How to Change Your Relationship with Food

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woman looking at a donut on the table

Want to have a better relationship with that donut? 

Many of us have a tenuous relationship with food. We only have to look at the state of our health (about 66% of North Americans are overweight or obese) to know that we aren’t eating the way we should be. The struggle with food is real.

Diets don’t work. Well, at least not the conventional type that involve very restricted eating or meticulous calorie counting. Many of those diets that litter the bookstores would certainly work if people adhered to them exactly as described. That’s precisely the problem. Adhering to most diets is setting yourself up for failure, since they require an obsession with food that most of us aren’t willing to commit to. Still, millions of people buy diet books in the hopes of finding the holy grail that will finally change their lives.

Stop Searching for the Solution

You know what makes the biggest difference in your ability to get lean and have the body you want?

Having a positive, uplifting relationship with food.

Stick with me; it’s not as cheesy as it sounds.

Most people have some sort of issue with food, whether it’s feelings of guilt or a lack of control around certain favourites (like fries, donuts, or pumpkin pie). Other people do well during the week and then just run around eating all the processed garbage they can find on the weekend.

Blocking Out the Pain

Many people use food to sedate themselves when they feel anxious or overstimulated. I’ve personally suffered through my share of experiences with binging and eating under stress. I remember mindlessly eating two or three very large Kinder Chocolate bars at my mom’s place in 2004, a couple of hours before heading to my dad’s funeral. When my mom told me to stop eating so much chocolate, I replied:

“My dad just died. I can eat whatever I want!”

She didn’t have a reply.

It’s ridiculous, really, when I think about it. I wasn’t even enjoying the chocolate. I barely remember consuming it. I was just using it to make me feel numb to the pain of my dad’s sudden death.

I know some people who can’t eat at all when they’re under extreme stress. They’re the ones who get painfully thin and weak when they’re suffering.

Neither of these uses for food is helpful.


I’m not saying you’ll never overeat again. We’ve all gotten a bit carried away at Thanksgiving or Christmas at some point, haven’t we? We’re not perfect, and we shouldn’t expect to be. That only makes our relationship with food worse.

Having a structured plan for when and what you’re eating will help, but it’s not a magical cure that lasts forever. For many people, trying to keep their food desires under control is a lifelong battle.

It’s crazy to think that despite all the success that Oprah Winfrey has had in her life, the one thing that she wishes she could change about her life is her struggle with her weight.

Outrageous, right?

This insanely successful woman still worries about her weight struggles and relationship with food.

Binging, Dieting, and Deprivation

I’m no stranger to unhealthy relationships with food. I’ve binged on chocolate and overeaten “healthy” foods.  In my unhappy days, I managed to eat an entire loaf of thick, crusty whole grain bread at one sitting!

Whenever I overate foods, I felt guilty and tried to be extra strict with myself for the weeks afterward. I’d be successful at sticking to a perfectly “clean” diet through sheer willpower and I’d applaud myself for being so “good”. Then the deprivation sent me running back to the foods I’d been avoiding – in an even more frantic way.

Sound familiar?

It’s a common refrain for women and men alike. I’ve had male and female clients tell me about their unhealthy relationships with food.

If it’s something serious and longstanding, consider getting professional counselling to deal with whatever issues are causing unhappiness and a dependence on food. I’ve never met a person who was significantly overweight who didn’t have some personal issues or underlying unhappiness in their life.

Yet even those people who maintain a healthy weight often have obstacles to overcome. They may be managing – through a combination of good genetics, exercise (often excessive), and self-discipline – to stay lean, but their unhealthy relationship with food takes over too much of their lives.

Being “Good” and Being “Bad”

As far as I’m concerned, the worst thing to do is to label yourself “good” when you’ve been restricting yourself to only certain foods you consider “good for you” and “bad” when you’ve had less-healthy options.

Many a client has returned to me after a weekend telling me:

“I was really bad this weekend.”

I’m secretly hoping it’s a story that includes car chases and steamy sex a la “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but inevitably it’s a boring sob-fest about how he/she couldn’t resist the hot wings at the restaurant or had excessive quantities of pasta salad at a BBQ.

Judging yourself because of every morsel of food isn’t helpful.

Have a plan, for sure, but don’t beat yourself up over every little thing that doesn’t go exactly according to that plan. Do your best. Don’t label yourself “good” or “bad” based on what you ate today…or last week.

What Food Is

Food is nourishment, fuel, and pleasure. The right foods at the right time will give you energy and build the body you want.

Having food with other people is part of our daily ritual, and enhances our social experiences, and family and community ties. Eating certain foods during holidays with loved ones is associated with feelings of pleasure and allows a beautiful shared experience.

What Food Is Not

Food is NOT a substitute for love, a way to numb pain, or a method of controlling the success of your life.

Food is important, for sure.

It can give you energy and give you healthy vibrance that you never had before.

Food can support your goals and make you feel like you’re on top of the world.

The tricky thing about food is that you can never avoid it altogether, and if you struggle with food issues it’s a challenge that you face several times a day. Master your relationship with food and you’ll discover just how important – and also unimportant – it is in your life.

Ivana Chapman 

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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