Diet and exercise, while important, can quickly become an all-consuming obsession.
In this case, it can be hard to stop from spiraling into disordered eating behavior, or develop a full-blown eating disorder. And for those who have already suffered disordered eating habits or an eating disorder, it can be even more challenging to maintain a healthy, non-restrictive diet and refrain from over-exercising. Below are a collection of tips from fitness experts, nutritionists, and survivors of eating disorders on how to maintain a healthy relationship with food and exercise.
Author’s note: In this article, “healthy” will be defined as nourishing one’s body, not over-stressing it, and taking care of it rather than depriving or stressing it.
Listen to your body
This is also known as “intuitive eating,” or intuitive fitness, a concept I first learned about in “The Anti-Diet Project,” a fantastic new series from Refinery29 all about body positivity, and developing healthy ways of eating and exercising. Intuitive eating is the concept of allowing your body to crave the foods it craves, and then instead of ignoring or pushing away those cravings, you allow yourself to fulfill them. Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FIAEDP, FADA, nutrition therapist, and author of the book Intuitive Eating, explained to Refinery29 that listening to your body without guilt or judgment allows you to begin making better-for-you choices with food. For example, she says, “What do you think it would be like if all you could eat was your favorite treat?” Eventually, you would tire of that treat, and start seeing it not as some sort of prized food, but just another form of nourishment.
Eliminate the concept of “good” and “bad” foods
Food should be thought of neutrally, as nourishment, rather than split into a binary of good food and bad food. If you wish to practice the intuitive eating behavior mentioned above, you must first learn to have “the same emotional reaction to all foods,” before you even begin to think about nutritional value. Once you’ve learned to look at the difference between a piece of cake and, say, a chicken sandwich on whole wheat as nothing more than two foods, rather than a bad food and a good food, you can then take into account which one might offer more nutritional value. And even then, if you’d rather have that piece of cake than the sandwich, you have to to learn that that’s okay.
Do not deprive yourself
One line that really stood out to me in author Kelsey Miller’s piece on intuitive eating was this: “If we’re given the necessary support and all the [food] options in the world…most of us will naturally be drawn to balanced eating.” This means that instead of making certain foods off-limits, allow yourself to eat what your body is craving, and your natural instincts will start to kick in. Your body will tell you if you are feeling full; you don’t have to worry about overeating if you listen to yourself.
Observe your relationship with food and diet
Blogger and body-positive yoga instructor Dulma Altan wrote a fantastic list of questions to ask yourself about your relationship with eating and fitness. Most of the questions are centered around how eating nutritious foods and working out make you feel. Do you feel guilty or berate yourself if you eat a “bad” food or skip a workout? Do you feel anxiety or stress surrounding diet and exercise? Do you equate being a certain weight or looking a certain way with happiness? All of these are important questions to ask yourself.
I realize most of these practices are much easier said than done, particularly for those who struggle or have struggled with disordered eating habits or an eating disorder. All of these steps take time and sometimes professional help; don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist, nutritionist, or dietician with a focus on recovery from eating disorders to help you along the way. Food and fitness are not weapons to be used against your body; instead they are tools to help you feel stronger, more energized, and healthier.
If you or a friend are suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder, check out the resources below.
National Eating Disorders Association
National Eating Disorders Association Network
Eating Disorder Hope