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What It Means to Have a Relationship to Food – Part 1

I talk a lot about the importance of having a healthy relationship to food, but what does that really mean? What does it mean to have a relationship to food at all?

Food is more than fuel

As I mentioned in a recent post, it’s important to remember that food is more than fuel. At least for most of us. It’s connection… comfort… pleasure… security… stability.

It doesn’t take much to recognize this. Simply think of your favorite food, or favorite meal, and why you liked it so much. The simple fact that we have favorites means it’s about more than what gives us calories that we convert into energy.

Food becomes an expression of what we enjoy and care about. We spend a lot of time with it, and it influences much of what we do.

But sometimes this all gets out of balance. Because we put so much emphasis on food, and because it’s so available, it becomes very easy to eat without paying much attention to why. Or how much. Or how often. You just notice you don’t have as much energy… and maybe your clothes are getting tight.

That’s usually when diets enter the picture.

Dieting can be like a bad relationship

Anyone who’s been in an on-again, off-again cycle of yo-yo dieting can probably relate to it being like a bad relationship. Or a series of bad ones.

At first, the diet seems exciting. You feel like this could be The One to pull you out of your current misery.

So you jump in with enthusiasm. You do everything it says. At first you like the sense of not having to make decisions. It’s so much easier to have a set of rules to follow.

Photo by Jessica To'oto'o on Unsplash

And you might feel good in the beginning. You tell everyone how great the diet is. If you’ve been down this road before, you explain why this time will be different. This isn’t like all the other ones.

Except – you start to resent all the rules. The diet always seems to be sitting on your shoulder, checking up on you. It doesn’t trust you.

Not that you can blame it. You’re not sure you can trust yourself, either. You fantasize about other foods, things you’ve missed. You start sneaking around behind the diet’s back. You say you’re having a “cheat day” without thinking about why you feel the need to cheat.

Then the rebellions add up. Eventually you have to admit the diet isn’t right for you after all. You break up with it and get some ice cream to help you feel better.

And once you’re on your own, you realize – you’re free! You start doing all the things the diet didn’t allow. It feels so good. Kind of like getting back at the diet, with all those rules.

Until you start not feeling great again. Going overboard catches up with you.

Then you hear about a new diet. Maybe, finally, this will be The One….

Getting out of the cycle

Any of this sound familiar?

it certainly did to me, back in my days of trying diets. At the time, I never thought of how similar it was to being in a controlling, even abusive, relationship. But now the parallels seem all too clear.

After all, diets always worked to undermine me. Make me feel bad about myself. Convince me I couldn’t trust myself to make decisions. That no one would care about me as I was.

And yet, I kept inviting them back into my life. Why? Partly because I wanted to believe in the quick fix. But more importantly, it was because for the longest time, I didn’t think I had any other option.

I still remember the moment of clarity I had when I decided I was going to climb Mt. Katahdin to scatter Mom’s ashes. I knew I couldn’t do it with my weight being what it was.

But I also knew, with absolute certainty, that diets couldn’t help me.

I had never acknowledged that before. And I admit it was scary and, frankly, not very motivating at first to think about committing to a different way of eating for the rest of my life.

No more flirting with diets. No more falling for promises they couldn’t keep. Just doing the same thing. Day after day after day.


At least – that’s what I thought. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I had it wrong.

Yes, deciding to eat mindfully was a long-term, lifetime commitment. Just like getting married.

But it also opened the door to whole new experiences and ways of being I had never considered. And if you join me next week, you can read more about that in Part 2.

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