MH- Relationship with Food

Your Mental Health and Your Relationship with Food

Food is your body’s way of getting nutrients and energy, but it also has many other purposes.

How Do You View Food?

You may see food as something to be judged, avoided, or limited. Unfortunately, this view of food can prevent you from being your healthiest self, which includes your emotional health. 

Learning about all that food provides can help improve your relationship with it. It can also lessen the negative effect on your mental health.

What Food Provides

Energy

Food provides calories, which are units of energy. Your body needs calories to do physical and mental tasks throughout the day. When you do not eat enough, it’s harder to do the things you need and want to do. For example, finishing a project at work or taking your dog for a walk.

Nutrition

When you eat, your body uses the nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals) to keep you functioning well. You need proper nutrition for everything. Brain function, skin health,  cell structure, etc.

Satisfaction

How do you feel when you are very hungry? You may be tired or irritable. You may have trouble concentrating or get headaches. When you eat to satisfaction (i.e. you feel comfortably full), your body is well fed and ready to take on the day.

Beyond the Physical

Connection

Beyond providing energy, nutrition, and physical satisfaction, food is also a means of connection. Have you ever cooked with a friend or family member, or had someone prepare a meal for you? Have you shared popcorn with a friend at the movie theater or had a slice of cake to celebrate a coworker’s birthday? Food helps us connect and bond.

Culture and Tradition

Think about a holiday that is important to you. Does it involve food? Food is one of the main aspects of many traditions. For example, family gatherings, religious observances, and other cultural celebrations.

Enjoyment

When was the last time you ate something because you truly love it? For example, you might choose a restaurant that makes one of your favorite foods: fresh pasta. Or, you might love eating fresh strawberries, so you pick them yourself.

When you eat a food you love, you might find that you take more time to really appreciate it and taste all of its flavors. You might also simply enjoy the overall eating experience.

What Food is Not

Food is not meant to be assigned labels like “good” or “bad”

You may recognize certain foods as good or bad, clean or “toxic.” A food like kale might be called  good or clean, while a food like french fries might be called bad or “toxic.” 

However, it is not that simple. Some foods are more nutritious than others, but this does not mean that less nutritious foods are bad or evil. Food has no moral value: no food is right or wrong.

Food is not a helpful way to cope

When you are overwhelmed, stressed, or sad, you may turn to food. This is common, but it does not help to address the feelings. Instead, it’s important to develop healthy coping skills. Contact your coach to discuss how you can practice healthy coping skills.

Eating Well for Life

A varied and flexible diet has health benefits

Research has shown that a varied, flexible eating pattern is better for your health than a limited diet with rigid rules. You may use these “food rules” with the goal of limiting calories or avoiding certain foods.

A limited diet can increase stress and anxiety and obsessive thinking about “food rules.” It can also lead to discomfort eating with family and friends, nutritional deficiencies, and more.

On the other hand, a varied, flexible eating plan is associated with decreased risk of disease, and is better for your mental health. This is because you won't be dedicating so much of your energy to strict diet plans or avoiding certain foods.

How can you work on variety and flexibility in your own diet? Here are some tips:

  • Eat healthy foods from all food groups: carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and fats/oils/nuts (Note: This may not be possible if you are allergic or sensitive to certain foods).

  • Try your best to eat foods from two or more food groups with meals and snacks.

  • Include fun foods, or foods you might see at gatherings or social events. Examples include pizza, hot dogs, ice cream, and birthday cake. 

Allow yourself to enjoy these foods every now and then. If you avoid them (and the parties, events, etc. where they are served), it can increase stress and anxiety. It can also isolate you from family, friends, and coworkers.

  • Try new foods often. You’ll experience different tastes and give your body a variety of nutrients. You can also spend time with friends and family and learn about foods and ingredients from other cultures. 

Food provides nutrition and energy, but it’s also important in other ways. Food is a way to connect, celebrate, and enjoy life. Again, contact your coach with questions or for support.