10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship with Food


“Relationship with food” is a phrase you’ve probably heard before, but what does it actually mean? Your relationship with food defines how you interact with it and the role it plays in your life.

We were born with natural instincts that are supposed to dictate how we eat. This includes eating according to our bodies’ cues and interacting with food in a way that doesn’t induce guilt or anxiety. Unfortunately for many of us, years of over/under-eating and ignoring our bodies needs and wants can disrupt these natural instincts to create a negative experience with food.

Check in with yourself as you read through the following list. If any of these resonate with you, it may be time to reevaluate your thoughts and behaviors around food.

  1. You think about food all the time. If you’re constantly thinking about eating food, preparing food, or avoiding food, you’re most likely depriving yourself of the nutrients or pleasure you need from food.

  2. You deny yourself the foods you crave. Speaking of pleasure, food serves as both fuel and a source of enjoyment. Having a healthy relationship with food leaves room for including the foods you need and the ones you want in your diet.

  3. You suffer from food guilt. If you’re spending precious mental energy beating yourself up over having an extra cookie rather than enjoying it, it may be time to re-evaluate what you believe about certain foods.

  4. You prefer to eat in private. Maybe you feel self-conscious eating in front of other people. Or maybe you feel anxious in environments where there is food that you didn’t prepare yourself and don’t know the ingredients, calories, or macros of.

  5. You cut out entire food groups. Whether it’s fat, carbs, sugar, dairy, etc., cutting out entire food groups is not only unnecessary in most cases, but often leads to obsessing over and bingeing on these foods.

  6. You eat the same foods all the time. You have foods that are “safe” and are afraid to eat anything that’s outside that safe zone.

  7. Emotional eating. You eat for reasons other than hunger on a regular basis; boredom, loneliness, stress, and as a means of procrastinating are all great examples.

  8. You are controlled by food rules or have a black and white mindset toward food. Foods are never simply “good” or “bad” in themselves, nor are there any set in stone rules that the diet gods are holding you to. Putting rigid rules on how and what you eat rather than listening to your body sets you up for an anxious and guilt-ridden experience with food.

  9. You have to compensate for breaking your rules or overeating. Enjoying some pizza or having a couple extra scoops of ice cream doesn’t deserve punishment. Making yourself exercise to work off your mistake or restricting harder the next day doesn’t do you any good. In fact, it continues to perpetuate a negative restrict-anxiety-binge-guilt-restrict cycle.

  10. You don’t trust yourself around food. When you try to abide by strict food rules or numbers, you disconnect yourself from being able to listen to and trust your body. As hard as you may try, you can’t control your body’s needs and wants. The more you restrict and/or seek perfection in your diet, the more your body will rebel by eliciting strong cravings to obsess over and binge on the very foods you try so hard to control. Years of this, and you learn to not trust yourself around food. The good news is, this trust can be restored with some practice.  

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, that’s okay. Most of us have developed some unhealthy attitudes and behaviors toward food over the years. The good news is that these things are learned, and this means they can be unlearned. Your relationship with food can be healed, and trust can be rebuilt between you and your body.

Next week I’ll be sharing steps you can take to rebuild a healthy relationship with food, so stay tuned!