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How to Overcome a Toxic (Food) Relationship

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Raise your hand if you love food as much as I do! I suspect every set of eyeballs on this post likely has an imaginary hand up inside their head. Food is one of the things that universally binds us; we celebrate with food, we socialize with food, we travel to the local Farmer's Markets and spend entire Saturdays on the hunt for food, we even mourn with food. It's a whole mood.

But sometimes food can be overwhelming. Our relationships with food can be overwhelming. And confusing. We are so lucky to live in a place in the world where food is readily available to almost all of us, whether it's at one of the numerous drive-thrus we pass by on a daily basis or with a few finger swipes on a smartphone. We literally have food in our faces almost 24/7.

But over time, we've learned not only unhealthy eating habits but unhealthy eating ideas. Certain foods have been demonized (gasp, carbs!), entire macronutrients have been cut out of people's diets (no-fat, non-fat, fat-free, no-carb, low-carb), and diet culture has made billions of dollars off of people's lack of knowledge as well as their desperation. Diet culture flat out lies to us in an effort to make money. People have developed food additions, eating disorders, and if you don't have an addiction or a disorder, you could very likely be one of the millions of people out there who feel guilt, shame, or anxiety around food. You may often find yourself trapped in a cycle of dieting that feels like it controls your life. The cycle of "resetting", "detoxing", "starting over", "being good", binging, then feeling like you've failed is enough to make every single one of us crazy, drained, confused, and depressed.

Surprisingly, the pendulum has started swinging the other way, and lately, it seems like we are immersed in a culture of under-eaters (in females especially) as opposed to over-eaters. And thanks to good ol' evolution, our bodies have learned to adapt. A person who constantly overeats has trained their body into thinking it needs food because hormone levels have been severely impacted by diet choices. Ghrelin levels are high (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) and leptin levels are low. And on the flip-side, a person under-eating tells their body it doesn't need as much food, and it's not going to get it anyway, and the body responds by down-regulating (slowing down) metabolism. The human body is amazing and it's going to do everything in its power to keep you from starving to death.

So what do we do? Well, there are a couple of options...

First, and most importantly, understand that you need food to survive. Enjoying food and eating food is your biological right as a human. You have just as much right to eat the things you enjoy as anyone else. And the shape of your body does not determine your worth.

You are more than your body. Say it with me.

Secondly, understand that there are things you can do every day to help heal your mind and your body simultaneously if you feel that over or under-eating over the years has had a negative impact on your health or your mindset.

  1. Increase your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). This is your non-exercise movement. Things like taking the stairs, parking far away from the store, walking the dog, and cleaning your house. Most people aim for 10K steps a day. Movement burns calories and requires energy. So if you're overweight and looking to shed fat, this is a great way to get on the right path. And if you're undereating, this is a great way to increase hunger cues.

  2. Pay attention to what you're eating. If you're not paying attention to what you eat, now would be a good time to start. Personally, I think apps like MyFitnessPal are easiest (especially since most apps like that have a barcode scanner to make it simple to log most foods), but you could also take the old-fashioned route and write things down. Think of this as nothing more than information. If someone asked you to write out a budget or come up with a savings goal, and you had no idea how much money you had in the bank or how much you make every month, it might be kind of difficult to do. By knowing what your starting point is, you can make adjustments. Maybe you discover you're only eating 30 grams of protein a day. Maybe you discover you're eating a 2,000 calorie salad several days a week. Having the right information is key in making the appropriate changes.

  3. Increase your water intake. Oftentimes, we mistake thirst cues for hunger cues and overeat. Plus, water flushes out your system, carries away toxins and impurities, and is the most cost-effective detox you can do because it's FREE!

  4. Get good rest and keep your stress levels low. Everyone responds to stress differently, but we do know that stress can have a negative impact on many aspects of our lives, including our physical health. Ways to relieve stress are by getting adequate rest, meditating, doing yoga, reading, walking in nature, doing breath work, or engaging in other pleasurable activities, like talking with friends, reading, watching movies, listening to podcasts, and avoiding stress-inducing activities like scrolling Facebook for hours a day.

Remember that food is your biological right. Shame has no place when it comes to feeding yourself. By increasing movement, being mindful of your food choices, drinking more water, getting proper rest, and keeping stress low, you can begin to heal your relationship with food piece by piece. Keep in mind that these kinds of changes take time and if there's one motto I want you to take with you after reading this, it's "progress over perfection". You do not have to be perfect. Just keep moving forward--one step, literally, at a time.

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