How to build a healthy relationship with food


by Kristine James, RD

May 28, 2019

It’s fair to say that our society has a dieting obsession. Keto, Paleo, intermittent fasting and so on. There are numerous diets out there and lots of people have tried too many of them. But while you might feel great on the diet and see some weight loss, the end result is usually the same — you end the diet, fall right back into your old habits and gain back the weight.

But maybe we have it wrong. Maybe being healthy isn’t about a diet after all. Maybe it has more to do with how you think about food than the actual food you’re eating.

Maybe being healthy isn’t about a diet after all. Maybe it has more to do with how you think about food than the actual food you’re eating.

Sound crazy? Just think about it. After every failed diet attempt, your relationship with food ends up a little bit more skewed. And after cycling through diet after diet, you probably just end up more and more confused. Why didn’t this diet work? What should I try next? High fat? Low carb? Mediterranean? Plant-based? Gluten-free? Will anything help me lose this weight?

While true eating disorders like binge eating, anorexia and bulimia get the most attention, “yo-yo” dieting and chronic dieting are also manifestations of an unhealthy relationship with food.

Related: Should you give Whole30 a try?

Healthy eating habits start with a healthy attitude toward food. So, what can you do?

No food should be off limits.

Unless you have medical reasons to avoid certain foods, you shouldn’t think of any one food as “off limits.” Instead, consider certain foods as treats that should not be consumed on a daily basis. For example, ice cream, donuts and other sweets should be more of an indulgence. Make a list of the foods that you used to restrict or completely cut out, and allow yourself to enjoy them once in a while when you feel the urge. 

If you think you have an unhealthy relationship with food, your primary care doctor can help. Your diet impacts your wellbeing more than you might think.

Eat mindfully.

Enjoy your food. Really smell and taste your food while you eat, and avoid distractions. Do not watch TV while you eat, and don’t make a habit of eating in the car. Take the time to finish your meal and really savor it.

Know when to start eating…

Only eat when you are physically hungry. Do not eat because you are stressed, bored or just because. Evaluate if you are really physically hungry and if you aren’t, distract yourself with something else or maybe just have a glass of water.

…And know when to stop.

Stop eating when you are comfortably full, not stuffed. That means you don’t have to clean your plate — if you feel full, it’s time to stop eating.

Don’t make a habit of skipping meals.

Never skip a meal just because you are in a rush or for the sake of cutting calories. If you skip breakfast, you might end up overeating for the rest of the day.

Related: Is intermittent fasting healthy?

Give yourself permission to enjoy food again.

Food comes in so many different varieties, colors, tastes and smells — enjoy it! Eating shouldn’t feel like a chore or a burden, and meal planning shouldn’t be stressful. If you need help rebuilding your relationship with food, talk with a registered dietitian.

About the Author

Kristine James, RD, is a registered dietitian on staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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