Creating a healthy relationship with food

Back when you were just a toddler, you probably never gave your hunger as much as a second thought. You ate a snack when your stomach growled, you stopped munching when you felt full and satisfied, and you repeated the process throughout the day. But as you aged, that intuitive approach to eating may have gone sideways. There are several factors that may have influenced your relationship with food: your parents' and friends' well-intentioned yet potentially shame-y comments about your food choices, the health education you received in school, and in recent years, social media trends. And that means they've also shaped the way you think about and choose what goes on your plate. But restoring your relationship with food – and the ability to eat intuitively without feeling guilty or stressed – is possible. Here, we break down how to start healing your relationship with food.


The first step to establishing a healthy, or even neutral, relationship with food is to lose the labels tied to morality. Instead, describe your meal as if you were a judge on a cooking show. For example, The Great British Bake Off's Paul Hollywood wouldn't describe a slice of Black Forest Cake as his "cheat meal" for the day, but he would say it's "packed with flavour" or it "melts in the mouth." Saying things like that are better for our minds and our mental health than constantly thinking we're being either good or bad.


Adopting an intuitive approach to eating, much like the one you had when you were a child, can also be a part of your toolkit. Before you can hone in on your hunger and fullness cues, you'll first need to look at how much and how frequently you're eating. Are you having at least three meals per day? Are you eating enough food and having some variety at those meals? Are you skipping meals? It's hard for your body to get back in touch with those feelings if your body doesn't trust that your needs are being met.

Once you're sure you're properly nourishing yourself, pay attention to how you feel before or between meals. Ask yourself: Are there any sensations in your stomach? Do you feel irritated, tired, or scatter-brained? Are you thinking about food more often than usual? If you say yes to any of those questions, there's a good chance you're hungry. Then, while you're eating your meal, notice how you're feeling. How full do you feel? Do you feel full but not satisfied? Is there something that would make this meal or snack feel more satisfying? Recognising these thoughts and sensations, and actually following through on them, can help you start healing your relationship with food.

Still, if you're struggling to pick up those feelings of hunger, fullness, or satisfaction, know you're not alone. Trauma, chronic dieting, conditions like ADHD, gastrointestinal issues, sensory processing difficulties, or certain medications can interfere with these cues. You might benefit from working with an R.D. and/or a therapist.


Setting boundaries is also key to restoring your relationship with food. Even if you've slowly come to ditch terms such as "clean" or "junk," your loved ones may not have gotten the memo, and they may take it upon themselves to label and discuss what's on your plate. In those instances, ask them to keep the conversation at the table free of any diet talk. If someone still brings up dieting or even topics surrounding your or other people's bodies, you can ignore their comments and change the subject, especially if you don't feel like it's a safe place to bring up your concerns or you just don't have the energy.


Even if you do put this guidance into action, know that improving your relationship with food isn't an overnight process, and your progress may fluctuate over time – and that's okay. We can have really fraught, really painful relationships with food, and they can move to be more peaceful. And there can be times where our peaceful relationship to food has a wrench thrown into it with all the different stresses of life and it can change. Having this toolkit under your belt, however, can help you get back on track to healing your relationship when that wrench does get in the way.