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How to Have Healthy Boundaries with Food

When people think about boundaries in relationships, most of the time involve other people. But since you can also have a relationship with food, it’s often useful to have boundaries there as well.

Sometimes food-related boundaries still include people. For example, if someone you know always talks about diets or losing weight, or makes comments about what you eat, you may want to set boundaries by asking that the person not discuss those topics with you.

But the boundaries I’m talking about here are for you and how you relate to food. Here are five steps to help you do that.

Step 1: Reflect on your desired change

First, it’s important to remember that you only need to set boundaries when you don’t feel happy with a relationship. When it comes to food, this could mean you don’t feel happy with how often you turn to food, what kinds of food you choose, how much you eat, or more.

So the first step is to think about what you want to change – and why it’s important to you. If you only identify what should change without considering why it matters, you’re less likely to stick with the change.

For example, say you don’t like how often you turn to food when you’re stressed or upset. After thinking about it, you realize this matters to you for a few reasons:

  • You usually regret eating in those situations

  • You often end up overeating

  • After eating, you’re still stressed or upset because you haven’t addressed the real issue

Step 2: Start small

Once you’ve thought about what you’d like to change, you may realize you have a list of things. And that can feel intimidating.

If you run into that situation, remember to start small. You don’t need to change everything at once, and in fact, trying to do that will make you more likely to fail.

Focus on one thing at a time and go slow.

Step 3: Plan your approach

Identifying what you want to change is a great start, but you still need to identify how that change will happen. This is when you need to define your boundaries.

Continuing with my example, if you don’t want to turn to food so much when you’re stressed, you could consider a few boundaries:

  • Make it a priority to check your hunger levels before eating

  • Consider your emotional state to see if that’s making you want to eat

  • Think about how much food you need vs. how much you think you want

Step 4: Be kind to yourself.

You may also notice that when you eat for emotional reasons, you feel very judgmental about yourself and berate yourself for not having any willpower. If that’s the case, you could consider a boundary of not having any negative self-talk or judgment about what you eat.

And if you slip up and overstep any of these boundaries, be kind to yourself and remember that perfection isn’t possible.

Step 5: Accept what you can’t control

And finally, much as you might wish you could control everything about your eating, you’re bound to run into situations where some things are out of your control. Like going to an event or social outing where the host is providing the food, or going to a restaurant and having a longer wait than expected, leaving you annoyed and extra hungry by the time the food arrives.

In those situations, do the best you can while understanding that you’re more likely to cross your boundaries. That’s okay. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes you just need to roll with it.

Boundaries make for healthy relationships

Robert Frost once noted in a poem that fences make good neighbors, which is another way of saying that having boundaries makes for better relationships. This is true with people, but it’s also true with your relationship with food.

Setting boundaries around food will help you enjoy eating more and will make you feel more confident in your food choices. Just remember to start small, be kind to yourself, and that with practice, you’ll have a better relationship with food.


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