• Many of us have complicated relationships with body-image and eating

  • Clinical psychologist Dr Romi Ran outlines some strategies to build a more peaceful relationship with food

  • We have therapists who specialise in disordered eating – find them here

Our relationship with food, eating, and our bodies is complex, often entangled in societal expectations, personal insecurities, and misconceptions. People of all ages, genders, and cultures can face challenges with food and body image, from teenagers, to people in their twenties and thirties right up to older adults. They all have one thing in common – they are all grappling with worries and concerns about body size, dietary trends, and changing appetites and body shapes; the struggle is universal and profound. 

To be able to feel good and thrive it is essential to our wellbeing to cultivate a peaceful food-body relationship as it impacts not just our physical health but also our emotional and psychological health as well.

There are a number of signs someone might be struggling with disordered eating and negative body image but the good news is there are many effective strategies to address and heal these challenges, offering guidance for those seeking a healthier, more balanced relationship with food and their bodies.

How to spot the signs of a troubled food-body relationship

1. Obsessive focus on diet

This includes meticulously counting calories, obsessing over 'clean eating,' and allowing food choices to dictate daily life. Such an approach often leads to a fraught relationship with food, where eating becomes a source of stress rather than enjoyment.

2. Self-worth tied to body image

When self-esteem becomes heavily reliant on physical appearance or adherence to dietary norms, it can lead to a cycle of negative self-evaluation and dissatisfaction, regardless of actual health or body shape.

3. Guilt and eating

This involves feelings of guilt or shame when deviating from strict dietary rules or when indulging in certain foods. This emotional burden can transform eating from a pleasurable activity into a source of anxiety and shame.

4. Ignoring internal signals

When we prioritise diet trends or societal norms over our innate hunger and satiety cues, we lose touch with the body’s wisdom, potentially leading to physical and psychological imbalances.

5. Dismissing nourishment needs

This includes not only physical nourishment but also emotional and mental, leading to a one-dimensional approach to health that neglects the holistic nature of wellbeing.

6. Feeling undeserving

A pervasive sense of not deserving to enjoy food, or to eat according to what the body needs, often rooted in deeper issues of self-worth and body image, can further exacerbate a troubled relationship with food.

7. Social withdrawal

Avoiding social gatherings due to fear of food-related judgment or anxiety about eating habits can lead to a sense of isolation and loneliness.

8. Negative self-perception

A troubled relationship with food is often intertwined with a negative self-image, impacting confidence and self-esteem, and potentially affecting professional and personal relationships.

Strategies for building a peaceful food-body relationship

To start building a better food-body relationship there are a number of strategies to try. You might find that a combination of a few approaches work for you but as you get started be gentle and compassionate with yourself and experiment with what works best. If the thought of going it alone seems daunting you might find it helpful to seek out the support of a professional. 

1. Mindful eating

Engaging all senses during meals by appreciating the colours, flavours, aromas, and textures of food, and acknowledging the nourishment it provides. Mindful eating fosters a deeper connection with food and helps in recognising and respecting the body’s cues.

2. Listening to your body

Tuning into and respecting hunger and fullness signals, and understanding the types of food your body needs at different times, helps in establishing a more trusting relationship with what, when, and how much the body needs to eat.

3. Body neutrality

Shifting focus from appearance to functionality and health, appreciating the body for what it can do rather than how it looks, fosters a healthier and more realistic relationship with body image and promotes self-respect.

4. Questioning food rules

Challenging and dismantling rigid dietary beliefs and rules, and allowing flexibility and moderation in eating habits can lead to a more balanced and less stressful approach to food.

5. Joy in eating

Rediscovering the pleasure in eating, enjoying a variety of foods without attaching guilt or judgment, can transform the eating experience into one of celebration.

6. Positive self-talk

Cultivating a compassionate inner dialogue, replacing critical or judgmental thoughts with affirmations of self-care and acceptance, is crucial in healing the food-body relationship.

7. Mindful movement

Engaging in physical activities that are enjoyable and fulfilling, rather than just for exercise or calorie burning. This promotes a positive connection with your body through movement and loosens the associations and habit patterns that coexist with the idea of exercise.

8. Comfortable clothing choices

Choosing clothes that fit comfortably and make you feel good, rather than focusing on size labels. This is an act of compassion and elicits a sense of worthiness and deservedness no matter what size you are.

9. Reducing comparisons

Actively avoiding comparing your body or what you eat with others. Recognising the uniqueness of each body encourages self-acceptance and diminishes negative self-judgment.

10. Practicing gratitude

Cultivating a sense of gratitude for your body's capabilities, the food you have access to, and the resources available for nourishment. This broadens the scope of appreciation, encompassing not just physical appearance but the entire experience of being nourished and alive.

11. Curating positive media

Selecting social media content that promotes diverse body types and positive messages. This helps create a more realistic, supportive, and uplifting digital environment.

12. Seeking supportive environments

Surrounding yourself with people and communities that encourage a healthy relationship with food and body. This provides reinforcement and a sense of shared experience.

Embarking on the path to a peaceful food-body relationship is a process of relearning and unlearning. It requires embracing a compassionate, mindful approach to eating and body image, and letting go of harmful beliefs and behaviours. This journey is not about achieving perfection but about moving towards a place of balance, respect, and peace with food and our bodies, where nourishment comes not just from what we eat but also from how we think and feel.

Dr Romi Ran is a clinical psychologist specialising and the author of Bite Sized Peace

Further reading

My recovery from food addiction and disordered eating

6 ways to break the binge-diet cycle

Guilt, shame and your relationship with food

9 ways counselling can help you overcome an eating disorder