There are many different diets that people follow to lose weight. Many of these diets make eating more complicated than it needs to be.

Dietitian Rachael Hartley points out that restrictive diet plans encourage an all-or-nothing mindset which then causes overeating or bingeing. This cycle is not only unhelpful, but also doesn’t lead to weight loss or good health.

Many of the “anti-diet” programs available are actually diets in disguise. These programs are restrictive and often require users to reference external sources of information to determine what they are allowed to eat.

A healthy lifestyle does not depend on sticking to a daily calorie intake or eating at set times. Instead, it is based on eating foods that make you feel good, not just foods that are considered healthy.

Fear says that people have a natural tendency to rebel against rules, but when they make lifestyle changes based on their own values, it becomes easier to make decisions about food.

Signs Your Eating Habits Are Unhealthy

What are the signs that you may be stuck in a dieting loop?

You Say “I Can’t Have” 

If you are ever saying (or thinking) the words “I can’t have,” or “I’m not allowed to” when talking about food, you are in an unsustainable eating habit, May says.

In most cases, saying “I can’t have” is a lie. Fear points out that legally, you are allowed to purchase chips and that physically, you are able to chew and swallow cookies. When you tell yourself that you are not allowed to have bagels, pasta, or chocolate, your brain knows that this is not true and often makes you want those foods more.

You Cut Or Limit Entire Food Groups

When you remove entire food groups from your diet, you are also removing important sources of nutrition. This is a clear sign that you are dieting.

This is an example. Many popular diets delete or reduce carbs a lot, but Hartley points out that “these foods give important nutrients like B vitamins, iron, fiber, and phytonutrients, as well as carbohydrates themselves, which are a vital energy source.”

Even food that don’t have a lot of nutrition, such as sweets and salty snacks, can give people pleasure and make them feel more connected to others. “And connecting with others and eating enjoyable foods is good for your health,” says Hartley.

If you find that certain foods don’t agree with your body, or they don’t fit in with your values, it’s okay to cut them out of your diet. You can usually find plenty of other foods to take their place, and supplementation is an option if needed.

You Don’t Physically Feel Good

Restrictive diets often have negative side effects, such as feeling tired all the time, feeling cold, not recovering well from workouts, difficulty sleeping at night, or decreased sex drive. Even if you’re motivated to follow your eating plan, you can only do it for so long before these side effects become too much.

After you finally give up, you’re likely to go to the other extreme and overeat. “When someone who hasn’t felt satisfied after a meal in a long time finally eats something they enjoy, they often continue eating past the point of being full because they’ve been deprived for so long,” Fear says.

You Obsess Or Stress Over Food

This is another sign that you are dieting if you are constantly thinking about food or spending a large portion of your day thinking about it.

-Anxiety over following food “rules” -Wondering what and when you’ll eat next -Stressing about food preparation -Logging every morsel of food that passes your lips

Having an obsession with food can have negative consequences on your health and happiness. If you stress about being able to stick to your dietary restrictions while socializing or traveling, it can make it difficult to enjoy yourself. Additionally, if following a certain diet or food plan is so complicated that it causes anxiety, it is not something that can be maintained long-term.

You Judge What Other People Eat

If you get judging or disapproving when you see a friend eating something unhealthy, it might be a sign that your diet is too restrictive.

If you’re jealous of your friend being able to order fries, chances are your judgment is coming from a place of jealousy. In other words, you wish you could order fries too. However, if you deprive yourself of what you want for long enough, you’ll eventually give in and end up bingeing on the very foods you were judging other people for eating. This guilt then drives more restrictive eating, causing the eat-repent cycle to repeat over and over again.

Clear Signs Your Relationship with Food Is Healthy

You Can Cope With Stress Without Turning to Food

Chances are, if you’re an American, you enjoy eating cake on birthdays, pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, macaroni and cheese on the 4th of July, and red velvet cupcakes on Valentine’s Day. Food and celebrations tend to go together well, much like hot chocolate and marshmallows.

This emotional connection that we have with food is what makes “emotional eating” so attractive. When we’re feeling down, we might crave the comfort of our favorite foods. These treats are fine occasionally, but using food to deal with stress on a daily basis can be a problem.

A healthy relationship with food means you have other ways to cope with stress besides eating, according to Sarah Thacker, LPC, registered and board-certified art therapist. For example, here are five meditation techniques that might help soothe stress—instead of reaching for that box of Oreos.

You Feel Satisfied After Eating—Not Guilty or Regretful

Friedman explains that being able to enjoy food without anxiety or worry is a sign of a healthy relationship with food.

Be mindful of the words you use to describe food after you eat. Saying things like “that was so good” creates a positive association with food, whereas saying “I’m stuffed” creates a negative one. Unfortunately, many people make the latter type of comment after meals, which tricks them into thinking of food as a punishment.

If you are worried about your emotions after eating, it may be helpful to keep a food journal in order to identify any patterns. For example, you may find that you feel worse after eating certain foods.

You Feel Present During Meals and Snacks

You should focus on two things while sitting at a table with friends or family: how delicious the food is and how wonderful the company is.

The text is saying that if you have a bad relationship with food, you’re always stressing about what you’re going to eat, and you’re always worried about calories and portion sizes.

You Feel Comfortable Eating in Front of Others

A person can eat by themselves without any issue. According to Friedman, this can even be a good thing as it can be therapeutic. This might make a person eat more carefully.

If you always eat alone, it might be because you’re anxious about food, or it might be because you’re hiding an issue with food or eating, according to Friedman.

An example of this would be if you’re worried about how much or how fast you’re eating, and whether or not it’s considered “healthy.” People with food anxieties often worry that others are constantly watching them eat, and may even say something to force them to get help.

You Listen to Hunger Cues

Your hunger cues can either tell you to start or stop eating. If you wait too long to eat when you’re hungry, you may end up eating more than you need to.

People who have a healthy relationship with food listen to their bodies and trust them to know what is best for them. They do not try to override their own preferences or cravings.

Recognizing when you’re full and stopping before you’re full are both signs of healthy eating habits. overeating and continuing to eat even when you’re full are both signs of unhealthy eating habits.

An eating disorder can make it difficult to interpret your body’s hunger cues, and you may have difficulty digesting food. For example, you may no longer feel hungry, or you may feel full after eating only a small amount of food. In this case, “not feeling hungry” may not be a good reason for eating less.

You Don’t Punish Yourself for Occasionally “Going Overboard”

If you ignore your fullness cues and have an extra serving of food, this does not mean you have a bad relationship with food.

One clue that you might have an unhealthy relationship with exercise is if your primary reason for working out is to make up for your last meal. According to Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, an eating disorder specialist in Los Angeles, if you skip social events or even work to work out, that might be a problem.

You Don’t Fear Foods or Food Groups

This one is tricky. It’s okay to not like certain foods or to choose not to eat something because you feel it has no value to you or it upsets your stomach (like if you have an allergy or irritable bowel syndrome). However, if you cut food out that you like because you’re afraid of how “unhealthy” you think it is, this might be a cause for concern.

Friedman says that it is okay for everyone to have their “thing.” For example, hating olives is normal, but fearing them because of their fat content is a sign of a problem. According to her, being open to trying all types of food is a sign of comfort and peace.

Speaking of which…

You’re Comfortable Eating Out or Having Others Cook for You

Dr. Rosenfeld stressed the importance of being flexible when it comes to food and dining settings. According to her, this allows people to “go with the flow.”

If you have a bad relationship with food, you might get anxious when you eat at different times or different places. You might only feel comfortable eating at home, because you know you can control what goes on your plate. This means you’re very picky about what you eat and you want everything to be perfect.

If you feel uneasy about what food will be served at a new restaurant or event, it might be time to reassess your relationship with food.

You Understand That Food Is Just One of Many Pleasures of Life

You need ways to cope with stress that do not involve food and you need ways to enjoy life that do not involve eating. It may seem like thinking about food all the time and wanting to eat are signs of a good relationship with food, but the opposite is actually true.

According to Dr. Rosenfeld, one of the biggest indicators of a healthy relationship with food is not thinking about it constantly. This is usually the result of undereating and malnutrition.

If you are constantly thinking about food and what you are going to eat next, it is a sign that your relationship with food is strained. Dr. Muhlheim says that when you are not eating or feeling hungry, food should not be a constant thoughts and you should be enjoying other aspects of your life.


You're Invited to the Free Masterclass

Reach Your Ideal Body Weight and Feel Great About Yourself, Without Restrictive Diets


Join the Group ...

About Rhoda ...

Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

She is the creator of the Elegant Eating Solution, an affordable program that helps women avoid weight regain and feel great about themselves, without restrictive eating.

Elegant Eating is based on the science of protein leverage and follows the unique R.E.M.A.P approach to successful aging.

Learn More About Elegant Eating and How to Get Started

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!