How to Change an Unhealthy Relationship with Food

Unhealthy relationship with food

Food isn’t merely calories and nutrients. It’s also comfort and a way to make yourself feel better when you’re stressed out. When you don’t want to face a problem, you might turn to food to give yourself a short-term lift or to keep you from having to directly confront a problem. What you eat is an important part of your well-being, but at what point does it cross the line from being something that sustains to something that controls you?

Let’s look at some ways to fix an unhealthy relationship with food and get back on track. What are some signs that you have a less than healthy relationship with food?

  • You think about food constantly
  • You reward yourself with food
  • You feel guilty about eating
  • You deprive yourself of food or restrict certain food groups
  • You over-exercise to burn off the calories you just ate
  • You feel a loss of control when you eat

Some of these are also signs that you could have an eating disorder. If that’s the case, it’s important to seek professional health. However, some people display one or more of these signs that don’t meet the criteria for an eating disorder. However, obsessing over food can lead to an eating disorder if it gets out of hand. An obsession with dieting and counting calories can be the prelude to more serious problems. Let’s look at some ways to have a healthier relationship with food.

Stop Obsessing Over Calories

Calorie counting is becoming an outdated concept, and it’s so 1990s to do so. It was popular to take a low-calorie and low-fat approach to eating back then, but today it’s clear that it’s about striking a healthy balance and making smarter calorie choices. First and foremost, food is a source of nutrients and energy. The choices you make matter to your future health and longevity.

A calorie is a unit of energy, but it doesn’t say anything about how nutrient-dense a food is or how it will affect your health. Plus, when you focus on calories, you’re more likely to develop restrictive eating habits that may be unhealthy or even dangerous. Don’t fall into that trap!

Restricting calories can have harmful effects mentally and physically. Cut your calories too much and your metabolism slows, along with your fat loss, and it becomes self-defeating. Plus, the psychological damage of scrutinizing every calorie is immense. The simple act of counting calories can lead to obsession, guilt, and shame.

How can you avoid this fate? Let go of calorie restriction and counting calories and focus on making nutrient-dense dietary choices and consuming them mindfully. Focus all your senses on what you’re eating. Notice its texture, aroma, and the way it feels in your mouth. Eat in an undistracted manner – no multi-tasking. Doing this will help you get back into touch with your true hunger signals, and you’ll be satisfied with less. It will also help you recognize food as something positive to be savored rather than the enemy. You should never think of food as the enemy.

Don’t Label Foods as “Good” or “Bad”

It’s common among people who have an unhealthy relationship with food to demonize certain foods. Although certain foods are less desirable in a diet, like foods high in sugar, all foods can fit into a health-oriented lifestyle. It’s when people overconsume ultra-processed or sugary items and too few nutrient-rich whole foods that it becomes problematic.

Labeling certain foods as “bad” sends your body the wrong message and makes you feel guilty when you eat them. This only worsens the problem. Realize that most foods are okay in moderation and stop beating yourself up for what you eat. You don’t have to give up foods you enjoy, just consume them in moderation and compensate by adding other more nutrient-dense foods to your plate.

Find Other Ways to Deal with Emotions

If you’re eating to relieve stress, find other ways to cultivate a sense of calm. Eating may give temporary pleasure, but it doesn’t solve problems. Get in touch with why you’re eating. Keep a food journal and write down what you eat and the emotions you felt at the time. Try to get a sense of what triggered the desire to eat by writing your thoughts down at the time. Get those thoughts down on paper, rather than suppressing and avoiding thinking about them by eating.

Now, find other ways to relax and deal with issues that bother you. Many people find that mind-body exercises like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises create a sense of calm. Another approach is to take a walk outdoors in nature when you feel the desire to eat. Being outdoors has a calming effect and it offers other health benefits as well. Try to expose your eyes and body to natural light early in the day.

You Aren’t Defined by What You Eat or Your Bodyweight

Stop believing you must achieve an ideal physique based on society’s standards. The idea that thin is beautiful has caused more unhealthy relationships with food and more eating disorders than anything. Today, we celebrate people of all shapes and sizes. There’s nothing beautiful about starving yourself to get down to an unhealthy body weight. Focus not on losing weight, but on being your healthiest. This shift in thinking is powerful and will lead to better physical and mental health.

The Bottom Line

You can have a healthier relationship with food. If you can’t do it on your own, visit a nutritionist or counselor. They can help you identify the specific roadblocks that keep you from making peace with food. Making these mindset shifts can help you develop a healthier relationship with food.


  • “Struggling with emotional eating? – Harvard Health.” 15 Aug. 2017, health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/struggling-with-emotional-eating.
  • “Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating – Mayo Clinic.” 09 Dec. 2020, mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss/art-20047342.
  • Martin CK, Heilbronn LK, de Jonge L, DeLany JP, Volaufova J, Anton SD, Redman LM, Smith SR, Ravussin E. Effect of calorie restriction on resting metabolic rate and spontaneous physical activity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Dec;15(12):2964-73. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.354. PMID: 18198305.
  • “Why Calories Don’t Matter – Dr. Mark Hyman.” 10 Apr. 2014, https://drhyman.com/blog/2014/04/10/calories-dont-matter/.
  • “6 Reasons Why a Calorie Is Not a Calorie – Healthline.” 08 May. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-reasons-why-a-calorie-is-not-a-calorie.

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