A Healthy Relationship with Food
May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month, so it is important to recognize the relationship that food and mental health share. University is a hotspot for stress and financial instability, which can lead to insecurities and compromises with overall health. According to the World Health Organization, Mental health defined is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Food can be a huge stressor for many students, especially after leaving home for the first time. Diet culture demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others. However, food is not the bad guy, and it should not be feared, avoided, or controlled. Food choices should be decided on feelings, cravings and needs – not external rules. Normal, healthy eating is more than the foods we eat. It’s also about where, when, why and how we eat, including taking advantage of meaningful food-related experiences and social interactions.
Below are some tips to help develop a healthy relationship with your food, which will overall better your mental health:
Listen to your body: We were born with cues telling us when we are hungry and when we are full. Tune into these cues: eat if you feel hungry, stop when you are comfortably full. Pay attention to how foods make you feel. Do you feel sluggish? Or do you feel energized? Eating by a set of rules or restrictions can lead to losing these cues. Slow down and listen to what your body is telling you.
Remove Judgement: Putting labels like “good” or “bad”, “clean” or “dirty” on foods is not only mentally exhausting, but it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. Normal eating is eating all foods you like, whether it is fruits, veggies, cookies, or cake. There is room for treats that give us pure pleasure when the majority of foods you eat nourish you. One day you may have a lot of vegetables, the next day you may have none and that is okay.
Forget the numbers: Whether it be the Freshman 15 or the Third Year 30, your body weight does not define you. Our weight fluctuates all the time for a variety of reasons and is not the primary factor on establishing a healthy status. The same goes for calories on menus. Read more about that in a previous blog post here. Focus on the way foods make you feel rather than numbers.
Use your resources: Queen’s offers many resources for its students. Speak with the hospitality dietitian, sit down with the campus counsellors or health promotion team, visit the anonymous food banks by the AMS, participate in the Swipe It Forward meal donation program, check out the local discounts for students on Food for You, or read the dietitian’s blog. More campus resources are below:
- Allergies on campus
- Student Wellness Services
- AMS Health and Wellness Resources
- Canada’s New Food Guide
If you currently do not have a healthy relationship with food, I encourage you to seek support. It won’t change overnight, but the biggest step is to recognize your behaviour and to address them.