5 Steps to Achieving a Normal Relationship with Food
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have sat in front of me and said the same sentence.
I just want to have a normal relationship with food.
But what is this elusive “normal” they seek? I found myself pondering this question after a weekend of indulgence, during which I too consumed more than my body required, and regrettably, foods that it didn’t need at all.
This desire for normalcy beckons deeper exploration. What, precisely, does a “normal” relationship with food entail? Is it a return to nature, an attempt to embrace the culinary bond that evolution crafted for us? The irony is that even the most natural foods available to us are no longer quite natural. In design and region. For instance, in a world where everything adhered to the principles of natural evolution, bananas, watermelons, and avocados might never grace the shores of the UK. And if they did, their innate design would boast considerably more fibre. Free from the excessive sugary sweetness that modern modifications impose.
Our ancestors, the pioneers of a life untouched by modern conveniences, held a profoundly different relationship with food. Their foraging required far more than a mere stroll to the kitchen, and the pursuit of meat probably demanded a level of exertion greater than an intense gym workout. These early humans likely endured days without food, their fasting periods stretching far beyond the popular trend of intermittent fasting. Such was their reality.
A Normal Relationship with Food
I believe most of us consider a normal relationship with food, one in which food doesn’t consume your thoughts. You can enjoy it without guilt or shame, and primarily eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You mostly eat nutritious foods, don’t hide what you eat, and feel completely in control and conscious of your behaviour around food. Much easier said than done when we live surrounded by an abundance of food. The choice is limitless, and the marketing is strong. This makes it almost impossible to understand what makes a nutritious choice.
Producers cultivate the natural whole foods and create the processed foods in such a way that your brain craves more. Moreover, certain choices nurture bacteria in your gut that crave the damaging foods, and you have little control because, whilst the microbes live inside you, they are not you. Leaving you in a constant battle for dietary control!
So, I believe, when we say we want a “normal” relationship with food, it’s a complex aspiration, a desire to find equilibrium in a world where food is abundant, tempting, and not quite the same as it once was. It’s a quest to regain control, to reestablish a connection with what our bodies truly need, and to break free from the alluring clutches of a modern food landscape that constantly beckons us toward indulgence.
Why is a normal relationship with food important?
Food is not just sustenance; it’s a fundamental part of your life that goes far beyond mere nutrition. Your relationship with food can influence your physical and emotional well-being, and it plays a significant role in your daily routine. Developing a balanced and normal relationship with food is crucial for maintaining good health and well-being. Here are five steps to help you achieve that balance in this society.
Educate Yourself about the Role of Food
Understanding the true purpose of food is the foundation of developing a healthy relationship with it. Food plays multiple roles in our lives, including nourishment, pleasure, social connection, and cultural significance. Recognise that it’s OK to enjoy food. Instead of viewing it solely as a source of calories, think of it as fuel for your body, engage in traditions, and experience joy through flavours and textures.
Learning about the basics of nutrition is also valuable. Knowing which foods provide essential nutrients will help you make informed choices and support your overall well-being. I’m currently enjoying listening to Tim Spector share the latest research from the Zoe study.
Listen to Your Body
Tuning in to your body’s cues is essential for achieving a balanced relationship with food. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness signals. Eat when you’re genuinely hungry, and stop when you’re satisfied, not overly full.
Easier said than done is avoiding emotional eating, for example using food as something to do when you’re bored, or as distraction from other emotional triggers. By being more attuned to your body’s needs, you can develop a healthier relationship with food. One effective strategy is to keep a food journal to identify any emotional or mindless eating habits that may need attention.
Many of the people I work with struggle to listen to their body. Some don’t recognise the signals, or struggle to listen to them. This is a journey, hypnotherapy in conjunction with mindfulness will help. It’s common to feel a mind-body disconnect in the western world. Some eastern philosophies nurture this connection, making it easier to hear and respond to your body’s signal’s.
Avoid Restrictive Diets
Dieting or restrictive eating often leads to an unhealthy relationship with food. These approaches can create a cycle of deprivation and overindulgence, ultimately harming your physical and emotional well-being. Instead, focus on balanced, varied, and nutritious meals. Choose a wide range of foods that provide essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally. Create a sense of freedom by looking at the nourishment you will gain by eating certain foods, rather than the negatives of others, which results in a heavy focus on restriction.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is a powerful practice that will transform your relationship with food. This approach involves being fully present during meals. When you eat mindfully, you savour each bite, eat slowly, and pay close attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of your food. By practising mindfulness, you’re more likely to notice when you’re satisfied, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
To start, try turning off distractions like the TV or smartphone during meals. Take a few deep breaths before you begin eating, and focus on each bite. Enjoy the experience of nourishing your body and the pleasure of each meal.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
If you’re struggling with disordered eating habits or have a complicated relationship with food that you can’t resolve on your own, it’s essential to seek professional help. Registered dietitians, therapists, and counsellors can provide guidance, support, and strategies tailored to your specific needs and circumstances. They can help you address any underlying issues and develop a healthier and more balanced relationship with food.
Achieving a balanced and normal relationship with food is a journey of time and effort. It’s a deeply personal endeavour, and what works for one person may not work for another. Be patient with yourself, practice self-compassion, and remember that developing a healthier relationship with food is a worthwhile and achievable goal. By following these five steps and seeking support when needed, you can embark on a path toward a more balanced and joyful relationship with the food that sustains and enriches your life.