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Changing your relationship to food

Celeste Hebets, P.T.

For most people, food means many things besides simple nutrition. How you relate to food can help or hinder your efforts to achieve good health and a reasonable body weight.

People can learn a great deal about their relationship to food by keeping daily food diaries or by simply thinking about their motives every time they eat. A pattern may emerge of eating to relieve boredom, guilt or tension, or to please others.

For some, food always has been a reward for good behavior; others eat when they need to feel comforted. Once the pattern is recognized, it can be broken. One way is to change some food-related activities and practice mindful eating. This may involve:

Eating when you are truly hungry and with the purpose of meeting your body’s needs for fuel and nourishment
Eliminating or minimizing distractions and eat only in designated areas, such as at the table
Listening for your body’s cues of hunger and fullness

Another way to change your relationship to food is to look at the underlying cause of inappropriate food cravings. Once you’ve identified the source of your food cravings, make a list of things you can do instead of eating. Tense? Learn relaxation techniques. Bored? Expand your horizons by taking a class, reading a good book or doing some volunteer work.

Each time food cravings arise, remind yourself that the purpose of food is to maintain your body’s health, not to solve other problems in your life. If you find it difficult to change your relationship to food on your own, ask your healthcare provider about a behavior modification program that you can follow step by step.  If food is on your mind much of the time, it’s a clue that your relationship to food may go beyond the need for nourishment. Today, more than one-third of all Americans are overweight, and an estimated 5 to 10 million Americans are morbidly obese, which significantly increases the risk of serious health-related conditions and diseases. 

The idea that obesity is just a lack of willpower is not only an over-simplification, but also is unscientific and wrong. Obesity is a disease with many contributing factors including genetics, environment, metabolism and eating disorders. Due to its complexity, overcoming obesity can be difficult.

For some people, being overweight and/or obese is significantly affecting their health, happiness and general wellbeing. When diet and exercise is not enough, weight loss or bariatric surgery may be the next step.

To learn more about weight loss surgery, you are invited to attend a free information session at Flagstaff Medical Center. The sessions are the second Tuesday of every month from 6 - 7 p.m. in the Northern Arizona Healthcare Education Center, 1000 N. Humphreys in the Fort Valley Shopping Center, just south of the hospital. The sessions include a presentation by a surgeon on the causes and complications of morbid obesity and the types of surgeries available, with time for questions and answers following the presentation. No registration is required for this session. For more information on the sessions or on weight loss surgery at Flagstaff Medical Center, call 928 214-3737 or visit 

Celeste Hebets, P.T., is a physical therapist and coordinator of FMC’s Bariatric Surgical Weight Loss Center.