Many of us have a love-hate relationship with food. Learn how to develop healthy ways to eat in order to rebuild a healthy relationship with food.
It’s February, and signs of love are all around. What a wonderful time of year to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and your food!
Food connects us
Picture the dinner table: a simple homemade meal, familiar dishes and cutlery, the smell of cooking, the quiet conversation of those you hold dear. It’s home, a place where we can put the trials of the day aside, rest, digest, and feel nourished by food that loving hands have made.
At mealtime, food connects us to ourselves, each other, and the Earth. It’s at this time that we can take a break from thinking about work, turn inward, and experience wholesome goodness through our senses. Whether you are dining with a rowdy family of 10 or supping alone, the meal is meant to be a satisfying and scintillating event.
Forms of disconnect
In our fast-paced world, where machine interaction sometimes occurs more frequently than human interaction, it’s easy to grow out of touch with the meal, our food, and being present to our senses when we eat. Grab-and-go convenience foods that require no shopping for fresh produce, or cooking, detach us from the kitchen and the Earth. We begin eating for all the wrong reasons, just to cope with life.
Maladaptive eating is disconnected eating that has little to do with nourishing oneself and enjoying time with others or nature. Here are some forms of maladaptive eating you may be able to identify with.
The only maladaptive eating behaviour that has recently been labelled a psychiatric condition, binge eating disorder (BED) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) alongside anorexia and bulimia. Characteristic behaviours of someone with BED include
- recurrent and persistent episodes of bingeing
- marked distress regarding bingeing
- absence of regular compensatory behaviours (such as purging)
The definition of a binge really has nothing to do with the amount of food, and everything to do with the way the food is eaten, and how the person feels afterward. Binge eaters eat very rapidly, even when they’re not hungry, are alone when they do it, and end up feeling uncomfortably full, disgusted, and very guilty. Depression is a health risk that is often associated with BED.
It’s normal for eating to be tied to emotion. There are celebratory foods that enhance feelings of happiness. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when we turn to food to create a feeling, or escape from a negative feeling, we’ve become emotional eaters.
Dr. Joey Shulman, author of The Metabolism Boosting Diet (Collins Canada, 2012), says we are all emotional eaters. We eat when we’re happy, sad, bored, lonely, frustrated, or anxious. As an occasional event, eating emotionally is okay, but when it becomes a regular occurrence, a go-to method of coping, it’s a problem. A perpetual cycle of stress, eating, and more stress causes weight gain and all the ill health effects associated with excess weight.
Do you like a bedtime snack? Is it just a light bite, or do you eat a significant number of calories after dinner? A common habit, especially in those who don’t eat properly during the day, nighttime eating syndrome is defined as eating over half your calories after 6 pm. This poorly timed consumption pattern leads to poor quality sleep, disrupted circadian rhythm, weight gain, and other metabolic imbalances.
Grazers have no set meal times and/or mindlessly nibble between meals. Satisfying an oral fixation instead of true hunger, grazing may be just a force of habit or another form of emotional eating. Beyond adding pounds, grazing may keep you from maintaining peak muscle function, and may also promote tooth decay.
What is at the root of our bad eating habits?
Upon introspection, those with a maladaptive, love-hate relationship with food may discover that love of food is centred on love of self. From love of self comes love of others and the environment at large—but we need to achieve and foster love of self first.
To deny love of food is to deny oneself, a common experience among those who are health or weight-conscious. Lois Ferguson, registered dietitian and author of Eating for Energy and Ecstasy (Malibu Consulting International, 2001), remarks that food can be our enemy or our friend. How we relate to food has a lot to do with how we relate to ourselves. When was the last time you sat down and thought about this connection?
The journey back to a love of food and self can be long, but definitely worth it. Recognizing that one’s relationship with food is not what it should be is the first step. Like all revelations about important relationships, admitting there’s a problem can be scary, but something beautiful can come from facing that fear.
A slow return to love
How you eat mimics how you live, and how you relate to yourself, says registered nurse and nutritionist Doris Romano. A person who eats hurriedly with one hand on their phone is likely living a hurried life with a lot of pressure to multi-task and neglect time for self.
As a young, single woman, Romano was living such a life, working a full-time and part-time job while training for her first elite fitness competition. She thought she was happy, but she had no time for family or friends, and time by herself was spent either training or working.
Then a deep depression hit, and it was a blessing in disguise. Forced to stop, reflect, and change her disconnected ways, Romano gained insights into how people with maladaptive eating habits can reconnect with their food, themselves, and the world around them.
We can all do the same by slowing life down a little and considering a reconnection to our food—our lives and our loved ones.
Slow down to heal up
The following practices can help anyone looking to love food again.
So fundamental to the enjoyment of food, or other sensual acts, slowing down allows you to experience flavours and textures to their fullest. Both Romano and Ferguson highly recommend taking the time to select the best ingredients, cook, and savour one’s creation. If food is love, and love is at its best when it’s patient and kind, then food must also be best when there’s patience and kindness involved in its preparation and consumption.
Light a candle. Put on some soft music. Decorate the table. Use the good dishes. Your meal is your time for you. Create a space in your day, and a space in your home, where you can enjoy each bite—free from distraction. No gadgets or media!
Under the guidance of a nutritionist, try a detox regimen. This will help you get reacquainted with true hunger, what it feels like to satisfy that hunger with nutrient-dense foods.
Visit a local farm
Pick your own, or buy direct from growers of seasonal produce. Make a special trip to a beautiful market, orchard, or even a winery to reconnect with food at the source.