You might think about your relationships with friends, family, and even your teachers, but do you ever think about your relationship with food?

The other day, I stumbled upon an article a friend of mine shared on Facebook called “Women: stop apologizing for eating”. In it, I read an enlightening point about how women feel the need to justify their food choices (e.g., “I only ate a banana today” before ordering a big lunch, or “I worked out twice today” when ordering cheesecake). From this I realized that there are so many aspects of society that predispose us to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.

We’re taught very negative mindsets about food by magazines we read, shows we watch, and advertisements we see everywhere we go. In workout classes, we’re told to burn calories we “didn’t need to eat”, in food advertisements we’re told to cut carbs and curb cravings, and in movies the skinny girl is always admired.

For many, these images conglomerate into desires to lose weight and restrict diet, regardless of how we actually feel. Women feel as if they need the justification of a perfect body or exercise to justify their choices with food. Hence: the apologies for eating.

Women eat. Men eat. We all eat, and we all have to make a plethora of decisions about food every single day.

In an ideal world, we would all have a good relationship with food, so these decisions would be made so that the choices are ones that are best for our bodies and minds. (Note: and minds!) However, when your decision-making is tainted by an unhealthy relationship with food, these choices are often made based on other factors.

For example, you might not order the cheesecake because you feel like you don’t deserve it without a workout. You might skip breakfast because you think you’d rather miss the calories and just be hungry until lunch. You might not go for seconds when you’re still hungry after a meal because the thinner girl sitting beside you didn’t finish her firsts. In reality, very few of these kinds of decisions have your true best interests in mind.*

But making those decisions day-to-day isn’t easy. After all, how do you know how to make those decisions? How do you know which ones are right for you?

Well, it starts with a healthy relationship with food: a relationship where you eat mindfully and make food choices based on what your body wants and needs— where you aren’t bothered by the flawed politics of eating.

But like I said, it isn’t easy. However, here are 5 thought patterns to avoid if you want to give it a try.

1. Comparing your food with other people’s food.

Everyone eats differently. Why? No two people have the same body.

If you look at any two people’s diets, you’re going to find a whole lot of differences in needs, preferences, and, frankly, biology. So there’s absolutely no reason to feel guilty over eating a larger portion than someone else. There’s no reason to feel guilty about eating a big breakfast in the morning when your coworker always skips it. Your judgements about your choices don’t need to come from other people’s choices and how they compare.

In addition to that, why would you make decisions about your eating based on someone else’s? If someone else only wants a side salad for lunch, that doesn’t mean that’s what you want and need to get, too— especially if you’re feeling more hungry than that. On the other end of the spectrum, say you’re hanging out with someone and he or she decides to binge eat a pint of ice cream while watching TV. If you’re perfectly content without, you don’t have to join them – although if you want to, go right ahead.

In summary, it doesn’t matter if you eat more, less, or “better” than anyone else. What matters is how you eat for you. That, friends, is what you should compare.

2. Coming up with excuses or justifications for eating food or being hungry.

If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. Doesn’t matter if you worked out this morning or not, if you’re really freaking hungry at lunchtime, go ahead and get a big lunch and don’t apologize for it. You’re allowed – even if you also had a big breakfast.

If your body is hungry, there’s a reason. It’s smarter than you are, and it gives you a lot of signals about what it wants and needs. LISTEN TO THEM.

Additionally, skipping the apology or justification for what you’re eating serves as a good example for others who are struggling with the same thing. If you don’t feel the need to excuse yourself by saying “I had a light lunch” before grabbing a snack before dinner, whatever person you’re with likely won’t feel the need to, either. Lead by example. Maybe someday we’ll all feel like we can make whatever decisions we want, without excuses or apologies. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

3. Shaming yourself for food choices you’ve already made.

Guess what? What’s done is done. And guess what else? IT DIDN’T KILL YOU. That one choice didn’t ruin your life. So why dwell on it?

Here’s an example. If you felt awful (physically, I mean) after an emotional binge on junk food, instead of dwelling on the mistake, feeling badly about yourself, and likely repeating the same mistake again because you aren’t valuing yourself or your body when you’re upset, use the experience to make different decisions in the future. See how you feel when you do, and use that information again. There’s nothing productive about shaming yourself. Ultimately, this shame only decreases your own self-esteem and sense of self-worth, which has actually been proven to adversely affect health in the long run.

Love yourself, and eat like you love yourself, too.

4. Worrying about what others think about what you’re eating.

Think someone might judge you for getting 2 slices of pizza? Think someone might think you don’t deserve the cookie because you don’t have a 6-pack? RIDICULOUS. I mean, really: WHO. CARES.

According to science, it’s been proven that people think others are paying attention to them WAY more than they actually are. There’s even a name for it: the spotlight effect. So these suspicions that others are making judgements are scientifically improbable.

Chances are, others aren’t noticing or thinking about what you’re eating, nor do they care. And if they do, that’s more their problem and is more about their potentially-negative relationship with food than yours (refer to #1). Don’t let their negativity bring you down. #YOUDOYOU

5. Bragging about not eating or about eating small amounts.

Question: why do people feel pride or look for validation in NOT eating? I’ve had more than a few experiences where people tell me they’re eating “only a protein bar” for dinner and get surprised when I don’t reply with “good for you!”.

And why don’t I? Because, to be blunt, I don’t care. And because on another level, I’m doubtful that they were making decisions that were good for their bodies, or that satisfied what they actually wanted. If they had approached me and instead said, “I went out and treated myself to this delicious, healthy meal yesterday!” then I’d likely think, “Wow, that’s great!” even if that meal amounted to 700 calories instead of the protein bar’s 180. It’s not an accomplishment to deprive your body. Stop acting like it is one.

I’m asking this because idealizing deprivation sets a really bad example for others. If you act like it’s an accomplishment, other people might think they’re failing at some achievement by eating appropriate amounts. This can only perpetuate unhealthy and restrictive mindsets, for both you and others. Bragging about depriving yourself is not good for you, and it’s not good for other people. Eat well, and eat often— that’s my advice.

So there you have it: my two cents on how to achieve a positive mindset surrounding food.

Of course, I’m in no place to preach either. I’m not perfect. I definitely don’t have a 100% positive and healthy relationship with food— does anyone? But I am trying to live out being mindful of these 5 things day-to-day, and I can tell you from experience that I’ve felt a huge shift in mindset because of it. It also just feels a whole lot better. Self-love always wins. ❤️

*NOTE: Deciding not to get cheesecake is not always a bad decision, that isn’t my point. If you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle, skipping cheesecake for the sake of your health may be in your best interests. However, if you’re skipping it because of hatred of yourself or shame, it likely isn’t. There is a distinct difference.

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About The Author

Holly is a senior at Northeastern University from Boca Raton, FL, where she is a double major in English and Mathematics. She loves books, math, and all things nerdy, as well as fitness. Holly is a group fitness instructor at her school's gym and at BURN Fitness Studios. Her favorite classes right now focus on HIIT training and cardio boxing.

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