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a luscious piece of chocolate cake or a veggie platter. Simply looking at these foods or being offered some shouldn’t cause you any negative feelings. If it does, chances are, you have some kinks in your relationship with food. (2)
Related: The Downsides of Diet Culture
What’s the surface problem?
The surface problem is the one that you notice. It’s the feelings of stress around food or the fear of certain food groups and the desire to restrict them. It could be the binge eating you do while you’re watching TV late at night and the over-exercising or purging you do when guilt washes over you after a large meal. It’s the counting of calories, fasting, diets and eating disorders. It could be turning to food after a hard day of work and cravings for food you know you just shouldn’t eat. (3)
These are all surface problems. Now I’m not downplaying them by any means. These problems are serious, and they require treatment. However, there’s usually a problem behind the problem that needs to be addressed before you can heal your relationship with food.
Once you’ve noticed that you may have a fractured relationship with food, you should book an appointment to speak with a nutritionist or your doctor. They can help you determine if you have an eating disorder or if your food issues stem from misinformation, stress, insecurity or boredom.
Eating disorders are complex issues that involve disordered thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and body image. They affect both the mind and the body. Common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. (4)
Anorexia is categorized by a severe restriction of food intake coupled with an intense fear of gaining weight and a disordered view of body image. People suffering from anorexia often view themselves as much heavier than they truly are. This illness can lead to severe problems, including organ failure and, in extreme cases, death. (5)
Bulimia is categorized by a cycle of eating with a binge followed by some form of purging. Binge eating is often done in secret, and it’s defined as eating an abnormally large amount of food in a set period. The purging that follows a binge eating episode can take the form of calorie restriction, laxatives or forced vomiting. This repeated cycle of binging and purging can wreak havoc on a person’s physical health. (6)
Binge eating disorder:
This disorder is relatively new. It’s categorized by periods of binge eating that are often done in secret. What separates it from bulimia is that despite the shame and guilt a person might feel, they don’t purge their body of the food they ate. Instead, the feelings of shame trigger another binge eating episode. This illness can lead to obesity and the health issues that come with it, including diabetes and heart disease. (7)
If you have an eating disorder, you should speak with your family doctor. They might refer you to a specialist for help. Eating disorders are extremely dangerous, and they require medical supervision to properly diagnose and treat.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder:
A major cause of issues with food is the skewed way in which we view our bodies. There are countless people in this world who believe there is something wrong with the way they look. This dissatisfaction with our bodies doesn’t discriminate against sex, age or weight (skinny, muscular, and overweight people can all see themselves as flawed in some way). This general dissatisfaction with our appearances can even morph into a disorder of its own known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder which is characterized by obsessive worrying about a specific part of the body that is perceived as flawed or ugly. (8)
The root of the problem
Although the surface problem involves our relationship with food, a deeper issue often triggers our disordered eating habits. To get to the root of this problem, you’ll need to work with a team of health care professionals that might include your doctor, a nutritionist and a therapist.
Food issues are complex, and their treatment often involves more work on our minds than it does on our actual eating habits. Stress, boredom, anxiety, depression, lack of self-esteem, trauma, insecurity and body image issues are common causes of disordered eating. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause unless you’re working with a professional. The cause of disordered eating is often buried deep, and it can take some digging to uncover. (9)
It may be that you experienced a lack of control earlier in your life, and you turned to food for either comfort or something you could exert control over. Turning to food for comfort can lead to overeating, while seeing food as something you can control can lead to dieting and food restriction.
Alternatively, you may shun certain foods or strive to lose weight because you don’t feel comfortable in your own body. These feelings of insecurity and low-self esteem drive you to re-shape your body using food and exercise in a desperate attempt to uncover self-love and happiness. (10)
The problem is, happiness doesn’t come from restricting or over-indulging in food. In fact, these habits only fuel the negative emotions you have surrounding food.
Related: Natural Ways to De-Stress Your Life
Healing our relationship with food
The biggest thing you can do to help yourself heal your relationship with food is to speak to a professional. This could be your family doctor, a nutritionist or a psychologist. They can help you determine if there is a problem, what might be causing it and what your next steps should be.
A healthy relationship with food involves a more intuitive approach. It involves getting in touch with your body again. Toddlers know what food their body needs intuitively and how much food they need to eat. We all have this power within us; we’ve just lost touch with it.
Getting to know your own hunger and fullness cues, mindful eating, and relaxing your food rules can all help heal your relationship with food. As a result, you begin to trust your body again, which can heal self-esteem and body image issues. (11)
Food is not good or bad. Food is food. It’s there to nurture your body and give you the fuel you need to survive. But it can also be delicious, and that’s okay! If you think you might have a problem, you should speak to a medical professional who can help you heal your relationship with food.
Kaitlyn Bain is a professional health and wellness writer with a passion for helping her clients educate their readers on healthy lifestyles.