So you’ve started to focus more on taking steps to improve your health, maybe through trying new foods or engaging in different types of movement. But it can feel like a difficult line to walk between working on improving health and developing an unhealthy relationship with food.
With many of our eating disorder clients, it starts with small changes that eventually build up overtime and lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise that can actually negatively impact your overall health.
While physical health is typically the one on the forefront of our minds - health itself is so much more broad and nuanced than what we eat or how we move on a day to day basis. Health expands to other areas of our lives including spiritual, intellectual, emotional and social aspects. With many of our clients, we find that their fixation on healthy behaviors typically focuses solely on the physical determinants and can leave the other areas unaccounted for or even negatively impacted.
With this in mind, we’re going over 6 warning signs that healthy behaviors have gone too far:
6 signs you have an unhealthy relationship with food
1. You think about food constantly
Take a moment and ask yourself - how much of the day (in a percentage) is spent for you thinking about food and your body? Now reflect on that number - is it more than you expected or maybe more than you have in the past? Less? If you’re noticing that the percent that you are thinking about food (when you’re going to eat, what you’re going to eat, how it’s being prepared, etc.) has increased or is greater than time spent thinking about other meaningful things, chances are you’re not giving yourself adequate nutrition.
Our body has a lot of mechanisms to let us know if we are adequately nourished - one of those is increasing our food preoccupation when we are not getting enough food.
2. you have started to ignore your hunger signals
Have you found yourself ignoring your body’s cues to eat if it’s not a scheduled meal or snack time for you? Many of our clients have engaged in this behavior with the explanation of “I shouldn’t be this hungry” based on previous intake on other days of the week or maybe the intake of those around you.
We’re here to tell you that your hunger fluctuates based on a wide variety of factors (sleep, stress, movement, etc) and it is completely normal to have varying levels of hunger depending on the day. Sometimes it's helpful to compare hunger cues to the urge to pee. Some days we pee more than others but we never doubt our bodies when they give us the cue that it’s time to go, so why do we do this with hunger?
3. You are avoiding or cutting out food groups
This one is a big one. If you’re finding that increasing healthy behaviors to you involves completely removing food groups or types of food all together (besides if you have a diagnosed allergy such as Celiac disease) then it might be a sign that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food. Removing foods can be a slippery slope and lead to a very small group of “good” foods very quickly.
Although foods provide varying levels of nutrition what we find is that removing certain types of foods all together only increases food preoccupation and your anxiety around incorporating those foods in - which can ultimately backfire if your overall goal is improved health.
4. you are starting to avoid social gatherings
Do you find that you’re isolating yourself or turning down plans because you’re afraid food may be involved? If so, this could be a sign that you may have an unhealthy relationship with food.
While food is fuel for our bodies it is also so much more. Food can be a part of meaningful connection and experiences with those who love and support you. Removing yourself from those situations can cause an increase in feelings of isolation and only becoming further stuck in negative thoughts around food.
5. you are noticed increased anxiety around foods
How do meal times feel to you? What would happen if the food was not prepared by you or was outside your comfort zone? Take time to think and reflect on those emotions. Where do you feel that they are coming from? Remember, health in general goes beyond the physical and expands into emotional well being as well.
If you’re feeling increased anxiety around foods in general you may actually be negatively impacting your health. This may be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with food.
6. you feel the need to compensate after eating foods
Take some time to ask yourself what would happen if you stepped outside of your comfort zone with food? What thoughts are popping up for you? Are there any urges to compensate afterwards through diet or exercise? If yes, then there is a red flag that your relationship with food may need some reexamining. Remember, you are allowed to have all types of foods. Remember - your body knows just what to do and how to process them.
Health, although a subjective term, is highly sought after in our culture. We are typically taught that with improved health comes improvements in other areas of our life - increased energy, decreased risk of disease and overall increased functionality in life. Which are all true! And we want those things for you, as well. However, we need to remember that health expands far beyond what you eat or how you move.
Take some time to really assess how healthy your “healthy” behaviors have become. Think about how the other areas of your health (remember: spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social) may be affected by these changes. Recognizing a potential unhealthy relationship with food is a challenge - we want you to know that you accept you no matter where you are in your process.