Like many people, I did not have a healthy relationship with food growing up. I was raised with a mother who suffered from poverty consciousness and we were, in fact, living for many years at poverty level. The mentality about food was either feast or famine. When we went to a buffet or gathering where food was present, my mom would literally coach us to fill up while we were there. She would tell us, “Stock up girls!” like we were cattle. I never heard anything about eating food in moderation. My message was, “Eat it or it’s gone forever.”
In my life I’ve met many women who seemed to have complete self-control when it came to food. They didn’t seem to be overly obsessed with eating, the way I felt I was. Their attitude was more nonchalant and their bodies showed this difference. Through observation of these women, and some men, I noticed consistent traits that they all shared. The following five tips will help you gather—or retain—your control over food.
1. Eat Meals at Set Times
People who have a healthy relationship with food eat because it’s necessary, not because it’s there. They enjoy food like the rest of us, but they truly take the time to enjoy it.
I lived in the south of France for several years and most French people are regimented when it comes to mealtime. In fact, if you go to a public place, everything shuts down between noon and 2 p.m. because most everyone is eating. Until recently, French women were among the thinnest in the Western world. One habit I learned from my French mother-in-law was to schedule a snack at the same time every day.
Furthermore, people who adhere to a set meal schedule know that mealtime is for eating and not for other activities.
2. Eat a Little Bit of Everything
If you watch them eat, they are like birds pecking birdseed here and there. They will eat a couple of bites of many different dishes. If you were raised in a feast-or-famine environment, watching them eat can be incredibly annoying. But it works. They will talk, take a bite, enjoy the conversation, and eat another bite. While you’ve devoured your entire plate and the whole breadbasket, they will have eaten five bites and their plate is still full. They don’t refrain from eating. It’s that they eat until satisfied and leave the rest alone.
3. Leave Food on Your Plate
This is a huge issue for many people. You may have been taught to never waste or throw out food. As a result, you become a human garbage disposal. This habit becomes detrimental to your health and your waistline. But those with a healthy food relationship do not hesitate to leave a lot on their plate. They almost seem satisfied with eating their little portion and then offering you the rest. They have no sense of loss on giving up their food. They tend to have an abundance mindset about food. There is enough to go around and there will always be more food later.
4. Be More Interested in People Than in Food
When going to an event, I always seek out the food first. I want to know when the food will be served, how much will be served, and when it will stop being served. But people who have a healthy relationship with food don’t do this. They may even forget to eat at large events. They are so absorbed in conversations and meeting people that food becomes secondary.
5. Don’t Eat Emotionally
In fact, people with healthy relationships with food often do the opposite. People who seek out food for nourishment—but not comfort—usually don’t eat when they’re upset. Intuitively, they know that it’s better to take it easy on the body when emotions are running high. Instead they will retreat in deep reflection, eat lightly, or drink calming teas. They understand that their body is a temple and that eating food while upset can create digestive disturbances.
In reflecting upon your relationship with food, what do you see yourself doing more often than not? Do you find that you eat emotionally? Or do you have a scarcity mindset when it comes to food?
Bringing awareness to how you perceive and use food can help you heal your relationship with it. A good way to do this is to journal your food intake daily. You can also write down any feelings associated with eating throughout your day. If you see unhealthy patterns, you can commit to changing one habit each week until you see healthier habits emerge.
Remember that food is often a highly charged topic with habits that are deeply ingrained from childhood. Be patient with yourself as you are making these changes. It may take longer than you want. But once you do change, you’ll feel empowered in your healthier relationship with food.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.