How to Create a Flexible Relationship with Food

Your Guide to Mental Flexibility and Food Relationships

Relationship with food
Relationship with Food

Diets often begin with the best intentions. They’re designed to guide us toward healthier eating habits and build a healthy relationship with food. However, somewhere along the way, many of us unwittingly transform these well-meaning intentions into a rigid set of food rules. As our list of rules grows, we inadvertently restrict ourselves from enjoying a diverse range of foods.

The consequences of this rigidity can be significant. It’s not until we take a closer look at our eating habits that we realize the intricate web of food rules we’ve created for ourselves. Fortunately, movements like Intuitive Eating, mindful eating, and Health at Every Size (HAES) advocate for a different approach—a balanced diet that embraces food diversity based on individual preferences.

Research also shows that adopting a flexible mindset toward weight loss, rather than adhering to strict rules, leads to better immediate results and helps maintain progress over time. Additionally, it can alleviate the stress often associated with dieting.

If you’ve been accustomed to rigid food rules, breaking free from this habit can be challenging. Here, we’ll explore some essential tips to enhance your mental flexibility when it comes to eating.

How Do You Know If You Have Rigid Food Rules?

Relationship with Food
Rigid Food Rules

Before we delve into improving your food flexibility, it’s essential to identify whether you have rigid food rules. Ask yourself if any of the following statements sound familiar:

  • I cannot stop eating once I start something I love.
  • I avoid certain foods or food groups.
  • I have forbidden foods that I am not allowed to eat.
  • I deprive myself of enjoyable foods because they’re not considered “healthy.”
  • I feel angry or guilty when I consume something deemed unhealthy.
  • I experience shame or guilt if I don’t eat a certain way.
  • My food preferences and rules make social events stressful.
  • Trying new foods or dining at unfamiliar restaurants is challenging for me.
  • Once I indulge in forbidden foods, I convince myself it’s the last time and go all out.
  • I lack trust in my body’s signals regarding what and how much to eat.

If you find yourself nodding to any of these statements, it’s likely you have rigid diet rules and an inflexible approach to food.

Why Increase Your Food Flexibility?

Food inflexibility can lead to restrictive eating behaviors, which can be detrimental to your health. For instance, orthorexia is a form of disordered eating where individuals obsessively consume only foods they consider healthy. This obsession can result in compulsive behaviors, the exclusion of entire food groups, preoccupation with food, and anxiety when confronted with “unhealthy” foods.

However, increasing mental flexibility around food and eating behaviors can help reduce this all-or-nothing mindset. This mental shift is crucial for sustainable weight loss and maintenance. It minimizes the extreme highs and lows often associated with falling off a diet, feeling like a failure, and having to start over.

How to Improve Mental Flexibility and Relationship With Food

  1. Identify Your Food Rules: The first step is acknowledging that your food preferences are starting to dictate more aspects of your life than they should.
  2. Allow Food Variety: Make room for a wide array of foods within the parameters of your diet. Choose foods that nourish both your body and soul when making choices. Allowing some flexibility ensures occasional treats don’t snowball into binge eating episodes.
  3. Keep a Food Diary: Journaling your food intake, using apps like Lose It!, can boost mindfulness and demonstrate that a variety of foods, including occasional treats in moderation, can fit into a healthy diet.
  4. Practice Intuitive Eating: This approach entails eating when you’re hungry, savoring foods you enjoy, and stopping when you’re satisfied. For a deeper understanding, consider reading the book “Intuitive Eating.”
  5. Rethink Caloric Intake: When practicing intuitive eating, understand that some days you may consume slightly more calories, while on others, you may consume less. Focus on the bigger picture, knowing that your intake will balance out over time.
  6. Embrace Mindful Eating: Pay attention to your meals and take the time to savor each bite. For more mindful eating tips, explore our blog post on the subject.
  7. Be Kind to Yourself: Instead of being harsh and judgmental when you overeat, practice self-forgiveness. This can prevent a single instance of overindulgence from spiraling into days or weeks of unhealthy eating.
  8. Seek Professional Guidance: If you’re struggling to establish a balanced diet on your own, consider consulting with an experienced professional. A dietitian specializing in Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, or HAES can provide invaluable one-on-one support.


Mental flexibility in your approach to food is not only beneficial for long-term weight management but also vital for reducing diet-related stress and preventing your relationship with food from becoming disordered.

Remember that a more balanced, flexible attitude toward eating promotes better physical and mental well-being. For additional insights, check out my post on “Healthy Meal Plans: Nourishing Women’s Bodies For Life

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