Recognizing distinct signs when your relationship with food may be dysfunctional is an important factor in achieving a quality lifestyle. These five symptoms can help you deduce if you experience an unhealthy connection with food.
1. Preoccupation with Food
All of us have thoughts of food. But for some people, these thoughts lead to obsessions where their eating habits are completely driven by these thoughts as opposed to actual appetite. Appetite, or more specifically true hunger, is physically driven and resolves itself when you eat, as opposed to psychologically-driven cravings. Even after you’ve finished a meal, you may continue to think about food or feel compelled to keep eating (Clark, 2014).
2. Hiding Food
Eating becomes a more secretive event when a person doesn’t want others to know of their struggles. Feelings of shame may drive someone to stash food around their house or in their car where others won’t see them eat. Whether the embarrassment involves fear of overeating in public or partaking in foods that may be deemed “unhealthy,” the results are the same: shame and embarrassment from the basic act of eating.
3. Guilty Feelings After Eating
Every now and then, many of us will overeat or perhaps eat something we wish we didn’t and then regret it. But when these feelings begin to occur with more frequency and are coupled with an overwhelming sense of guilt or anger, the risk of damage to one’s self-esteem dramatically increases. Guilt can also drive other unhealthy activities such as chronic dieting or excessive exercise to work off that “last piece of cake.”
4. Eating During Times of Stress
This is probably one of the toughest issues because it’s such a common response. The connection between stress and food starts as soon as we’re born. As a baby, we cry and are soothed with a bottle. Later as a child, we were given small treats to help divert our attention from the pain when we were hurt. Early pairings of food as a response to stress can set the stage for similar behaviors as an adult dealing with more mature life stressors. Because stress is often a part of our daily life, this response can result in unwanted weight gain leading to other medical problems.
5. Extreme Dieting
Most people at some point in their life go on a diet for one reason or another. But when it becomes a frequent activity involving extreme practices such as eliminating entire food groups or consuming a dangerously low amount of calories, we put ourselves at risk for serious physical complications. The end result is feelings of deprivation that can trigger cravings for certain foods--usually resulting in unwanted or unplanned eating.
Much like social relationships, identifying when exactly our association with food becomes dysfunctional is never crystal clear, but can be defined as the point where it begins affecting other aspects of our daily life. The key may be to recognize feelings, emotions, and events that trigger behaviors early on and take positive steps toward enjoying a healthier relationship with food.