When nutrition professionals talk about "befriending food," they usually do so in the context of eating disorders. They point out the importance of not seeing "food as the enemy," as one well-known author put it, or "making peace with food," as others have counseled. For me - also a nutrition expert - it's a much simpler proposition. Loving food is to understand what it does, how it nourishes us, and also to appreciate what it takes to make good food available.
Food, especially 'real' food, is a wonderful thing. It should never be taken for granted, wasted, or disregarded for all the benefits it provides. "Let food be your medicine," the Greek physician Hippocrates famously said. Indeed, food can keep us healthy and help us fight and overcome disease.
Unfortunately, it's no secret that most people are alienated from their food supply. Few of us know, or care to know, where our food comes from, how it is processed or prepared, and how we benefit from it. Yes, we have more nutritional information than ever given to us, but such data are oftentimes either confusing or outright misleading.
To understand the true value of food is to understand what the body requires to fully function. I know, it sounds corny when health counselors sometimes advise their clients to 'listen' to their body, but it does make sense. The body does make its needs known if we pay attention.
Just ask yourself how you feel after eating a big meal? Probably sluggish. After too much fat intake? Sick. After a highly nutritious boost? Energized - right? Your body lets you know right away what you have done to it.
Our relationship with food is tricky. Even if it's dysfunctional, we cannot put an end to it, unlike with alcohol or drug use. We can't live without food. It's essential to our existence.
But when the way we eat makes us sick and causes us diseases like obesity, diabetes or heart disease, we need to recalibrate and develop a different approach to how we handle the presence of food in our lives.
Throughout my years as a dietitian and health counselor, I have seen many clients with an antagonistic attitude towards food, while still exhibiting addictive behavior they seemingly could not overcome. Yes, there is such a thing as a love-hate relationship with food. They couldn't enjoy eating, and they couldn't resist it either.
What is the answer to such a dilemma? Learn to love your food, I would say. Because it reflects how you love yourself, and the way you live your life.
"Whether we eat consciously or unconsciously, strategically or randomly, pleasurably or dutifully, with voracious hunger or ho-hum disinterest, we can always see in our relationship with food something true and essential about the way we experience other aspects of our lives," she says.
In other words, we not only are what we eat, we also choose who we want to be in our relationship with food.
So what does a healthy relationship with food look like in terms of everyday living?
People with a healthy relationship to food eat mindfully, says Sarah Klein, a wellness coach and contributing editor at Huffington Post. Their approach to food is based on moderation, good timing, and planning ahead. They enjoy their food and appreciate its value. They don't get seduced by fads and trends. And they don't let diet concerns interfere with their daily routines. In sum, their relationship with food is constructive and empowering, instead of destructive and dysfunctional.