A relationship with food should be a happy one, as there's a pure joy that comes from sharing a meal with close ones and trying new tastes, flavors, and textures. However, sometimes you might find that you're in a toxic relationship with food, and you need to find help in order to achieve a healthier and more positive perspective. Changing your current eating habits can be quite challenging, but with time and patience, it's totally doable.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on establishing a healthy, beneficial relationship with food. Eating is such an important facet of the lifestyle, as it can influence social engagements, personal self-worth and confidence, physical health and wellbeing, and stress levels. If your eating is out of whack, chances are, other areas of your life are too. The first step is to recognize an eating disorder or a toxic element regarding your eating habits. Once addressed, you can then start strategizes ways to develop healthier behaviors and thoughts. Acceptance is key. From then, it'll only get brighter. Here are 11 ways to know that you might have a toxic relationship with food, and how to get back to a balanced state.
1. Feeling Out Of Control When Eating Too Much
According to James Houle, PhD, sport psychologist with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute, over email with Bustle, eating too much food in a sitting, and feeling as though you simply can't stop, can be a sign of a "binge-eating disorder." This feeling can wreck your wellbeing and make you feel uncomfortable.
2. Eating Too Fast
Houle also says that eating too quickly, especially in too large of portions, can also contribute to feelings of discomfort. It's better to be mindful of your eating and portion sizes, as well as your appetite levels. Eating slowly, taking breaks, and waiting to see if appetite becomes suppressed will help you gain back control.
3. Vomiting After Meals
I'm not just talking about bad Chinese takeout. If you're forcing yourself to vomit after meals, as a habit, it can signal a toxic relationship with food and body image, explains Houle. "Self-induced purging is a sign of bulimia nervosa," Houle advises. Futhermore, "Bulimia Nervosa involves binge eating with subsequent inappropriate behaviors (like self-induced vomiting, laxatives, fasting, excessive exercise) to compensate," advise Dr. Charles Galanis, a Board Certified Surgeon in Beverly Hills and Rob Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery over email with Bustle. "Like Anorexia patients, those with Bulimia tend to place extreme value on their body image, but their body weight tends to be normal or even slightly overweight," Galanis and Dorfman explain.
4. Letting Food Rule Your Life
Yes, food is super important, but if you're so concerned with portion sizes and calories, explains Houle, you're allowing yourself to miss out on some great social opportunities. "This sign is associated with eating disordered behavior as well as diagnosable eating disorders. Individual noticing their eating behavior negatively affecting their life may want to speak to a counselor or psychologist," advises Houle.
5. Eating When Emotional
"Food is much more than just a source of nourishment, it's a social interaction, it's comfort, it's joy. But, when food becomes primarily an emotional attachment rather than a source of fuel to meet your physiological needs, you know you need to revisit the mindful eating philosophy," explains Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT over email with Bustle. Just because you've steered off the wagon for a week, month, or even years doesn't mean you can't retrain your relationship with food. It's about time, breaking habits and forming new ones.
6. Feeling Guilty When Eating
"When you feel guilty after eating, it is an indicator that you need a renewed relationship with food as it is possible to feel good after every single meal," explains Liana Werner Gray, author of The Earth Diet and 10 Minute Recipes over email with Bustle. "When you feel bloated all the time. Food is meant to nourish your body, not to make us feel puffy. There are a lot of great simple anti-inflammatory recipes that can reduce that feeling of being bloated right away," says Gray.
7. Cutting Out Whole Food Groups
"If you cut something out completely, you are more likely to give in to a moment of weakness and binge on it," explains Tina Muir, Community Manager and Elite Runner at Runners Connect. "This will not only leave you feeling awful about yourself, but mean that you are more likely to give up all your healthy habits because you feel like you are worthless and can’t stick to anything," explains Muir. One caveat: if you're sensitive to a food group due to dietary restrictions per a health condition.
8. Being Scared To Eat
Muir also says that being fearful to eat can be a sign that a relationship with food is out of whack. It's important to feel good about eating healthy fats, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates (complex ones, not refined), and to allow some wiggle room for your favorite foods and indulgences. Balance is key, and the body needs food to function. "Anorexia Nervosa involves an intense fear of gaining weight, along with excessive dieting, exercise, or binge eating / purging," advise Galanis and Dorfman. "Anorexia nervosa can result in severe weight loss with subsequent decrease in bone density and stress fractures, loss of menstrual periods, lanugo (fine, soft hair covering body and limbs), and electrolyte disturbances," Galanis and Dorfman add.
9. Being "Hangry" Between Meals
According to Erica Bryers, co-founder of Ora Organic over email with Bustle, "skipping breakfast for a longer sleep-in or waiting too long between meals often makes us hangry humans. It might seem cost-effective or an easy way to diet, but this habit harms more than helps our bodies." Bryers continues, "Apart from the inevitable gorging that follows a hangry episode and leaves us feeling guilty and gluttonous, when you wait too long to eat (or skip a meal) your metabolism slows down to conserve energy. As a result your body can also start to store these meals as fat, so often this habit is more likely to lead to weight gain than weight loss." Make sure to nosh during the day every few hours.
10. Hiding Eating Habits
According to Lesley Wirth, contributing writer for Pro Corner on Recovery.org and author of Own Your Worth, A Spiritual Journey through Food Compulsion to Self-Love over email with Bustle, if you're constantly hiding your eating habits or eating in secrecy, it could mean that you have a toxic relationship with food. Feeling comfortable around others and food is important for healthy relationships with others and with yourself.
11. Fantasizing About Food
I don't mean envisioning a pizza pie during that 3 p.m. slump. If you're constantly fantasizing about food or planning your meals, with keen detail to calories, restriction, and "diet rules," explains Wirth, then it could signal a poor relationship with food. Wirth recommends seeking help "from online resources as Recovery.org to inpatient treatment centers across the nation." Wirth adds, "Transforming your relationship with food from toxic to healthy is a process, not an event. It takes time and dedication."
If you notice any of these symptoms apply to your lifestyle, it's important to seek guidance and start your path towards better self-discovery, self-love, and self-acceptance regarding food and body image. Having control over your life in a healthy fashion will boost overall happiness and love.
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