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4 Tips to Improve Your Unhealthy Relationship with Food

This post will discuss easy ways to improve an unhealthy relationship with food, whether it be from a history of dieting, an eating disorder or something else. Learning to heal your relationship with food and make peace with food is possible!

Today, I’m doing another Intuitive Eating wellness post today. For more about intuitive eating, learn it from the authors themselves. It is an evidenced-back way of viewing eating that centers around pleasure and introspection

Here are some of the past monthly ones if you want to catch up!

1. Order What You Actually Want, Not What Diet Culture Tells You

Diet culture impacts us in more ways than we think – more on what is diet culture here. Subconsciously, we may be basing food choices off of what diet culture would say.

Just try it once and see how freeing and powerful it can be to give yourself permission to eat what your body craves in that moment – maybe it’s pancakes every morning, ice cream for dinner 3 days straight, or pizza for every meal.

You’ll find that the more common that food becomes, the less anxiety and fear it will provoke. The less exciting it will become. 

This is actually a very important step in making peace with food and overcoming that love hate relationship with food I see so often with my 1-1 clients.  

Two large pizzas to split on wooden table

We call this sensory satiety, or more commonly, habituation with food. The more exposure to a food you have, the more “boring” it becomes and the less desire you have for it.

But you can’t have those experiences through knowledge, it’s something you need to learn through experience, bite by bite.

We have less urges to overeat when we eat what we really want. OUR BODIES ARE SMART! We can’t trick them because they’ll catch up sooner or later, which is what I see happening with many fad diets and why fad diet’s don’t work!

Read: Listening to what you want to eat, not what you should

2. Honor Your Hunger

Learning to honor your hunger is one of the best things you can do to build body trust and in making peace with food

Similarly, try eating when you’re hungry, even if it’s not your normal “meal time.” This hunger ebook is a great resource to help relearn how to acknowledge your hunger

When we don’t eat enough or we ignore our primal hunger (our biological, urgent need for food), our bodies compensate with both biological and psychological mechanisms.

With any form of deprivation, our brain chemicals change, too.

Pancakes with fruit, peanut butter and chocolate chips and hot coffee for breakfast

For example, NPY is a brain chemical that makes us crave carbohydrates. Have you ever been super hungry (a 0, 1 or 2 on the hunger scale, as my clients know it), and just craving something carbohydrate-based? Maybe something like bread, pasta, pizza, dessert?!

There’s a scientific and biological reason for that – your body is doing what it’s supposed to do. You are not in the wrong. Therefore you can overcome this unhealthy relationship with food. 

When you eat carbohydrates, you increase your production of serotonin, which then turns off NPY. Lots of science but basically….your body has these mechanisms to protect you! 

Read: If You’re Hungry, Eat

3. Become Aware of Diet Culture and Get Away From It

As discussed earlier, diet culture could refer to certain people, magazines, websites, blogs or tv programs promoting diets and bikini bodies. Even if you don’t realize it, these are likely impacting you subconsciously.

Diet culture won’t help you learn to eat intuitively. To some extent, you have some control over what influences you, so try to gravitate towards the more positive things.

Diet culture won’t help you overcome a bad relationship with food, and in fact, they will put more emphasis on other behaviors which could be contributing to your unhealthy relationship with food in the first place. 

I love thinking about how normal food is and should be in our lives. Normal eating and how to eat food like a normal person shouldn’t seem foreign. 

Here are some examples of normal eating: 

  • Looking forward to a meal out, yet also looking forward to a meal in.
  • Making your favorite meal often because it’s not something special that you have to “deserve” in order to eat.
  • Eating dessert even on days you didn’t exercise just because you enjoy it and want something sweet after dinner.
  • Including vegetables at every meal or a few times a day OR not including vegetables at every meal
  • Buying foods that you enjoy and are part of your cultural preference
  • Eating until you reach a satisfying fullness AND in some instances, recognizing you underate or overate

Normal eating means taking the judgment and shame away form food. Look at food with curiosity. 

Thick avocado toast with iced coffee on wooden table in restaurant

4. Aim For Fullness AND Satisfaction

To be satisfying, a meal should include foods you enjoy. That’s one of the key principles of reaching meal satisfaction, not just temporary fullness. 

For example, eating a salad when you want a steak just isn’t satisfying. If you are truly choosing a satisfying food, you’ll probably eat less of it.

To learn how to feel satisfied after eating, think about what sort of pleasure do you look for in foods?

  • Taste
  • Aroma
  • Appearance
  • Smell
  • Texture
  • Volume

All of these ways to taste and describe food come into play when choosing a satisfying food. You won’t find yourself chasing that “ultimate pleasure” if you actually choose what your body wants in the first place.

Therefore, when you think about how to feel satisfied after eating, you usually need to take into account the food setting, the food you’re eating (do you enjoy it? Is it what you wanted?), and how much you ate.

Of course you won’t feel satisfied if you don’t eat enough – it’s one of the effects of undereating

cheeseburger with fries on white plate

This is exactly what I discuss in my Hunger Ebook – learning to identify what traits you want in a food, and learning to tune in to your hunger, fullness and satisfaction levels. 

With several journaling prompts and fill in the blank exercises, it really teaches you how to get in tune with your body to overcome any unhealthy relationship with food. 

Here’s an example of one of the exercises

Inner food voice examples of intuitive eating | Bucket List Tummy

Here’s another example of ordering what you actually want in the moment.

Maybe you want something warm and creamy, but your brain tells you you had a big lunch and you should settle for a salad.

You won’t leave feeling satisfied. You might be full, temporarily, but your body knows its not satisfied.

So, you’ll seek something else out.

I’m not telling you not to eat salads or vegetables, because sometimes that may be what brings you satisfaction. You’ll find that there are times when you crave all the veggies so embrace those times too.

What foods brings you satisfaction? For me, a thick bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, veggie pizza or a cone of ice cream!

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  1. These are great tips! One of the ones that has been most effective for me is ordering what I WANT to eat. The second I feel like I’m ordering what I’m ‘supposed’ to eat, I’m setting myself up for failure. Life is about balance, and once I’ve had my indulgence, I’m even more excited about getting back on track!

  2. for me getting myself away from diet culture is unfollowing certain people on social media and being mindful of what blogs I read. I think that’s huge!

  3. I love the idea of looking for meal satisfaction, so you aren’t craving something after a meal (even if you’re technically full.) Also honoring my hunger has been so good especially so I don’t get really hungry and then overeat. I love all of these tips of ordering what you want and making meals that you like to make. They’re also simple, and yet it can be hard to remember them if you’re focused on diet culture.

    1. Thanks, Emily. It can be overwhelming to think about so many rules – I really encourage my clients to simplify it best they can. Order what you want in that moment – don’t second guess it!

  4. THANK YOU, again, for being such a balanced, non-triggering resource for getting away from harmful restriction and for honoring wellness.

  5. For me the thing that has been most helpful is to have whatever I want but only to the point of non-hunger. What amount makes me not hungry anymore? I alsolove the point about a food becoming less desirable the more you have of it. We’ve created so many food rules we forget the basics: eat when hungry!

  6. Since discovering Intuitive Eating, I have found myself paying more and more attention to choosing foods that are actually satisfying to me. Taking that pause before eating just a brief moments and really concentrating on what would be a good “match” for what my body is asking for has become so essential. Sometimes, I will visualize what the foods will taste and feel like in my body before deciding what I’m going to eat. I think if we all just took 5 minutes to ponder what it is our body is asking for it would be so helpful!

  7. Thanks for being a constant reminder of health and happiness, sarah. I’ve been really playing around with the notion of satisfaction vs fullness recently and have become a lot more aware of the things I eat and how they feel. Like you touched on, I’ve noticed that if I choose the thing that is truly more “satisfying,” I actually eat it a lot more slowly and am actually able to stop when I’ve had enough. Vs if I choose the salad just because my brain says thats what I should have, I eat it quickly and even at the end when my stomach is “full” I am always left with a brain hunger that is looking for me. I’ve learned that I really hate that feeling, because physically it can lead to feeling over full but mentally you are anxious because you don’t know if you should have more or not. Blegh. I’d rather have the more solid, satisfying item and have less of it and feel satisfied at the end.

    1. I think those feelings are important to have so we can learn from them. I love your last line, “i’d rather have the more solid, satisfying item and have less of it and feel satisfied at the end.” Amen!

  8. Great tips. I find when I am overthinking what to eat, I’m often just bored. So I try to find something to take my mind off my lunch. Or I’ll just ask my coworker to make me something, anything they want, and that’s what I’ll eat. I’ve eaten some great things, and some…interesting things haha
    I also don’t need every meal to be “oh my God the best thing ever!!!” Which is a trap I see a lot of HLbs and IGers doing. It’s like if their sandwich isn’t the pinnacle of everything it’s not good. That is so far from true! As long as the food tastes good and satisfies you, it should be good enough.

    1. I totally agree with you on that – some meals can just me food to get you through the moment. Nothing more, nothing less. And they don’t have to be super beautiful.