Regaining Health: Your Relationship with Food

In my second post on Regaining Health, following my own journey into wellness, I spoke about Figuring Your Why. Delving a little further, looking at your relationship with food is intrinsicly linked your physical and mental health. It isn’t just what’s on your plate, but your choices and beliefs about food too. Here are just a few ways to look at your relationship with food and how you can make yours a positive one!

Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating is more than just a catchphrase. It’s a weighty subject with volumes of books for those who want to incorporate it into their lives. Put quite simply, mindful eating is the daily practice of listening to your body and eating when you notice hunger signals, stopping when full and noticing the full sensory experience. This considered approach takes time and conscious effort to get used to, but is so worth it.

That is not to say that all nutritious food can’t be pleasurable- healthy food is delicious with a small amount of effort.

For some people, they really need a schedule and routine to live by- including eating habits. If your lunch break is 13:30 and you can’t eat at any other time then, by all means, nourish yourself when you can. If you do have the ability to eat when it suits you, learning your body’s signals like a growling stomach and low energy and then eating can help reset your body’s rhythms. This can also help you understand if you eat out of boredom or due to emotions. Take time to slow down, the stomach can take up to 20 minutes to send signals to the brain that it’s full. So eating slowly can help you recognise when you’re over full and prevent overeating.

Noticing all the parts of the experience in your meal- the smells, textures, where you are, who you are sharing with- is also an important part of the pleasure of eating. It’s a great ensure you don’t multitask and eat distractedly. How often do you eat at your desk, still typing with one hand or juggling a phone, absent-minded to what you’re eating? I’ve done it myself often! Lastly and very importantly, is consider where the food came from and the processes involved to get to you. Whether it’s a meal you made yourself with homegrown veggies or a convenient snack, the food was specially grown, harvested, transported and prepared for you. That’s a pretty big thing to think about, and how lucky are we that all these systems exist for our nutritional needs?

Regaining Health: Relationship with Food

Moderation and Variety

This where the nutrition of food starts to come in. There is food we should eat for nutrition and food we should eat for pleasure. That is not to say that all nutritious food can’t be pleasurable- healthy meals are delicious with a small amount of effort. It is to say that of the food groups- carbohydrates, protein, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals- we should be eating a bit of everything. Unless a doctor has told you to cut certain food out, try include all food groups. So varying your intake within these food groups is important.

For instance, white potatoes have a pretty bad reputation right now but as a whole food, without being processed, a baked white potato is full of Vitamin C, B and potassium. It has low sugar and protein but high in carbs-which we need. With the skin left on, white potatoes also have a decent amount of fibre. When cooked correctly, it’s a good source of nutrion! The much-loved sweet potato has 400% of your daily Vitamin A requirement, Vitamin C, B and potassium. It’s lower in carbohydrates, protein, fibre and calories than the white potato but it has more sugar and fat. The basic point is, both potatoes are good for you, so eat some of each.

Eating seasonally also helps as nature tends to give us what we need, when we need it. In Summer, seasonal leafy greens and veggies are water-rich and give energy while staying light and fruit is available in abundance. In Autumn, root vegetables help keep the right amount of energy and citrus fruits ripen in Winter when we need the Vitamin C they are packed with to fight off illness. The moderation aspect knowing is that having the occasional treat is alright- if it’s occasional. Treats are not daily occurrences- rather 2-3 times a week. Here knowing the difference between a snack and a treat, will also help your relationship with food. Chocolate is a treat, a banana and a handful of nuts is a snack.

Eat to Feel Good

Eating to feel energetic and strong is a healthy mindset, valuing what your body can do is also healthy. Please, don’t use exercise as a punishment for what you ate. Please don’t workout purely to be a certain size or shape. Please don’t internally judge yourself for eating something that wasn’t ‘good’. 

Socialising is also a huge part of food relationships- the part I’m currently putting the most energy into. Just as treats are part of a healthy eating plan, socialising is part of a healthy life. Being flexible when socialising and not trying to control every meal can reduce your anxiety around food and staying healthy. Positive experiences and enjoying your food is just as important as the function of food. Eat the pizza on a Friday night or a slice of your Aunt’s cake. Just balance the meals before or after and know that it’s OK to say ‘no’ to a family member or friend if you haven’t been able to get that balance. 

I come from a family where growing up, food was used to show love and effort. Achievements or proud moments where rewarded with your favourite meal. Good report cards meant ice cream on the day of school. You’re happy? We’ll eat! You’re sad? Let me get a delicious biscuit. My mother is an amazing cook and baker, she can turn R50 into a delicious meal and throughout my childhood, she pulled this off daily. So I came to think that food is how you show attentiveness and non-physical affection. I’m so lucky that my mom has been willing to learn about new ways of cooking so we can enjoy family meals together that are good and guilt free. Not everyone is so lucky. But it’s taken me a long time not to feel bad, or like I’m disappointing her when I say no to a slice of cheesecake.  

A healthy relationship food will be different for every person and for a lot of us it will take daily effort to manage successfully. It’s a long term process. Do you have stories about your food relationships or techniques you’ve used to improve yours? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Regaining Health: Relationship with Food

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