In a 2017 article for Huffington Post Life, Jennifer Rollin, an eating disorder and body image therapist, reveals a number of ways to help ascertain if you have a healthy relationship to food and your body. Before reading her list, I probably would have said that I have a so-so relationship with food and my body. But after examining her views and reflecting on my own behaviors and habits, my assessment of my body and relationship to food has changed – in some surprising ways. Below are Rollin’s views on having a healthy rapport with food and your body and my personal experiences with and beliefs about each.
1. “I generally listen to and honor my hunger and fullness cues”
This is something that is a work in progress for me. I enjoy cooking, but sometimes find it difficult to cook for just myself. I love cooking things like chili, lasagna, soups, and pastas. But these are usually cooked in large quantities. I also usually eat dinner while watching a movie or TV show. Because of this, in the past I tended to continue to eat, somewhat mindlessly as I was engrossed in the TV, even after I was no longer hungry. Often to the point where I was very full. I’m starting to take more notice to my fullness cues and trying to become more aware of that point where I go from not hungry to full. I’ve intentionally slowed down how fast I eat so that I take more notice of how I’m feeling. With hunger cues, I’m much better. I feel no guilt or shame in having a banana, yogurt or chocolate between meals if I feel hungry. I don’t ignore my hunger cues because I know they will just get worse the more that I ignore them. I’m learning how to listen to my body.
2. “I eat food that I enjoy and that are satisfying to me”
I like vegetables. About the only veggie I’m not sold on are beets – yucky! Sometimes I even crave veggies – a huge salad with romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower is a staple at my place. But I don’t eat it because it’s healthy – I eat it because I want to. I also eat gooey, cheesy garlic bread and salami sandwiches. They’re not so healthy, but I eat them because I want to. I don’t believe in denying yourself something so simple as a food you like for the sake of losing or maintaining your weight. There are too many delicious foods out there to eat! And why torture yourself by eating something you don’t like?! Is it really worth it to live on lettuce and carrots? I think not. I don’t really drink any soda and never keep it in my apartment. A few nights ago I was working on my thesis when I suddenly got an overwhelming craving for a Coke. I tried ignoring it, mostly because I didn’t have any, but it wouldn’t leave. The craving got so bad that it ended up distracting me from my work. All I could think about was having an ice, cold Coke. After about an hour of failed writing, I broke down and bought a Coke from the vending machine in the lobby of my apartment. It was delicious! After that, I was able to return to my work and had a productive writing session. And I haven’t had another Coke craving since.
3. “I don’t feel guilt or shame regarding things that I eat”
I feel zero guilt or shame for enjoying that Coke. For whatever reason, my body was telling me I needed a Coke. And it wouldn’t let me focus on anything until that craving was fulfilled. I love chocolate and ice cream but I don’t eat them very often anymore. When I do eat them, I don’t have any negative feelings about enjoying them. I don’t immediately figure out how much longer I need to cycle at the gym or worry about where I can cut calories the next day. I simply enjoy the food.
4. “I am able to eat a wide variety of foods”
I will eat just about everything (except for fish or seafood). I have no food allergies and enjoy trying new things. I eat Italian, Mexican, Asian, French, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods, and American foods. I experiment when I cook. I never follow recipes exactly – I view them more as guidelines. My spice rack is overflowing (for which my friends always make fun of me). Sometimes I’m craving pasta, other times it’s a cheeseburger. I enjoy variety in the foods I eat and feel excitement when I try new things. A few weeks ago I experienced my first Chinese Hotpot – it was fun and so yummy! Next up is the Japanese version – Nabe!
5. “I can go out to eat without anxiety”
The pub where our weekly pub quiz is held offers yummy food and drinks. Their pizzas, burgers, and chicken strips are so tasty! Most weeks I eat dinner there while I wait for my friends to arrive. I also usually have one drink – either a cider or a whisky sour. I meet friends and colleagues for coffee or lunch throughout the week. I don’t stress about what I can or cannot eat when I eat out. I just enjoy the company of my friends and take pleasure in having a good time. Worrying about what I eat would only take away the fun and pleasure. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes make ‘healthier’ choices when I eat out. If I’m feeling heavy (not weight wise, but like I’ve eaten a lot of food lately), I’ll make a conscious decision to have something lighter (salad, soup, sandwich, etc.). It’s not about counting calories or watching my fat intake, but listening to how my body feels in that moment. While I cook frequently, I’m not much of a baker so when I go to a nice restaurant I always save room for dessert!
6. “I don’t engage in crash diets”
I tried dieting for almost 20 years and it’s never worked. So now I focus on eating things that I like and listening to my hunger and full cues. I don’t count calories, points, or fat grams. I make decisions such as adding extra veggies to my chili and lasagna. I enjoy cooking for my friends and myself and try to make sure that there are yummy, healthy-ish dishes for us to enjoy together.
7. “I have other ways to process and cope with my emotions, than always turning to food”
A few years ago, I wouldn’t’ have been able to say yes to this statement. Eating was one way in which I dealt with my emotions – good or bad. Promotion at work? Celebrate by eating a pint of ice cream. Rejected by a guy? Cry over a pint of ice cream. But recently I’ve been able to process my emotions in different ways. I’ve learned that it’s OK to have bad, emotional days. I don’t have to be happy and cheerful all the time. I cry. Often. Sometimes for no other reason than I just need to let my emotions out. There are days when I stay home in my pj’s all day. I go to the gym 5-6 times a week and have found that it is a great way to distress and release some pent up emotions. I have a playlist of upbeat songs with a strong beat that I cycle to. I turn off my phone and just get into the music while I sweat away my stress. I do still celebrate my successes but instead of turning to food, I turn to small indulgences like sleeping in an extra hour or buying something that I’ve been eyeing for a while. I also have some amazing friends who I can turn to when things are going well or bad. They are encouraging and sympathetic and are always there when I need them.
8. “I engage in some form of joyful movement”
This one is a bit tough for me at the moment because of my ankle injury. Before I broke my ankle I enjoyed walking everywhere. But that is now a bit of a struggle at times. I’ve always wanted to earn a black belt in karate (I am about halfway there – I have a blue belt) but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to earn it with my injury. However, I do go to the gym 5-6 times a week and enjoy cycling and lifting weights. Some days I just want to mindlessly cycle while I listen to some music. Other days I need to get some aggression out by lifting weights. I really do enjoy both, but do miss the variety of things I could do before my injury. I’m also a bit nervous about trying new things now – yoga, dance, Zumba – because I’m not sure how my ankle will hold up and how much I will be able to do. This is something that I really hope to work on this year.
9. “I don’t let the number on the scale dictate how much I eat or exercise”
I do own a scale but don’t really use it. I bought it with the intention of tracking my weight so that I could better understand how my body works (by also tracking food I ate and exercise I did). I was determined to only weigh myself once every 2-3 weeks. But I quickly realized that in doing so, I was only putting extra stress on myself if the number wasn’t what I was hoping for. I wasn’t really living in the moment. I was too concerned with what I ate and what exercises I did. So I stopped weighing myself. And I’m much happier because of it.
Overall, I would say that I have a pretty healthy relationship to food and my body. It’s not perfect and there are things that I still need to work on, but I’m happy with where I’m at now – especially considering where I was only a few years ago. While I don’t think that this list is necessarily the complete or best way to measure your own relationship with food and your body, it’s a good guideline that got me thinking more about my behaviors and habits regarding food and exercise. And it helped me realize that I am on the right track to loving my body as it is, not how it could be.