5 Habits of a Healthy Relationship With Food

By: Tayler Glenn

One of the most fundamental building blocks of a healthy lifestyle isn’t the number of calories we eat or the macros we hit – it’s our relationship with food. But in Instagram’s world of perfectly curated smoothie bowls, cheat meals, and fitness models, there’s a fine line between being careful about what we choose to eat and obsessing over every single bite. Having a healthy relationship with food is essential for building a solid foundation for weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, and that is the goal, right? Here’s 5 habits of people who are at peace with what’s on their plate:


1. They Practice Intuitive Eating

People that have a healthy relationship with food all seem to have a good idea of how to go about the act of eating and making food decisions. This is called intuitive eating and, while the name sounds fancy, it simply means that they eat when they’re hungry, stop when they feel satisfied, and don’t let external influences determine what or when they should eat.

If you think about it, we’re born with some pretty strong built-in cues to tell us when we’re hungry and full. Babies cry when they’re hungry and eat until they’re full; Kids balance out eating by eating a ton of food one day and nibbling the next. But as we grow older, we learn rules, restrictions, and habits – both internal and external – that take the place of what our bodies are trying to tell us.

Thankfully, we can begin to hear our body’s cues again by practicing mindfulness in our eating, learning the difference between emotional vs. physical hunger cues, and responding to each in an appropriate way that doesn’t lead to guilt or judgment.

For those just starting out, finding a meal plan or utilizing methods like pre-portioned containers can help teach you what healthy, balanced eating looks like. Creating a schedule to pair with a flexible meal plan can also be helpful, especially when you’re eating for weight loss or athletic performance.


2. They Don’t Compensate for Imperfect Days

People that have a healthy relationship with food can enjoy the occasional treat without an overwhelming need to compensate. Whether that means overdoing it at the gym or spending the next day over-restricting, this sense of food guilt can set the stage for poor emotional and mental health as well as disordered eating habits.

Food guilt tends to be grounded in the beliefs you have surrounding food that have been reinforced by your culture, media, and that one #InstaFit friend you have.  But in a healthy food mindset, this food guilt has no place! Those with a healthy relationship with food tend to adhere to flexible guidelines rather than rules and avoid placing food/food groups into “good” or “bad” categories. These individuals understand that the occasional office party or treat may find their way into the best planned days, and they take the time to truly enjoy those treats! While they may have a lighter meal later in the day, you won’t find them skipping dinner for an extra 30 minutes of gym time.


3. They Eat for Health, Not Emotion

A key component to having a healthy relationship with anything is using that thing for its intended purpose. In the case of a healthy relationship with food, this means that you use it to provide nourishment for your body and brain so that you can remain healthy and strong. What it doesn’t mean? Emotional eating.

Using food as a buffer for feelings like sadness, loneliness, boredom, stress, or anxiety is a pretty common phenomenon. How many times have you eaten when you weren’t physically hungry, but feeling stressed, tired, bored, anxious, or any other uncomfortable emotion?  Having a healthy relationship with food means you know and utilize other coping strategies for stress besides eating! This could include:

  • Exercise
  • Talking with a friend or family member
  • Listening to music
  • Yoga or meditation
  • Coloring or drawing

as well as anything else that helps you feel centered and in control of your emotions.


4. They Don’t Have “Forbidden” Foods

This one can be tricky. Placing any food in the “off limits” category not only demonizes a food but also makes it even more appealing and harder to resist! Kind of defeats the purpose, right?

It’s important to remember that no food is inherently “good” or “bad”, and those with a healthy relationship with food know that everything (yes, we mean everything) is okay in moderation! Avoiding a food because of a taste preference, lack of nutritional value, or dietary restrictions is much different than having an ever-growing list of foods that you are absolutely not allowed to touch.

People with a healthy relationship to food recognize that eating is a chance to nourish and nurture their body, not an obstacle course of rules and guilt.


5. They Don’t Let Food Rule Their Lives

Meal Prep Sunday? Absolutely.

Meal planning for a week? We’re all about it!

Missing out on a family gathering because they might have cake or dipping out after a birthday meal to log a few more miles at the gym? Not so much.

People with a healthy relationship to food don’t obsess about food to the point where it takes precedence over family, friends, or personal goals. Scheduling a date with the gym is one thing, and a healthy thing at that! However, scheduling a gym date three nights in a row when your sister traveled from out of town to see you is a sign that your food relationship may be unbalanced.

Being too rigid, restrictive or strict about nutritious eating can take away from your ability to enjoy the things that truly make your day to day life an enjoyable one! If you find yourself skipping out on fun events for fear of overindulging, it may be time to take a step back.



If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the
National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.