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5 Ways to Build a Positive Relationship with Food and Stop Emotional Eating

As with other relationships in life, it’s important for your relationship with food to be a healthy one.

Being healthy is not just about making good food choices. It’s about having a positive relationship with food. As with other relationships in your life, it’s important for your relationship with food to be a healthy one.

Having a positive relationship with food involves some key shifts in thoughts and behaviors:

1. Become aware of why you are eating:

  • Ask yourself: Am I physically hungry or am I eating to comfort, de-stress, please myself or others, or counteract boredom or loneliness?
  • If you aren’t hungry, try to recognize the triggers and temptations that prompt you to eat.

2. Be hopeful and trust that you can overcome any challenges that you are facing. You may be trying to counter years of unhealthy behaviors so be patient with yourself. If you make an unhealthy choice, treat yourself with love and kindness.

3. Accept that the food rules of your past may no longer be needed or helpful for you anymore. For example, we are often told as children to finish everything on our plates. Give yourself the OK to no longer be a member of the “clean plate club.”

4. Understand that you are a unique person with your own needs and challenges. Don’t overdo the food rules. Learn to trust your hunger and listen to your sense of fullness.

  • Comparing your habits and your body to others around you or in the media may be harmful.
  •  What you see in magazines and on TV is not always true. If you struggle with a healthy body image, it may help to limit your exposure to unhealthy body images in the media.

5. Set positive health goals. Weight loss goals can seem unrealistic or not doable. Be positive, even in how you talk about food. Thinking of your food as a diet or bad adds judgment. Changing your language can help. Instead of seeing sweets as bad, see them as a treat. Allowing yourself a treat from time to time may prevent you from feeling starved and ready to quit.

“Eating” Through Your Pain and Trauma

A person’s past experiences, particularly those involving trauma and abuse, as well as their current emotional state and life stresses, have an enormous impact on their level of pain and even the development of painful conditions. With an increase of pain and trauma, people tend to turn to comfort food as a solution. This response can turn into unhealthy eating habits and over time, lead to obesity.

Food cannot take care of your emotional needs. If you want to eat because you are upset or want to feel pleasure, try doing an activity that helps you relax, such as taking a 15-minute walk outdoors. Or do an activity that gives you pleasure, such as sitting down with a magazine or working on a project you enjoy for half an hour. Drink water or tea while you do that—add some lemon or lime for flavor.

As important as knowing what to eat is knowing why you eat. For some, food can be a subject loaded with meaning and emotion. Food is family, tradition, comfort, and sometimes even used to self-medicate. When food and/or alcohol are used to fill an emotional void or to quiet or dull negative emotions, it may lead to overeating or unhealthy choices. It can be easy to overeat or consume alcohol out of stress, anger, depression, anxiety, frustration or loneliness.

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