In our society, our relationship with food is that it's more than fuel; it's often how we express ourselves and how we share our lives together. Food has its place in the foundation of relationships, whether we're dining out for a first date or bringing a meal to a friend to celebrate a big event or mourn a loss. Given its importance, it's vital that our relationship with food be a healthful one in order for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Here are five factors to consider when thinking about food and your overall diet:
Habits can be good or bad. Good habits make us feel better about things, while bad habits such as smoking cause us to get down on ourselves because we feel like we should be able to control them. Issues with eating are also affected by habits. The most obvious and common eating-related habit is how often, and when, we eat every day, but others may be harder to detect. For example, do you automatically grab a bag of chips when you sit down to watch TV? Do you unthinkingly reach for a second helping even if you aren't hungry? Do you eat quickly without really tasting the food? These habits can affect your relationship with food, as well as your weight and overall health. By being more aware, you can exchange them for healthier ones.
2. Social Gatherings
Food plays a big role in our social lives. Gathering for meals is one of the most common ways we get together with friends and family. We also eat if we go out for a drink, watch a ball game, or just hang out. When gathering with others to eat, it may be hard to find food that everyone agrees on. With so many people following different diets, things can get confusing and we may end up eating foods that aren't good for us. Rather than settling for food that is lacking nutrients or too rich, eat a meal or partial meal before the get-together and then select a small appetizer or graze on finger foods. Always carry snacks that you feel comfortable eating, such as granola bars or crackers, so you can fill up on what feels right. Unless you have an allergy or medical condition that doesn't allow certain foods, moderation is usually just fine, regardless of the meal.
3. Psychological Tendencies
Food makes some people feel better if they're stressed, anxious, or depressed. Other people can't stand the thought of eating when they're feeling bad. Both ends of this spectrum can cause health issues, so it's important to understand your reaction to stressful or depressing events, and how it relates to your relationship with food. Try to have healthy options to choose from or, even better, an activity you can do instead of eating. If you find that you don't eat when you're not feeling well, make sure you have appetizing, yet healthy, foods on hand, and gently push yourself to eat frequent but small amounts.
4. Our Senses
Our senses are powerful. For example, the smell of a meal in the oven or the sight of someone eating an ice cream cone can bring back memories that make us crave certain foods. Before we know it, we may be eating a double ice cream cone or helping ourselves to a second or third helping of meatloaf — complete with gravy and mashed potatoes slathered with butter. And then we may end up regretting it later when we feel too full to move. By identifying these triggers, you can better understand why you want these foods, and control your cravings or limit the amount you consume.
5. Food As a Reward
Food is often a reward for doing something good. Parents or grandparents bring the kids out for pizza after a good report card, and a party with a groaning buffet table signifies the end of a great sport season. We reward ourselves with a chai latte or a burrito for a job well done. When this is done occasionally, there is no problem — but if it becomes part of our routine, we could end up making unhealthy food choices in an effort to constantly satisfy ourselves.
We don't have a choice — we must eat. But by being mindful of our relationship with food and how we eat, we can enjoy our food healthfully.