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How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Food

Creating a healthy relationship with food isn't always easy, but it's definitely worth the effort. Here are some tips to help get you started.

When you think of the word relationship, where does your mind take you?

Perhaps you think of your spouse, children, parents, friends or even colleagues. Because these connections directly affect your career, emotions and well-being, you probably don’t think twice about putting forth time and effort to help these relationships blossom and succeed. But what about your relationship with food?

While it may seem strange to refer to your connection with food as a “relationship,” it is one of the most important interactions you have. Beyond just an emotional connection with food (family dinners, holiday celebrations and birthday parties), it’s what fuels you. It supplies you with the energy and strength you need to take care of your kids, let your creative thoughts flow or enjoy a long walk with your spouse or a friend. You have to eat or you won’t survive.

While each of the relationships mentioned above plays an integral role in your life, they don’t determine your overall health or fate like food does.

We’ve heard it a thousand times before: Relationships only work when you invest time in nurturing them. When you start focusing the same amount of time and attention toward fostering a healthy relationship with food as you do people, great things happen! You make better food choices, nourish your body, avoid emotional binges and create healthy eating patterns for life.

But how do you initiate this crazy courtship?

For starters, no more blacklisting food.

Unfortunately, society tells us that every food falls into two categories—good and bad. As tempting as it may be to label food as one versus the other, all it does is further complicate our relationship with it.

Emotionally, the more we label food as “bad,” the more we want it. This is exactly why restriction and fad diets don’t work—especially not long term. Nothing makes us (men, women and children alike) want something more than when we’re not allowed to have it.

When we give in to those desires and eat “bad” foods, we’re made to feel as though we’ve failed completely, causing us to feel ashamed and guilty. This doesn’t make eating a very positive experience, does it?

Food is GOOD. ‘Nuff said…

In our quest for health, we focus so much on what is BAD, rather than what it GOOD. We make it more about exclusivity than inclusivity. Basically, we spend all our emotional energy obsessing over what we can’t have, rather than focusing on all the amazing things we get to enjoy or WHY we even eat food in the first place.

Food is the FUEL that keeps our engine firing on all cylinders. Food is GOOD. The more we start to think of it this way—as a means to nourish our body—the more satisfied and FULL (pun intended) we’ll begin to feel.

There is a place for EVERYTHING in our diets. Yes, everything!

We shouldn’t have to completely eliminate carbs, say no to a glass of wine with friends, log every calorie consumed or skip meals entirely.

Eating should be a positive experience; a celebration of tastes, textures and smells; and something that brings us joy. When we ditch the all-or-nothing restrictions surrounding diets, it establishes a trust and understanding within that this isn’t the last time we’ll be able to have a certain food. This helps us combat that “last supper” mentality.

Let’s say it again: There’s a place for everything in our diet. The more you practice this narrative in your mind, the easier creating a healthy relationship with food will become.

That’s where The 80/20 Approach comes into play. It teaches balance through realistic, guilt-free eating by promoting healthy foods and self-control.

Aim to make healthy choices 80% of the time.

This rule teaches you balance and moderation, a concept that doesn’t exist in fad diets. By allowing yourself treats 20% of the time, you feel satisfied without the crazy cravings or the need to count calories.

The breakdown

of the time you focus on eating clean, nutritious, good-for-you foods.

of the time you have the freedom to indulge in some of your favorites.

The math is simple.

If you eat three well-balanced meals a day, four meals a week are reserved to indulge in your favorites (remember, portion control is vital).

This concept allows you to feel good about your food choices, removing guilt and restrictions.

What to eat during your 80%

The majority of the time, you’re going to fill up on FfL-friendly, nutritious, whole foods. Some that come to mind first are vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains, beans, eggs and nuts. During your 80%, eat salads packed with summer squash, chicken and quinoa; enjoy hummus; bake a sweet potato and top it with cinnamon; snack on nuts; make an open-faced avocado and egg sandwich; just keep it clean! You’ll find tons of simple recipes here on the blog.

Save your 20% indulgences for wine, chips and guacamole, a slice of margarita pizza or key lime pie. Just be sure to keep those indulgences to 20% of the time or less.

Moderation is key.

Be conscious of both WHAT you’re eating and HOW MUCH. One serving of your favorite dish is okay, but eating a whole day’s worth of calories in one meal is not. Essentially, binge eating is not acceptable. Don’t scarf down five chocolate bars during movie night. (Darn!)

Remember, this isn’t the last time (or even the only time this week, necessarily) you’ll be able to have a certain food, so there’s no need to fill up as if you’re giving it up forever. If you love pizza, enjoy a slice rather than telling yourself you can’t have it, and then bingeing days later as an emotional response to deprivation. Remember, if you’re following The 80/20 Approach, four meals a week are reserved to indulge in your favorites (the 20%); so, for example, make pizza one of the four.

The same goes for clean foods. It’s possible to eat too many calories even while eating nutritious foods. Both moderation and portion control play a role in your diet, whether it’s nutritious or not. Watch for hunger cues and be mindful when eating.

Look ahead and plan it out.

Look at your week ahead and think about when you may want to splurge. You might enjoy indulging a little more on the weekend or break it up throughout the week. If you have a BBQ, birthday party or are eating out, reserve your less-healthy meals for those times. You may even want to plan what foods you’ll treat yourself to. This helps you refrain from becoming overly tempted and indulging in more than you should.

Which treats do you love and are worth your 20%?

Is the day-old cake that’s been sitting out at work worth part of your 20%? Ask yourself this question when you’re tempted to treat yourself. Decide which indulgences you can live without and which are worth your splurge.

The 90/10 Plan

If slimming down is your main goal, you may want to initially adopt a slightly stricter plan to keep your weight loss on track. Typically, an 80/20 approach works best for weight maintenance, while a 90/10 approach may work better for weight loss. The concept of a 90/10 split is exactly the same, just with a different breakdown.

If you eat three well-balanced meals a day, two meals a week are reserved to indulge in your favorites (remember portion control is vital).

You still get to enjoy your favorites and treat yourself without radical restrictions. You may even choose to alternate by implementing a 90/10 split this week and 80/20 next week. Align your numbers with what works best for you and your goals.

Stop being so hard on yourself and release the guilt, stress and anxiety.

Okay, now that we know we’re allowed to eat the foods (in moderation) that we’ve craved but stayed away from for so long, how do we combat the feelings that set in after eating them? You know—guilt, shame, panic and anxiety?

Letting go of negative feelings associated with these trigger foods is CRUCIAL to fostering a healthy relationship with food. To be totally honest, these feelings don’t just magically go away. Like everything else, it takes time and consistent effort. But, as time passes, it will become increasingly easier and more natural to indulge with self-control.

Remind yourself that you have PERMISSION to eat that particular food. There’s a place for it in your diet. You’re committed to eating it in moderation, and there’s absolutely no need to stress or feel ashamed about it.

If you binge eat, or your 20% indulging “accidentally” turns into 30% or 40%, offer yourself grace, not guilt. Learn from it and think about what drove you to make those choices and how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. Forgive yourself, BUT commit to hopping back on the right path ASAP.

Finally, if you’re still feeling guilty, find support! Letting feelings of shame and anxiety swirl around in your head will drive you bonkers. It can be difficult to ask for help, but a big part of putting yourself first is knowing when to call in the reinforcements. Find a friend or family member to lean on.

If that’s not an option, there are plenty of resources to help you receive support and guidance from other women who understand how you’re feeling. Try our Live FULL Membership where you’ll forge connections, receive dependable support, and benefit from ongoing coaching to cultivate a positive relationship with food.

Opening up and talking about your struggles allows you to release the negativity and move forward.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance, balance, BALANCE.

Simply put, a healthy lifestyle ISN’T about restriction, constant self-criticism or perfection; it’s achieved through balance and flexibility. When you’re able to start thinking about WHAT TO EAT, not what to AVOID, you give yourself permission to enjoy each meal and incredible things happen. Rewiring your brain to view food in this way takes time, but the payoff is SO WORTH IT!

Let’s create a healthy relationship with food — together!
Cheers to a healthy lifestyle and living FULLforLife!
xo, Pam & Kalie

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Hi beautiFULL, We’re Pam and Kalie

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