It’s no secret that I have had a problem with dieting throughout my childhood and into my college years. When I started this column, I wasn’t aware I still had a problem with dieting. In fact, it wasn’t until my best friend and roommate made a comment that I was shocked into reality. 

It was during my keto phase — I was miserably brooding over my tasteless salad at Abel dining hall. He looked up at me from his brimming bowl of pasta with all of the carbs that I had abstained from in order to achieve ketosis. 

“I don’t think you’ll ever not be on a diet, Johnna,” he said. 

And, just like that, the fear of being doomed to a life of perpetual self-loathing and restriction struck me like a sledgehammer to the gut. That was the beginning of my slow recovery from chronic dieting. 

Now, fast-forward to today, and I am slowly repairing my relationship with food and with myself. I’m a little more forgiving when I look in the mirror and a little less panic-stricken at meal times. 

Though I am far from an expert, I do vehemently believe that Western culture’s covert obsession with appearance and food has caused many people to form strenuous relationships with food, exercise and dieting. Perpetuated by diet culture, these unhealthy connotations bleed into the uber important perception of one’s self and of one’s self-image. This being said, once a person is able to recognize this, there are ways to slowly, but surely, adopt a healthier perception of food. 

The first concept one should consider is recognizing toxic ideas and habits and where they stem from. In my experience, dieting stems from a need for control. Whenever I felt rejected, inferior or unwanted, I chose to restrict my calories. The control that I was able to have over my eating habits compensated for my lack of control everywhere else.

However, choosing to restrict myself, would inevitably lead to a binge. Once I realized this, it was easier to stomach the idea that dieting in and of itself was a self-destructive coping mechanism. 

When it comes to food, the body fluctuates what nourishment it needs depending on a myriad of different circumstances like age, hormone production and amount of physical activity. 

Obviously I don’t spiral into a mild eating disorder every time that I feel undesirable now; instead, I practice self-gratitude and forgiveness. I acknowledge myself as someone no better and no worse than anyone else, and I remind myself that food and body shape are not synonymous with self-worth.

This leads to the second idea to think about when repairing one’s relationship with food: Our culture has assigned incorrect moral connotations with certain foods. Carbs and fats are bad, and low calorie foods like spinach or baby carrots are deemed to be good food. In reality, all food is necessary in one way or another. Even the forever-demonized sugar has a place in brain function in the form of natural glucose. 

When we deem foods as bad or good, we associate our self-worth and moral status with the foods we are consuming and subsequently policing. Once I realized that food is food and that what I ate had nothing to do with my legitimacy as a person, I was free to enjoy all foods and the experiences that come with them.

At the end of the day, the body knows what the body needs. Societal constructs associated with dieting and food are not accurate representations of what a body needs for nourishment. In reality, carbs are essential and are the primary source of energy for the body. Fats are necessary for brain function, mood and energy, and glucose (sugar) is what the brain runs on. 

This is essentially the final aspect of creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with food — basically, allow yourself to eat what you want to eat (within reason). I promise you won’t binge, and you won’t lose control. From personal experience, it absolves one’s self of the previous constraints of food policing and frees one's self to enjoy all the experiences associated with food.