My relationship with food has been a journey. I think it’s a challenging journey for a lot of women and girls, so I’m just going to dive in and get real with you on this topic right away. I want to share with you my old beliefs and mindset toward food and what I’ve learned to help change those negative beliefs. Everyone’s relationship with food is deeply personal, and I’m just here to share my story in hopes that it helps someone else.
Beginning in high school, I would say my relationship with food became complicated. I could no longer eat whatever I wanted without gaining weight, and my interests were expanding. On one hand, I loved food and viewed it as an art – I had a passion for cooking and baking and was on a culinary team. On the other hand, I feared food and viewed it as either good or bad, clean or unclean – I was becoming increasingly interested in nutrition and was on a competitive coed cheerleading team.
Years of gymnastics and cheerleading influenced the way I viewed my weight and body without ever truly realizing it. Beginning at seven years old, I started receiving messaging that a thin, muscular body was ideal. It’s not something you think about as a child. But looking back, I think most women who were competitive gymnasts at a young age would agree that it really shapes the way you view your body into adulthood. There was never any direct pressure to maintain a certain weight at age seven. But that began to change as I got older.
Fast forward to college…
I decided to try out for the University of Wisconsin cheerleading team and study Dietetics. So I was more focused than ever on nutrition and my weight. If you’ve ever felt like you need to count calories, you fear weight gain, or you restrict what you eat (orrrr all of the above) – you know how all-consuming your relationship with food can be. You know how preoccupied you can feel worrying about food and weight gain all the time. As a Dietetics major, you’d think I would have figured out how to have a healthy relationship with food in college, right? Welllll, that’s not exactly what happened.
It wasn’t until much later on that I discovered THREE things that have completely transformed my relationship with food.
- Ditch the blanket nutrition advice – I’ll define what I mean in a minute.
- Learn to listen to your body. (Easier said than done, I know.)
- Do something that you love so much every day that food fades into the background.
1. Say goodbye to blanket nutrition advice
Blanket nutrition advice is the stuff you read about in magazines that basically says there is a right way + a wrong way to eat. Here are some examples: Don’t eat three meals a day – eat six small meals instead. NEVER let yourself get too hungry (or you will eat an entire box of Oreos!!!). Do not, I repeat, do not, skip a meal. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you MUST eat it or else.
Here’s what I have to say about blanket nutrition advice: There is no one-size-fits-all way to eat.
Instead of: Eat six small meals a day.
What works for me: I eat when I feel hungry. Most of the time, that’s three meals a day.
Instead of: Don’t let yourself get “too hungry”.
What works for me: Most days, I allow myself to feel hunger.
I have learned to embrace that feeling of hunger because it means my body is telling me it’s time to eat. When you think about it… how cool is it that we have such a straightforward little alert system built into our bodies?? I used to feel a lot of fear when my stomach would feel empty or make noises. I believed the lie that the sensation of hunger meant “Danger! You are about to overeat.”
Instead of: Never skip a meal.
What works for me: Again, I eat when I feel hungry.
It really does sound simple, but it can take time to learn how to listen to your hunger cues. Especially if you haven’t been letting them do their job for so long. For years, I would eat at specific times each day regardless of whether or not I felt hungry in an effort to remove any food anxiety from the equation. Now, I allow myself not to eat breakfast or lunch sometimes, simply because I’m not hungry. Is that the norm? No. But I try my best to remove food rules from my life, and removing this one has helped me.
Instead of: Always eat breakfast.
What works for me: I don’t force myself to eat if I don’t feel hungry.
I used to eat first thing in the morning. Always. As I’ve gotten better at listening to hunger cues, I am rarely hungry right when I wake up. I prefer sipping my coffee without food; it just helps me enjoy it more. I usually don’t eat something until mid to late morning. However, if I’m going somewhere and know I won’t have the chance to eat for several hours, I’ll usually eat a light breakfast or bring a mid-morning snack for later.
Please keep in mind, I’m just sharing what has worked for me. As I said, THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL WAY TO EAT. There are plenty of situations I can think of where eating when you are not hungry is a GOOD thing. So this is just my lil disclaimer that this isn’t medical advice – it’s personal experience. Take what you need, and leave what isn’t helpful 🙂
2. Listen to your bod
Now this point is not super straightforward, unfortunately. I didn’t wake up one day knowing how to listen to my body (that’d be cool). It was a gradual process of learning to tune into my body, instead of letting my mind determine when + what I eat.
I worked as a home health nurse in my first nursing job. This meant I had to eat all my lunches + snacks from my car. However, I was always on such a tight schedule driving from one patient to another all over the county. Plus, I was a new nurse (aka not the fastest at my job) and loved building relationships with my patients, instead of dashing in and out.
So most days, I had to choose to eat lunch or see my patients on time. I also try to be very intentional about not eating when I’m stressed. And let me tell ya, that job was stressful. I believe that stress is directly related to many of the gastrointestinal problems/food sensitivity issues I’ve experienced.
Essentially, I stopped eating lunch for almost a year, and it woke me up to a lot of things.
For the record, I am in no way saying you should stop eating lunch for a year – lol, that would be ridiculous. I’m saying that during this unique period of my life, where I didn’t have access to a fridge, microwave, desk to eat at, coworkers to eat with, or literally any time to take a break, I learned what hunger felt like again.
For over a decade, I listened to all the blanket nutrition advice I previously mentioned, and it really messed up my hunger cues + relationship toward food. I used to overthink everything I was eating. I focused so much on eating healthy foods, especially the ones on those “superfoods” lists (which I have mannnny thoughts about, *insert eyeroll*). And I kind of just stopped tuning in to my body.
My job as a home health nurse helped me learn to listen to my body again because I literally was no longer able to follow the blanket nutrition advice on when + how to eat. I re-learned what true hunger felt like, and I made the important connection between stress + eating. Any time I tried to quickly eat a meal in my car in between patients, I felt horrible afterwards. Our bodies are not designed to digest food when we’re stressed + hurrying. It is designed to digest food during a calm, relaxed state.
So these are the two big things I learned about listening to my body:
- I allow myself to feel hunger, and then I eat.
- I try my best to eat when I am not feeling stressed out + rushed. Speaking of which, check out my other blog post on how this improved my digestion in an INCREDIBLE way!
3. Get lost in what you love
During that year as a home health nurse, I had more discussions than I can remember with my managers, preceptor, and other coworkers to figure out a strategy to fit in a lunch every day. I mean, how silly is it that a nurse who is educating people about their health every day isn’t able to prioritize her own health?
No strategy worked, and I rarely ate more than a Larabar most days – p.s. if you haven’t tried Banana Chocolate Chip Larabars you need to try asap. But I LOVED my patients and loved home health. It was so interesting, my days were varied, and I wasn’t stuck in an office with fluorescent lighting all day. While, yes, I was hungry while doing what I enjoyed, sometimes I wouldn’t feel hunger until 2 or 3pm.
And my point in sharing this is:
I stopped fixating on food because I was so caught up in doing something that I loved every day.
Also, by being forced out of following a rigid schedule of 7am breakfast, 10am snack, 12:30pm lunch, 3pm snack, 6:30pm dinner, I was able to become more in tune with my body + the feeling of hunger. I think it’s much easier to re-learn what hunger feels when you’re wrapped up in work that you love. It inadvertently distracts you from thinking about when you’re going to eat next, what you’re going to eat, etc. Which is something that I personally needed in my life at the time.
I have now found work, activities, and hobbies that I get completely lost in. Meaning, I lose track of time because I enjoy whatever it is that I’m doing so much. Some examples of when I lose track of time include when I’m writing, designing, going for a walk outside, and spending time with my loved ones.
I’ve realized that when I need to complete a work task I don’t enjoy doing, I get bored, and eating becomes much more exciting (!!!) than that task. Can anyone relate?? These tasks are unavoidable in life obviously, but it has really helped me to increase the things I love in order to crowd out the mediocre or unenjoyable things.
So to recap the three major things that have transformed my relationship with food:
- Ditch the blanket nutrition advice.
- Listen to your body instead.
- Find the work you absolutely love doing every day so that food no longer consumes your mind + energy.
I cannot emphasize enough how much different of a place I am in today compared to when I was listening to nutrition advice that wasn’t right for me. When I was letting my mind dictate when I eat rather than my body. And when I was busying myself with things that I didn’t truly love or enjoy doing.
I hope this personal peek into my own food journey empowers you to find food freedom when it comes to when, what, how, + why you eat, so that you can transform your relationship with food + live your fullest, most vibrant life! Everyone’s situation is different, so take what you need and leave what doesn’t feel right for you.
I’d love to hear how your personal experiences have shaped your relationship with food. Drop a note in the comments below!