How to Have a Healthy Relationship With Food

📷:Elaine Casap

The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” – Ann Wigmore 

Close your eyes and think about the most intimate relationship you have — is it with your partner? Spouse? Children? Friends?

What about your food?

Food is necessary for our survival, and if we’re fortunate enough, it’s something we consume several times a day. Food gives our bodies pleasure, satisfaction and sustenance.

Yet, like so many of our other intimate relationships, we take our caloric partner for granted, because like air and sunlight, we expect it to always be there for us.

We use it.

We abuse it.

We live disconnected from it.

We don’t understand it.

We don’t appreciate it.

And this negative relationship we have with our food creates negative outcomes with our personal health and overall well-being. High cholesterol. Obesity. Skin conditions. Diabetes. Lethargy. All of these things are compounded and/or created by what we put into our bodies.

I know this because I’ve seen it — I’ve spent the past three decades working in the food industry and gaining insight, awareness and understanding on our food chain and consumption patterns. I went from being a personal fitness trainer in the 1990’s, to being a small farmer in 2004 and now I’m the Director of a nonprofit that advocates for sustainable agriculture and local food. I’ve been asked thousands of questions about how we can improve our relationship with food, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned with you.

Here are 5 ways you can have a healthy, loving AND meaningful relationship with your food:

1.) Live Your Truth

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📷: Raquel Martinez 

Give yourself permission to accept where you are in your reality RIGHT NOW!

You know why? Because everything you read will tell you HOW you should be eating, WHAT you should and should not be eating, but we all progress at different rates and have a different starting point. So start where you are — not where someone else is, or where someone else thinks you should start.

Maybe you binge eat chocolate and ice cream on the weekends when you’re home alone. Maybe you only eat fast food because you don’t understand how to prepare a healthy meal for yourself. Maybe you eat whatever is around because you’re too busy to put time and energy into thinking about your food. Maybe you feel that eating healthy is too expensive.  And that’s okay — being honest with yourself is the first step toward making a change in your life.

Focus first on connecting to your food, and then work one step at a time to develop a loving relationship with it.

And I know this isn’t always as simple as it seems. Trust me — I know all too well about the expense tied to healthy eating. I raised three kids as a single mom, and buying organic produce, grass fed beef and farm fresh eggs were definitely NOT in my budget. But, I wanted us to eat well and I wanted my kids to have healthy food grown without chemicals and harmful additives. I also wanted to be able to feed my children something that would nourish their bodies and not harm the planet.

But, when you can’t even make rent, it’s hard to justify spending $4 for a dozen free range organic eggs, versus 50 cents for conventional eggs.

I knew why those eggs were 50 cents a dozen. They were produced at a scale and in a way, that enabled them to be sold at that price, and that method of production did not fit the aspirations I had for my relationship with food. That was my truth, but not my reality.  

So, I began to create a list, a list of aspirations for changing my lifestyle, and healthy, farm-fresh eggs were on that list. I continued to eat the cheap eggs for a while (because that was my truth), but when I was ready and able, I made the change.

And for me, that change was a bit extreme — I opted to raise my own hens to have fresh eggs. I thought if I raised my own chickens, my meat and eggs would be “free” and healthy. Ha, well the meat and eggs were indeed healthy, but they certainly were not free! I suddenly understood WHY the good eggs were $4 per dozen. And once I understood this, I knew I could never go back.

Now, I am not suggesting that you become a farmer, (although it’s really rewarding to produce your own food!), instead I’m suggesting to be honest with yourself about where you are right now, and then ask yourself where you’d like to be. Don’t be ashamed and don’t apologize for living your truth — own it, and the use it as a launching pad to turn your desired relationship with food into your reality.

2.) Seek Joy

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📷: Jon Tyson

For God’s sake, if you hate kale, don’t eat it! I had a friend come to me one day so excited that she finally loved Kale. She proceeded to tell me about a recipe she tried, where she mixed it with this and drizzled on that and added 2 cups of this… and she finished her story with “It was delicious. You couldn’t even taste the Kale!” Wait…What?!

Find the joy in food, not a way to tolerate it! What foods do you like or love? Then eat them!

Now if you’re saying, “I love triple chocolate, fudge brownie ice cream – hooray!” Sure, eat it, but don’t confuse true joy with instant gratification. Don’t topple your aspiration for a meaningful and healthy relationship with food just because you’re stressed out after a bad day at work and that bowl of ice cream is giving you all the satisfaction that you were craving (and not receiving) from your boss.

Find the distinction between true joy and pleasure. True joy is a state of being, pleasure or instant gratification is a temporary and fleeting feeling. Think of it like the difference between a one-night-stand with a stranger, and date-night with your partner. Yes, they can both bring you pleasure, but in the morning, do you stretch out across the bed with gratitude and love, or to grab your shirt and sneak out the door? True joy, or real love, is deeper and more complex than just chocolate ice cream. It’s all the food groups. The whole package. The ice cream is there, it’s the sex, the pleasure. But a good relationship is about more than sex, it’s about friendship, loyalty, trust, all those things, the all the food groups!

Find true joy your protein, in your veggies and fruits in your carbs, in all that encompasses our food system.

3.) Constantly Explore Your Passion

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📷: Monstruo Estudio

You’re thinking about the sex and chocolate ice cream again, aren’t you? Well, I’m thinking about passion differently. It’s like foreplay or flirting. It’s before the sex and ice cream! It’s that feeling before, that makes your heart race.

Here’s a personal example — I LOVE wine. I love wine A LOT. I find true joy in drinking wine, seriously, I do! I love cheese too (duh)!

These things, especially together, bring me joy. And I am passionate about ways to experience that joy. I seek out new wines to try and different cheeses to pair it with. I read wine and cheese blogs. I’ve tried making my own wine and cheese. I explore my passion. I find my joy by expanding my passion.

After all, if you’re trying to build a healthy, lasting relationship, you begin first by getting to know your partner intimately.

But true joy and passion are not about gluttony or over indulgence. You don’t want to wake up in the morning grabbing that shirt, right? You want to lay there and watch the sunrise thinking about how that Chardonnay felt on your tongue and how the oak really connected to the earthiness of the Brie, like a journey through the forest. See, I told you I get really excited about wine and cheese!

Okay, so wine and cheese are easy. But I also find passion in herbs. What herbs can I add to a food that compliment or enhance it?

Do you find joy in puff pastry? Explore ways to use it. Make it from scratch. Do a taste test of radish varieties from the farmers’ market. What types of food bring you joy, and how can you explore them to keep the passion alive? If you don’t find ways to keep the passion alive, the joy can drift away.

4.) Have Courage

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📷Keenan Loo

Let’s talk Brussels Sprouts! I personally hated them when I was a kid!  I thought they were slimy, boiled, bitter and just gross!

And then one day, it seemed like everybody was talking about Brussels Sprouts — like they were some sexy, new food! I wondered, “What did I miss? What part of slimy, bitter yuck did I miss?

I do love most veggies in the brassica family, so I decided to have some courage and try them one day. I Googled recipes for Brussels sprouts. And what did I find? They were ROASTING them! That was what I missed! All those years I spent fighting with my Mom to clear my plate could’ve easily been avoided if she would’ve tried expanding her passion for brassicas and roasted the damn things instead of boiling them!

Find the courage to try new things!

Many people say they hate fish, but wish they liked it. If this is you — try different species! Try grilling it or poaching it. Just try it!

And when you think “Oh, hell no!!” Stop and ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I try this Puffer fish?” Okay you could die. Maybe don’t start with Puffer fish. Let’s try tuna. Take a breath, open your mind and commit to allowing yourself to experience seared tuna and take a bite. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Your gag reflexes take over and you heave it out of your mouth into your napkin and the snobby lady at the next table gives you a weird look, and so what?! You did it. You had the courage to try it – BRAVO!

When you ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?

ALWAYS follow that question with, “What’s the best thing that could happen?”  

You found joy! You love seared tuna, and now you’re going to explore that love and expand your passion. You’re going to try grilling it and topping it with that mango salsa recipe that looked so good in the magazine you read. You’re going to find a renewed excitement on sushi bar night with your friends instead of playing it safe with the avocado roll. You could find your next true love!

So have the courage to try new things — even when you don’t want to because you never know what you might end up loving!

5.) Keep it Simple, Keep it Real

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📷: Katie Smith

Do you want a healthy and lasting relationship, or do you want constant drama?

A complicated relationship is exhausting, it’s unhealthy, and to be honest, you’re going to spend a lot of precious time on something that will eventually hurt you.

A healthy relationship is real, simple and it comes naturally. Keep your relationship with food simple, real and natural.

Prepare your dishes with real, natural ingredients. Over processed foods are like that person you dated who could only meet you between the hours of 4 and 7 pm Monday through Friday. They wouldn’t meet your parents, or let you meet theirs. They traveled on business every weekend and holiday — they were hiding something from you! They weren’t being real or honest about the fact they had a wife and three kids at home and you were just another affair.

That’s over-processed and artificial foods. They are cheats and liars and they are going to hurt you someday. Show them the door!

Seek out restaurants, markets, ingredients and recipes that are fresh, healthy and simple. Shop at your local farmers’ market. Get to know your farmer, your baker, your butcher and your cheesemaker. Visit micro-breweries and local wineries. Find the simple pleasures that bring you joy, expand your passion, give you courage, and that is where you will find your next true love.  Cheers!


About Tracy Emrick: Tracy lives in Ohio and is a self-proclaimed foodie, recovering small farmer and currently, the Executive Director of a nonprofit that advocates for food and farm entrepreneurs, farmland preservation and local food access and education.

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