As you many of you may know, February is Heart Month—a time to raise national awareness about heart health and heart disease prevention. According to the National Institute of Health, more than 630,000 Americans die of heart disease every year. What’s more, many of these deaths are preventable by making healthier diet & lifestyle choices.
At Thistle, we understand that making healthier choices can sometimes feel confusing & overwhelming, especially given the vast amounts of conflicting information floating around the Internet. This Heart Month, join us for a series of posts exploring different perspectives on what it means to have a healthy heart, whether it means loving our bodies, re-evaluating our relationships with food, or protecting our planet.
Re-Writing Your Relationship with Food
It’s time to talk about one of modern society’s most dysfunctional relationships: individuals + food. People often feel like they’re in a confusing and shameful battle with what they eat. Food-related childhood memories haunt us. One book says this is how to stop food cravings; another claims something else entirely. A celebrity food blogger declares these foods unhealthy; another declares the opposite. It’s no wonder that many of us have a flawed perception of what a healthy meal should be.
If you were in a toxic relationship with someone, you’d want to find a way to break free, right? Well, the same goes for food. What better time than Heart Month to walk away from dysfunctional thoughts and habits that keep us from having an abundantly healthy relationship with food. Imagine not only knowing how to stop cravings, but actually being able to do it. Imagine unhealthy foods occupying less space in your thoughts and belly. A once toxic relationship can begin to thrive.
Recognizing Unhealthy Ways of Looking at Food
Many of us might not realize we are in an unhealthy relationship with food. If you identify with any of the following, it might be time to reevaluate how you think about the foods you’re eating:
- You scrutinize everything on your plate: When eating for sustenance, you do not have to agonize over the health benefits of every bite you take. Don’t pathologize each item on your plate; instead, enjoy it! Preferably in good company.
- Your thoughts go to food when you are emotional: If you find yourself craving chips when feeling down or digging into chocolate cake when happy but not hungry, you might be using unhealthy foods as an emotional crutch.
- You stress over what you already ate: Do you feel guilty about that extra cookie? When you have a healthy relationship with food, you eat to quell hunger, and then you move on with your day. You give little to no thought to prior meals except to think about how delicious they were, and how good you felt after eating them.
- You are embarrassed to eat certain foods in front of others: When you associate shame with certain foods, especially when you eat them in public, your relationship with food may be on the rocks. Many of us are programmed to have these negative associations because of years of judgment from others, distorted messages in the media, and a collective misunderstanding of unhealthy foods.
- You feel stuck: What’s the point of making a change to improve your relationship with food if it will never be perfect? If you find yourself asking questions like this, you’ve fallen into the cognitive distortion of “all or nothing thinking.”
Redefining the Relationship
If you have a less-than-stellar relationship with food, how do you change it? How do you combat years of unhealthy thoughts and unhealthy foods? Want to bring back that loving feeling? Here are some ways to stop treating food like the enemy:
- Be More Mindful: In our go-go-go society, it’s common to eat a meal while watching TV or even while standing over the kitchen sink. Before you eat, pause to check in with yourself: are you eating because you’re hungry, or because you are trying to fill an emotional void? And resist multitasking while eating. Turn a meal into a peaceful ritual, one where you can savor each bit and recognize the first signs of satiety.
- Deconstruct Your “Why”: The more you check in with yourself, the more you will realize your motivation for eating. If you consistently reach for unhealthy foods when under stress, you might want to find a different outlet for dealing with your emotions. Whether you make plans with friends, take your dog on a nature walk, or meet with a professional counselor, figuring out why you turn to food in challenging moments will help you shift your entire mindset when it comes to eating. You’ll learn how to stop cravings, and unhealthy foods will lose their hold on you.
- Remember the Food-Body Connection: Food provides us with the macro and micronutrients we need to keep our bodies alive. Not only does regulary eating unhealthy foods reinforce a toxic relationship with eating, but the high sugar, high salt, and low nutrient density can also result in problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even cancer. If you think of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and quality proteins as delicious building blocks for creating a healthy life , food will no longer be a foe; it’ll become the friend with healing properties it’s intended to be.
- Reject Perfectionism: It’s time to celebrate progress instead. Don’t let cognitive distortions get you down; any step in the right direction is a good one. Feel like you’re starting at square one? Like learning to play a new instrument, pick one meal per day to use as your practice time. No time to cook a week’s worth of healthy food yourself? Try Thistle’s healthy meal delivery service.
Be an outlier. Don’t settle for a toxic or complicated relationship. This Heart Month, reap the holistic rewards of starting a new, beautiful love affair with food.