When nutrition professionals talk about “befriending food,” they usually do so in the context of eating disorders. They point out the importance of not seeing “food as the enemy,” or advocate for “making peace with food." For me, it’s a much simpler proposition. Loving food is understanding what it does, how it nourishes us and also appreciating what it takes to make good food available.
What Does a Healthy Relationship With Food Look Like?
Food is a wonderful thing. It should never be taken for granted, wasted or disregarded for all the benefits it provides. “Let food be your medicine,” the Greek physician Hippocrates famously said. Indeed, food can keep us healthy and help us fight and overcome disease.
Unfortunately, most people are alienated from their food supply. Few of us know, or care to know, where our food comes from, how it is processed or prepared and how we benefit from it. Yes, we have more nutritional information than ever, but such data are oftentimes either confusing or outright misleading.
To understand the true value of food is to understand what the body requires to fully function. I know it sounds corny when health counselors sometimes advise their clients to "listen to their body," but it does make sense. The body does make its needs known if we pay attention. Just ask yourself how you feel after eating a big meal? Probably sluggish. After too much fat intake? Sick. After a highly nutritious boost? Energized, right? Your body lets you know right away what you have done to it.
Our relationship with food is tricky. Even if it’s dysfunctional, we cannot put an end to it, unlike with alcohol or drug use. Food is essential to our existence. But when the way we eat makes us sick and causes health problems like obesity, diabetes or heart disease, we need to recalibrate and develop a different approach to how we handle the presence of food in our lives.
Throughout my years as a dietitian and health counselor, I have seen many clients with an antagonistic attitude toward food that ironically still exhibited addictive behavior they seemingly could not overcome. There is such a thing as a love-hate relationship with food. They couldn’t enjoy eating, and they couldn’t resist it either.
What is the answer to such a dilemma? Learn to love your food, I would say. Because it reflects how you love yourself, and the way you live your life.
How we relate to food translates and broadcasts how we feel about our very existence, says Pilar Gerasimo, a founding editor of the health magazine Experience Life. “Whether we eat consciously or unconsciously, strategically or randomly, pleasurably or dutifully, with voracious hunger or ho-hum disinterest, we can always see in our relationship with food something true and essential about the way we experience other aspects of our lives,” she says. In other words, we not only are what we eat — we also choose who we want to be in our relationship with food.
People with a healthy relationship to food eat mindfully. Their approach to food is based on moderation, good timing and planning ahead. They enjoy their food and appreciate its value. They don’t get seduced by fads and trends. And they don’t let diet concerns interfere with their daily routines. In sum, their relationship with food is constructive and empowering, instead of destructive and dysfunctional.
What does a healthy relationship with food look like in your life?