5 Ways to…develop a better relationship with food!

Your relationship with food wasn’t born overnight; your relationship with food is not going to change overnight.  Like every relationship, your relationship with food will take work and maintenance in order for it to be in a good place.  These 5 tips will probably surprise you, but they might change your life, too!

Food is relational.  Diets don’t work for long-term results, and what they offer might even be harmful in the long run.  Eating habits are not temporary; you have to eat every day! An improved relationship with food will undoubtedly help you get closer to your fitness goals and feel better every day.

Disclaimer: I’m not a registered dietitian (I do know a few good ones here in Houston), but I have seen these recommendations to be generally effective for adults.  Always consult with your healthcare provider before making changes to your health and fitness program.

1. Get honest about what you’re eating.
This tip is here first, but don’t be fooled – it’s often the hardest one on the page.  This can be harder than the highest number of burpees I’ll ever ask you to do during your personal training sessions! If you want your improved relationship with food to start off on the right foot, you’ve got to be honest with yourself about what you’re eating.

Are you really having 1 serving of cereal, or does your oversized bowl hold 4 servings? Are you actually eating 4 cups of lettuce, or is it more like 1/2 cup of shredded iceberg? Does the cupcake really “not count” again this week because you ate it during an office birthday party?

Make an honest assessment (better yet, keep an honest food log for a week or two) about what you’re eating.  It’s not punishment and there’s nothing shameful about whatever the truth is about what’s going into your mouth – it’s just data.  Take the emotion out of your food choices. There are no “bad” foods, and there is no “wagon” off of which to fall. There’s a way to incorporate everything you enjoy into a healthy lifestyle, so just be patient and kind to yourself and gather the data.

This step might take you a few weeks.  That’s more than fine.  Take the time you need to really understand these words, because your health is worth it.

2. Decide how much you’re worth.
Yes, you’re still on a fitness blog.  You didn’t accidentally click over to an online therapist.  But, we are talking about relationships here, so bear with me while you decide how you’re going to nurture yourself.

Are you worth healthy, vibrant meals? Or do you only deserve scrounged snacks here and there throughout the day?  Is your health worth 20 minutes of meal planning once a week? An hour of cooking once or twice a week? Or do you only deserve boxed and microwaved “diet” meals? Can you heat up a frozen vegetable or some oatmeal?

What are you worth to yourself and to the people who care about you? Do you deserve a plate full of health-protective and health-enhancing foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins? Does your future self deserve that level of care?

This step might take some time, too.  Your body will forgive you for not giving it the fuel it needed, so forgive yourself for whatever has already happened and move gently forward.

3. Figure out how much you should be eating.
Contact a fitness professional (like me!) or check out my online info about how to calculate how much you probably should be eating. The default numbers in online and app-based tracking tools are often way too low. Food is not a form of punishment and over-restriction is only going to slow down your progress.

4. Eat like you mean it.
Now that you’ve done all the thinking you have to take tiny steps toward putting all of these plans into action. I find it really helpful to work from a meal plan (I’ll help you put one together) so that I eat things I enjoy while sticking to my health goals.

Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables during the week.  Try to include more whole grains (rice, rolled oats, maybe even some quinoa, whole wheat pasta…). Maybe throw in a bean or two, or some grilled chicken.  Look out for added sugars (you’ll see them in the ingredients).

Take the foods that you already enjoy eating and find ways to eat the best versions of those foods for your health. If you must have chocolate cake, find a way to make chocolate cake without refined flours and sugars (the internet is full of easy recipes for just about anything). If you don’t like Greek yogurt, don’t include it in your meal plan.

Go slowly.  It’s better to take one or two steps toward health-supportive eating every week than to decide you are going to live off of cauliflower and bison jerky.  You don’t need to go vegan or paleo or South Beach – just take tiny steps toward a way of eating that really feels good for you.

Give yourself several months for this part of the process.  Every day is an opportunity to learn.  There are no “bad days”.  Just keep moving forward.

5. Eat in real life.
You’re still going to eat at restaurants, so find ways to make restaurant menus work for you.  Do you have to get the vat of queso dip every week if you know you’re going out to the same restaurant with your friends, or could you have it just every once in a while? Can you set up your plate to be half vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter grains at any event or cafe? (Hint: probably so, and just setting up your plate like that can help you make healthy decisions.)

Should you deprive yourself of absolutely everything, sitting and making hungry puppy eyes as your friends enjoy pizza and ice cream sundaes?  Of course not. Make choices that fit your health-supportive way of eating, because taking care of yourself is a lifetime commitment.

Bottom line: food is a healthy and necessary part of life.  It’s a giant topic, far too complex for one blog post or even a year of blog posts, but these 5 tips might just help you tip-toe into the tiny changes that will improve your relationship with food.

Go slowly.  Be patient and forgiving. Nurture yourself. Find your “healthy”.

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