Food as Therapy: The Dark Side

Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine food.” I can totally get behind that. In fact, I have based my business on the fact that whole food, sunshine, and healthy movement is the best medicine. Eat well to be well, I always say.

But what happens when a person’s relationship to food becomes unhealthy? Even medicines prescribed to help people can be abused. Food can be misused in the same way. What I’m talking about is stress eating, emotional eating, using food to replace fulfilling relationships, yo-yo dieting, eating because you are bored, or even feeling shame around when, what, and how much you’re eating. I have even had a person tell me that there was no way she was going to give up her Oreos because they were the only constant in her life.

I’m sure you can relate. I can. You’ve had a hard day that you really had to slog through, so you decide that you deserve a treat on the way home. Or, the one that gets me, something went really well so you think you deserve a treat to reward yourself. Maybe you are just accustomed to having popcorn or chips while watching tv at night and simply don’t think about it.

We even do it to our kids, rewarding them with ice cream for getting good grades or making the team. I did it the other day. But is this setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy behaviors concerning food? Isn’t this how we started down this road to begin with? Should we really be using food as a reward for our kids as we do for our dogs?

And probably the most important question…

How do we break this cycle?

Many of us are carrying around extra weight because of some form of dysfunctional eating. Maybe we eat because we’re bored, lonely, or sad. Maybe we make poor food choices because we are busy, tired, or stressed. Additionally, you may be trying to get this extra weight off, and doing all of the “right” things, but all it is doing is making you feel restricted and hungry, which in turn causes you to binge whenever something “bad” is around. Then you feel bad about your choices (and the food itself makes you feel unwell) and the cycle continues. You feel overwhelmed by food choices. What is good or bad seems to change daily and honestly depends on who you talk to. These things are totally relatable. Who hasn’t driven through the fast food joint because they are too tired, hungry, or crushed for time to cook a proper meal?

If you look at the above examples, none of them happen because of the food itself. They are a product of mindset. So, it makes sense that the first thing to change should be our minds. Below are some tips on how to change your thinking to improve your relationship with food.

Insider tip: On Monday I will be announcing a new program designed to help you understand and conquer emotional eating, thereby helping you create a better relationship with food and your body so you can lose weight happily and keep it off for good. Be sure to follow my Facebook page to be the first to hear about this exciting new program and support group with personal coaching by me!

Questions to ask yourself before making food choices:

  1. What am I really hungry for? When you are staring into the fridge at 10 o’clock at night, you aren’t hungry for food. Maybe you’re lonely, feeling unfulfilled in some other area, or simply sleepy. Food will fix none of these things. Close the fridge and pick up your journal instead.
  2. Am I eating good stuff or just stuff? Is what you are putting in your body going to make your body better or worse? Every bite of food does something in your body. Processed food might fill up your belly for now, but will sap your superpowers, crash your energy reserves, and over time will cause disease. Whole food–like fresh veggies, leafy greens, quality protein, and healthy fats–will give you superpowers, increase your energy, and prevent disease at the cellular level.
  3. Will I feel bad about this later? Just like in relationships with men, relationships with food have the potential to cause guilt, shame, and lingering bad feelings. But unlike mistakes made with men, one slip up with food won’t ruin your whole life. Be proactive about your decisions, but if you happen to make a poor one, let it go. Admit that you made a mistake, file it away for future reference, and move on. Don’t let one slip up put you on a downward spiral. Besides, if you didn’t slip up every once in a while, you wouldn’t appreciate how good you feel when you eat well. And it’s not just you, we all do it.
  4. Is this food going to make me feel better or worse? When we are talking about emotional eating, we usually mean that we are replacing a primary need (love, acceptance, connection, validation, etc.) with food. It’s a quick fix, but not a sustainable solution. You may feel better right away, but worse later. Work these feelings out before you reach for the snack bag.
  5. What would happen if I didn’t eat? Often times, if there isn’t a good choice to be had where I am, like at an airport or a theme park, I will simply not eat. If I go for an extra hour or two (or 12), I will not fade away. I have plenty of fat reserves to keep my body going without the junk food. Of course, in order to do this without being uncomfortable, you will have to eat a healthy diet rich in veggies, healthy fat, and quality proteins the rest of the time. That way your body won’t be reliant on quick carbs as a constant fuel source and you can actually tap into your fat reserves.
  6. What can I use as a reward or a comfort that doesn’t involve food? I keep a stash of little toys hidden in my bedroom just for little rewards. Did you do well on your report card? Instead of going out for ice cream, she gets a little toy or a trip to the park. For me, I like to reward myself with a warm Epsom Salt bath or an afternoon off, but I find that the way I feel when I leave out the junk is rewarding enough.

Mindful eating is what all of these questions have in common. If you are eating mindfully you will not eat that whole bag of Doritos. What I mean is, look at your food, smell it, take a bite, take time to chew it, swallow it, then ask yourself if you want another bite or if you are good. It’s when we mindlessly shove food into our mouths while doing something else that we overeat or eat poorly.

So, have the cake, but savor each bite. You may be completely satisfied with only a tiny sliver when you pay close attention to it. Then, let go of the guilt. You didn’t wreck your diet. Just don’t make it a habit. You’ve got this!

An unhealthy relationship with food doesn’t have to be as extreme as anorexia or bulimia, but these conditions are serious. If you believe you or someone you love has one of these conditions, please seek the help of a qualified professional (start here National Eating Disorders Association Helpline1-800-931-2237).


Published by donawinger

As a certified holistic health coach, my purpose is to inspire others to make mindful​ choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life with real food and a growth mindset.

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