For a large part of my life I've had an unhealthy relationship with food. Growing up as a competitive gymnast I could eat whatever I wanted, but I was also very aware of the social pressure to be small, thin and light. As I got older (late teens, early 20's) my body began to change. When I started college and I wasn't training nearly as much as I had when I was in competitive sports, I started to gain weight. I didn't really know how to nourish my body properly, I just thought I should eat salads and avoid fat. I'd lose weight because I was nearly starving myself, and then I'd binge on a bunch of junk food because my body couldn't take it anymore. It was a vicious cycle. The good old yo-yo diet. I'd also punish myself with excessive cardio in the gym; running on the treadmill for hours, watching my TV shows from a stationary bike, etc. I'd avoid going out to parties with my friends because I didn't want to eat or drink too much and I needed to wake up early to do more cardio. I wasn't happy. I dreaded the gym. And I had an unhealthy relationship with food.
So what changed? A lot! Over the past 5 years I've learned to cook, I have a better understanding of the macro and micronutrients my body needs to thrive, I don't beat myself up when I indulge and I love and appreciate good food. I also listen to my body to tell me when it's full and I never starve myself. I enjoy being social and I workout because I love it.
If you're struggling with a similar situation here are 8 ways to improve your relationship with food:
1. Make healthy choices
Learning to love and appreciate good food is the first step to developing a healthy relationship with it. Healthy food doesn't have to be bland, boring or repetitive. Try new recipes. Use a variety of herbs and spices. Find flavors that you love and use them. Good food nourishes our bodies and that's really cool. Appreciate where your food comes from. Learn how to cook. If you don't have a clue what you're doing, buy a cookbook or go online and follow a recipe. The more you learn the more you'll appreciate good healthy food.
2. Don't deprive yourself
If you allow yourself to have treats in moderation you won't feel deprived or the need to "cheat" on your diet. Eat a healthy balanced diet the majority of the time and allow yourself the occasional treat. A couple bites of a dessert can be just as satisfying as eating the whole thing if you're not constantly restricting yourself.
3. Never punish yourself
If you punish yourself for eating "bad" food, you'll never develop a healthy relationship with it. If you're eating whole nutrient rich foods in balanced proportions the majority of the time you'll be nourishing your body with the essential macro and micronutrients you need. So the occasional treat shouldn't be cause for punishment. Even if you overeat, just be conscious of it, use that information for eating better in the future, and move on.
4. Allow for flexibility
If a rigid diet is keeping you from social situations, your setting yourself up for failure. Food and friendships should be celebrated. If you have certain dietary restrictions or you're training for something specific, just have a plan. Going out to eat? Look up the menu beforehand and find something that fits into your diet. Going somewhere with unlimited appetizers? Eat a healthy meal beforehand so you don't overindulge when you get there.
5. Be aware of mindless eating
Measure out your snacks. A lot of snack foods are easy to overeat. If you sit down with a whole bag of something it's easy to eat several servings without even realizing it. Measure out a serving and put the rest of the bag away. Or buy things in single serve portions. If you prep food measure it out so you're aware of how much you're eating at a time. If you find yourself overeating in certain situations on a regular basis, find something else to do. Maybe it's the weekend and you're just being lazy, or you have something you need to do but you're avoiding it so you reach for food. Try to find something else you can do instead. Go for a walk, play with your dog, make plans with a friend, read a book, go to the gym. It can be anything.
6. Don't compare yourself to others
We're all so different. In so many ways. And it would be a shame for us to compare ourselves to others. Some people feel best eating a gluten free, dairy free, or paleo diet. And some people feel fine eating whatever the heck they want. I personally feel best eating a predominately paleo diet, but I also love ice cream and I eat a small amount most nights as a treat. I also include some gluten free grains in my diet (like rice, quinoa and oats) because I digest them well and I feel better eating the additional carbs when I have a high volume training day. Find what works best for you and do that.
7. Keep trigger foods out of your house
If there are certain foods you tend to overeat, don't keep them in your house. It's important to be mentally strong and to have self control when confronted with the opportunity to overindulge in these foods, but if they aren't in your house, it will be a hell of a lot easier.
8. Take care of your body
Food and nutrition are only one aspect of leading a healthy life. Exercise regularly, get eight hours of sleep, drink plenty of water and make time to relax and unwind. Eating good food makes you feel good. If you're taking the time to take care of your body in every way possible, you'll want to eat food that makes you feel your best.