10 Signs of Healthy Relationship With Food
Somewhere and somehow, most people find themselves trapped in a rocky relationship with food.
It’s usually preceded by good intentions: to get in shape, to eat healthier, or to lose a few pounds because we think it will make us feel better about ourselves.
But sometimes, we end up taking things a little too far. We put undue pressure on ourselves to be perfect, and in some cases, become obsessed with food and avoid social situations where we’re expected to eat. We start missing out on life because our self-worth becomes tied to our food choices and our bodies.
Food is an inextricable part of life – one that can bring us incredible joy or debilitating anxiety. Helping clients cultivate a healthy relationship with food is one of the foundations of my coaching philosophy, and something I strive to make a reality for everyone who passes through my coaching roster.
It takes patience, consistency, and an individualized approach, but with the right tools, me and my ELT Method coaches have helped hundreds of clients break free from restrictive food rules and enjoy food again.
Here’s my checklist for a healthy relationship with food.
- You feel no guilt or shame when you eat.
Are you able to enjoy your food and move on? Or do fearful, obsessive thoughts consume you as soon as you get up from the table?
It’s hard to enjoy your food when you label everything as “good” or “bad.”
That’s not to say that some foods aren’t more nutritious than others. But having a litany of strict food rules that cause guilt and shame when they aren’t followed is a major roadblock to having a healthy relationship with food.
Removing this kind of black-and-white thinking (in combination with mindful eating, positive coping skills, and being intentional with your decisions) leaves room to enjoy food without restricting or feeling like you’ve done something wrong.
- You enjoy foods that make you feel your best, mentally and physically.
People often assume that allowing yourself to eat and enjoy exactly what you want means binging on ultra-processed foods 24/7.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, a healthy relationship with food prioritizes enjoyment. But it also prioritizes health and wellbeing, and as such, requires you to exercise some degree of critical thinking and self-control when making food choices.
What are your short- and long term goals? Who and what do you value most? The answers to these questions should always be considered before sitting down to a meal or snack. There’s no need to be obsessive about it, but keep in mind that how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally is just as important as the instant gratification you may get from hyperpalatable foods.
- You understand that you’re not defined by your food choices.
When you’re at peace with food, you don’t judge yourself for what you eat.
This goes both ways.
You don’t berate yourself or consider yourself a “bad person” for eating dessert… but you also don’t think you’re better than other people for not eating dessert.
Food is food, not a personality trait.
There’s a small caveat here. I love my cultural foods – Bibimmyun, jjigae, kimchi, and pretty much anything that involves copious amounts of rice. To some extent, I consider these dishes to be part of my identity. They hold a special place in my heart, and help me feel more connected to my family and heritage.
The difference is that I don’t judge myself for eating them or not eating them. I am not my food choices, and neither are you.
- You don’t feel the need to justify your food choices to other people.
People always have something to say.
→ “Are you really going to eat that?”
→ “Aren’t you going to eat dessert?”
→ “I could never eat that much, I’d explode!”
In the past, these comments would have really affected me. Nowadays, I couldn’t care less what other people think about my food choices. I don’t scramble to come up with excuses for eating large portions or try to explain myself when I choose to skip dessert.
What I eat—and what I don’t—is a personal decision that doesn’t concern anyone else.
- Your food choices are not influenced by the opinions of others, with the exception of trusted professionals.
Social media is saturated with fitfluencers and unlicensed nutrition “experts” who are blessed with the gift of persuasion. Years ago, I’d routinely fall victim to IG clickbait and full day of eating (FDOE) posts, thinking these influencers must know something I didn’t.
To have a healthy relationship with food, you must learn to dismiss this kind of content as irrelevant. We’re all unique, which means you could eat the exact same thing as me and we’d still look and feel different.
If it didn’t come directly from your doctor, dietician, or other trusted health professional, there’s no reason to let it influence your choices—at least not without additional research.
- Your food choices are not driven primarily by calorie content.
Approaching food with an abundance mindset (e.g. thinking about what you can add to a meal to make it more nutritious and/or satisfying, rather than restricting or removing things) reflects a robust relationship with food.
Always gravitating towards low-calorie options shows a disregard for hunger/fullness cues and usually leaves you unsatisfied, which we know can trigger binge eating in some people.
- You don’t think about food when you aren’t hungry.
It’s totally normal to feel excited about food, whether it’s a special meal or the same breakfast you eat every day.
What’s not normal is obsessing over your next meal and fixating on what you’re going to eat when you’re not hungry. A healthy relationship with food allows you to eat, enjoy, and move on with your day.
- Food thoughts don’t dominate your time and energy.
On a similar note, thoughts of food shouldn’t dominate your life.
Again, it’s normal and healthy to think about food throughout the day. Maybe you’re baking your husband his favorite gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate cake for his birthday. Or maybe you packed a really delicious sandwich for lunch and can’t wait to eat it.
It’s when food starts taking over your life that you need to reflect on what’s going on below the surface.
- You allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy.
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you genuinely enjoy without restriction is one of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship with food.
A lot of people assume that this encourages binge eating and gluttony, but it doesn’t. Knowing how to enjoy your favorite foods while exercising a certain degree of responsibility is a learned skill—one that can truly change your life.
What’s more, habituating yourself to foods you enjoy decreases their novelty, calms feelings of food FOMO, and allows you to enjoy them without overindulging.
- You eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full most of the time.
It can take years to heal an unhealthy relationship with food and regulate hunger cues, but once you do, it’s extremely freeing and puts you in the driver’s seat.
Overeating from time to time, like on Thanksgiving or another special holiday, is expected. It’s what you do after that counts… and hopefully, that means getting right back to your normal eating schedule, rather than fasting or delaying meal times out of guilt or shame.
It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but these days, I can read through this list and honestly identify with every single point.
To take back control of my relationship with food, I had to understand the ‘why’ behind my thought processes—something I help clients do every single day.
We often lose a degree of self-awareness when we fall victim to diet culture and our own insecurities, but it’s nothing we can get back with patience, self-compassion, and a willingness to get a little uncomfortable.
I’m not saying it’s easy. But I am, without a doubt, saying that it’s possible.
To sign up for 1:1 online coaching with my ELT Method team and work towards a healthier relationship with food, visit ELTMethod.com.