Factors that Contribute to an Unhealthy Relationship with Food and Body

The relationship we have with food and our bodies can be very complex and are usually not mutually exclusive. Even if you are someone who hasn’t necessarily struggled in these areas, being a human in today’s society means you have at least been impacted by the many external messages we receive about food and our bodies in some way. In my work as a therapist for nearly a decade, I have worked with a great number of clients who have been diagnosed with eating disorders, as well as those who may not meet criteria for an eating disorder, but are working to better understand and change unhealthy dynamics they have with food and body. It is rare to meet someone who has never had challenging thoughts, emotions, or behaviors around food and body that have negatively impacted them to some degree. There can be many opinions and ideas about what it means to have an unhealthy relationship with food and body. However, for the context of this blog we will be defining an unhealthy relationship with food and body as thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that create, distress, and/or impair functioning.

So why do so many of us have current or past challenges with food and body image? Some of the most common contributing factors to this are: 

  • The relationship our parents/caregivers have with food and body
  • The messages media sends us about what “good bodies” look like
  • Misleading and sometimes harmful information from popular weight loss programs, supplements, and medications
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Misinformation about nutrition that is not based in science and research-based evidence
  • Experiences of trauma or abuse

Navigating and managing the often consuming thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that come from an unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies can be extremely challenging, especially when we don’t have the right information or supportive people to talk about it with. 

If you are currently struggling with wanting to have a healthier relationship with food and body and don’t know where to start, here are some great first steps that could make this possible:

  • Working with a registered dietician to understand the science behind how foods of all kinds truly impact our bodies and mind, and to challenge any myths we may have about food and our bodies that come from diet culture.
  • Working with a licensed therapist to explore and understand the current relationship you have with food and your body and ways you would like it to change.
  • Creating a definition of health that is not limited to your size or the number on the scale
  • Reminding yourself about what your body does for you in order to develop other ways to understand and appreciate it.
  • Following social media and research that includes HAES (health at every size) content.

Food and body image play a huge role in our mental and physical health. Everyone’s body and circumstances are different, which is why it is so important to make sure we have the opportunity to educate ourselves and the space to explore and understand how we want to think about and engage with food and our bodies. Although taking these steps can be hard, there is so much inner peace that can come from doing this kind of work in terms of prevention of and recovery from eating disorders and related issues. I’d love to help you along this journey. Reach out for a consultation today!

By: Melissa Martin, LCPC

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