Thanks to a constant bombardment of clean eating messaging via the media, it’s all too easy to become wrapped up in diet culture these days and start to obsess about our food choices, effectively stripping the joy out of mealtimes. But what if we could bring the love of healthy eating back to the table?
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We speak to research scientist and practicing psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos about how to reevaluate your relationship with food, so you can focus on being healthy and happy.
What is disordered eating?
From a clinical perspective, the range of eating disorders we work with has become much more varied, with people becoming unhealthily anxious not just about calorific intake and size, but also about whatever food trend is currently in vogue.
As a society we are fetishising food more than ever before. We have so much access to nutritional information, recipes, and pictures of food, not to mention the plethora of articles on where to eat, what not to eat and how to eat! And the fact is that while its normal to enjoy food and indeed think about making good food choices, there is a fine line between thinking carefully about what we put into our bodies and obsessing over it.
So whether you are an emotional eater, a yo-yo dieter or more worryingly beginning to engage in obsessive or disordered eating, here are five things that you can do to begin to rebuild a better relationship with food:
✔️ Eat everything (in moderation)
The minute you make something a forbidden treat the more likely you’ll be to crave it or feel guilty when you have it. These value judgements we put on food can lead you to change the way you engage with it.
So for example a piece of cake is not just cake but rather moral conundrum that you need to resolve that will reflect if you are being ‘good or bad’. The fact is its just cake! If you want it its fine to have it and the less you deify or vilify it the more likely you will be to be able to consume it in moderation.
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✔️ Listen to your body
Portion sizes at restaurants have increased significantly over the past decades. That means the old adage of eating everything on your plate wont work unless you are the one in control of what is actually on the plate.
On the other end of the spectrum, dieters or food restrictors spend so much time limiting and worrying about what they eat that they forget how to respond to their bodies natural hunger response.
Remember, our bodies are generally good at telling us when to eat — and when we are full- but we need to learn to listen- so eat mindfully, paying attention to your bodies natural response to food, without becoming judgemental.
✔️ Take emotion off the table
Eat when you’re hungry, but don’t eat if you’re bored or feeling emotional. Instead find a more functional way to deal with your feelings that doesn’t depend on food.
You need to learn to separate feelings from eating. Before you eat, question why you’re hungry. Is it because you haven’t eaten or drunk anything in a while? Or is it because you’re tired, stressed or upset?
✔️ Don’t talk about food so much
Eating disorders, whether they have to do with over-eating or restricting all share something in common- people think about food way too much!
Yes, food is one of life’s pleasures and you should enjoy eating but there are a lot of other pleasures out there so if you find yourself constantly obsessing over pics of food or your next meal then maybe its time to diversify what you focus on and engage with. Ask yourself what else you enjoy, and devote more attention to that.
✔️ Stop comparing
Your nutritional needs and body type are different to those around you, so don’t compare- eat what is right for you, listen to what your body tells you and most importantly respect your body enough to feed it and nurture it in a healthy balanced way that’s good for you.
Disordered eating resources
For further help and support, try one of the following:
- NHS.UK: to check for any medical issues or be referred to a specialist, visit you GP.
- BEAT: a charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS or any other difficulties with food, weight and shape.
- Mind: a mental health charity, Mind make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
- The Samaritans: a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress.