Saturday, 15 April 2017

[] How to make friends with food


How to make friends with food
Khushboo Thadani


Do you reach for a snack every time you watch a TV show? Here's how to relearn eating habits and form a healthy relationship with food

When we scroll through our social media feeds we see beautiful images of mouthwatering avocado toasts and overflowing smoothies packed with turmeric, chia seeds and various other superfoods. We check our email and find our inbox flooded with newsletters discussing the `best' weight loss programme. Flip through a magazine or switch on the news and you find yourself going through the details of the latest quick-fix diet. Besides, discussing dietary restrictions and approaches has now become socially-accepted chatter on the dinner table. It's safe to say that whether or not we actively search for diet-related information, we are constantly bombarded with messages and images of food and weight loss regimens. What can begin as a seemingly harmless interest in nutrition and well-being often has more dangerous implications. Individuals start to develop an obsession with food and an unnatural fixation with creating the perfect meal. Food choices are guided by calculations rather than cravings or hunger levels. As a consequence, fear of certain foods creeps in due to the risk of deviating from the so-called `perfect' diet. If not addressed early enough, these behaviours eventually become the norm and can lead to full-fledged eating disorders with long-lasting repercussions. Just like our relationships with our friends, family and significant others, we need to make a continuous effort to nurture and develop our relationship with food in a positive manner. Here are a few ways in which you can heal your relationship with food, and thereby, your relationship with yourself.

Determine the underlying issue
Disordered relationships with food are often symptoms of deeper, underlying issues. When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, it's easy to fall back on a coping mechanism that fosters a sense of control. That could involve binge eating, restricting calories or only eating a limited selection of `acceptable' foods. Engaging in such eating `rituals' can help one to feel safe, albeit temporarily, in an otherwise unpredictable environment. This control over food provides a degree of comfort by falsely alleviating stress. In actuality, these behaviors are only exacerbating the stress that affects the body and the mind.

Pick progress over perfection
Like with anything in life, the pursuit of perfection only leads to disappointment and setbacks.When we let go of perfection, stress levels fall, anxiety ceases and we stop being slaves to food. Forgive yourself on those occasions when you eat more than you intended to, and remind yourself that your diet is flexible. Say `no' to absolute food rules, and instead, direct your energy towards making healthier dietary choices. Along with allowing you to actually enjoy the food you eat, these small changes will empower you and leave you feeling healthier, both physically and mentally.

Change your mindset
Food is undoubtedly one of life's simplest joys yet, oftentimes, it leaves us feeling unnecessarily stressed and fearful. Replace those negative emotions with acknowledgement of its power and a sense of gratitude for what you're eating. Food is fuel. It nourishes, energises and sustains us. Sharing a meal with others helps us deepen our bonds. Indulging in a biscuit with your evening cup of chai provides pleasure and comfort.Remind yourself that food is complex in the most beautiful of ways -it feeds not only the body, but also the mind and soul.

Avoid labelling foods as `good' or `bad'
Although such labels might leave you feeling motivated to gravitate towards more nutrient-dense options, they also tend to be psychologically problematic. When we place restrictions on what shouldn't be eaten, we end up feeling like a failure when we do consume them. This way of viewing food as harmful can lead to negative associations with one's eating habits, body image and self-esteem. Treat food as inherently neutral: some foods fuel your body in a positive way and deliver the nutrients you need to thrive at your optimal level.Although other foods may not fuel your body physically, they provide value in the form of taste and mental well-being and should certainly be enjoyed in moderation.

Add, rather than subtract
Our relationship with food stems from our mindset. The term `diet' alone conjures up the idea of deprivation, and even more so when it involves eliminating certain foods and food groups. Psychologically we are more receptive to the idea of adding foods rather than giving up foodsdrinks. Restriction requires willpower, which is a finite resource and eventually runs out. It never results in a meaningful, long-lasting change. For long-term success and to leave you feeling both empowered and motivated, retrain your mind to focus on adding healthier habits rather than subtracting items from your meal plan.

Eat mindfully
Between balancing out family life, work priorities and other commitments we all lead busy lifestyles. We rely on efficiency as a way to fit it all in and that often warrants multitasking. It's become increasingly common to eat lunch at our desks and, when we do this, many times, we aren't even processing what we are consuming.Start treating each meal as an appointment with yourself. Savor the experience, engage all your senses, pay attention to how different foods make you feel and assess your hunger levels as the meal goes on. As you practice mindfulness around food, you learn to be present in the moment, and, over time, you become more in control of your food rather than vice versa.

Stop comparing
It's all too easy to get caught up in the comparison trap when it comes to our diet. We start to rate our diets according to what we see others eating. Remind yourself that your body has its own individual requirements and trust the cues you receive from it. Some people thrive on a plant-based diet whereas your body might need a bit of meat to run optimally. Appreciate that your body is unique and respond accordingly. Food is subjective, so pay attention to how certain ingredients and meals leave you feeling, and develop a style of eating that helps you flourish.

Seek support
After years of conditioning ourselves to think of food in a certain way, it can be overwhelming to alter these thought patterns. Rather than go about this journey towards mending your relationship with food on your own, reach out to those in your environment who you can trust. For additional guidance and a change in perspective, seek professional help.The mere act of talking about your feelings can help you feel less overwhelmed and more hopeful about healing your relationship with food.

Dysfunctional relationships with food form faster than we realise. The simple act of eating has turned into an ordeal these days.Questions constantly arise about what to eat, how much to eat and even when to eat. Like any relationship, one's relationship with food is a continuous work in progress. When a certain style of eating starts to cause you more stress than pleasure, see it as a warning sign that you may need to re-assess your relationship. By gradually making the changes prescribed above, you'll start feeling healthier and far happier than you would feel grudgingly chowing down a plate of kale topped with a meagre portion of quinoa and chicken breast.

The writer is a city-based nutritionist and dietician



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