By: Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, LD
Cultivating a healthy relationship with food throughout the chopping, cooking, and eating process is arguably just as important as the actual food that you put in your body. There’s a strong mind-body connection between the gut and brain called the vagus nerve which allows for open ended communication. Negative thoughts, feelings of stress and being distracted while eating can affect the way that you digest food and absorb nutrients. This is why mindless eating at your desk or in your car may not be as harmless as you think. Carving out time to eat a meal, slowing down and being present can not only improve your relationship with food but also aid in digestion and get you more regular.
The long-term solution for achieving optimal health is not to struggle through a strict diet for as long as physically possible until you hit your breaking point. Many people find it easier to follow a restrictive diet by the book than to establish a healthy relationship with food. Eating healthy isn’t always healthy if your need to have a ‘perfect’ diet requires all of your mental and emotional capacity. There’s no such thing as a perfect diet so it is up to you to figure how you can find the balance between eating healthy and enjoying the process. The goal is to create a healthy connection with food which allows you to enhance your health, enjoy your meals and revel in the experience of eating. Read these five tips to enrich your food relationship!
- Don’t Use Meals as an Opportunity to Multitask
You’re sitting at your desk checking emails or scrolling through Instagram during lunch and before you know it, you’ve finished your meal without paying attention to a single bite, sound familiar? According to a 2013 study, eating while distracted may cause people to consume more food immediately versus eating attentively, which was linked to eating less later on in the day. This is consistent with findings from a 2017 study which showed adults that never watch television during meals had a 37% decreased risk of obesity compared to those who always did. Mealtime should be used to focus on fueling and nourishing your body instead of multitasking and rushing through the process. To practice more mindful eating, try taking several deep breaths before your first bite, chew slowly and really appreciate how the food stimulates each of your senses.
- Avoid Demonizing Food
So often in today’s culture, food is either labeled as “good” or “bad”. These judgments can make it feel morally wrong to enjoy a bowl of ice cream while also making you want it more. Villainizing foods can lead to obsessive thoughts or feelings of guilt. Humans tend to want something more when they are told that they cannot have it. If you constantly deny yourself of foods that you label “unhealthy” then it may cause you to obsess over eating it. I am not suggesting that you fall back to the Standard American Diet but instead try to be mindful about your food choices and how they make you feel so that you can make intuitive choices. Additional factors that may help include eating meals with your family and getting support from others.
- Buy from Local Farmers
Get out of the grocery store and into your community to experience a closer connection with foods that come from the earth. Buying local supports farmers and promotes sustainability, not to mention it tastes better and often contains more nutrients! When you get to know your farmer, you get to know your food and building this sort of relationship can help you develop an appreciation for all the work that goes into growing food. The best way to dive into local produce is through your local farmers market or a community support agriculture program (CSA). Both options will help you increase your intake of produce and get you to try unfamiliar vegetables that you don’t come in contact with at the supermarket. A 2014 study showed that those who signed up for a CSA had a higher intake of vegetables and were more likely to try new vegetables compared to those who did not. Get in on this action by clicking the link to find your nearest farmer’s market!
- Spend Less Time Admiring Food on Instagram and More Time Cooking
Negative food relationships are becoming increasingly common which has led to the development of a new eating disorder. Orthorexia Nervosa is a term used to explain an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods. Findings from a recent 2017 study showed that Instagram may be contributing to an over-obsession with eating healthy. The researchers conducted an online survey of social media users following health food accounts and found that more activity on Instagram was associated with more orthorexia symptoms. The prevalence of Orthorexia Nervosa among the group surveyed was 49% which was much higher than the general population where less than 1% are estimated to be effected by this disordered eating pattern. While there can be advantages to looking at health accounts on social media, everyone can benefit from spending less time looking at social media and more time actually cooking meals!
- Rebound from Splurges
Feelings of guilt after eating something “off plan” make it difficult for people to move on from a food splurge. You may find that deciding to have one treat leads to justifying poor choices for the next three days. This can also be referred to as the ‘what the hell effect’. Here’s an example: you give into having a muffin for breakfast and then when lunchtime rolls around you decide ‘what the hell, I already messed up, so I mine as well eat chips and a bagel for lunch’. If this sounds familiar then you may benefit from focusing more on allowing yourself to have an occasional treat and actually enjoy it without feeling guilty. That way rebounding at the next meal becomes much easier.
Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, LD is a functional medicine dietitian nutritionist at the first hospital-based functional medicine center in the country and an adjunct instructor in Cleveland, OH. Brigid is a published author of dozens of articles for U.S. News and World Report, the Huffington Post, Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, and ivillage. When she’s not working she’s usually in her kitchen experimenting with and photographing new recipes for her blog, Beingbrigid.com. She is completely in her element when she is cooking in the kitchen, practicing yoga, listening to her favorite country artists and relaxing with family and friends.