Your relationship with Food

Your relationship with Food

4th April 2019

In a previous blog I discussed the different ways we eat foods and looked at 4 eater types: -

  • The gulper
  • The grazer
  • The plate filler
  • The see it and eat it

I knew at that point that I would return to consider our relationship with food, and how that relationship effects our ability to manage our weight. We all eat for the energy to keep living and to do activities. However individually, we all have a different relationship with food. When we've had a bad day some of us turn to food, others stop eating and for some our eating habits don't change at all. 

This blog wants to consider the people who turn to food as a comfort on those bad days which could be the times when we feel upset, angry, bored, are finding it hard to cope, need a treat or feel guilty. Turning to food in this way is mainly a learnt behaviour and social programming, as food is very often used as a treat and reward in our society. For most people, the type of food that they turn to is usually a high sugar or high fat food such as chocolate, sweets, biscuits or pizza. That is why this relation we have with food can become a weight issue, as we can eat a considerable number of unneeded calories from the foods eaten for an emotional comfort. We are looking at our relationship with food here and are not talking about alcohol at all - that is a completely different topic, but you may recognise some of the same feelings and situations.

The first take home message here is to start using different methods to help you process your emotions or difficult feels instead of using food. Some approaches that have worked for others include finding another task for distraction such as going for a walk, listening to your favourite music, gardening or even doing the cleaning. Try to practice mindful meditation or other relaxation methods. The important point here is to do something that is unrelated to eating and at the same time will calm your mind. You will subsequently be able to revisit the situation in a more positive frame of mind. Remember that as with anything new we undertake, this will take you a few attempts before you start to feel that you are mastering different coping techniques.

Another vital aspect is to feel in tune with your body's messages about hunger and feeling full. The feeling of satiety (feeling full) is actually a mesage from our stomach to our brain saying - 'we are full up here, no need for more food' and it can take around 20 minutes to reach our brain. Starting to become aware if you are wanting to eat because you are actually hungry or for other reasons is important to changing your relationship with food. Reflect that being hungry:-

  • Is a gradual process
  • Is non urgent
  • Appeals to eating a balanced variety of foods
  • Makes you satisfied when you recognise fullness
  • Does not cause negative emotions before, during and after eating (1).

I have certainly seen how using a 'hunger score' has been exceedingly useful in helping people differentiate between true hunger and eating for comfort or emotional reasons. Try out this link to a really nice Hunger Score from Derbyshire Community Services NHS Trust.

As with many things, the relationship we have with food is on a spectrum from some people occasionally having a nibble on an extra chocolate biscuit through to other people turning to food as a means of coping with the many disruptive aspects of their life. For some, the relationship with food can become unhealthy, and signs of an unhealthy relationship may include:-

  • Buying lots of extra food
  • Hiding food
  • Hiding empty food wrappers
  • Eating in secret
  • Withdrawal / isolation
  • Feelings of comfort, relief and even escape when starting to eat
  • Feelings of worry, guilt, shame after eating
  • Feeling fed up / depressed / anxious
  • Trouble with sleep and tiredness
  • Weight gain
  • Purging

If you recognise a cluster of these signs in yourself, please consider speaking to your GP and discuss the option of seeking professional help.

I hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and found it useful. I would love to hear if you have found any of the points discussed here helpful.

(1) BEAT: Emotional Eating

Main photo reproduced from World Obesity image bank

Dr Laura Stewart

April 2019