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Do You Have a Complicated Relationship With Food? Listen to this…

May 23, 2023

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

As many of you know, I love food, I think nutrition is kind of cool, and I hate to cook. When I first started my career as a dietitian I was overly focused on trying to help people eat what I thought was the “right” way (I’m cringing to admit this), and I quickly saw that it wasn’t working. I was simultaneously working on healing my own relationship with food, and I started to become fascinated by the role that food plays in our lives. 

My relationship with food has evolved over time to be much more chill, relaxed and enjoyable. I no longer stress about it constantly. But this episode isn’t just about me. It’s about all of us. We all have a relationship with food, and it’s something that tends to be deeply intertwined with our body image and self-esteem, so it makes sense that this gets so messy and complicated. 

Reasons You Might Have a Complicated Relationship With Food

I posted about this on Tik Tok a while back (yes, I’m on Tik Tok, so come hang out over there with me if you aren’t already! I’m @katyharvey.rd) and I was flooded with comments, which told me that I was onto something here, and that this is a subject that people are hungry to talk about (pun intended). 

Let me share some reasons you might have a complicated relationship with food. A lot of these stem back to our childhood because that’s when our relationship with food develops:

  • You were told things like, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
  • You weren’t allowed to have dessert until you finished your vegetables.
  • If you wanted 2nd helpings or a snack you were questioned about this and people would say things like, “Are you sure you’re hungry?” 
  • You were encouraged to clean your plate and you were told what a “good eater” you were if you did. 
  • Your family had the attitude that you shouldn’t waste food because there are starving children in Africa.
  • You watched one or both of your parents go on diets. Maybe they even had you dieting with them. 
  • Perhaps as a kid your doctor expressed concern over your weight and told you that you needed to lose weight.

You see, if these were the messages you were getting about food and your body, then it makes sense you’d have a complicated relationship with food. 

Now I’m going to share some of the comments that I got on this TikTok video that I’m sure some of you listening will be able to relate to (TW: eating disorders, fatphobia, body shaming, and abuse)

  • My mom had me do WW and go to Curves with her.
  • We never had dessert except holidays and 1 pack of 8 cookies for a week. 
  • I was told I was fat and went down to an unlivable weight and ended up in the hospital with a feeding tube
  • I grew up starving, then became overweight as a teenager and felt pressure to lose weight. I still feel this pressure and guilt.
  • I feel like none of those come close to how restrictive my house was. I need permission to eat anything.
  • My mom put me on a diet as an infant. I was destined to have an ED.
  • I remember getting yelled at for making myself a hot dog because I was hungry. 
  • My mother showed love by cooking and baking for her large family. Otherwise she was stoic and unavailable emotionally.
  • My mom would feed me the same thing over and over even if I didn’t like it. Sometimes for months.
  • Food was used as punishment and reward.
  • My ex used to abuse me (mentally and physically) when I gained weight. 
  • Multiple people talked about having undiagnosed ADHD and eating impulsively and being shamed for it.

You see, these struggles that we have with food are so much more common than you might realize. It can be such a vulnerable thing to talk about, and on the outside it might look like other people have it all together. 

Health vs Hype

Even if you’re trying to have a normal and healthy relationship with food now as an adult,  it’s more confusing than ever because there’s so much conflicting information out there about food, nutrition and health. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction and health from hype. 

Recently in one of my group coaching calls with my Non-Diet Academy students we were talking about how it sometimes feels like we can’t trust our bodies, and we can’t trust the food industry, and we can’t trust ourselves to make decisions about our eating. All of this distrust makes it so hard to be able to enjoy food without all the stress and guilt. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this topic of self-trust with food and our bodies – and how it ends up translating to trusting ourselves at a deeper level as human beings. Self-trust is an essential quality that is often overlooked but has such a big impact on our lives. When we trust ourselves, we have confidence in our abilities, decisions and instincts. We are more willing to take risks, pursue our goals and make positive changes in our lives.  

Now I want to share 5 strategies that will build trust with yourself when it comes to food:

1. Listen to your body.

Part of the reason that we don’t trust our bodies is that we don’t respond to our body signals the way that Mother Nature intends. When we’re hungry we’re supposed to eat, not drink a glass or water or another cup of coffee to quell our hunger until later. When we’re full we’re supposed to stop eating, not keep going because the food tastes so good or because we’re distracted and not paying attention. These ways of overriding or ignoring our body’s signals keep us disconnected and in a state of distrust. So practice checking in with your body and listening to your appetite cues. It may take time to learn to recognize these signals, especially if you’ve been ignoring them for a long time. However, with practice, you can become more attuned to what your body needs.

2. Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating involves paying attention to the experience of eating, including the way the food looks, smells, feels and tastes. It also includes listening to the sensations in your body, which means the flavors and textures of the food in your mouth, and how it feels in your stomach. By practicing mindful eating, you can increase your awareness of your hunger and fullness cues and become more attuned to your body’s needs.

Have you ever done that thing where you mindlessly eat a food and go to take another bite only to realize it’s gone and you barely tasted or registered the experience? Yep, been there, done that. Mindful eating will allow you to enjoy your food more fully and feel more satisfied after eating. It’s a win-win where you get to listen to your body and enjoy your food, without depriving yourself.

3. Challenge your food rules

Many of us have internalized rules about what we should and shouldn’t eat. For example, you may have been taught that certain foods are “good” or “bad,” that you should always clean your plate, or that you can’t eat past 7pm. These rules can be rigid and unhelpful, and they can interfere with your ability to trust yourself around food. Challenging these rules and learning to make your own decisions about what to eat can help you build trust with yourself.

I encourage you to practice noticing what your food rules are so that you can break them and challenge them mentally. The key here is to incorporate both the thinking AND the doing part of challenging your food rules. You want to notice what the rule is, tell yourself why it’s not helpful or necessary, and then to break the food rule to prove to your brain that nothing terrible happens when you do. We can talk about why the food rules aren’t true or helpful until we’re blue in the face, but until you take action on breaking the rule it’s hard to fully believe and trust that it’s ok to break it. So pick one food rule to start with and journal about it, then break it and see how it goes. You’ve got this – I know you can do it! Consider this your loving kick in the pants to identify and break a food rule within the next 24 hours.

4. Practice self-compassion

Building trust with yourself around food can be a difficult process, and it’s important to be kind and compassionate with yourself along the way. Instead of beating yourself up for making a “wrong” food choice or feeling guilty about eating, practice self-compassion. Remind yourself that it’s ok to make mistakes and that you’re doing the best you can.

Remember that self-compassion doesn’t mean you’re giving up or letting yourself go. It means that you’re choosing to treat yourself with the same care and respect that you would a dear friend. You probably wouldn’t say to a friend the things that you say to yourself about your eating or your body.

Because so many of our food and body image struggles are rooted in shame and feeling not good enough, self-compassion is a powerful antidote. The research on self-compassion shows that it’s a super effective tool for coping with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. These are things we all feel from time to time, and beating ourselves up just makes things worse.

So next time you overeat and feel stuffed, or next time you eat something that your brain is still labeling as “bad” and you feel guilty, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend?” Chances are you’re not going to tell your friend that she’s gross and stupid. Of course not! You would respond with compassion. THAT’S what we’re aiming for here.

It might not feel “true” at first. Think of self-compassion like learning a new language. You have to practice speaking it before you become fluent.

5. Seek support

If you’re struggling to build trust with yourself around food, it can be helpful to seek support from a therapist or dietitian. These professionals can provide guidance and support as you navigate the process of developing a healthy relationship with food. They can also help you identify and challenge any underlying beliefs or behaviors that may be interfering with your ability to trust yourself.

There are also supportive communities like my Intuitive Eating Made Easy FB group where you can ask questions and offer support to others. There’s something so beautiful about being able to have these discussions about making peace with food in a space where people “get it.” I hang out in the group every single day cheering people on, answering questions and sharing tips and supportive content. It you’re not a member, I’d LOVE to have you. 

What to do Next to Find Freedom With Food

I have another resource that I think will be really helpful. It’s a free quiz that will take you about 2-minutes and it’s called Discover Your Unique Path to Food Freedom. In the quiz you’ll answer a few questions, and based on your answers I’ll send you a customized report with steps you can take to heal your relationship with food. It’s super fun and easy, and then you’ll have some things to focus on that will help you move forward based on where you’re at right now.

Building trust with yourself around food is a process that takes time and practice. By listening to your body, practicing mindful eating, challenging food rules, practicing self-compassion and seeking support, you can develop a healthy relationship with food and learn to trust yourself around eating. Remember, this is a journey, and it’s ok to take things one step at a time. I’m here to support you! 

Links mentioned:

Did you know you can listen to all this information in audio format?

I covered it all in episode 77 Do You Have a Complicated Relationship With Food? Listen to this…

Or, listen & subscribe on your favorite platform:  Apple Podcasts  | Spotify | Deezer |  Google

Search for Episode 78 – Do You Have a Complicated Relationship With Food? Listen to this…

Let’s get connected! 

Looking for more support on your journey to food freedom and body acceptance?

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