How to have a better relationship with food - tips from an RD

I recently was listening to a podcast with Oprah and Geneen Roth, an expert on body acceptance and reducing compulsive eating. One concept they discussed that struck me was that your relationship with food is a microcosm of your relationship with yourself and your broader life.

It’s never just about the food – which suggests we can look to other aspects of our lives to see what seems to be missing or incomplete, or out of alignment. Once those areas become more in balance, we can relax around food; it holds less power over us and becomes a little less interesting or important.

Related: do you have a “fear of missing out on food”? Here’s how to eat more mindfully.

Think of Food as Two Separate Categories

I learned something similar when I studied to become a health coach (before I became a dietitian) at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition: thinking of “food” as two separate categories, primary food and secondary food.

Secondary food is literal food, like fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, bread and pasta, animal protein, oils, sweets, even junk and processed foods. But primary food encompasses everything that “feeds” us in addition to actual food, like spiritual satisfaction, feeling fulfilled with your work and extracurricular activities, robust relationships, and ample exercise.

The reason these are labeled as primary food is because they can be considered in some ways to be even more important than the secondary food. Why? They nurture and nourish us in ways fat, protein and carbohydrates simply cannot. When our primary needs are well taken care of, our need for secondary food decreases, and we certainly depend on it less for happiness and fulfillment, and instead use it for its ideal purpose, which is strength and sustenance.

Your Relationship with Food

Think back to a time when you were depressed or anxious. You might have gained or lost weight, ate fast food or lots of sugary desserts, using food in a dysfunctional way to somehow feel better. But if you think back to your childhood or of a time when things seemed to have fallen into an easy rhythm, you might have eaten more lightly, focusing on other things and viewing food more as an afterthought.

Take some time to think or even jot some notes down about these four areas of your life currently: career, spirituality, relationships and exercise. Where could you put some more attention? Notice how bolstering these areas of your life affects your hunger for food.

Post written by FFC Boystown and East Lakeview Registered Dietitian Cindy Klinger. 

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