This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

5 Tips To Build A Healthier Relationship With Food

It starts with acknowledgement.
Removing food guilt is crucial.
Removing food guilt is crucial.

Although eating is an essential (and enjoyable) part of our lives, a lot of us can have a negative attitude towards food. We may view food as the thing that makes us 'fat' or not 'perfect', or as the thing that makes us feel guilty when we eat.

Whether we attribute our negative attitude to the fit models and social media celebrities flooding our feeds or to the popular, restrictive diets, the person who is responsible for shifting this perception of food and building a happier relationship with food is us.

"A negative attitude towards food can mean taking a very black and white view of food, for example categorising foods as good or bad, healthy or sinful," nutritionist and celebrity chef, Zoe Bingley-Pullin, told The Huffington Post Australia.

This viewpoint commonly occurs when a past experience with food (yoyo dieting, for example) has lead us to view food as harmful, damaging or just not conducive to meeting our goals.

Having a positive relationship with food is important not only for our long-term physical health, but also for our emotional wellbeing.

"Food (that is, nutrition) is critical to our physical and mental wellbeing. We can't opt out of food, it's a basic requirement of life," Bingley-Pullin said.

"Food doesn't have to be the focus of our day and should not be the thing that puts us in a bad mood. We need to start seeing food as nourishment and that it is possible to have a healthy relationship with food. Shifting to this focus is incredibly freeing for anyone stuck in the diet mentality."

Part of having a healthy relationship with food is treating ourselves. That's right, that double choc brownie or pizza every once in a while does not make you a bad person.

It's important to treat yourself, like enjoying pizza (without guilt) with a few mates.
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It's important to treat yourself, like enjoying pizza (without guilt) with a few mates.

"Treating ourselves is a way to shift focus from food being good or bad," Bingley-Pullin said.

Treating ourselves also helps keep us in control, Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.

"When we deprive ourselves of something it becomes an obsession, and all we can do is think about that food.

"By allowing ourselves treats, it helps keep a healthy balance and prevents the chance of overeating to compensate for restrictive behaviour. It's also a good way to show your body (and mind) that a treat every now and then won't hurt you."

Here are Bingley-Pullin's top five tips to help change a negative attitude towards food.

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1. Acknowledge your negative attitude

"Start by acknowledging you may have a poor relationship with food. Denial is the number one way that we stay stuck in the trap of being negative when it comes to eating," Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.

"Try to identify if you get anxious when it comes to food -- if you never want to go out and eat with friends because you are worried about ordering the wrong foods or overeating, or if you find that you stress eat and then feel guilty about it. Identifying it and acknowledging it is the first step toward making a change for the better. If you don't acknowledge it, then you are likely to not commit any changes."

2. Keep a diary

Jotting down what and when you eat, and how you were feeling when you ate it, can help reveal negative eating patterns. Say you always eat a packet of cookies when you're feeling stressed, identifying that link can help you better understand your feelings of stress and help you regain control.

"Keep a food diary including foods eaten and emotions felt, and use this information to start connecting the dots and to see where your emotions are taking control of your food," Bingley-Pullin said.

Keeping a food diary can also help you identify how much, or how little, you are eating.
Keeping a food diary can also help you identify how much, or how little, you are eating.

3. Focus on nutrients, not calories

To help change our attitude and build a positive relationship with food, Bingley-Pullin recommends shifting the focus to the nutrients within foods and the important role they play in the body.

"Begin to look closer at the health properties of specific foods and be aware of why we need certain foods in our diet, as opposed to just seeing foods as calories. Knowledge is power," she said.

4. Start trying new foods

Trying new foods, which you don't have a negative attachment to, may also help you to have a more positive food attitude.

"Even if you just aim to eat one new thing per week, broadening your food horizon is a good way to change behaviours around food, as you are unlikely to already have a bad habit with the new food that you are introducing to your diet," she said.

5. Seek professional help, if necessary

If your negative relationship with food is severe and affecting your day-to-day life, it may be a good idea to get help from a health professional.

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