Weight Loss Support - So, what does "a healthy relationship with food" really mean?

04-16-2013, 11:03 AM
I've seen people post saying "you have to develop a healthy relationship with food", but what does that really mean?

I honestly never understood. I always thought food is food, why do I need a relationship with it? Silly, I know.

One day it clicked for me. To me, a healthy relationship is knowing that food will not run away from me. There is no need to inhale it when I'm eating, I can take my time and actually enjoy the flavors. It also means that this is not the last time I will ever see this particular food item, I don't need to over stuff myself with it. Food is here for my benefit, that puts me in control.

What does "a healthy relationship with food" mean to you?

ETA: I am bumping this topic because I would like to use this it as my thesis for a paper I have to write. I would really like to know what your thoughts are on what a healthy relationship with food is.

04-16-2013, 11:07 AM
This is a great topic!

For me, I've learned that food is nourishing and fuels my body. I can make the choice for healthy fuel (or not healthy) and get the results for which I'm looking. It's okay for me to use food for pleasure. What food isn't any longer: a comforter, an entertainer, my world.

04-16-2013, 11:19 AM
I've learned that it's perfectly acceptable to enjoy eating and to enjoy your food. But along with that, I've learned that food is not my best friend. It is not there to provide comfort because I've had a bad day. It's not there to provide company because I might be lonely. It's not there to provide something to do because I'm bored (usually occurs when watching the boob tube!). And I've learned that I can still eat anything, but maybe I can only have some once in a while (like 5 cheese macaroni and cheese) and do not need to eat the entire casserole. And I've learned that when I'm cheating by eating while cooking (disguised as tasting for seasoning!) means that I'm really eating two meals and fooling no one but myself.

And since I've learned these things, I've opened myself up to other activities and people.

04-16-2013, 11:40 AM
I don't know. I do know that after years of trying to develop one, I still don't trust myself to have one. I guess my answer would be that a healthy relationship with food would be one like the intuitive eating program describes. Where you eat foods because they taste good and are what your body needs to be healthy and you eat only when you are hungry and stop when you're full.

I know that my habits of keeping my calories to 1200 to lose weight (I'm a shortie) and then succeeding in weight loss and feeling like I've finally developed the ability to "naturallly" eat 1200 to 1500 calories per day of healthy food - doesn't work. Because I start thinking that I have this healthy relationship with food and then it morphs into an all out junk food fest of 2000+ calories per day in just a few weeks. The unhealthy relationship roars again.

Sometimes I think I have to develop that ideal relationship to be permanently thin, but honestly - isn't insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? At what point do I finally accept that I never will be able to do that and that a lifestyle of permanent weight loss comes from keeping myself in this balance between calorie restriction and a free for all - but 80% on track - and not 80% off track.

04-16-2013, 11:59 AM
I've learned that food is not my best friend. It is not there to provide comfort because I've had a bad day. It's not there to provide company because I might be lonely. It's not there to provide something to do because I'm bored (usually occurs when watching the boob tube!)

Betsy, I love that! I've used food as entertainment before, and you're right, that's not its job.

04-16-2013, 12:27 PM
I'll never have a healthy relationship with food. Never. And thinking that I will 'naturally' have one would be a dangerous belief.

And I don't think i ever had a healthy relationship with food.

SO... it's something I need to realize and something I need to control - portion size, types of foods, etc. I just hope I've helped my kids to have a more normal relationship with food.

04-16-2013, 12:28 PM
I've realized that having a healthy relationship with food means that I should not eat every meal like it was my last meal. This will not be the very last steak I will ever eat, there is more chocolate in the world.

I've also learned as others have said I should use food for nuritionment not entertainment or as a coping mechanism. I shouldn't eat when I'm bored just so I have something to do and I shouldn't eat when I'm stressed. I need to find other outlets.

I also think that taking enjoyment (not entertainment) in your food is important. Letting that little bit of chocolate melt in your mouth, chewing slowly to pull out all of the flavor in salsa chicken, and exmerimenting pairing different foods to get a new experience from it.

Food is not the enemy...but it shouldn't be a substitute for a friend either.

04-16-2013, 12:41 PM
I agree, love this topic. Honestly I was in denial for so long. I was 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, no way anything could possibly ever happen to me. It doesn't matter that I was morbidly obese (still am), there's no way I could have a heart attack, or clog an artery, or get diabetes or have high cholesterol.

I was completely naive. Now I know, food really is FUEL. The better the source of nutrition I give myself, the better my body will feel and heal from all the years of abuse. I now know eating broccoli and zucchini as my sides instead of mashed potatoes and mac and cheese will ultimately be so much more satisfying than the couple of minutes I enjoyed the taste of something.

I can still have those things... but my diet no longer has to revolve around fatty foods! I can have them when the craving strikes and I now know, i'm doing it to fuel my body not to overwork it. So portions make much more sense to me now. :)

the shiv
04-16-2013, 12:51 PM
I finally get it now... I used to give food too much power over me. It was either banned, or a free for all binge. And, I equated food with being fat, so I was too ashamed to enjoy it. Now I get it that food, for me, is meant to be enjoyable! But not the be all and end all. If I really want a pizza, but I'm not hungry, I can just wait a few hours. I'll get hungry soon enough, it's natural. Personally, it's about realising that I'm the boss of food, not the other way round, and trying to develop a slightly disdainful, disinterested "take it or leave it" attitude towards it. Since starting IE, I can't remember the last time I felt an emotional reaction towards food, and that's exactly what I was shooting for. I still end up eating when I'm not hungry because I'm not paying attention, but that doesn't make me a bad person, it just means I need to re-focus. As an ex binge-eater I can honestly say that having no emotions around food (though still allowing myself to enjoy it) is the holy grail! When I'm not concentrating, I maintain. When I'm concentrating, I lose. Other priorities come and go but I take the periods of weight loss where I can find them.

04-16-2013, 12:51 PM
This is a really good question. It is much easier to point out examples of unhealthy relationships with food - anorexia, bulimia, overeating to deal with emotional problems, overeating foods that are bad for our bodies.

Honestly, if you look at the American diet most people don't have a really healthy relationship with food regardless of their size. I feel like if an individual knows they should be eating nutrient rich food choices for their health and choose junk instead that is an unhealthy relationship. With all the food we consume, our diets in general don't provide the nutrients our body really need because of the amount of "junk" that is being eaten. Some people are ignorant (or not as fully informed as they should be) on what a healthy diet is. Some people in urban areas, don't have access to fresh foods. Some people can't afford to buy healthier alternatives since the food subsidies in this country have made junk food cheaper. (We need subsidies for fresh vegetables and fruits but that is a different topic of discussion.) While we can make some healthy foods from scratch, many people were never taught the skills to do so or have a hard time doing so with busy schedules or working multiple jobs. Some people know they should be eating better but continue to make really poor choices.

To me having a "healthy relationship" with food involves not obsessing over it one way or another. Some people are eating amazingly healthy diets, but seem to have an unhealthy relationship with food because they are fixating on it so much. Part of that ideally "healthy relationship" is about making healthy decisions about what we consume without it consuming our thoughts, lives, and time.

Which leads me to wonder when/if I'm going to have that ideal healthy relationship. For me to get to a weight that is healthy and to maintain that weight is going to take a lot of effort, time, and discipline. So often those motivators to be so discipline can be fueled by unhealthy thoughts like self loathing or an obsession with an unhealthy body ideal. I don't want to swap one obsession with another.

Even when I was overweight I was making decent choices with my food - whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, lots of vegetables, healthier alternatives. Along with those healthy choices were unhealthy ones. It is just taking so much restriction to lose I wonder if I'm ever going to be able to maintain my goal weight (which is high) without a level of food obsession that includes strict portion control and food restrictions.

04-16-2013, 03:01 PM
I think it varies from person to person - for me, a healthy relationship with food means I don't fear it or give it power over me. What I eat on X day does not determine my self-worth. What I didn't eat on X day does not make me virtuous or somehow superior to others. And life is not a contest to have a perfect diet.

I LOVE food and eating is probably my #1 or #2 favorite thing to do, period. I think it can be perfectly healthy to love to eat, and so I embrace my enjoyment of food and all the different kinds that are out there to be eaten.

For me, a healthy relationship with food is incompatible with calorie counting or numbers crunching.

04-16-2013, 03:27 PM
I think it varies from person to person

I agree 100%! :)

I do think, though, that a person recognizing that they need to count calories to have a relationship with food is healthy. They've recognized their issues with food and are working with them instead of against them.

04-16-2013, 04:09 PM
Over the past year, I look at food so differently.

I had gained so much weight eating literally crappy, processed, high calorie foods and it all caught up with me.

I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer last summer and I was told it was in direct relation to my "environment". As in, it's not hereditary. It was my body environment and my fat cells filled with excess estrogen.

These foods and drinks (non-alcoholic and alcohol) were killing me. I didn't respect my food and the food surely didn't respect me back. All the salt, sugar and fat I consumed is sickening.

I made a total 360 in my diet and have never felt better, it's a miracle. I wish I had been smart enough to do this prior to my diagnosis and maybe I could have avoided this whole journey in my life. That's something I will never ever know.

My new best friends are fresh fruits and veggies. They are saving my life (and my waistline!).

09-18-2013, 05:43 PM

09-18-2013, 06:29 PM
This is a great topic!

I agree, great topic.

For me it means not having all kinds of obsessive behaviors around food, like feeling compelled to finish half-portions, to "even out" pies and cakes, to try this or that food because "it's my only chance," etc. It also means not having food on the brain all the time when attending buffets, pot lucks, or catered events. Needless to say I'm not there yet.


09-18-2013, 07:05 PM
For me, a healthy relationship with food means two different things.

1. Not letting food control me. Whether it's emotions, surroundings, or even convenience. I can choose to eat something, or not. I don't have to eat everything in sight with the worry that I won't get to eat it again. I don't have to use sugar to brighten my mood.

2. Accepting that it's okay to have a fling with the bad guy (the stuff I shouldn't be eating) every once in a while, as long as it's the good guy (the good stuff!) that I bring home more often. No one is perfect 100% of the time, so it would be unrealistic to force myself to be.

How I'd ultimately like to be is being able to eat healthy 90% of the time, and allowing myself that 10% of wiggle room for the fun things in life. family gatherings, going out with friends, date night, etc.

09-18-2013, 07:33 PM
Thanks everyone for the responses! I was unsure if this would be a good topic for a paper, but you all have been a wealth of information!

Please, keep them coming!

09-18-2013, 08:08 PM
To me, a healthy relationship with food means not having a love/hate relationship with it: not loving it because it comforts me, entertains me, or makes my tastebuds dance; and not hating it because I crave it, overeat it, or feel guilty eating it. When I can just eat it, enjoy what I eat, stop when I'm full, and leave it at that with no emotional attachment, that is a healthy relationship for me.

09-18-2013, 08:59 PM
Having the ability to use floor as for and still enjoy it, using it for its intended purpose, not as medication

09-18-2013, 09:00 PM
I meant food

09-18-2013, 09:06 PM
For me it looks like eating to live rather than living to eat. Sounds simple enough and it is and it isn't.

For me:

It's about not waking up in the morning thinking about what I'm going to eat.

It's about going out and having it be about the company or the event rather than eating. Occasions should not be about the food even if it is traditionally served as part of the festivity.

It's about eating when and if I'm hungry and eating things that are generally good for me, being mindful to enjoy, to taste, and savor rather than inhaling my food completely heedless of quality, content and amount that I've eaten, looking around for more like I'd eaten nothing at all afterward.

It's about being attuned to my natural point of satiation and stopping when I've reached it.

It's about not having "eyes bigger than my stomach" and serving myself reasonable portions in the first place.

It's about being rational in the face of food cues, the aroma of baking bread, the sight of pastry, the proximity to the sights and smells of food. (This one is particular to me as we live a block from a bread bakery and at least a dozen restaurants. We smell food all the time in our AK house, a little like downtown Seattle.)

It's about making choices that reflect a balanced interest in maintaining health and the pleasure of food itself. Meaning nothing is forbidden but somethings will be eaten limited quantity.

That's what it looks like to me and what my experience has been. It's a work in progress and gets easier every day as long as I pay attention and live in the moment.

09-18-2013, 10:51 PM
For most of my life, food was my friend, my comfort and my protection from pain. Until it wasn't. But I continued to gobble mass amounts of food as a form of self medication until I'd eaten so much, so constantly that I tipped the scales at 302 pounds. Then, food became my enemy. It became something to fight and to rigidly control to prevent it from latching on to me in the form of more fat. After almost two years of that, I've finally realized that I need to find a balance somewhere between those two extremes. The kind of rigid control I've been trying to exercise over food has backfired, sometimes spectacularly. I am tired of fighting. The healthy relationship that I seek is to eat when I'm hungry, to enjoy what I eat and to stop when I'm satiated. It sounds simple. It ain't so much. But I'm working on it.

09-19-2013, 05:23 PM
Thank you everyone for all of the wonderful responses!

09-20-2013, 01:30 PM
For me, a healthy relationship with food means that it doesn't control my life. It means I don't spend my day fixated on what I get to eat later, or wake up thinking about what I'm going to have for dinner. It means I don't look forward to days when my family is away and I have the house to myself so I can order a large pizza and eat it til I'm sick.

A healthy relationship with food is one where I fill the empty space inside me with things that are fulfilling and good for me - activities and self care - not just shoveling in to fill that empty space. The space is there for a reason, and I have always given it food. It means that I don't eat when I'm lonely or sad. It means that I am not ashamed of myself after I eat.

It means that I am in control and not the food.

Sorry if that sounds a little scattered - I literally just typed that out as it came to me - most honest, uncensored response that way. :)

09-20-2013, 01:36 PM
Realizing that it's something nourishing to my body and soul, something that should be enjoyed and appreciated. Not as a crutch, not to abuse, not to fill some empty void in my heart. It's not something to be worshipped, nor feared.

In my mind, having that healthy relationship with food is to not be preoccupied with it constantly. But like everything else in my life, it's something that has to be properly attended to as well. It's hard to find that balance.

09-20-2013, 05:54 PM
A healthy relationship with food to me is more dependent on behaviors than thoughts.

It's unrealistic to eliminate all irrational/ridiculous/gluttonous thoughts about food from one's mind forever. For example, I have horrific PMS and yesterday I spent two hours (one hour before, the next hour during a spin class) fantasizing about ordering a whole cheese pizza and eating it all. I thought about the physical consequences (feeling bad, stomachaches, constipation, gas, weighing like 5 pounds more the next day) and decided it was more fun to think about than to actually do, and had a normal dinner (with cheese, and a few freezer dumplings) and some chocolate for dessert.

I suppose a healthy relationship with food means you can control your food-related actions and do not permit behaviors on either extreme of the spectrum (starvation, manic binge eating) to occur - and perhaps do not even have the desire to do those types of things.

09-25-2013, 04:05 PM
For me, it's basically "eat to live", instead of "live for eating". Meaning, even if I end up eating junk food, I'll do it because I'm hungry, not because I need comfort or whatever (when I eat such foods due to real hunger, it's never a lot anyway, contrary to what happened in the second case).