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The Importance of Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

What we eat has effects on our body, mind, and soul. Our relationship with food can guide emotions and feelings, make us feel great, and have massive influence over our quality of life. And how we feel about food can be influenced strongly by our surroundings and environment. Our eating behaviors and relationship with food can be affected by a variety of social, cultural, economic, genetic, and psychological factors. For this reason, creating a strong and healthy relationship with food within your household is necessary for every member of the family, no matter the age.  Positive associations with food, as well as positive associations with mealtime, are an integral part of supporting the development of a healthy relationship with food. 

For children raised in an environment that promotes healthy connections to nutrition, the risk of developing self-esteem and self-worth issues, as well as anxiety, depression, and/or eating disorders in the future decreases drastically. The food philosophy of “All Foods Fit” in balance, variety, and moderation supports children and families with establishing positive and non-shame based attitudes about food and eating. 

But positive relationships with food aren’t just necessary for children. No matter your age, everyone can benefit from maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors. Some of the most recognized benefits of having a positive relationship with food and practicing healthy eating habits include:

  • Increased energy, focus, and cognitive function
  • Positive body image and self-worth
  • Improved ability to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Decreased risk of developing certain eating disorders
  • Better decision-making skills and reasoning
  • Reduced risk of developmental delays, learning issues, etc. in children
  • Increased overall health and reduced risk of developing a variety of medical issues
  • Better ability to maintain healthy, social and romantic relationships

The 6 Do’s and Don’t of Building a Positive Relationships with Food in Your Home

While lifestyle habits are best established at an early age, it’s never too late to learn the value of a great, personal food relationship. And when you make healthy attitudes and food behaviors a part of your household’s natural environment, your entire family can learn to love food the right way.

1. Don’t Set Limits- All Foods Can Be Consumed in Moderation

One of the worst things any family can do when it comes to food is to believe there’s a limitation to your imagination! You and your family can explore food together. With millions upon millions of food options out there, there are plenty of options to discover together. Whether it’s at your table or out in the world, broadening a person’s taste palette and knowledge can help create respect for food, as well as a foundation for tasty options.

It’s also important to remember that food doesn’t have to be a scary experience. Just like your personal relationships, a foundation of fun and love is vital. Focusing on the nutrition aspects of food, but so is the experience of food. Try to remember it is ok to be flexible with food. Have a bowl of ice cream or stop for your favorite, fast food french fry. All foods fit! But as with all things, moderation is the key.  Remember these three words, balance, variety, and moderation.

2. Do Have Family Meals Together

A family unit functions best together. Families with healthy relationships have a foundation of support, togetherness, and love. Sitting around the table together for a meal is a tried and true way of cementing healthy relationships with food, but also as a family. Mealtimes together are a time to talk, communicate, relax, and spend time together. Having meals as a family provides a sense of security, as well as an opportunity to have good experiences with food. 

This may not apply when a family unit is high conflict or experiencing a period of high conflict.  If this is the case, it is suggested to try to work together to make mealtime a conflict-free time, so negative associations are not connected to food and eating. 

Research over the years indicates that having regular family meals together provides a host of benefits to the family as a whole. Children and teenagers get a chance to communicate and feel a sense of belonging that builds confidence. Family members, especially children, are also more likely to make more balanced food choices than those who don’t eat family meals together. Family meals can lead to better grades and behavior in school, and people who eat regularly with their family are less likely to suffer from poor mental health.

3. Don’t Use Rewards or Punishments

Especially when it comes to children, it can be easy to bribe, reward, and punish them for their food-related behaviors. But creating a reward-and-punishment type system can create an unhealthy relationship with food. Motivating good behavior with food, as well as receiving punishments or having something taken away for not completing a meal can lead to emotional, unhealthy eating habits.  Similarly, our eating disorder experts suggest that parents do their best to refrain from using food as a reward for good behavior, grades, etc. This, although common, can lead to using food for a personal reward instead of tuning into the body’s innate wisdom and intuition with food. 

4. Do Give Options- Individuality and Choice Is Key

Many people were raised on a “my way or the highway” attitude from their parents. But when it comes to food, sometimes it’s better to have choices. While you shouldn’t have to break your back to make a smorgasbord of food for your family, it is essential to provide your family with a variety of food choices. And it’s also important to remember that every member of your family is an individual, and therefore unique. As individuals, each member has their own likes and dislikes. Offering your family a variety of choices can help set the tone and decrease “picky” eating, but also provide an environment that allows them independence and individuality. Every time your family is eating something they like, you’ve provided them with an upbeat and positive experience with food.

5. Don’t Talk Diets and Negative Body Image

Unless recommended by your doctor for a specific reason, we recommend removing diet talk from your household’s vocabulary. Especially when it comes to children, thoughts about food should not revolve around weight or weight-loss. A person’s relationship should not be about “good” vs. “bad” foods or about restrictions. This type of thought-process can result in feelings of shame, guilt, and self-loathing. Instead, focus on a positive eating environment that promotes balance, variety, and moderation with food choices. 

It’s also important to note that negativity about body image should be left at the door of every household. Making negative comments about anyone in your household or making them feel self-conscious about their body can lead to a negative and unhealthy relationship with food. It’s important to build up the members of your family with confidence in what makes he or she special and strong.

6. Do Eat For Physically Hunger vs Emotional Hunger It can be easy to fill a feeling or emotion with food, and it’s important to teach your family the difference between eating when you’re hungry and eating when you want to. Encourage your family to practice healthy ways of dealing with stress and anxiety, and be sure to communicate as a family. 

 

A positive relationship with food can be accomplished through the teamwork and support your home provides. By working as a family and having fun with your food, you can help each other live long, healthy, and happy lives together. For more on the connections between food and the mental health of your family, contact our trusted professionals today at Center For Discovery

Center For Discovery