6 ways to have a healthier relationship with food

There’s no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food, so stop counting the calories and start enjoying what you’re eating with these top tips.

It’s not just our romantic relationships we should be putting the work into in order to lead a better life – it’s our relationship with food too.

For many of us, it’s a constant battle between being following the latest health food fad and ordering yet another takeaway pizza.

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In fact, recent study by Aviva found that two thirds of millennials have an unhealthy relationship with food, with 51% of them admitting to skipping meals regularly and 49% saying they'd rather look good than have a healthy diet. 

So how do you strike a healthy balance? Here are some top tips on how to make your relationship with food much more harmonious.

1. Don’t label your foods

Do you categorise food as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Then stop.

“People talk about themselves in terms of being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ according to how habitually they eat or drink things, or whether they snack.  ‘I’ve been bad today’, might mean someone has had a chocolate bar or muffin with their coffee.  Or ‘I’ve been good’ can mean they have abstained from the biscuit round in the tearoom,” explains psychologist Corinne Sweet.

“We also tend to pass their language, and the concept, on to our children, making them feel ‘bad’ for having an ice cream and ‘good’ for eating broccoli. Often this creates stress and complex feelings, which can actually accentuate and increase the behaviour rather than curb it.”

2. Stop calling food a reward or punishment

“Temptation will always present itself. You have to be prepared, and be aware, ahead of time, that when you go somewhere, visit someone, go out for a meal, that temptation will be right there, in front of you,” says Corinne Sweet.

“You have to plan a course of action to curb your vulnerability to being seduced by something you know will trigger your need to snack. This may take effort and time, as we often hang on to what is familiar, but if you stick to it, you will soon be reaping the rewards for a little thoughtful decision-making, retraining and application of will power.”


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3. Opt out of emotional eating

When you’re feeling sad or low, are you more inclined to eat what you want? Try to assess whether you’re actually hungry or just craving comfort, says nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Natural Alternatives to Sugar.

“When you do get a craving, stop and think, are you really hungry or want to eat because you are feeling certain emotions? Recognising the difference is half the battle and if you are eating because you are lonely or angry then think of other ways to change that feeling rather than food, maybe a walk in the park or phoning a friend,” says Dr Glenville.

[Read more: What is clean-eating? Everything you need to know about the healthy food trend]

4. You don’t have to finish your plate

Try not to be pressured into eating every single last scrap of food on your plate. When you’re full, stop, says Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at Superfooduk.com

“Try and pay attention to how your stomach is feeling and eat slowly, rather than eating everything that’s in front of you. It’s important that you eat to feel satisfied, as opposed to stuffing yourself,” she says.

5. Don’t ‘save yourself’ before a big meal

If you’re dining out in the evening, skipping meals during the day can cause more harm than good, says Dr Marilyn Glenville.

“Don’t miss meals leading up to eating out, for example don’t miss lunch thinking that it is going to helpful in avoiding extra calories because you are eating out that evening. If you miss meals, your body will think there is a shortage of food, slow down your metabolism and hold on tight to your fat stores. 

“And there is nothing more guaranteed to rev up your appetite so that you end up eating more at the meal,” she adds.

6. Time of the month? Don’t overindulge

Chemical fluctuations in your body can lead to cravings for fatty foods. Don’t give into them, says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

“The chemicals in our body - dopamine, serotonin and cortisol - all play a role in appetite regulation. Hormones in your body, including sex hormones, affect these. This is why when you have hormonal fluctuations, such as just before menstruation, you may find yourself with a bigger appetite and in search or sweet or fatty foods,” says Shona.

To beat the fatty cravings, try snacking on protein and complex carbs, like a boiled egg, vegetable crudites or oatcakes with nut butter.

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