How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food
by Erik Castiglione
I think it’s a fair assumption that most of us here at CrossFit Relentless are fairly health conscious. We are, after all, members of a CrossFit gym. As health conscious people, we’re also aware that nutrition and eating habits play a very big role in our overall health and fitness (if you weren’t, you are now). However, many of us can take things too far when it comes to nutrition. While anorexia and bulimia are extreme examples, it is possible to develop an unhealthy relationship with food without reaching those levels. These unhealthy relationships can lead to poor nutrition and exercise habits. The goal of this article is to discuss indicators of an unhealthy relationship with food, and strategies for developing a healthier one.
When it comes to nutrition and lifestyle, the most important aspect for getting results and staying healthy is consistency. Eating healthy consistently will yield better results than the occasional 30-day challenge, followed by months of poor habits. Whatever dietary lifestyle you choose needs to be sustainable. Eating 100% clean all year long isn’t sustainable for most of us. It leads to mental burn out, and psychological cravings for a binge. If you’re seriously prepping for a competition, dialing in your nutrition leading up to the competition is imperative. The rest of the year, try to eat healthy 80% of the time.
Eating 80% healthy does not mean that you get a weekly binge day. It means you get to treat yourself occasionally (a couple times a week, not at every meal). This brings us to an important strategy for healthy eating and having a healthy relationship with food – the idea of a treat. With terms like “King Sized” and “Big Gulp” and “Super-Sized”, the idea of a treat has largely been lost in this country. A treat should be a small indulgence that helps to satisfy a craving. It is also important to remove the word “cheat” from your lexicon. A treat has a positive connotation, while a cheat has a negative one. For example, a couple of Oreos is a treat. An entire sleeve is not. Try to save treats for days on which you exercise, and make sure to eat them after getting in your protein and greens.
If you don’t have the willpower to stop after treating yourself, and are worried that you will binge, fear not! You can try to find a buffer food. A buffer food is something with a similar flavor that will give you a taste of what you’re craving, without pushing you over the edge. For example, I love milk chocolate. With Halloween around the corner and candy EVERYWHERE, I know that I’m going to have a hard time stopping with a single fun sized Kit Kat bar. Rather than risk crushing an entire bag of Kit Kats (I’ve done this on numerous occasions), I eat chocolate rice cakes. They have just enough of a chocolate taste to satisfy my craving without the sugar triggering a desire for more. This is huge for me right now because I’m in a weight cut and can’t afford a binge.
After my meet in November, when I no longer need to cut weight, you can be sure that I’m going to binge. For those of you not in competition season, the occasional binge is a good thing (by occasional, I mean monthly at most, not weekly). The emotional and mental benefit from a binge will make sticking to your 80% healthy eating much easier. If you know you’re going to binge, enjoy it and get it out of your system, but don’t make it a weekly habit. Again, your diet should be sustainable. Weekly binges usually lead to weight gain, and this is not sustainable for health. Oscar Wilde said it best, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Finally, to have a healthy relationship with food, it is important that you do not beat yourself up over bad decisions. If you don’t make the best choice for a meal, it’s not the end of the world. Nor is it an excuse to throw discipline to the wind and have an unscheduled binge you had a stack of pancakes for breakfast. Similarly, don’t try to punish yourself at the gym to “burn off the _________ “you had with lunch. This mindset leads to the association of exercise with punishment. Exercise is a good thing, not a punishment. If you made a poor nutritional choice, shake it off and make a better decision with the next meal rather than dwelling on it and feeling guilty. Remember that you are always one meal away from getting back on track.
At the end of the day, our goal at CrossFit Relentless is to encourage healthy living. A diet is temporary, a lifestyle is sustainable. To make sure that you have a healthy relationship with food, remember these key strategies:
- Eat healthy 80% of the time all year long rather than doing the occasional challenge or cleanse
- Embrace the term “treat”, and ditch the term “cheat”
- Treat yourself a couple times weekly, binge infrequently
- Use buffer foods if you’re worried about lack of willpower between binges
- Exercise for fun, not for punishment
- Food is a pleasure, so enjoy your binges and stop it with the guilt
- Take it meal by meal, and remember that it only takes 1 meal to get back on track