3 Ideas for Improving Your Relationship With Food

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, at least 30 million people in the United States are dealing with some kind of eating disorder, and rates are particularly high for women.

What’s more, even people whose symptoms don’t fully meet the criteria for a specific eating disorder (such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) may struggle with disordered eating, in which your eating habits have a negative impact on your health or other aspects of your life.

Whether or not you’ve dealt with an eating disorder yourself, now can be a positive time to reflect on your relationship with food and consider whether you might want to change up your approach to eating.

If you’re currently struggling with disordered eating or think you may have an eating disorder, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Contact your doctor for support, and if you’re in a situation where therapy would be helpful, you can find eating disorder specialists in your area on Zencare.

Otherwise, read on for some fresh ideas for how to make food a more positive part of your day-to-day life.

Practice intuitive eating

Intuitive eating might sound like a trend or a fad, but it’s actually all about developing flexible, sustainable, and enjoyable (!) eating habits.

"It can sound very intimidating at first, especially when diet culture constantly tells us our bodies cannot be trusted," says Jessica Foley, a therapist in Boston who works with clients for eating and body image concerns. Unlike a diet mentality, intuitive eating helps us connect back to our body.

The basic idea is that by letting go of specific restrictions on your diet (for example, “no desserts except on holidays”), you’ll learn to tap into your internal sense of what your body actually needs and wants. It's not meant to provide weight loss, but rather, a focus on body acceptance or body neutrality.  

Check out our full guide to intuitive eating, or start with these simple steps that you can try on your own:

"When we begin to love and care for our body as it is now, and respond to our body’s needs in an intentional way, our body starts to respond more naturally to cues for hunger and fullness," says Foley.

This empowers us to rekindle a relationship with food that allows for sometimes overeating and sometimes underrating, but that's ultimately about respecting our body’s limits and needs.

Consider letting go of counting

These days, counting calories (or Weight Watchers points, or carbs, or...the list goes on!) is easier than ever. Free apps help you set goals and track your progress, and it can be exciting to feel like you’re in control of your eating.

However, a growing body of research suggests that the use of calorie counters and fitness trackers may be associated with developing symptoms of eating disorders. There is potential for an addictive nature to the preoccupations and obsessions with apps like these, says Gina Macdonald, a therapist in Connecticut who specializes in eating disorders. Repeated use can lead to reacting without awareness or mindfulness in an automatic, robotic manner.

She adds that it's dangerous to develop a reliance on these external methods, as they can serve as an avoidance behavior of feelings and inner reality. If used habitually, it's possible to develop a disconnection from inner feelings and sensations – such as hunger and fullness.

Since these apps are relatively new, the research on them is limited, but it’s worth considering whether your app is playing a positive or negative role in your life.

If you’re not sure, ask yourself the following questions:

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your tracking app may not be serving your needs.

If you’re unsure about how your health might be affected by using your app, try not using the app for a week or two and see what changes; how do you feel physically, emotionally, and socially?

If you’re still not sure at that point, you might try talking to your doctor or a dietician for personalized advice.

Nourish your creativity with cooking

It might sound simple, but cooking for yourself can be a great way to view food more positively. And chances are that you’ll eat more wholesome food in the process.

"Cooking may help some people experience their food more fully, using all five senses to engage with it," says Foley. "This can lead to a more pleasurable experience of meals and sometimes a higher rate of satiety." It can also provide a better sense of connection with the ingredients – like if you’re using locally grown vegetables that you picked from the nearby market, or basil from your garden.

Whether you’re a new cook, an experienced cook who’s stuck in a rut, or just an enthusiastic cook looking for some new challenges, consider the following ideas to refresh your time in the kitchen:

Remain patient and compassionate with yourself as you improve your relaitonship with food. After all, says Foley, changing your mindset to reject diet culture and not measure your self-worth and health by size can seem like a monumental task. "But the peace around food and its consumption – as well as the loving relationship with your body – is completely worth it." Bon appetite!