Feeling like you’ve been on the hamster wheel of yo-yo diets since you were young? You’re not alone.
It’s difficult enough trying to master self-love, let alone develop a healthy relationship with food when diet culture has become so prevalent in all the things we read, click and see today.
The good news is you can put an end to this dysfunctional relationship with food. If you’re ready to transform this huge part of your life, it all starts with these tips from dietitians as they break down how to have the healthy — and happy — relationship with food that you deserve.
try the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule is the key to balance, says Nicole German Morgan, RDN, LD, CLT. Celebs like Miranda Kerr and Jessica Alba even follow it.
“Eighty percent of what you eat should be healthy and on track for eating for your goals,” she says. “Twenty of what you eat can be less mindful and choices that are not as healthy.”
Yes, this means that those cheesy-loaded fries and Taco Tuesdays is not off limits!
For those who find this way of eating difficult, Morgan recommends journaling what you’re eating. Not only is it a way to be mindful about what you’re putting in your mouth, but it’s a great way to see if you’re on the right track.
“This allows us to become more mindful about our eating and reduce the stress involved with counting calories,” she says. “This shifts the way of eating to more mindfulness and freedom.”
stop the stress surrounding food
Stress does some pretty annoying things: It makes us break out, affects our sleep and can also place a major wedge between us and our healthy habits.
“Stress causes your body to ramp up cortisol production, which is a hormone that can actually cause your body to hold on to abdominal fat,” says SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD.
To ensure it doesn’t get in the way, focus on acceptance. You have to accept that there are no quick fixes when it comes to making long-term lifestyle changes, she says.
One way to do this is by breaking down your larger health goals into small, manageable steps and work on them one at a time, advises Shoemaker.
This also means accepting that you will make mistakes along the way, whether that’s skipping a workout or eating a food that’s not the best for you.
The best thing about not stressing about food is being able to give yourself some grace when you need it most. “Accept that your body will not change overnight and make peace with your body as it is, right now.”
go for balance, not perfection
You may joke about how #balance to you is sipping on some green juice in the a.m. and then enjoying some pizza come p.m. But guess what? That is balance!
“Balance is understanding that there are foods that will keep our insides (and outsides) much healthier than others,” says Jess Cifelli, Master Instructor at CycleBar and a nutritionist. “It also means that those less-than-nutritious foods still have a place in your life.”
To get started, Cifelli recommends eliminating the need to make huge changes ASAP. “If you find yourself in your local fast food joint daily, allow yourself to still frequent it 1-2 times per week and replace the other days with a more nutritionally supportive alternatives.”
This way, you’re not “missing” out on anything, she says. “Generally, you will find that in time, you'll need that fast food less and less until you may not need or want it anymore.”
expand your healthy food palate
Healthy food is so much more than just plain chicken and broccoli, but you’ll have to get into the kitchen to discover that.
“Beyond at-home cooking delivery kits and online classes, consider some local restaurants to tap into your culinary talents,” says Cifelli. “Simply finding ways to really enjoy nutritious food will create a healthy and fun relationship with your diet.”
You might also love this Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry or these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon that calls for two scoops of Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides right in the recipe! It’s a super delish and fun way to get your daily dose of collagen.
reject the diet mentality
Rejecting the diet mentality means closing the door on diets and letting self-love in. “Decide that you are caring for your body because you are worth it, regardless of the physical outcome,” advises Lisa Richards, nutritionist and creator of TheCandidaDiet.com.
To make this happen, she recommends finding your why. “Simply take an index card and write out your personal reasons for eating nutrient-dense foods over processed, high-calorie foods.”
This should be focused on non-scale victories (or NSVs), such as having more energy or a better mood, says Richards.
honor your hunger
To all the times you’ve ignored your hunger, Richards says this: “Food is not the enemy.”
“When you are hungry, it is your body telling you that you need calories. This is a normal and needed reminder. Honor this feeling by fueling your body with nutrient-dense snacks rather than pushing through it.”
The more you do this, the more you’ll improve your relationship with food.
“This releases the control the food has on your life; no more guilt over eating them or ‘last supper’ binging response,” she says. “Once they are not ‘forbidden,’ you will find you won't feel the need to overindulge when they're available.”
“Try sitting down at the table to slowly and quietly experience each bite,” says Christina Fitzgerald, MS RD CSSD, owner and Sports Dietitian of Base Sports Nutrition. “Taste the food. Smell the food.” It’s all about listening to your body, including identifying when it starts to feel full.
“When you really allow yourself complete and utter permission to enjoy what you are eating, it's amazing how your entire approach to eating and nourishing the body can start to change,” adds Fitzgerald.
break free from food rules
The reason so many diets fail is because of its all-or-nothing approach. Going from eating whatever you want to “boring, healthy foods” is just going to make you crave a taco, and fast.
While the 80/20 rule is okay, since it leaves room for indulges, things like “I will stop eating sugar” is not, says Fitzgerald. Not only is that extremely hard to do — cake is life, after all — but she warns that this often leads to more obsessive food thoughts or even a possible binge.
“It can feel like the flood gates are opening and that ‘rule’ can often make you feel even more out of control around food.”
Instead of simply lessening the rules to a few, Fitzgerald recommends being a rule-breaker by breaking free from all food rules.
“Going along with breaking the rigid food rules is letting go of an all-or-nothing mindset around food choices,” she explains to Lively. “The feeling that one food choice ruined the whole day can really lead to increased feelings of guilt and shame around food and our body.”