What constitute a good relationship with food and what does having a relationship with food even mean in the first place? I should define what I perceive as a relationship with food so that we start on the right path of understanding. Mindful eating comes first to my mind. In order to be able to do that, you must first know yourself and how your body reacts to certain foods and that is no small feat. I have dabbled into nutrition for over 20 years and I am still discovering things about myself. We are sentient beings, our bodies change as we age, as we go through different phases in life and this enforces again what I have been saying in my past articles about the multiple factors that affects our food template. We have to be willing to keep our minds and senses open to how our body reacts biochemically to our environment, emotions, physical changes and social interactions. Believe or not, these things are what make us eat what we eat, what makes us susceptible to the foods we reach out for. Understand your nature and you will then understand how to outsmart and manipulate your circumstances. Knowing all that and doing what you need to do i.e. avoiding your most favorite foods that you know makes you feel bad 90% of the time is one example. Another word that pops up quite often is moderation, how do we even begin to measure moderation? There is a thin line between consuming food and being consumed by food. One could get obsessive over their “health” concerns that they forget the other pillars of health i.e. their social interactions with the people surrounding them. Hence, we have to constantly bear those 4 pillars of health and find that sweet spot based on your own observations of the self. We are all built differently. Know thyself.
The 4 pillars of wellness is sleep/photoperiod, food, movement, community. We are creatures of habit and change is one of the most difficult things to put into action. We often need to understand fully the need to change before we would lift a finger. It doesn’t help that we have so many conflicting information out there; we cannot help but have paralysis of analysis. So I suggest that you start with yourself, by understanding what makes you tick. You may start with a food strategy that you believe in e.g. vegan, paleo, ketogenic, low-fat, IIFYM, Zone, Atkins, Fit for Life. Keep a food diary, monitor your progress. Try a workout routine and see how it works for you. If it doesn’t, seek advice and do it for a given timeframe, at least 3 months to know how it works. Just remember, you can do something extreme for a short time but if you cannot sustain the same routine for the long term, your body will adjust itself accordingly, meaning it will go back to normal if you continue to eat the same way as you did before.
Most people find it hard to wrap their minds around having to change their way of eating forever. So we invent “cheat” days. It is important to know that the foods of today are made to be addictive so you would come back for more. Varieties of food available and different flavors make us crave for more. When you become more mindful of what you eat, you tend to appreciate simple food, food that does not have to continuously tantalize your taste buds. Processed food masks your satiety and you find yourself unable to stop at a bag of salty potato chips or a scoop of sweet ice-cream, you just keep going until it is finished and you still pine for more. Hyper-palatability is what gets us hooked and food companies know how to get you hooked. If you are aware of how you feel after consuming these foods, you will understand better and thence take the necessary steps to avoid those temptations. Go for it once in a while, by all means but know how your body reacts to it, not just immediately but in a matter of weeks.
Genetic factors, gut microbiome, sleep, stress all plays a big part in the food you reach out to, the foods you could be addicted to, and foods that make you go into automatic mode. All that said, I have to remind you that your relationship with food is a symptom, there are underlying causes that make you eat the way you eat, likewise an innocent beginning of wanting to lose a few pounds, get healthy and be active and fit can suck you into a world where your life is just about food (the other end of the spectrum) and exercise. While there is nothing really wrong about that, keep a constant check on the rest of the other 2 pillars and in this case, the 4th pillar, your social interaction. Ask yourself if you are not spending time with your family and loved ones because you don’t want to eat the food you do when you are with them almost more times than not.
Ultimately, the sweet spot is when you can juggle all of it and see improvements in all areas of the 4 pillars. They are all inter-connected and they all help each other for you to reach your goals. Getting motivated/inspired is easy; staying motivated/inspired is worth a million dollars especially for the long-term. You have to know why you are choosing to change your food template, the right reasons. You have to know yourself well enough to sustain the feat, so don’t over-extend and try to do everything all at once. Tackle the 4 pillars, little by little and monitor your progress. You will need to organize your life around that in order for you to eventually make those changes second nature. Remember, it takes a minimum of 3 weeks, if not more for a habit to stick.