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Food is Not the Enemy: 5 Tips from a Registered Dietitian to Restore Your Relationship with Food

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

By: Rachel Dodson RD. LDN.

Almost every single one of my clients tells me that their long-term goal is to have a better relationship with food. Sadly, the world we live in is saturated by diet culture, and we are preached messages that often hinder us from fully restoring our view of food and eating. This has led us away from what I call “viewing food from a nutritional lens,” or examining what food is or isn’t doing in order to promote health in our individual bodies.

Diet culture has turned food into enemy #1 leading us to think that foods we do or don’t consume impact our morality as human beings. Food rules and false nutrition information try to sell us the lie that black & white thinking will lead us to “perfect health,” but in reality, leads to body distrust and more confusion about how to eat. I want to provide you with 5 practical tips using some of the Intuitive Eating concepts that could help you move towards a more restored relationship with food!

Tip #1: Remember that we were biologically made to need food in order to live

Principle #2 in Intuitive Eating is Honor your Hunger. When we do not keep our bodies biologically fed, this triggers a primal drive to eat to a point of discomfort. Our bodies need to know they consistently have access to food - our bodies don’t know the difference between a restrictive diet or a famine.

We cannot optimally function without food. Our brains, internal organs, and daily movements (think getting the mail, brushing your teeth, etc) all require energy. And we get energy from eating food!

It’s so important to make sure that you are eating enough throughout the day! A place to start is the rule of 3’s - 3 meals and 3 snacks every 3ish hours. An eating rhythm is very personal and this is where working with an RD can be helpful in creating a plan conducive to your own life and needs.

“Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.”

Tip #2: Sometimes we have to eat on a schedule and that is okay

There are 4 types of hunger in Intuitive Eating - one of them being practical hunger - which I think gives such helpful language around the situations where we need to eat just because it makes sense.

We don’t live lives conducive to being “perfect intuitive eaters.” Well, there is no such thing as a “perfect intuitive eater.” But eating intuitively is not just “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.” Sometimes it takes a little bit of planning and thinking ahead to meet our biological needs and THAT IS OKAY!

Sometimes we have to eat because that is when we have time to. Examples of this may be a designated lunch break at school or work, or eating before running errands or going to an appointment just because that is the time you have available to eat something. Sometimes something external - GI trouble, stress, lack of sleep, anxiety, an active eating disorder - can impact our hunger cues, affecting our ability to discern when to eat. Eating on a schedule can help your body tune back into those cues of hunger when there are barriers present. We are humans, not robots, and we will experience these barriers in different seasons of our lives and it’s okay to flex your practical hunger muscle!

Tip #3: All foods fit and are beneficial to our health

Principle #3 of Intuitive Eating is making peace with food. When we give ourselves permission to be nourished and enjoy all foods, there are no longer any foods that are “off-limits.” Food no longer has power over you, but you create space to re-discover your personal food preferences and rebuild trust in your body.

slice of strawberry cake

This process is called habituation - a repeated food experience. In the Intuitive Eating book, the authors use the example of when we tire of eating leftovers. Over time, these foods lose their appeal. So, we make peace with food by allowing all foods to fit and habituating foods that were “off-limits.” Creating safe and enjoyable food experiences helps your mind understand you can have that food, your body can handle it, and you can move on. The lived experiences allow you to cultivate peace with food and your body.

All food is energy that contributes to the level of carbs/lipids/protein/fiber that your body needs. Food isn’t as black and white as diet culture makes it out to be.

“Your food choices do not reflect your morality or character.”

Tip #4: Embrace food as a source of comfort and pleasure

Food is emotional and food is comforting. Think about eating ice cream when you go through a break-up or eating cake at a wedding. Whether we are experiencing sadness or joy, food is allowed to be involved. Food is emotional and is a source of pleasure and comfort in our lives.

When considering Principle #7 of Intuitive Eating - Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness - I always explain to clients, food is absolutely a tool in your toolbox when it comes to coping with unpleasant emotions we will experience in life, but remember that food won’t fix the root of the emotional distress. But ice cream post break-up? Yeah been there, done that 🙂

Tip#5: Remember that food is connection and community

Can you think of a meaningful event where food ISN’T involved?! Food brings people together - from something as simple as the excitement of free food at a college event when you're on that college-student budget, or something as deep as learning about someone’s life story and culture through food. Food is nourishment, celebration, and a primary way in which we get to share in one another’s stories.

family eating at large round table

Food is relational and healthy relationships ultimately contribute to our overall health and well-being. When we are controlled by disordered food thoughts, we won’t be able to be present. Perhaps food was involved in some of your most fond memories - holidays, birthdays, vacations, or even just catching up with an old friend over a meal… Food connects us and brings us together!

Doing the work of recovery and healing your relationship with food is all about setting yourself up for the situations in life you will eventually be in that involve food. It’s choosing to do the hard thing now so your future self can experience the abundance of life that is offered when food is celebrated and enjoyed!

References and helpful resources:

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