How to have a healthy relationship with food

by Kareen Awadalla // 07.13.20

With packed schedules and countless priorities on the radar, it’s no shock that for many of us, eating is just another item on our to-do list with what we eat being an afterthought. And yet, while we know we can do better, being alive in the age of information overload almost paralyzes us from making any kind of positive change at all.

“It can be overwhelming,” says Jason Yee, Certified Nutritional Practitioner with Get Real to Heal.

“There’s a lot of conflicting and misleading information out there that perpetuate unrealistic pictures of health. It’s not always about restricting, but this whole obsession with macronutrients is just a signal that people really don’t know enough about food.”

Jason says that when we begin to look at our relationship with food as just that, a relationship, we’ll come to find that our approach towards food is a worthy investment for long-term reward. 

Jason Yee, Certified Nutritional Practitioner

“My job as a nutrition coach is to educate people on what food really is, and to help them navigate how it works in the body. Once we start connecting the dots between emotions and food, we become more aware of how much our immediate environment affects what we eat.”

Some of the most common challenges people experience with food include restrictions and feelings of guilt, boredom, and of course, stress. While we naturally associate food with positive things like nourishment and coming together at the dinner table, problems tend to occur when emotions are brought into the fold. 

“If you’re stressed while eating, you’re putting your body in a hyper-vigilant state called the fight-or-flight mode. The same goes when you experience feelings of guilt. Your emergency response kicks in and blood gets redirected to your extremities and away from your digestive system.”

As a result, when your brain begins to associate eating with feelings of guilt or stress, your body gets into the habit of pulling energy away from your ability to digest food properly. Poor digestion can lead to further issues and digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome which is tied to stress and anxiety. Food sensitivities are also commonly caused by stress.

“If you’re always stressed and eating a certain food, your body starts to associate that food to a negative feeling, and eventually, displays delayed symptoms which can make it difficult to pinpoint the cause.”

While the most obvious physical response is noticed in the digestive system, many other symptoms of food sensitivities can manifest in the form of respiratory problems, skin disorders, inflammation, and psychological issues such as brain fog, depression and fatigue. Jason recommends keeping a food journal and taking a food sensitivities test to help to identify your body’s tolerance when exposed to certain foods.

How can we improve our relationship with food?

“Stop comparing yourself to others, take guilt out of the equation, and practice mindful eating,” says Jason.

Mindful eating puts focus on the present moment and creates space for one of your body’s most important tasks of the day. Give yourself time to get into the eating mode, also known as the parasympathetic state or ‘rest and digest’ (opposite of fight-or-flight), in the central nervous system.

“Some ways to get into that state are while you’re cooking, take notice of the smells to get the digestive juices flowing. Many people begin their meals with a prayer, but if you’re not religious, you can even just take a moment of pause or reflection to show gratitude to the farmers that grew the food, the truckers that delivered it, the grocery clerks that stock the shelves, or the person who prepared the meal. Just thinking about these things puts yourself in a better headspace for eating.

Chew your food, at least 20 times per mouthful. Be present, not on your phone, not watching TV or reading, just focus on your food. You can have conversations with people who are there, but be present. Pay attention to your hunger signals and fullness cues. It’s also good practice to have a plan to eat, but if you can’t make that time, don’t stretch it so long to the point where you’re starving.”

While introducing mindful eating into your daily life will take some getting used to, it is important to remember that this practice is not a diet. If your goal is to lose weight, Jason recommends identifying a healthy goal, and from there make changes to lifestyle and eating habits. Despite it being a major component in many diet plans, Jason doesn’t like the idea of dieting by way of restricting calories and counting macros. Instead of feeling like you can’t eat, he suggests changing and replacing with whole foods, and be considerate of micronutrients and fiber which will satiate you longer so that you don’t feel hungry.

“With mindful eating, if you make a decision to indulge in a not-so-healthy meal like pizza, make that your decision and feel good about it. You don’t always have to eat everything perfect all the time, but you have to be realistic and be conscious about your choices. Feeling guilty or bad just adds another layer of issues that won’t serve you in any way.”

If you have any questions about how you can have a healthy relationship with food, you can reach Jason at info@jasonyeenutrition.com, or follow him on Instagram @gethealthyee.