What comes to mind when you think about your relationship with food? Is it stress, or happiness? Does making decisions about what to eat every day leave you feeling overwhelmed or guilty, or does it bring you pleasure and nourishment? Your answers to these questions can help determine how much freedom you have when it comes to food, a concept now referred to as “food freedom.”
The term is becoming somewhat of a buzzword in the health industry, yet like many new health terms, it can be a bit confusing at first to understand. This article will dive into what exactly it is, why it matters, what it may look like in your life, and tips for navigating its marketing use in the media.
What is “food freedom”?
It’s certainly not a diet. Put simply, food freedom is being in control of your food choices, rather than letting them control you . It’s creating a safe space for all foods in your diet without guilt, rules, or any other negative associations. It’s being able to eat a green salad and a cupcake with the same level of confidence and control with each food.
Food freedom means indulging when it’s worth it to you, and passing when it isn’t, without feeling any sort of shame for either choice. It has very little to do with the nutritional components of the food, and much more to do with our mental and emotional state surrounding food choices.
You may have heard about the concepts of intuitive eating or mindfulness with food by now, which both play a role in developing food freedom. You can gain food freedom by practicing the principles of both of those things.
Why does food freedom matter?
Where to begin? Anyone who has lived with an eating disorder, disordered eating or just an unhealthy and imbalanced relationship with food (along with anyone who knows someone who fits into one of these categories) knows what a toll such things can have on the mind and body. Disordered eating has physical, emotional and behavioral components to it, and each can be equally as detrimental to one’s life.
Some of the negative impacts of living without food freedom include:
- Higher stress levels associated with eating, which can overflow into other areas of life
- Interferes with a normal social life, specifically events that involve eating
- May harm relationships
- Takes away focus from more meaningful things in life, such as your family, friends, hobbies, and career
- Lower self esteem and self-confidence
- Leads to believing lies about yourself, your body, and what health really means
- Can lead to serious health issues if imbalanced and erratic eating habits are prolonged
Basically, when your mind is constantly preoccupied with food or your body, there is little room to think about or focus on other things. Sources have demonstrated that people with disordered eating habits are more likely to suffer from psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, substance abuse and more.
As mentioned above, they may also be more likely to develop other health ailments such as gastrointestinal disorders, dehydration, infertility, hormone imbalances, etc. A quote from the Eating Disorder Resource Center says “Eating disorders are serious physical and mental health conditions that can have life-threatening consequences for the people who suffer from them.” Sadly, this couldn’t be more true.
You may be thinking “but I don’t have an eating disorder.” While this may be true, it’s important to recognize that negative consequences can occur in anyone with any sort of unhealthy relationship with food, even if it’s not a diagnosed condition. The toll that any obsession or preoccupation with food and your body can take should not be discounted. There is a better way to live that involves more peace, joy, and satisfaction, and it begins with a journey towards finding Food Freedom.
What does living with food freedom look like?
Like the principles of intuitive eating, food freedom has many components. Here are some guidelines to what living with food freedom entails:
- Eating without restriction, deprivation, guilt, shame or fear of judgment. Aka: ditching the diet mentality!
- Giving up the strive to eat “perfectly” by recognizing that there is no perfect way to nourish your body
- Believing that the food you eat does not define your self-worth
- Never labeling food as “good” or “bad”, which is unhelpful and inaccurate
- Refusing to count calories, macros, numbers on a scale, or strictly portioning food
- Never punishing yourself after a moment or even entire day of less-healthy eating or overeating
Each person has their own eating habits and health goals, but everyone deserves freedom and less anxiety with food along the way. Food freedom doesn’t mean ignoring health, it just means not being held to restrictive diet patterns or food rules as a means to get there. You can experience food freedom regardless of your current health situation.
In setting out on a journey towards food freedom, perhaps the most important step to take is to discover what led to your current beliefs about food, nutrition, how and what to eat, and what your body should look like in the first place. You can do this by taking time to think or journal about these things.
Once you come up with some answers, you can work to break free from them if they are no longer believed to be helpful. Speaking with others about your journey and seeking support will also make you much more likely to succeed in developing food freedom as well.
Tips for decoding the media’s messages on food freedom
Whenever a term or health concept becomes popular, the media tends to cling to it and start using it in marketing efforts with the hopes of bringing more interest in from their targeted audience. This is a sneaky technique that can lead people into thinking they’re following or believing something that will benefit them, while still being stuck in the confines of diet culture.
Here are some things to watch out for that indicate that true food freedom isn’t being promoted:
- A program that claims to be “anti diet” yet still promotes following specific portion sizes, calorie limits or other restrictions
- Health programs that advertise a certain look or amount of weight loss within a short period of time
- Health supplements or treatments that promise to shrink your body
- Use of any marketing terms or wording that imply that your health or body size is equivalent to your worth or happiness
- Foods marketing as “guilt free” or “clean”
Keep in mind that you’re not wrong or a failure if you participate in any of these things, the point is just to gain awareness of how easily diet culture can be hidden and how frequently we all are subjected to it, which takes away from experiencing true freedom with food.
You don’t have to spend all of your time and energy worrying about food & your body. By developing food freedom, you can have more mental space to live your life, do your work, practice self-care, and spend time with loved ones. It will take time and self-experimentation to get there, but it’s always worth it.