Many of us don’t have a peaceful relationship with food. In fact, it’s downright adversarial. We see food as an enemy, as the enemy: We see it as the very obstacle that stands in our way of losing weight. Maybe we get angry with ourselves because we’ve “failed” oh-so many diets. Oh-so many. We feel disappointed with ourselves. Maybe we even feel ashamed. We wish we could see food as fuel and nothing more. Because maybe then we’d finally look the way we yearn to look.
We see our hunger and our desire for certain foods—like pasta or cheesecake or cookies or bread or bagels—as wrong, as bad. We start to see ourselves as wrong, as bad.
A peaceful relationship with food means a peaceful relationship with ourselves. Because, as the saying goes, how we do one thing is how we do everything. When we honor our hunger and give ourselves unconditional permission to eat what we like, to eat what nourishes us and to sincerely savor these foods, we honor ourselves. When we drop the desire to lose weight, we honor ourselves. When we realize diets and detoxes and meal plans are unhealthy and ridiculous, we honor ourselves.
If you’re struggling with having a peaceful relationship with food, please know that you can change that—even if it doesn’t seem like that right now. At all. Below, dietitian and nutrition therapist Haley Goodrich explains what it means to have a peaceful relationship with food and how you can start—along with helpful resources to learn more. Haley is doing incredible work, and I highly recommend checking out her website and following her on Instagram (see links below).
Q: What does it mean to have a peaceful relationship with food?
A: Having a peaceful relationship with food means you are free from feeling judgment or shame about the foods you eat, see all foods as neutral, and do not believe that certain foods make you a good or bad person. You have a peaceful relationship with food when you can eat in a way that supports your body’s nutritional needs without restriction, and you embrace curiosity instead of rigid rules.
For instance, instead of thinking, “I’m still so hungry but I must not eat until x,” we could reframe the thought to, “What do I notice about the timing of my meals today? Was my lunch satisfying? Were all the food groups present? What does that feeling of hunger mean about me as a person?”
Q: Why do so many people instead have an adversarial relationship with food (and thereby with themselves)?
A: Diet culture sells us the idea that thinner equals better, and that you should be trying to achieve a body closer to the “thin ideal.” We are inundated with these messages and they ultimately distort the true definition of healthy. Our innate ability to listen to our own hunger and fullness cues is sabotaged by the dieting cycle as we are fed inaccurate nutrition information.
For instance, this might include: under-eating at a meal because you are trying to comply to an arbitrary calorie amount; restricting carbs or the types of carbs at meals (we need more than fruit carbs, we need grains, breads, rice, pastas); eating very little all day in an attempt to be “good” and then bingeing at night. Eating patterns become chaotic because restriction is always followed by our brain telling us to eat more food, and quickly before it is off limits again.
Q: What are several suggestions for readers to start building a peaceful, healthy relationship with food?
A: The bravest step you can take to start building a peaceful relationship with food is to lose the diet mentality, which is the first principle of Intuitive Eating. Free yourself of the idea that you have to be on a diet or follow rigid rules to be healthier. Clean up your social media, email and magazine subscriptions, and any other area of your life that allows for oppressive diet messages.
The second most important step you can take is to start nourishing your body appropriately. Do not hesitate to reach out to a non-diet, Health At Every Size practitioner. Most individuals need at minimum 3 meals with carbohydrates, proteins and fats at each, and 2-3 snacks per day.
Q: I love your Instagram feed! (thank you!!) In one of your images you suggest resolving to respect our bodies as they are right now. What are some examples of how we can respect our bodies?
A: Accepting and respecting your body now is a courageous act. It starts by treating your body with the same kindness and compassion that you would give to someone else you love. This means rewriting bullying narrative you might use with your body. For instance, we could change “I feel so full after this meal, this must mean I overate and have no self-control or willpower. I’ve already messed today up, so why even take care of myself?” to: “My belly is full after this meal which means I nourished my body. By giving my body what it needs to function correctly, I reduce the risk of feeling out of control around food. Taking care of my body doesn’t come from more control, but having more choices and feeling more connected to my body. It’s unrealistic for me to hold myself to perfectionistic standards.”
This also means giving your body rest when it needs it, moving it in a way that feels good to you, slowing down in life, and not comparing yourself to anyone else. Thank your body daily for something it allows you to do or the people it allows you to connect with.
Q: What else would you like readers to know about building a nourishing, compassionate, positive relationship with food and with themselves?
A: While it might seem like a radical concept, having a peaceful relationship with food is possible for you. If you are struggling, you do not have to do this alone. I encourage you to reach out for the support of a non-diet dietitian or therapist to practices from a Health At Every Size (HAES) perspective. These resources can help:
- HAES Community Registry
- Josée Sovinsky, Find a HAES expert
- Nutrition Matters Podcast
- The BodyLove Project Podcast
- Jennifer Rollin’s blog
- Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
- Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary
Haley Goodrich is the founder of INSPIRD Nutrition, where she specializes in intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery and body image from a Health at Every Size perspective. She is currently pursuing her Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) Certification. In addition to her full-time private practice she is also the co-founder of INSPIRD to SEEK, a community-based learning experience designed to mentor and guide nutrition entrepreneurs to build amazing businesses.