Confused about your relationship with food? You’re not alone. While there’s no doubt that food and nutrition can be life-enhancing from both a mental and physical health perspective, over-fixating on food and our bodies can end up working against our health rather than for it.
All-consuming food thoughts tend to cause undue distress and in some cases even increase the risk of poor health outcomes, including eating disorders. But here’s the thing: all the kale salad in the world won’t make you healthy if you’re struggling to establish a balanced relationship with food. In other words, it’s not only what we eat but also how we eat that impacts our physical and mental wellness.
If you’ve noticed that the how you eat part feels less than neutral – or even borders on disordered – know that you are not alone. Instead, get curious and spend time examining whether your relationship with food is working for or against your health.
Here are some examples of how each of these approaches may show up for you:
For your health:
- Your diet is flexible and includes a wide variety of foods
- Food and eating allows for joy and satisfaction
- You eat in line with your values, taste preferences, nutrient needs, and culture
- Your food choices promote health, both physical and mental
- Food and eating promote community and social interaction
Against your health:
- Concerns about food, calories, and eating occupy a large proportion of your thoughts
- Your diet is rigid, driven by rules, and feels all-or-nothing (think: restrict, binge, restrict again)
- Straying from or breaking self-imposed food rules causes distress, guilt, shame, or feelings of failure
- Feeling out of control and/or over-controlled around food
- Food and eating choices increase isolation and interfere with community and social interaction
Of course, there are many ways in which an unhealthy or disordered relationship with food can manifest. And since symptoms and behaviors tend to occur on a spectrum, they may not necessarily fit the mold of the most well known ED diagnoses like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
Who is Affected by Disordered Eating & EDs?
Contrary to beliefs set forth by harmful stereotypes, disordered eating and EDs are non-discriminatory. That is, any person of any weight, body size, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic standing can be affected by disordered eating. Not seeing that reflected in the literature? That’s because there isn’t much research conducted on the prevalence of EDs in marginalized populations. (Don’t get us started…)
All of these caveats can make it hard for individuals to access the help they need, or even realize that they may be struggling with disordered eating in the first place. Know that no matter what your experience is, you are worthy of reaching out for help. And you deserve to find a balanced approach to eating.
What Are Some Signs My “Healthy Habits” Aren’t Serving Me?
Many disordered eating behaviors are normalized by our society. So, it’s important to examine your personal habits and question whether they’re supporting or sabotaging your health. FYI: If you’re skipping dinners with friends in order to hit the gym or flipping out over whole milk instead of oat milk in your coffee, we may have some work to do (and it will likely require support from a mental health professional as well).
Exploring how you think about and approach food is important since EDs can progress to serious, potentially life threatening conditions that affect multiple organ systems in the body.4 Just a few physical signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Significant fluctuations in weight, both weight loss and weight gain
- Abdominal cramps and/or pain
- Changes in bowel habits or gastrointestinal distress such as constipation or acid reflux
- Feeling dizzy, weak, or tired
- Disturbances in sleep
The good news? Disordered eating and EDs are treatable and full recovery is possible. Even if only one aspect of this article rang true for you, please reach out. We believe working with a Culina Health RD will help you find a more peaceful, balanced, relationship with food that works for your health and your happiness.