Tips for cultivating a healthier relationship with food

I don’t have a lot of stringent rules about food. I have things that I like to stick to most of the time, but I ultimately realize that no one can be expected to be a perfect eater all the time. Being educated, as well as intuitive about what is good for YOU is paramount– but even all the nutrition education in the world won’t add up to a perfect diet.

Education is important, but it can’t stop you from less-than-perfect choices

For example, if someone asked me if I thought corn was a healthy food, my answer would me a resounding heeeeeeeck no! And it’s important for me to recognize that my body just doesn’t appreciate being fed tons of corn products (I don’t believe anyone’s does). That also doesn’t mean you won’t ever catch me eating popcorn on movie nights with my husband from time to time. Another great example that may be less ambiguous is alcohol. I think we can all agree that alcohol isn’t a healthy thing to consume, but I can tell you what is healthy; spending time with friends and not worrying about whether or not everything you ever put into your body is the best possible choice.

I don’t know about you guys– maybe you all have the kinds of friends who wake up at 6am on a Saturday and drag you to an ariel yoga class and then enjoy a pot of homemade peppermint tea over the sunrise and talks about your favorite probiotics– but my friends like to drink. I literally don’t know what we would do together when we hung out if we didn’t drink. Planking? The cinnamon challenge? Bath salts? I’m behind on the trends here guys…

It’s not either-or…

Which is a good follow-up to what I just said. You can take 6am ariel yoga classes AND have martinis with your friends that evening. You can go for a long run and also have a cookie.

No guilt. No apologies. No repentance.

I see the term “balance” thrown around a lot in a context that kind of irks me. There is a kind of invasive idea in our culture that “bad choices” can somehow be undone by “good choices”. Let’s say you inhaled three cupcakes for lunch one day. You don’t have to then eat a huge kale salad for dinner and run 5 miles to make up for it or undo the cupcakes. First of all, the human body doesn’t work like that. Second of all, that’s an unhealthy attitude to have towards your health and yourself. So you can have a cupcake and also go for a run… just make sure that you really wanted that cupcake and you also really wanted that run. Don’t go for the run thinking that it’s going to “balance out” the cupcake. It doesn’t. That also doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for the cupcake. You shouldn’t.

Food is fuel.

There is no definitive list of “good fuel” and “bad fuel”. Some is preferred by our body over others… but “less than ideal” fuel will not shut you down entirely. (It’s not like putting sugar in a gas tank.) Eating something is always better than letting yourself run on empty because your preferred source of fuel is maybe not available, or that’s just not what you want in the moment. This is the most important one for me. Hangry isn’t even the right word for what I get when I don’t eat. I straight up just shut down. I feel like I can’t function or make decisions or be in control of my emotions. For me, it’s more important to prevent myself from getting to that point than it is that I follow any set of rules about what not to eat.

Food is fuel. But…

Food is also memories and feelings of love, joy, community, tradition. I know there is a point where eating your feelings is emotionally unhealthy, but so is starving your feelings. If you’ve been really looking forward to having a huge plate of your Mom’s homemade stuffing with your family at Thanksgiving, you’re not doing yourself any favors by saying no. This is exactly why I don’t have strict food rules. There is always room for exceptions. So while I typically don’t eat dairy, I usually don’t experience any adverse bodily effects from it therefore I’m not going to allow myself to feel guilty and deprived if I really want some yogurt by telling myself “no” over and over again. Guilt and deprivation are far less healthy than anything you will ever put in your body.

There’s always next time.

We all make decisions we regret from time to time. In all areas of life, it is a reality. Thought you really wanted that pizza and it turns out you were just trying to stifle your emotions and all you got was an enormous stomach ache and, wouldn’t ya know it, you’re still feeling those same emotions you had pre-pizza? It happens. It’s important to show yourself grace. Negative self-talk and guilt is only going to push you farther down a dark spiral that can be really hard to get out of. Instead, know that it is only one decision you’ve made out of thousands. If it turns out something wasn’t worth it and you feel bloated and miserable– you have the opportunity to make your next meal something nourishing and good for you. The whole day isn’t ruined. Your progress isn’t ruined. You don’t need to wait until the next morning or the next week to “restart”, you can do it with the very next thing you put into your body.

Just like no one eats perfectly all the time, no one has positive self-talk all the time.

I’m fairly certain that everyone struggles with negative self-talk in one way or another. Show yourself the same kind of grace in both areas. Sometimes I eat donuts and feel awesome about myself and sometimes I eat veggies and still feel like a giant pile of turds. Your self-worth is not determined by the food you eat, the activities you do or don’t do, or the number on the scale. For most people, there is a natural ebb and flow of these kinds of things. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, no amount of kale is going to change that. Donuts probably won’t help either. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy either of those things while you’re struggling with self-esteem, it just means that…

…food is only the beginning. You also have to do the work.

I can’t tell you what that work looks like. It’s going to be different for everyone. It’s going to be different from day to day. Sometimes it looks like face masks and bubble baths and sometimes it looks like sweating my ass off at the gym because I desperately need my brain to release some endorphins just so I can function for the rest of the day. I treat eating well as a form of self-care. It’s important, but it’s also just one piece of the entire picture.

If I could summarize all of my thoughts on this topic (and whoa do I have a lot of them!) I would say this: Nothing you put in your body is going to be as healthy as having a positive relationship with food. All of this can feel really difficult when you’re first getting started and it might seem like it requires all of your energy and attention, but like anything else, it gets easier with time.

My final piece of advice is to know that living a truly healthy lifestyle is a life long commitment. There is no end goal. No finish line. There is never one exact moment where you think, “I have arrived! Here is that mythical ‘healthy’ that I always hear about.” Some days you feel like that and other days you feel like a hot pile of crap and that’s okay. When you’re in it for the long run, eventually those days feel less de-railing, the good outweighs the bad, and you learn to define the kind of “balance” that works for you.