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Start Healing Your Relationship With Food

Written by: Chelsea Haines, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Food. Love it or hate it, you're in a relationship with it. Food fears, food anxiety, and body dysmorphia are at an all-time high around this time of year. Many of us go on vacations to the beach feeling nervous about our "beach body." In other cases, we're seeing family we haven't seen all year, and we want to present how well we've been doing, unconsciously equating thinness to having a more successful year. In a less positive scenario, you might have family members who grew up in an age rife with diet culture. You are anxious about seeing them and being the target of their inevitable comments.

How is your relationship with food?

Many people do not even realize that the thoughts and behaviors around food and their bodies are not healthy ones. I didn't realize how complex and entrenched my (then) unhealthy relationship with food was until a mentor called me out on some of these recurring thoughts. Are some of these thoughts and behaviors ones you regularly find yourself thinking and acting out? Do you:

  1. Label foods as "bad" and/or avoid food groups altogether.

  2. Skip meals after you had "bad" foods earlier on that day or the day before?

  3. Avoid eating with others.

  4. Avoid social events where foods on your bad list will be in abundance.

  5. Prefer eating alone because you don't want others to judge your portion sizes or choices.

  6. Consistently choose the healthiest option on the menu, even over the ones you'd prefer when eating out with others.

  7. Use food as a reward system and/or as punishment.

  8. You eat until you are uncomfortably full or even continue eating after you're full.

  9. You feel guilt or shame before or after eating.

  10. You feel shame around eating certain foods or about eating larger portions.

  11. You eat in response to certain emotions like anxiety, disappointment, nervousness, anger, or sadness.

  12. Your food choices determine your feelings about yourself and/or your day.

  13. Restrict yourself before holidays/ big events.

  14. Constantly try new diets, shakes, or weight loss supplements even if you are at/below a healthy weight.

  15. Weigh yourself and allow the number on the scale or your current clothing size to dictate how you feel about yourself and your food choices.

  16. Not remember a time when you were not "dieting" or trying to lose weight.

  17. You feel the need to work off the food you eat.

  18. You are inflexible to new foods or even others dishing up food for you.

  19. Deny yourself the food you enjoy because it deviates from what you believe you should eat.

  20. You always clear your plate even if you've had enough halfway through your meal.

You identified yourself in at least 10 of these.

These behaviors and thoughts are taking so much of the precious brain power that you could be using to be more present with your loved ones or chasing that purpose. Many people fear the loss of control they would experience if they healed their relationship with food. We falsely believe we would spend our time eating only pizza and flaming hot Cheetos. The reality, however, is that our bodies are incredibly intelligent in asking for (in the form of cravings) the micro and macronutrients it is requiring. A scarily large amount of us has had rocky pasts with food, causing damage to our metabolism and our ability to listen and trust ourselves. The ability to judge your hunger and fullness, as well as correctly assess your true cravings, does return with tactics like intuitive eating (plus time and a lot of patience).

A healthy relationship with food:

A healthy relationship with food is one where you no longer use food as a reward or punishment. Food is merely fuel - for body and soul. You are able to listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues as well as what you are craving. A slave to cravings no more! There's no need to binge because there are no "bad" foods that you are restricting. You are not constantly thinking about food because you consume enough variety and calories. To stop eating when you are full and feel no guilt in enjoying the foods you once deemed as "off limits" becomes your norm. You have jumped out of the restrict-and-binge cycle, so you feel confident in enjoying foods in whatever portion feels good to you in public, choosing the food you really want over the “healthiest” option. And you can now enjoy that healthier option when it is what you want without wishing you had ordered something else. There is no exercising as punishment or eating certain foods. You have come to realize diets don't work and never have. Trust becomes an integral part of your relationship with food and yourself because you know your body will let you know what foods it needs and how much of that food to eat. You realize there will be days you eat too little and too much, but you no longer punish yourself or feel shame and guilt around those days and/or your ever-changing body. Your relationship to food is an INTEGRAL part of gut health (hence the term: gut-brain connection). How you feel while eating and/or about your food directly affects how your body responds to food.

Why heal your relationship with food?

The paragraph above showed you ALL the reasons it would be incredible to heal your relationship with food. But an important aspect I want to shed some more light on is the impact your relationship with your food has on your health. The fact that you feel nauseous before a big presentation, butterflies at that cute moment, or a stomach ache when under a lot of stress all indicate that your gut and brain are closely connected. This is exactly why we incorporate subconscious therapy at The Gut Health Agency. We understand that everything from absorbing nutrients to what you crave is controlled by the gut. And our guts are directly linked to our emotional state. This means how you perceive the food can impact factors like how much you eat, how soon you get fulll, how much you enjoy the food, and even how much (nutrients and calories) is absorbed. This was both a terrifying and exciting discovery. Terrifying because an alarming

rate of women have negative relationships with their food and their bodies resulting in not only the emotional issues involved but also stomach and intestinal problems like IBS, bloating, cramping, constipation, and loose stool. Healing your relationship with food won't only impact your relationships, willingness to engage in social activities, and how you feel about yourself and food; it is also a key component of gut health. This is the very pinnacle of holistic health. Now with more stressors than ever, is the time to heal your relationship with food to relieve you of one more of these daily stressors.

Why HOW you eat can be more important than WHAT you eat.

This link between the gut and the brain is also really exciting. Let this knowledge empower you to know that with small and consistent steps, you could heal more than your relationship with food, you could also directly impact your health by how well your body uses that fuel.

We are living in an era riddled with chronic stress. This leaves us in a constant state of "fight or flight." When in that state, your body cannot prioritize things like digestion and absorption because it's flooded with adrenaline and cortisol while being focused on survival. Here are some guidelines on how to eat to start the journey of healing your relationship with food and, in the process, helping out your gut as well.

How to start healing our relationship with food:

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating can come in many forms. It can be taking some deep breaths before your meal. Eating undistracted or slowing down your eating. Chewing your food a minimum of 30 chews per bite. Or listening to a beautiful meditation while you eat.

Stop Labelling Food

This takes practice, but the first step is awareness. Begin by observing your thoughts and unconscious judgments over certain foods. Notice them and then reframe them with a mantra like "food is fuel, and I am allowed to enjoy all variations of it." Next, watch your language around food. When you find yourself saying things like "I can't eat that...". Pause and ask yourself, "can't I or have I just not ever allowed myself to enjoy this food?" Then be curious to see if you even actually enjoy this food or not and why you had this food rule before. Remind yourself that all foods can be part of a healthy and balanced diet.

Start introducing the foods previously labeled as "off-limits"

I know it's scary. But if we are going to heal our relationship with food, we have to go past not labeling certain foods as bad. We also need to prove to ourselves that the fear we have is not based on truth. Start small by incorporating this food into another snack or meal. For example, you can enjoy that cookie with your bowl of fruit.

Notice those urges to binge on those foods that you previously restricted. Acknowledge that this is only because you told yourself it wasn't allowed. Remind yourself that things have changed and that you don't need to eat all of these cookies now because you are allowed to have them anytime you feel like them and that you will never restrict yourself again. That knowledge can be soothing to a desperate brain because the sense of urgency of "get it while I can" is no longer true. Instead, switch to an "I've had one already, I can have another one or all of them. Either way, there is always tomorrow." While this seems scary and might lead you to eat a little more than you'd like at first, it's a necessary step to healing your relationship with all food and eradicating that food fear and anxiety that previously plagued you.

Try intuitive eating

Intuitive eating scares anyone with a rocky past with food and their view of themselves. This is because we have learned not to trust ourselves. Through unhelpful methods like calorie counting and macro tracking, we have reduced foods to something that either gets us to our goals or weakens us. But your goal now is food freedom. A common fear is that if you left it up to your body, you'd eat junk food all day. Luckily this is a myth, and the more you practice listening and trusting your body, the more you start to realize your body is highly intelligent in the macro and micronutrients it needs. Start slowly by asking yourself at just one meal - what is my body really craving? Close your eyes and take a breath to connect with your body. Whatever it is - allow yourself that food and enjoy it. Once this feels less scary, start doing it at more meals and eventually for a whole Sunday, for example. Eat exactly what you've been craving all day. After consistently practicing this, I started noticing I was really craving green veggies, a salad, and even beans! On other days I wanted something chocolatey and delicious, but I realized that my body really just wanted to nourish itself and function optimally. And when I got out of my body's way - it craved exactly what it needed to do just that.

Leave some food on the plate

There is an idea known as hara hachi bu – the 80% rule. This is the idea of eating until you're 80% full. For many of us with disordered eating pasts, this can be really challenging. You might have lost the ability to correctly judge your hunger and fullness levels. But do not fret this will improve with time and practice. One way to practice this is by simply leaving a little food on your plate at each meal. If you are anything like me, this may seem nearly impossible at first. But I promise it does get easier.

Go for seconds

In some cases, what you need is not to leave some food on the plate but to allow yourself to have that second plate of food. Not restricting yourself is how you remove the urge to binge. Because without scarcity, there's no need to stuff it all down now.

Bounce back after binges

On the topic of not restricting yourself. It's important to build up that self-trust. If you are serious about healing your relationship with food and yourself, you need to commit to not restricting even if/when you inevitably have a day/meal where you eat past the point of being full. Or indulge in foods that used to be on your "bad" or "never" trigger lists.

This tactic involves returning to your normal eating habits and meals after a binge.No more skipping meals or omitting certain foods to compensate. Research also supports that this is the healthiest option since restricting after a binge almost always leads to another binge.

Because let's be honest - how many times have you said: "just one last time"? It's an excuse, and you don't need any excuses to eat food you feel like eating. This is a reality where there never has to be a "last time" because no foods are off-limits.

Nourish Yourself (Your body and your soul)

Adequate nutrition and calories are the best way to prevent binge eating, excessive cravings, and constant thoughts about highly processed snacks. Your body and brain are hardwired to know where to get those much-needed calories for survival. And when you're living your life trying to restrict your intake, it's no wonder you crave those foods. You're hungry! Craving an instant and easily digestible energy hit is your body looking out for you. When you're eating an adequate amount and enjoying a balanced lifestyle, those cravings become less and less frequent and also don't result in a binge.

It's the most wonder fulltime of the year

I do hope you found these tips helpful to start that journey to healing your relationship with food. Because this time of year should be about being present with your family and loved ones. Don't let your unhealed relationship with food steal those precious moments any longer.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Chelsea Haines, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Recently featured "The Gut Health Coach" by Yahoo!, Chelsea Haines has a unique way of helping high-performers heal. She doesn't claim to know best. Her mission: to remind you that YOU are the expert on your body, only you know precisely what you need, and you are not "crazy" for feeling how you feel. Her expertise stems from personally healing autoimmune disease paired with formal degrees in psychology, gut health, and mindfulness. She’s the Founder of The Gut Health Agency, where a team of health coaches & Registered Dietitians merge health coaching with clinical testing for increased patient compliance and lasting habit change ‒ a needle-moving combination not otherwise seen in the gut health space.



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