When it comes to being healthy, we often focus on the types of food we eat and how much we consume. However, our eating patterns and attitudes about food are just as crucial for good health, so it's important to make sure we are engaging in habits that encourage a healthy relationship with food. Our mental health and physical health are connected, and we want to make sure we aren't obsessing over every bite we take or turning to food as a source of comfort when we are down.
"Your relationship with food is just as important as what you're eating because the two are so intertwined," says Adina Fradkin, MS, RD, LDN over email. "We should be balancing our diet with foods that keep us well-nourished, but also ones that we enjoy — sometimes these categories overlap! Your relationship with food can also have psychological implications, as a relationship with food where someone feels constantly guilty can certainly have an impact on someone's self-esteem and perception of self."
A healthy relationship with food can not only help you eat more nutritiously and give you energy, but it can also help to put your mind at ease and even improve your self-esteem and decrease stress. To help us attain this beneficial relationship with our eating patterns, it can be helpful to look at those who do it right. Here are the 11 habits of people who have a healthy relationship with food — but keep in mind that someone who has a healthy relationship with food doesn't necessarily do all of the below, all the time. Everyone is different, and the habits below are only common habits in people who have healthy relationships with food, if you're looking for a place to start.
1. They Eat Mindfully
Part of healthy eating involves making conscious decisions about what you eat, and adopting mindful eating tactics can help encourage these habits. Take the time to enjoy the process, from picking out your food, to cooking it, and even savoring it. Don't mindlessly eat a bag of chips in front of the TV, as this can lead to overeating. Even short-term overeating can lead to negative health effects such as insulin resistance and metabolic disorders such as diabetes, according to WebMD. This makes it even harder to listen to your natural hunger cues. Remove distractions so you can properly enjoy and savor your food, which can help you become aware of what you are putting in your mouth and how it makes you feel.
2. They Don't Deprive Themselves
People who have a healthy relationship with food don't restrict themselves from eating certain foods — they enjoy everything in moderation. Whether it's a sugar cookie, a fancy cheese, or a delicious slice of pizza, they allow themselves to try whatever looks good. In fact, research from Cornell University even shows that eating a small bite of what you desire is just as satisfying as eating the whole thing, so go ahead and eat some of that chocolate bar.
3. They Snack
Keeping yourself hungry throughout the day in an attempt to eat less can not only wreak havoc on your metabolism, but it can also cause your blood sugar to drop, leaving you irritable, distracted, and more likely to crave food with no nutritional value. "Stock your countertops, pantries, refrigerators, desks, cars, and purses with nuts, fruits (fresh or dried), vegetables, or yogurt," says Rene Ficek, RD, Lead Nutrition Expert of Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating in an interview with Bustle. "All of these add extra healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will keep energy up all day long."
4. They Don't Compare Themselves To Others
There's nothing wrong with looking toward a healthy eater for inspiration, but it's not good to constantly compare someone else's eating habits with your own. "We are all different eaters," says Fradkin. "We have different bodies, different schedules, different likes and dislikes, and so on. There is no one 'right' way to eat."
5. They Don't Feel Guilty
Once you have eaten something, it's already in your stomach, so there's no use fretting over what has already transpired. If you're unhappy with what you have eaten because you're not feeling so great afterward, just use it as an opportunity to eat more thoughtfully in the future. Plus, research from the journal Appetite shows that people who feel guilty about after eating something indulgent actually end up less motivated to stick to their eating goals, so try to enjoy more and stress less.
6. They Keep Healthy Food At Home
"Research shows that those who have fruit bowls on display consistently eat more fruit than those who do not," says Ficek. Keeping healthy food around means you have more access to the type of food you want to be eating, and it means you'll be less likely to hit the drive-thru out of desperation.
7. They Eat Breakfast
Although the debate over eating breakfast is still up in the air, research shows that people who eat breakfast tend to eat healthier overall than those who skip the meal, according to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Starting your day on a positive note — and with food that can provide you with energy to make it throughout the day — can help start you off on the right food and encourage better choices as the day goes on.
8. They Don't Try Fad Diets
It's tempting to jump on the fad diet bandwagon because your friend's friend suddenly started looking super fit after she cut out carbs, but fad diets don't encourage healthy eating over the long-term. One study from the University of Melbourne found that after women went on a strict diet for eight weeks, over the next year, they reported feeling more hungry and food-obsessed than before their diet.
9. They Stop Eating When They're 80 Percent Full
"Most of us are inclined to eat past the point of fullness, but eating just until we are comfortably full can help prevent overeating," says Ficek. And as mentioned earlier, even short term overeating can have a serious impact on your health. Given that it takes the brain about 20 minutes to register when you're full, stopping before you're stuffed can give your brain time to catch up to your stomach, a practice common in Japan called Hara Hachi Bu. If you stop when you're feeling 80 percent full, wait 20 minutes, and still feel hungry, of course, follow your body's natural cues and grab something else.
10. They Don't Count Calories
For starters, not all calories are created equal. One hundred calories of fresh fruit is definitely not going to equal 100 calories of sour gummy worms. Not only are different foods metabolized differently, but calorie counts on food products are seldom accurate, and focusing on the number can become an unhealthy obsession that can actually backfire, according to Time. Focus on the quality of your food, not the quantity.
Implementing these habits takes time, but if you think you may have a more serious issue with food, consider seeing a specialist or visit the National Eating Disorder website for help.
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