7 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with food
  • May 16, 2024

7 Signs You May Have An Unhealthy Relationship With Food [and how to overcome it!]

Why Do I Have An Unhealthy Relationship With Food? Our world is riddled with diet culture, laced with disordered behaviours […]

Why Do I Have An Unhealthy Relationship With Food?

Our world is riddled with diet culture, laced with disordered behaviours and thoughts surrounding food, shape and size. 

We are born into a society where food is often shamed. A society where morality is attached to certain foods. Where we’re told the most important thing is to be thin, and to maintain that thin body. A society where disordered behaviours, patterns and relationships with food is normalised, and even celebrated on social media. 

Food choices online are put on a hierarchy, pitting choices against each other. 

Celebrities/influencers/public figures are constantly reinforcing unhealthy thoughts and beliefs about food and our bodies. 

In this world, it is difficult to go against this narrative. As a result, it is growing increasingly common to develop an eating disorder. 

Research has found that up to 17% of people, or ⅕ of our Australian population, either have an eating disorder, or greater than 3 symptoms of disordered behaviours (1). 

You may have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with food. But, when these thoughts and patterns are consuming your mind, reducing your quality of life, and causing distress, it is a sign that you have an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Rewiring your mind from these thoughts and processes takes immense work and patience. You may be someone who follows yo-yo dieting, constantly bouncing from one diet to the next.

But ultimately, finding a healthier relationship with food is worth the hard work it takes to get there. 

Unsure if this is you? In this blog, we explain 7 signs that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food, and arm you with the tools necessary to overcome it. 

 

7 Signs You May Have An Unhealthy Relationship With Food

 

1. You Label Foods ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’

We have all heard it. Statements along the lines of:

‘I’ve been so good today, I deserve a little treat’

‘How naughty am I, eating this’

‘Isn’t that food bad for you?’

 

Again, diet culture has normalised the attachment of moral values to food. However complex,  it’s also simple – food is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. 

Food is fuel, nutrients, joy and connection. Food is more than the sum of its macronutrients and numbers. 

Attaching these labels to food is a key indicator that you may need to challenge some preconceptions and disordered thoughts you have around food. 

Food does not have superiority, ranking or hierarchy. 

Sure, some foods offer greater nutrient benefit – but a balanced, varied and nourishing diet involves eating a range of foods, including fun foods and foods you may deem as ‘bad’.

Your body doesn’t recognise foods with labels. It digests and metabolises foods, regardless of what moral value you associate with it.

Holding judgement over foods, and restricting yourself of these options perpetuates this unhealthy mindset. 

There is no superiority in eating ‘cleaner’ or ‘good’ foods, this is just the hallmark of an unhealthy relationship with food.

 

2. You Feel Guilt and Shame After Eating Certain Foods

 You shouldn’t have to feel guilt or shame around eating. No matter what you eat, these emotions should never be involved. This can be an indicator that you may need to work on your relationship with food.

For many people who struggle with their relationship with food, they experience feelings of guilt or shame after eating foods that they consider to be unhealthy or eating more than what they feel like they “should”.  

 A key area when working on your relationship with food is to notice where these emotions may have stemmed from and start to challenge them.

Food is essential, and is central to living as a human being, nourishing our bodies and functioning day-to-day. Food should never be something that elicits anxiety and shame towards self.  

 

holding a burger with two hands, one mouthfull has been taken

 

3. You feel the need to ‘earn’ your food

You may be used to using exercise as a form of compensation for the food that you eat. You may spend your days planning your meals, and your exercise surrounding that. You may have built a routine which forces you to over exercise to compensate for your eating. 

But, here is your permission from an eating disorder dietitian  – you never have to earn your food. Period. 

Food is a birthright.   Our organs need the energy found in food to function. For our  blood to pump through our bodies, our arms and legs to move, our brains to work. Food at the cellular level is crucial.

You may also find you restrict yourself from particular foods, believing you are earning your meals later by being ‘good’ (reminder – there are no good or bad foods)

Going for extended periods of time not eating enough – and only eating certain foods that align with your diet goals, sets you up for a binge-restrict cycle. 

The idea of earning your food is constantly present in our society. Everywhere we turn, we are faced with diet culture forcing its beliefs on us. 

The concept of cheat meals/cheat days perpetuates this unhealthy relationship with food. Cheat days/cheat meals are so normalised that we turn a blind eye to it. So many influencers promote these behaviours, creating youtube videos and instagram content sensationalising it. 

Your food is never something that needs to be earned. It is never something that should be calculated and tallied, associated with points and rewards for meeting ‘goals’.

 

4. You Spend a Lot of Time Planning What You’re Eating Next

As humans, it is in our biological nature to think about food. It’s how we survive, how we have the energy to function.

But when thinking about food takes over your mind, interrupting your ability to focus on other things, this is a key sign that you aren’t eating enough. 

Ruminating, obsessing and over-planning your meals in advance is a way that your body is telling you it needs more. It’s a survival mechanism. It is a strong sign that at the biological level, your body is desperate for nourishment that it is not getting. 

5. You Eat In Secret 

Avoiding eating with others, turning down invitations, eating secretly – are all indicators that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food. 

Part of being human, and part of connecting to others, is eating socially. It’s how we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and catching up with friends. It’s a core part of the human experience. 

Withdrawal from these occasions ultimately leads to isolation. Isolation is where disordered eating  thrives. 

 

 

6. You Feel Out of Control Around Food

Having a complex relationship with food can lead to fluctuations in hunger and fullness cues. This can lead to not eating enough, intentional or unintentional.

Your body needs energy to survive – and entering a restrictive state as the result of not eating enough leads your body to a state of famine. Your body sends physical cues, and a mental preoccupation with food. 

Not eating enough for a prolonged period of time will often result in intense cravings that can cause you to experience a sense of losing control around food. 

In response to this, you may feel that you can’t keep certain foods at home. You may feel that you can’t socialise around food, out of fear of losing control. 

This fear of losing control can inevitably lead to a restricted and smaller life, where you are not in control.

 

7. You Often Eat Until You’re Uncomfortably Full

Restricting your intake can set  you up for a binge-restrict cycle. 

By not keeping foods you love and crave at home, by avoiding eating spontaneously and socially, you are more likely to experience this loss of control when you have access to them next.  Following this with restriction, ultimately leads to another binge eating episode. 

Your body is at war with itself and your mind, unsure of when food is coming and going and when it will receive the nutrients it needs to function. 

The same cycle continues – commonly fuelled by shame and distress, and an overwhelming loss of control.

The only way to heal from the binge-restrict cycle is to allow yourself full, unconditional permission to eat the foods you crave.

Despite how physically uncomfortable you may feel after binge eating, you need to ensure you aren’t skipping meals in response. This will do the opposite of what you may believe it is intended to.  

 

how to break the binge restrict cycle diagram

 

How Do I Overcome My Unhealthy Relationship With Food? 

The journey to overcoming an unhealthy relationship with food is long, often chaotic and complex.

It takes patience, self kindness, external support and of course – food. Food to nourish your body and reconnect your relationship to self. 

Some ways you can begin this journey can look like:

Stop Dieting 

Implementing a framework to follow, a guide to eating enough is essential in restoring your relationship with food. 

Your response to managing this unhealthy relationship with food can’t be to restrict your intake even more. That will never truly help you make progress.

Abandon the yo-yo diets, reject the common mentality in our world that less is better, smaller is better. 

Stop constantly chasing after the newest fad diet to hit social media. It doesn’t matter which celebrity promotes it, which influencer swears by it – going on a diet won’t help you

Eating Regularly 

Aim to eat every 2-3 hours, to allow your body to grow familiar with stable nutrition. 

This will reduce the frequency of urges to binge eat, and help to manage cravings and the compulsive patterns of losing control around eating. 

Eating regularly is a vital framework in managing disordered eating, and mending your relationship with your body.

Allowing Yourself Unconditional Permission to Eat Everything 

You can’t overcome your negative relationship with food by still restricting yourself from foods you love. 

You can’t overcome your negative relationship with food by labelling foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and eating what you deem safe and allowed.

You need to allow yourself complete, unconditional permission to eat the foods you like, when you want to.

Ultimately, the goal for us is to eat intuitively. As children, we are born into a life of eating to our bodies signals. It is diet culture and society as a whole who teach us elsewise. 

Allowing yourself this complete permission can help you regain your control around food, reclaiming the relationship, and establish a foundation for intuitive eating.

And no, this won’t always look like pizza for dinner and ice cream for dessert. But sometimes, it does – and part of this process is learning  to become  comfortable and okay with this.

 

break up with diets ebookWant to kick start your journey? Download our free copy of our Break Up With Diets Ebook here

 

Tune In To Your Hunger And Fullness Cues

When you start to eat enough, consistently, your body will eventually restore its regulation of hunger and fullness cues. 

When your relationship with food is disordered, these cues often become irregular. You may be so used to ignoring them, that they are just always present, or have faded completely. 

Either side of the spectrum is possible, and both are able to be mended. 

It’s common in neurodiverse individuals to have difficulty identifying your hunger and fullness cues. This is due to difficulties with identifying interoception. 

Interoception refers to the signals that take place in your body. It collects information from your organs and body parts, collecting information about how these organs/body parts feel (7). Interoception regulates our hunger signals! 

This may lead to you interpreting certain signals and cues irregularly, and perpetuate an unhealthy cycle with food, and often a binge-restrict cycle. 

 

Seeking Support Is Strength 

It can be common to feel a sense of shame in seeking support. However, having a treating team that is non-judgemental, caring and meets you where you are at is pivotal for improving your relationship with food.

No matter where you are along the spectrum of disordered eating to an eating disorder, you are worthy and deserving of help and freedom.

An eating disorder dietitian is crucial in this process, as they can educate you surrounding food choices, nutrients and timing. 

They can help you manage urges and compulsions you may have surrounding food, and ultimately help you in your journey to a life that isn’t consumed by your relationship with food. 

Finding a non-diet, Credentialed Eating Disorder Clinician (CEDC) can be a pivotal moment in reclaiming this relationship. 

Dietitians at Imbodi Health are passionate about working with you to restore your relationship with food. 

They know that it’s more than just the food. It is deeper than that – it may be a coping mechanism – and they can work with you to challenge the thoughts and behaviours you may perceive to be keeping you safe.  

 

Finding Healing

Despite what your mind may tell you, you are deserving and capable of living a full, complete and balanced life with food. 

With time and strategies it is possible to mend and nurture this connection to yourself.

You may think you will struggle with these thoughts forever.

I am here to tell you that you don’t have to. Freedom is possible.  I have lived experience of having an unhealthy relationship with food and my body. I struggled with an eating disorder for many years, which I have overcome. 

Now, I have a beautiful relationship with food and nourishing my body. Food is no longer something that consumes me, and I eat freely and with kindness towards myself. 

I did this through reaching out for support, educating myself about the way my mind worked, resting and of course, eating all the foods I had deemed ‘bad’. 

 

 

Summary

Your relationship with food is important in every aspect of your life. 

If you identify with any of these signs, it’s important to reach out for support. 

This can be from a close family or friend, and the involvement of a psychologist and dietitian can also guide you in this process. 

It’s difficult to heal on your own. 

 

Not sure where to start?

At Imbodi Health, we offer individual and group sessions, tailored to your needs. 

We also have a free Break Up With Diets ebook, a free resource to help you say goodbye to diet culture, restrictive food rules and unrealistic body standards. 

Reach out to the team at Imbodi Health for a free discovery call, and begin your journey to healing.  

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

 

Written by: student dietitian Tara Finn

Reviewed by: Imbodi Health dietitian Kiah Paetz

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