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What to do if you have a rocky relationship with food

Posted March 1
Updated March 2

It's National Eating Disorders Awareness week, a time to reflect on how we all can improve our relationship with food and get curious about our environment, our intentions and our self-talk. (Deseret Photo)

If you've spent any amount of time during your life dieting, you probably intuitively understand why the statistics say that around 90 percent of dieters will be unsuccessful in maintaining weight loss. Other studies have shown dieting is a long-term predictor of weight gain, binge eating and eating disorders rather than the promises diets make, such as weight loss and a healthier, happier life.

The dieting cycle is brutal: You get sucked into the latest plan, program or philosophy promising results, you restrict some food or food group, you feel deprived, you give up, you feel immense guilt and shame for "failing," you go hog-wild on food for a while, you eventually gain more weight back than when you started, and finally, at some point, you recommit to try another restrictive diet plan.

So, if you've dieted before, chances are your relationship with food is rocky as a result. In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week this week, here are some ways to take action if you struggle with your relationship with food.

Overhaul your social media accounts. Don't be afraid to unfollow people on your social media accounts who spew dieting culture and negative rhetoric about their own bodies or others; be picky about who you subject yourself to. One of the greatest things about social media is that we are in control of what we are exposed to — so don't be afraid to tap "unfollow" on people who are bringing you down.

Surround yourself with positive people and media. To piggyback on the last tip, expand your awareness generally of the media you are taking in daily. Find body-positive, non-dieting podcasts and blogs to help you see a different way. It's so exhausting to be surrounded by friends and family constantly talking about hating their bodies and what diets they're on. You can't underestimate the importance of surrounding yourself with positivity, so feel free to set boundaries or even make some new friends if you need to.

Take an inventory of your self-talk. Spend some time paying attention to and getting curious about your thoughts. Notice how often in a day you are having self-deprecating thoughts. Make a conscious effort to speak kindly about yourself to yourself. Find elements of yourself that you're proud of and grateful for and remind yourself of all the things you're doing right. Being kinder to yourself will have a huge impact on the way you take care of yourself in general and with food.

Separate fact from fiction. If you and food have struggled for years, you might want to invest in learning how to separate nutrition science fact from fiction. A lot of information is out there creating fear around food to sell you something. Invest in individual counseling with a registered dietitian or take an introduction to nutrition course at your local junior college. Understanding how food really works in the body can be a powerful way to move forward with creating a healthier relationship with it.

Examine your intentions. There's a big difference in choosing foods based on what satisfies you and makes you feel good rather than choosing foods based on rigid rules that take over your life. Be curious about why you are making the food choices you're making. If your intentions feel restrictive and stressful, re-evaluate and reframe your intentions. In an ideal world, eating is based on principles of moderation, balance, variety and satisfaction, not rigid rules.

Get screened to find out if you are at risk of developing an eating disorder. Take a few minutes to take a free online screening to see whether you are at risk of developing an eating disorder. And, if you are at risk or if you're sure you need some help, don't be afraid to reach out for professional help. A team of trained professionals in the field of eating disorders, including a physician, therapist and registered dietitian, can help you on your journey to recovery.

Having a healthy relationship with food is worth it. Peace with food and your body brings so many new opportunities and richness into your life. Don't waste any more time on diets and start healing your relationship with food today.

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.

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