“We live in a very weight and image-focused society, so it can be hard to really break down those beliefs,” Rachel Hilts a registered dietitian based in Halifax.
The holidays are often a time for celebration, quality time with loved ones and communion around food. This time of year is meant to be full of joy and relaxation, but can be met with stress and anxiety if food is triggering.
One way to lean into the holiday season, and cultivate improved year-round eating habits, is to develop a healthy relationship with food. Like any relationship, this shift takes time and effort. We all develop daily habits and beliefs surrounding food and health. These beliefs and personal outlook on food can even become part of our identity.
Fortunately, you can implement practices now to begin to soften those rigid thoughts and eating patterns to approach mealtime from a space of self-love, curiosity and nourishment.
“Some ways people can begin to cultivate a friendship with food include relaxed eating, choosing preferences over positions and practicing balance and flexibility in your eating”, says Sondra Kronberg and registered dietitian and staff member of the National Eating Disorders Association.
Intuitive eating is another way people can improve their relationship with food, says Hilts. “Intuitive eating is a framework for building a healthy relationship with food that focuses on finding a healthy balance between both nutrition and health guidance and advice while also focusing on our inner body cues, mental health, and body/food relationship.”
When individuals recognize and identify food rules or diet methods that are embedded into their habits, they can bring greater awareness to daily choices.
“Once we’re able to do this, it becomes much easier to start working towards … responding to hunger, fullness, and treating our bodies with respect,” Hilts says.
Approaching food choices and eating with a curious mindset can also help improve one’s relationship with food.
“Instead of accepting that certain foods are ‘bad’ or others are ‘good’ – start asking why,” Hilts says.
Embracing curiosity during your meal or snack and checking in with your response to food is an inward approach to better eating. Ask yourself, “how do I feel (physically, mentally, emotionally) when I eat this food?” Hilts says.
“Check in with yourself regularly and ask if you’re hungry, how you’re feeling, and if you’re craving certain foods.”
Throughout this process though, people must ensure they eat enough throughout the day and avoid going more than three hours between meals or snacks.
If you’re pressed for time and didn’t grab extra snacks or forgot to go grocery shopping, quality protein powder for example, can help fill the gap between meal times.
“If we are stuck in a restriction mindset or regularly skipping meals, it becomes so much harder to recognize and respond to hunger and fullness, to eat balanced meals, and to feel good mentally and physically” Hilts explains.
According to Dairy Farmers of Canada, other ways to make peace with food and ensure you’re nourishing your body well include:
- learning to savour the pleasure of meals and snacks
- letting go of deprivation and eating foods that make you happy
- quieting the inner voice that makes you feel guilty about foods
- refraining from judging yourself and other for their food choices
Why Does It Matter?
At this point, you may be asking yourself, so what? Why does it matter if I have a healthy relationship with food when I’m otherwise healthy? Unfortunately, disordered eating habits can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder.
“Disordered eating includes things like diet behaviours, skipping meals, fasting, or avoiding certain foods or food groups,” Hilts says.
In addition, chronic dieting or weight cycling put people at an increased risk of mortality and morbidity related to heart disease, muscle loss, weight gain over time, binge eating, inflammation, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and gallstones, she adds.
Prolonged weight fluctuations and internal battles caused by disordered eating can have impacts on mental health, too.
“The mental drain of constantly feeling stressed out about food or eating is also just exhausting in and of itself. Being able to improve our relationship with food can really result in a lot of mental freedom and allow us to better focus our attention on more productive things,” Hilts says.
For athletes, a healthy relationship with food is essential for long-term health and performance.
“This can be really challenging in weight classed sports or in a sport that showcases your body,” Hilts highlights.
“Support is always available if this is a challenge but having a healthy relationship with food can really help you to perform more effectively in your sport, if it means you are now nourishing yourself properly and having adequate fuel on board.”
All that being said, everyone will have personalized journeys towards their optimal eating and health goals. Speaking with a registered dietitian or nutrition professional is the best way to ensure you’re on track to meet your goals in a sustainable and healthy manner.
Kate Ayers – author
Kate grew up on a beef and cash crop farm in Simcoe County, Ont. She completed a degree in agricultural science at the University of Guelph while competing in athletics internationally. Kate combined her passions for agriculture, sport and storytelling by becoming a freelance writer. Now in Victoria, she’s an Athletics Canada 1500m runner training for the Olympics.