How to Rewire Your Relationship with Food
Rewiring your relationship with food takes awareness and an understanding of where your current relationship with food originates.
One of the most important relationships we will need to survive is a healthy and holistic relationship with food. This particular relationship is unique as it determines how we function mentally, physically, and emotionally in our daily lives. Whether we realize it or not, our connection with food starts in utero! By the time we’re 13 to 15 weeks old, our tastebuds have developed, and we start sampling different flavors from our mother’s diet. The amniotic fluid we swallow is full of flavor. If our mother’s choice of foods is diverse during pregnancy, our developing brain gets accustomed to certain food choices made for us. Over time, this becomes part of our childhood food conditioning, and our brains become wired to make nutritional choices that can benefit us or work against our adult eating habits and patterns.
What does a “healthy relationship with food” really mean?
A healthy relationship with food is eating physiological rather than emotional hunger and not eating when the body and mind are delighted. Also, permitting ourselves to eat without strict “rules” and “restrictions’ becomes key for rewiring our relationship with food. There has to be a balance between eating for joy and eating for nutrients. A pattern of yo-yo dieting is another reason we develop an unhealthy relationship with food. This can be very taxing on our digestive systems and metabolism. Our bodies do not know what to do. We function best when we are eating in moderation and are consistent with our meal plans. People sometimes eat or overconsume certain foods because they are stressed, sad, bored, or lonely. This is called emotional eating or “comfort eating.” Emotional eating can be a part of our childhood conditioning and stems deep within the subconscious mind. Releasing our past relationship with food can be an emotional process and requires being aware and ready to rebuild a new story. Understanding that a well-balanced diet of a wide variety of wholesome, unprocessed foods is ideal and that relearning optimal nutritional habits will keep us functioning mentally, emotionally, and physically. So, the big question is: Can we rewire our relationship with food? How long will it take? And where do we even begin?
7 Simple tool for rewiring your relationship with food
- Let go of perfection. Perfection is a mental concept and an unsustainable myth, not to mention that it stands in the way of you and progress. Try to release the need for perfection and understand that your journey with food will look different from everyone else’s. Everyone has their own journey when it comes to food, so comparing yourself to others will only set you back. Hold your focus on your daily progress vs. the times of relapse, and give yourself a break from food shame.
- Get into the habit of asking your body daily what it needs nutritionally. Think of a day when you had a lot of stress or high-level activity, experienced a lack of sleep and needed extra energy. Did you find your sugar cravings increasing? Were you thirstier than usual? Hydration can manifest as false hunger. All of this is a big part of eating intuitively. Aim to fill your plate with dark leafy greens, fresh and seasonal vegetables, and lean protein or cold-water fish like salmon. This will ensure you are getting essential vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, protein, and complex carbohydrates.
- Pay attention to before, while, and after you eat—practice mindful eating. Chew slowly, deliberately, and with gratitude. Pay attention to the texture, colors, and tastes of food. After eating, assess how you feel: is there bloating, gas, cramping, or are you having feelings of fatigue after a heavy meal? This may be an indication that certain foods’ food choices may not be ideal for your digestion and are heavily processed. It is time to reevaluate your food choices and reset your health goals. Also, chewing causes the body to generate more stress hormones, which obstructions stomach acid production, leading to indigestion.
- Try not to treat food as a reward or punishment. Stop punishing yourself for what you ate yesterday. You cannot go back and change the past. The only thing you have control over is what you do today and the choices you make tomorrow. Punishing yourself will only keep you stuck in a rut. Food allows your body to thrive mentally, physically, and emotionally, so use it as fuel!
- Stop yo-yo diets and all-in-or-all-out cycles. These will slow down your metabolism and cause your body to miss out on important nutrients, leading to nutritional deficiencies and an unhealthy relationship with food. Nutrition is not an all-out plan. It involves a gradual learning process to eat right for your body type and not a one-size-fits-all plan. Such a plan will always keep you on a roller coaster ride of the diet culture.
- Reaching for food when you are not hungry? Start to pay attention to the emotions you feel before you sit down to eat. If you have just finished a meal and are still reaching for extra snacks in the refrigerator, is this hunger driven by your emotional state or true hunger? Physical hunger can be felt as stomach pain and growling. Emotional hunger is a strong emotional feeling like a lack of love or loneliness, and it could be childhood conditioning. It’s important to differentiate the two causes.
- Don’t be afraid of fats and carbohydrates! There is so much scarcity in eating fats and carbohydrates. Rather than starting a low-fat or low-carb diet, focus on eating “healthy” fats from fish, nuts, olive oil, and avocados. Avoid or limit trans fats found in pastries, fatty meats, and heavy cream products. The carbs focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potatoes, carrots) that provide more nutrients and fiber and help balance blood sugar levels vs. simplex carbohydrates.