How Do You Heal Your Relationship with Food?

Trying to heal your relationship with food can feel like a mammoth undertaking, especially if it’s been dysfunctional for as long as you can remember.

I try to keep it simple.

For me, it comes down to three things:


“Am I hungry?”

This is the best place to start and the question I always return to if I’m feeling confused about whether I really want to eat or not. If the answer is “no” then forget it, do something else, but reassure yourself that you’ll eat as soon as you feel hungry enough. If the answer’s “I don’t know” then you’re probably not hungry and it’s OK to wait until you are.

If the answer is “yes”, are you hungry enough to eat, or do you need to get a bit hungrier? This is important because, in learning not to overeat, your body’s signal that you’ve had enough is your greatest ally. And your body can’t give you the signal to stop eating if it didn’t give you the signal to begin eating in the first place.

“What do I feel like eating?”

This is the next question to ask yourself. Not “what should I eat?” or “what can I eat?” but “what do I feel like eating?” If you could have anything, what would satisfy you the most? Without judgement, without thinking about calories or fat content, what do you really want? Go through some options. Is it a bowl of pasta? A prawn salad? A hamburger? Or is it apple pie, cheese and crackers or some ice-cream?

Let’s say you’ve worked out what you really feel like is some ice-cream. You give yourself full permission to enjoy your bowl of ice-cream. Yes – bowl. There’s no need to wolf the entire carton – this isn’t your last opportunity to have ice-cream and you can always have more if you want it.

“Am I satisfied?”

As you eat, ask yourself if you’ve had enough yet. Has the taste of the ice-cream changed? Are you enjoying it as much as you were the first few mouthfuls? Do you feel satisfied? If the answer to the last question is “yes” then you’re done. Stop eating. Assure yourself that you can have ice-cream anytime you really feel like it, but you’ve had enough for now.

You may believe you should cut out sugar or “eat clean”, but if your attempts to do so lead to bingeing then something isn’t working.

I know it can feel counterintuitive to sit down and enjoy a bowl of ice-cream when you have a tendency to overeat. It feels like you’re doing something desperately wrong. After all, you should be losing weight and the way to do that is to diet. Right?

But what has been your experience of dieting? Have you, like most of us, been on many, many diets and lost weight, only to put it back on again? If so, you’re not alone. This is the case for the vast majority of people who diet.

You may also be thinking “but ice-cream’s really unhealthy!” You may believe that you should cut out sugar or “eat clean”, but if your attempts to do so lead to bingeing then something isn’t working.

Perhaps, instead, there’s a compromise to be had. Surely a bowl of ice-cream is better than repeatedly bingeing on enormous quantities of food because you feel deprived of the things you like?

If you’re caught in the all-or-nothing dieting/bingeing hell then there must be some middle ground and it’s important you explore it.

And some days that middle ground might just be a bowl of ice-cream.

Right about now there may be a voice within you screaming: “ICE-CREAM! SHE SAID I’M ALLOWED TO EAT ICE-CREAM! WOO-HOO! BRING IT ON! PASS ME THE BEN & JERRY’S! I’M HAVIN’ ICE-CREAM Y’ALL!” Cut to you indulging in a 3-day ice-cream bender using the justification “it’s alright, I’m healing my relationship with food”.

In which case, you need to have a conversation between the part of you that wants to hit the Haagen-Dazs hard and the part of you that doesn’t want to overeat, and see if they can find a way through. Maybe some ice-cream, not all the ice-cream.

Be supportive of yourself and don’t expect perfection.

Let’s be clear: this is not about eating everything you want, it’s about eating exactly what you want when you’re truly hungry for it.

It’s about learning to listen to yourself and trust your instincts.

It’s having the courage to say “yes” to food you’ve previously only said “no” to.

Then it’s having the courage to say “no” to food because you’re not hungry or it’s not what you feel like or because you’ve had enough.

It probably feels a long way from the way you eat now, especially if your eating feels really out of control, but it’s a process. Be supportive of yourself and don’t expect perfection.

If you can work on looking after yourself emotionally, as well as finding autonomy in your relationship with food, you stand a good chance of ultimately seeing it as just that – food.

Not a treat, not love, not a reward, not a punishment, not good, not bad.

Just food.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2017.

4 thoughts on “How Do You Heal Your Relationship with Food?

  1. So many of us have lost track of what it means to be hungry, and do not slow down enough to pay attention to whether that hunger is physical or emotional. In learning more mindful habits and patterns, I think some of us realize that skipping a meal now or then won’t kill us. In fact, when we really do tune into hunger and satiety, we begin to realize how habitual eating, including regular meal times, are just that. When we realize an emotion won’t kill us, and hunger for a few hours is tolerable (for those of us who are overweight or normal weight), it is kind of life-changing. But of course, for those with anorexia or other eating disorders, ignoring your hunger signals can “feel” powerful but then can lead to other adverse consequences.

    Do you think the culture and socialization of women, and the body-shaming that most of us endure either by peers or in the media play into this lack of comfort and connection with our own bodies?

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    1. I agree that, undeniably and sadly, we live in a body-shaming culture. The added difficulty for women who began turning to food as children because of unmet emotional needs is that they often carry an innate sense of defectiveness and shame as a result of their experiences. As the message everywhere is that women are only acceptable if they’re thin, they attempt to “fix” their sense of defectiveness by losing weight. Thus, they begin dieting which disconnects them from their natural instincts about hunger and satiety and they lose trust in their bodies. As the diet fails, which it inevitably will, they blame themselves for their apparent “lack of willpower”. This and the extra weight gain following the failed diet only contributes to their sense of shame and defectiveness. They’re then at war with their bodies, waking up each day hating themselves and their appearance. I know from my own experience that despising your body is a pointless endeavour (and I did it for 40-odd years). There’s something powerful about saying “I’m not going to buy into the body-shaming BS” and learning to appreciate and value your body regardless. Ironically, it’s then that you can begin to lose weight because it’s then that you begin to care about yourself.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write your comment and to ask such an interesting and thought-provoking question. I’m very grateful.

      Liked by 1 person

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