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When food becomes the enemy (and how to become friends again)
Food is something to be enjoyed. Many of our happiest memories will include food -- holidays, birthdays, celebrations. Work on being more like a kid in your relationship with food. - photo by

The early days of a relationship are exciting. They're filled with uncertainty. They're highlighted with exploration. They're maxed with hyper-focus. And strangely, our relationship with food isn't much different.

Most of us loved food as kids. We squealed when mom made chocolate cake for dessert. We savored and asked for more of our favorite meals. But somewhere along the way, our relationship with food got messed up. Maybe food became the friend when life got hard. Maybe food was the friend who made things more exciting. Or maybe food was the codependent friend who was always at our elbow when we felt uneasy about something.

In any case, it is possible that food can be our healthy and delightful friend. Here are a few ways I've improved my relationship with food (as always, check with your doctor before you do much switching of your diet).

Invite food to the party

Instead of treating your mouth like a hurried reception area, invite food as you slow down and enjoy the ride. Treat your food like it got a VIP invite to a party in your mouth. Let food sit on your tongue to really taste it. To savor each bite, consider taking smaller bites that mostly use your front teeth. Chew your food thoroughly to get the tastes from beginning to the end, and explore how the flavors change as you chew. Be a part of this party. Enjoy the party.

Conversation takes the cake

For many of us, mealtimes seem like a race. But it doesn't have to be that way. Consider adopting the philosophy of many countries and treat mealtime as the means to conversation with loved ones. Pace yourself and aim to talk at the table for a set amount of time (30 minutes is my favorite). Tear off pieces of bread—small enough that you can finish chewing and enter the conversation without missing a beat.

This may feel awkward at first, but start by asking everyone to share their best and worst experiences from the day. Consider conversation starters. Let the conversation be as lighthearted and inclusive as possible (save vent sessions for another time—you don't want to get heartburn). Serve food you enjoy and really savor it, but remember that it is your conversation with loved ones that takes the cake.

Rethink Elimination

Most of us have learned that excesses in hamburgers and ice cream can affect our health. But I've found that, unless prescribed by a doctor, maintaining an elimination diet can be extremely hard and discouraging. Plainly put, most people won't live an entire life without eating any desserts, meats or other highly desirable and satiating food.

So, instead of considering eliminating things from your diet, think about the ways you can highlight your favorite things to make them really stand out. For example, maybe once a month you have a BBQ with good friends, or perhaps once a week you have a dessert night and rotate who will make their favorite. Maybe you pair your meals with salads high in fiber, helping your body eliminate some of the saturated fats you ate. Our relationship with food should be a lifelong endeavor of enjoying "the experience of eating."

Drink Water

When you think you're hungry, drink some water first instead. Our bodies are pretty awesome, but sometimes they have communication problems. Sometimes our bodies send a message that we need something and we assume it's food when, really, it's water. When our bodies say "I'm dehydrated," we sometimes feed them a sandwich. Before you accidentally feed your body something it doesn't even want, consider going to the water cooler.

Get enough Zzz

People are more likely to eat excess calories when they're tired, so before you go to the fridge to give your body what you think it needs, give yourself a 15-minute power nap. Plan to hit the hay early and go to bed at a time that will give you 7-9 hours of sleep.

Write it out

Writing out our feelings about friendships can be helpful, and our relationship with food is no different. Get a notebook and make five columns. The first column is for how you felt prior to eating. Include things like energy level (tired-not tired), hunger level (famished-not hungry), and emotions (peaceful-angry). The second column is for what you chose to eat. Generally, you want to list each item (this will help you to notice patterns in foods you crave, etc). The third column is for writing down how quickly you ate: slow, medium, fast. The fourth column is where you indicate if you had a conversation while you ate (yes or no). The last column is where you write how you felt after you ate (pleasant, full, stuffed, etc).

Writing things out will help you gauge your eating triggers—physical, emotional or otherwise. Writing will also help you see your successes, be more accountable and will make you feel more in charge of what you bring to your relationship with food.

Food is something to be enjoyed. Many of our happiest memories will include food—holidays, birthdays, celebrations. Work on being more like a kid in your relationship with food. Know there will be times you will be too full. Know there will be times when you wished you would have asked for seconds. Whatever you do, be kind to yourself and to your relationship with food. Know that every day—every meal—can be a new start.

Heather Merrill is a single mom, writer and eyewitness to preschooler debacles.