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How do I know if I have an unhealthy relationship with food?

Author: Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore


To understand what an unhealthy relationship with food looks like, it can be helpful to first have an idea of what a healthy one looks like. A healthy relationship with food can take some work and conscious effort, but it is well worth the work because it allows us to have a flexible, healthy, and balanced relationship with our eating habits and food in general. A healthy relationship with food means giving yourself permission to nourish your body with proper nutrition, while allowing yourself to find pleasure in food and eating, both physically and mentally.

What are some signs of a healthy relationship with food?

  • Moving away from dieting and strict rules around food and eating

  • Being aware of what your body needs and its natural hunger cues

  • Permission to enjoy a variety of foods, not labeling foods as "good" or "bad"

  • Focusing on nutrition over calories

  • An understanding that your worth or value is not defined by what you do or do not eat

  • Taking away feelings of shame and/or guilt regarding food choices

If you are unsure where you stand on the spectrum of having a healthy relationship with food, this anonymous, 8-question screener can give some insight:

We can also reflect on this by evaluating our quality of life and everyday functioning as it pertains to food. Below are some questions you can ask yourself to check in:

  • Does food impact the decisions you make around activities or events to participate in?

  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed after eating?

  • How much of your time and thoughts go toward eating and food choices?

  • Do you feel you need to exert too much control about food choices?

  • Do you feel anxious about making decisions around them?Are there worries regarding weight gain or becoming overweight?

  • How would you describe the role food plays in your life?

  • Is there discomfort eating in front of others for fear of judgment?

  • Do you hide food or wait to eat when you are alone?

  • Is eating out at restaurants or eating food prepared by others a challenge for you?

  • Do you feel "out of control" when you are eating? Foods that are hyperpalatable (processed foods) can make it difficult for us to listen to our intuitive food cues (hunger and satiety cues), and this can contribute to feeling out of control with food. Restricting food can also perpetuate a cycle of feeling unable to regulate or listen to body cues (restrict-binge cycle)

An unhealthy relationship with food can also look like feeling the need to "earn" your meals through exercise or restriction, feeling guilt over food choices, having strict rules around eating and portions, and focusing on the caloric content of the food you eat instead of the nourishment it offers you. Unhealthy eating exists on a spectrum, and so do the habits and symptoms that come with it.

There is no universal diet that works for everyone. If you find that you struggle to have a healthy relationship with food, it is important to allow yourself compassion and patience by recognizing that it is completely normal to have a changing relationship with food during different phases of your life. It can be helpful to reflect on where your values regarding food and eating came from, what external influences have played a role in that, and how you'd like to approach your relationship with food now. Hold space for yourself as you reflect on these points and give yourself the flexibility to adopt a new way of thinking about this topic in a balanced and mindful way.

At the core of it, having a healthy relationship with food and eating comes down to a focus on nourishment, respecting your needs around hunger and enjoyment, and granting yourself flexibility and compassion when it comes to your food choices.


About the author

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Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore provides web-based eating disorders prevention resources to support BC youth, families, educators and professionals. Visit us at


Q&A is for readers who want to take charge of their well-being, support a friend or loved one, find good help, or just learn more about mental health and substance use. Here, the information and resource experts at HeretoHelp will answer the questions that we’re asked most often. We'll offer tips and information, and we'll connect you with help in BC, Canada. If you have a question you’d like to ask, email us at [email protected], tweet @heretohelpbc, or log in to HeretoHelp and post a comment on this page.


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