Our relationship with food is not easily defined, it has multiple aspects to be considered. Emotional, social, psychological, and physiological.
Food is one of the basic human rights, without food we are not able to sustain our energy nor carry out everyday activities. That’s physiologically speaking; however, food has a place in our hearts for other purposes as well. We all love food; it brings people together and fills us with happiness. These are social and emotional bonds with food. We also have psychological relations with food, for example using food as a coping mechanism.
Moreover, opposed to popular belief, a bad relationship with food is not defined by eating disorders alone, like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Many other behaviors of disordered eating, dieting behaviors, and mindsets about shape and weight are unrecognized
In definition, disordered eating is when an individual expresses unusual eating habits. As the case in many, but not all, these behaviors are because of worrying about body image.
It was found by a study conducted in 2007 that 3 in 4 women between the ages of 25 to 45 had disordered eating behaviors, while 1 in 10 was suffering from eating disorders. Moreover, out of the 4,023 American women surveyed, 74.5% said that “their concerns about shape and weight interfered with their happiness.”
This article will discuss several signs that may indicate a strained relationship with food.
Number 1, constantly worrying about body image
Today we are living in a society that focuses heavily on weight and body image. Many teenagers are the victims of this strict culture, an estimate of 35% of British adolescents went on a restricting diet or reduced their food intake because of body image concerns.
A study conducted by Argyrides, M., Anastasiades, E., & Alexiou, E. (2020). revealed that the most threatening factor that causes individuals of both genders to develop eating disorders is body image concern.
Jane Caro, Programme Lead for Families, Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation said: “Our survey has shown that millions of young people in Britain are worrying about their body image. Worries about body image can lead to mental health problems and in some instances are linked to self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings.”
Furthermore, with the increase of social media influence, many viewers are affected by how society will perceive them. TikTok health trends are increasing at an alarming rate and teenagers are following them blindly without seeking advice from health professionals. Some social media platforms are boasting ideals to be thin and presenting close-minded views to have a curvy body and shaming any body types that are not up to standards. Pressure from social media increases the risk of developing disordered eating habits and therefore compromising the relationship with food.
In addition, how you feel about your body has a deep impact on your self-esteem. When you start thinking negatively about your body image, such as ‘I don’t like the way I look’ or ‘ I wish I looked like this celebrity or model’, it will create a cycle of harmful thoughts that will put down your self-esteem. In this situation, you will ignore all the other good characteristics you have and focus only on the shortcomings. The reason because if you hate a part of yourself it will be difficult to feel good about yourself.
Number 2, food obsession
Are you constantly thinking about food? You just finished breakfast, yet you are planning what you will have for lunch, or when you finished dinner and you are thinking of breakfast the second morning.
To a degree these thoughts are normal, you want to plan your day and make sure the ingredients are available for your next meal. However, there is a thin borderline between normal and obsession. Food obsession can be so extreme to the point that you will always be asking yourself what, how, where, and why am I going to eat.
Constantly thinking about food can impair daily activities. It can decrease productivity because instead of using this time to accomplish a task we are busy thinking about food or preparing it. In this case, there will be a loss of concentration because your thoughts are occupied with food rather than the moment.
A good example is people suffering from Orthorexia Nervosa, a psychological condition where individuals have an extreme concern about eating healthy. They spend hours perfecting their meal plans, reading labels on products in the grocery store to meet healthy standards, and cooking the meal.
Strahler, J., Hermann, A., Walter, B., & Stark, R. (2018) reported cases of women with Orthorexia Nervosa that presented with life unsatisfaction, higher stress levels, as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression.
In addition, food obsession comes in different colors as well, it is not only about occupying your thoughts, but it can also evolve to the point that your whole life will be defined by the food you eat only. For example, when you go on a vacation or hang out with friends the whole trip will be revolving around which restaurant you will go to and what will you order to eat.
Number 3, emotional eating
Emotional eating refers to the practice of overconsuming food in response to negative feelings such as anger, stress, anxiety, and disappointment. For instance, rewarding yourself with a cookie after doing your homework, or eating a tub of ice cream and watching Netflix after a long day at work.
These habits have become almost like a routine for us. Furthermore, society’s influence has caused us to develop these habits. It might seem simple and innocent, but it is a double-edged sword. If one gets used to it, soothing their emotions with food every time, then it could grow into a bigger problem.
Health-wise, the increase in food intake will pose risks of developing diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Because individuals will consume food not in response to hunger calls from their stomachs, but because of a disturbance in their emotions. In addition, psychologically this practice of eating spurred by emotions could pave the path for binge eating episodes.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the world by adding extra precaution measures, forcing lockdowns, and changing the everyday life we used to know, caused a huge negative impact on our lives and emotions. Research proved several citizens of countries across the world were victims of emotional eating due to the severe lockdown measures. People in Spain, Greece, and Italy have sought solace in food, increasing their intake to feel better and less anxious. (Papandreou, Arija, Aretouli, Tsilidis, & Bulló, 2020). (Di Renzo et al., 2020)
Moreover, a third of individuals with no previous history of eating disordered described a rise in binge eating activities as opposed to before the pandemic. (Phillipou et al., 2020).
One must practice restraint when it comes to food, and even more so when you are not feeling well emotionally.
In conclusion, eating food is an activity that must be carefully exercised. Our relationship with food is a complex one and some signs indicate it is bad, such as concerns about body image, food obsession, and emotional eating. Consultation with a nutritionist and other health providers is best before embarking on any diet or deciding to change your food regimen. This will help us in avoiding falls that could cause bigger problems, as well as, gain more knowledge that makes us feel like we did the right thing.
Written by Ruqaya Shahin
1. Di Renzo L., Gualtieri P., Cinelli G., Bigioni G., Soldati L., Attinà A. Psychological aspects and eating habits during covid-19 home confinement: Results of ehlc-covid-19 Italian online survey. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):1–14. doi: 10.3390/nu12072152.
2. Papandreou C., Arija V., Aretouli E., Tsilidis K.K., Bulló M. Comparing eating behaviours, and symptoms of depression and anxiety between Spain and Greece during the COVID-19 outbreak: Cross-sectional analysis of two different confinement strategies. European Eating Disorders Review. 2020;28(6):836–846. doi: 10.1002/erv.2772.
3. Phillipou A., Meyer D., Neill E., Tan E.J., Toh W.L., Van Rheenen T.E. Eating and exercise behaviors in eating disorders and the general population during the <scp>COVID</scp> ‐19 pandemic in Australia: Initial results from the <scp>COLLATE</scp> project. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 2020;53(7):1158–1165. doi: 10.1002/eat.23317.
4. Reba-Harrelson, L., Von Holle, A., Hamer, R. M., Swann, R., Reyes, M. L., & Bulik, C. M. (2009). Patterns and prevalence of disordered eating and weight control behaviors in women ages 25-45. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 14(4), e190–e198. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03325116
5. Argyrides, M., Anastasiades, E., & Alexiou, E. (2020). Risk and Protective Factors of Disordered Eating in Adolescents Based on Gender and Body Mass Index. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(24), 9238. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17249238
6. Strahler, J., Hermann, A., Walter, B., & Stark, R. (2018). Orthorexia nervosa: A behavioral complex or a psychological condition?. Journal of behavioral addictions, 7(4), 1143–1156. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.129
7. Novara, C., Pardini, S., Maggio, E., Mattioli, S., & Piasentin, S. (2021). Orthorexia Nervosa: over concern or obsession about healthy food?. Eating and weight disorders : EWD, 26(8), 2577–2588. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-021-01110-x
8. Reichenberger, J., Schnepper, R., Arend, A. K., & Blechert, J. (2020). Emotional eating in healthy individuals and patients with an eating disorder: evidence from psychometric, experimental and naturalistic studies. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 79(3), 290–299. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665120007004
9. Body image report – executive summary. Mental Health Foundation. (2019). Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/articles/body-image-report-executive-summary
10. Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Body image, self-esteem, and mental health. Body Image, Self-Esteem, and Mental Health | Here to Help. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/body-image-self-esteem-and-mental-health