I hope you’re all having a great week so far! These past few days I’ve really been reflecting on my decision to go a year without measuring my worth through my weight, clothing size, or diet choices. I’ve realized that prior to making this decision, there were several red flags I could have seen much sooner if I had been willing to open my eyes to the fact that I was feeling powerless in my relationship with food and my body.
I made a longer list for my own records so I can keep it on hand in case I ever find myself in a similar situation in the future, but below I have shared the three red flags that I feel are most common with those I’ve spoken to about this subject over the years.
It’s just food. Right? Not to someone who has a toxic relationship with food! When your relationship with food is toxic, it’s likely you’ll feel some anxiety around meal time and the subject of food and dieting in general. The more anxiety there is, the more likely it is you will experience overeating or restriction, as well as digestive distress.
If you find yourself at the grocery store doing a little back and forth dance in front of a particular food item, I suggest leaving it at the store. I like the saying, “When in doubt, don’t” (I believe I got this from an Oprah magazine years ago) when it comes to big life decisions. And if you’re considering whether or not to purchase x,y, or z food item a big life decision, chances are your relationship with food (and that item in particular) is a bit toxic.
2. You feel shame when eating treats.
Things like gourmet sauces, specialty cheeses, olives, dark chocolates, baked goods, desserts of all kinds, and wine are all really indulgent and totally unnecessary to sustain us. It doesn’t mean that they don’t serve a perfectly valid purpose in your diet/lifestyle. Pleasure is so important to our food experience and even more so to our physical experience of living on this planet. I honestly think I could write an entire book on this subject because I am so passionate about it.
Just because something doesn’t deliver specific nutrients, health benefits, or doesn’t facilitate a cleanse of some sort doesn’t mean it’s not necessary for us to thrive. We are more nuanced and special than that.
Treat yourself to foods for the sake of pleasure when the desire is there. They don’t have to be the foods I listed above, of course, but don’t leave pleasure out of the equation when it comes to choosing your meals. That may be the single most important and empowering piece of advice I could give someone on healing a toxic relationship with food.
3. You constantly feel as though you’re not doing enough to be healthy, fit, or clean. You feel guilty and wrong for not pushing yourself all of the time.
Feelings of guilt and wrongness are both big indicators of a toxic relationship with food. When you feel these emotions it’s pretty hard to enjoy food or your life. If the way you are eating is continually making you feel bad about yourself, then chances are your relationship with food is toxic.
If you find yourself in this mindset, make a promise to yourself that you will release it in time. Try saying out loud, “I will release my guilt, anxiety, and shame around food, eating and my body.”
Once you recognize that your relationship with food is toxic, you can begin to heal it. Sometimes we are so accustomed to dieting and to needing to practice will power and discipline that we forget that pleasure and love are central to our healthy diets and our over all well being.
Practice expressing gratitude before your eat or have your fresh juice or smoothie. Thank Mother Nature for her abundance. Think of the farmers nurturing the soil and the produce, and think of the people who make the fresh food accessible for you: the produce delivery man or woman, the health food stores that make it so easy for you to eat well.
Making pleasure a part of meal time, preparing food lovingly and with gratitude, and expressing gratitude before eating (whether out loud or in your head) are simple yet bold first steps to transforming your toxic relationship with food into a healthy one.