I have a confession to make: I’ve struggled for years with my relationship with food.

Years ago, I was addicted to junk food, and it caused me to become overweight and feel bad about myself. To beat this addiction, I tried numerous diets, failing at them and developing a fear and also craving of food that I saw as unhealthy. Over the years, I developed food phobias, telling myself I couldn’t eat Pop-Tarts and sugar cereals and other “bad” foods. I loved French fries and pizza, but thought I shouldn’t eat them.

This worked for me, because I started eating healthier and losing weight. But the food phobias didn’t go away, and even to this day I sometimes struggle with them. I fear getting fat if I overeat the foods that tempt me.

These days, I am working on developing a healthier relationship with food. It’s a slow process, to be sure. But I’m learning.

I want to talk about some of the things I’ve learned, in hopes that it might help you on your journey. Some of you have always had a healthy relationship with food, but many others have issues like mine.

How We View Food

The first area is in how we look at food. It’s complicated, because we tend to see food in so many ways: it’s pleasure, one of the great joys in life, a way to satisfy hunger but also cravings. Food gives us comfort, is used for stress relief and sadness relief and a way to unwind after a long tiring day. Food tempts us and causes long-term health problems when abused. Food is a way to socialize and show love. Or food is something to avoid.

But a healthy relationship with food means tossing all of this out. Start to see food as just a way to get nutrition and the energy you need to live a healthy life. That’s all.

That’s really what food is, but we endow it with all of these other properties and functions, when that’s really all in our minds. It’s how we’ve learned to see food, but in the end, it doesn’t have to be more than a way of nourishing ourselves. Not a way to get comfort, not a thing to avoid.

We should also start to see that food isn’t good or bad. No food is forbidden. We don’t have to split them into “healthy” foods or “unhealthy” foods. In fact, all foods can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, but some should be done in moderation (the ones that don’t provide a lot of nutrients for the energy they give us) and others like vegetables should be prioritized.

While you don’t have to see food as a way to find pleasure, you can eat food and enjoy it. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good dessert or delicious meal, but that’s not your main reason for eating. It’s a side benefit, and you’re free to enjoy it.

Mindfulness & Hunger

Developing mindfulness around your eating, cravings, and fullness levels is one of the best ways to form a healthy relationship with food.

Mindfulness helps you to see when you’re eating for hunger or for another reason. When you’re about to eat some food, get into the habit of asking why you want to eat it. Are you actually physically hungry? If not, what’s your reason? It helps to keep a food journal — what you eat, when and what you’re feeling at the time. This allows you to start to see the relationship between what you’re eating and why.

Mindfulness allows you to eat while truly tasting the food, and noticing how full you’re feeling. It allows you to stop when you’re moderately full, before you’re overfull.

You can become aware of your fullness levels before, during and after you eat. And in fact, you can also learn not to fear hunger. Yes, it’s fine to eat when you’re hungry, but it’s not something you need to worry about too much. You can go an hour or two (or more) and be hungry, with no bad consequences. That doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself either, but you can learn that hunger isn’t anything to panic about.

Undoing Old Habits

A lot of developing a healthy relationship with food is undoing old habits that have formed over the years. Some habits you might want to work on changing:


In the end, the Middle Path we discussed in the lesson on Food Aversions is the way to a good relationship: don’t cling too tightly to cravings or aversions to foods, but rather be balanced in your heart towards everything.

Practice the equanimity meditation we discussed in the webinar, and see that you can hold everything on your plate, everything around you, with a loving gaze.

Develop a friendly attitude towards your cravings and aversions as they come up, smile at your guilt, urges, temptations, whatever arises. Smile too at the bumps in the road, and keep going even if you falter. Make friends with your feelings about your food and your body, facing these feelings instead of running from them.

This is a learning process, so what I’ve described in this article doesn’t have to be achieved overnight. Continue to practice with these ideas, and you’ll be able to make food choices without affliction, be balanced in your approach to nurturing yourself, and have joy as you make your way along the path.