The (Food) Struggle is REAL: 10 Signs You Have an UNHEALTHY Relationship with Food [And What to Do About It]

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.



“I just get cravings for _____ (popcorn, something sweet, chips and salsa).”


“How do you stop the thoughts?”


“I TRY to change, and may have a good day…but I always fall back into my old ways.”


Said many women.


The food struggle is real.

For whatever reason, sugar and cravings and binge eating and even ‘behaviors’ (purging, restricting, overexercising) are the ‘Achilles heels’ of many, many, many girls and women.


From the time we are young, we intercept weird, conflicting messages about food:


  • We are rewarded for straight A’s with an after-school ice cream treat


  • We earn dessert if we eat all the veggies on our plates


  • We are gifted with a Dum-Dum lollipop at the bank-just for riding along with our mom, or gifted a Candy Cane by “Santa” in the mall


  • Our teachers praised us with candy treats for ‘good behavior’ in the classroom


  • We learn to label foods as “good” or “bad” based on the opinions and concepts of our parents, our peers, commercials, advertising, etc.


  • In certain sports or activities, like dance and cheer, we may have had to ‘weigh in’ or ‘watch what we eat’ for the love of the game


  • We know that certain foods were ‘off limits’ in our house, so when we were out of the house, it was a ‘free for all’ whenever we could get our hands on ____ (soda, candy, chips, etc.)



These are just a handful of instances, that may or may not apply to you; however, a vast majority of women I talk with on the daily: We all have had some weird relationship, beliefs or behaviors with food at some point in our lives.


Reflect for a moment on your own…Where did our relationship with food go awry anyhow?


When did food become something ‘more’ than a substance and source of energy, vitality and fuel for living your life to the fullest?! Our ‘water and sunlight’—just like a plant views its food source in order to grow and THRIVE?


Think about…your food habits as a kid…a teen…in college…as an adult…today…


  • Didn’t care?


  • Learned to ‘earn your food’ through vigorous workouts in order to eat?


  • Snuck in any thing ‘bad’ you could get your hands on when no one was watching?


  • Often just thought about food…like all the time?


  • Finally broke up with the diet mentality and started eating to fuel your body?


And, moreover, how about your food philosophies? Your beliefs about foods—both positive and negative—about food; what you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ eat?


For instance:


  • As a kid, I had a HUGE sweet tooth and loved anything packaged and processed (what kid didn’t?). Sure I ate my fruits and veggies my mom plated at my meals, but my first choice preferences were anything that was sweet, salty or savory (mac & cheese, Pop-tarts, Capn’ Crunch, Doritos, Oreos, peanut butter & jelly)



  • In my middle school days, I reached for anything low-fat, non-fat I could get my hands on…


  • Come highschool, I was all about low-carb, no-carb diets…Atkins!


  • In college, I subsisted off of three foods: egg whites, frozen ground turkey patties, steamed vegetables, and oh yeah, Crystal Light



Chances are, your habits and beliefs have shifted and evolved over the years.


Phew. It’s rather exhausting!


Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with a woman who could 100% relate to ‘the struggle’—the ‘struggle’ and journey, rather, to establishing a healthy relationship with food (and defining exactly what that is anyhow).


Over the years, she, like you, has tried every form of diet, and had various seasons of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ relationships with food—something the majority of us face on a daily basis—at least three times per day.


Her name is Ashley Khalipa, otherwise known as the ‘wife of Jason Khalipa’—a superstar within the competition arena of CrossFit.



As a “CrossFit wife”, one may expect any woman to be “Little Miss Fitness”—however, Ashley shares that, at times, she has felt like anything but that.


As a mom of two beautiful kiddos, she is a living testimony too of how tough being a mommy + keeping fit and healthy lifestyle can be to say the least (i.e. motherhood=selflessness=less time for self-care all around).


Here she shares her two cents on living the struggle on the daily, and how she’s learned to be ok with NOT BEING PERFECT.


In addition, check out THRIVE’s insights on 10 Signs You Have a Horrible Relationship with Food…And what to do about it…



“The struggle is real”- Ashley Khalipa

This article is for all the women out there who:


  • Get a little too excited when they see their meal coming towards them at a restaurant.


  • Who sometimes lose their self-control and can’t stop eating something really delicious even though their full stomachs are telling them otherwise.


  • For the women who just( as they finish their lunch) are wondering what they are going to have for dinner.


There are more women like us than you may think and I want it to be a topic that women feel comfortable talking about.


There’s a famous quote that says:

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.


Well, whoever wrote it obviously never met me.


My name is Ashley Khalipa and I love food. I say this because there were times in my life that I honestly was worried that I had an actual addiction to food.


I know this sounds very dramatic for someone who at my heaviest was somewhere between a size 6 and 8. I am not claiming to have ever been overweight, but for me personally there were times where I felt bigger than I wanted to be.


I think that most women no matter what size they are, know what I am talking about.



Especially in the world of CrossFit where everywhere you look, women are extremely fit and they look amazing. I just want to share a little bit of my journey (and struggle) that I have had with food being a CrossFit athlete’s wife and part of a world where most people I am surrounded by have strict diets and work out like there’s no tomorrow.


I don’t really remember having such an adoration for food until around college which is also the time where I started feeling unhappy with my body and my health. Here are the things I tried between college (2004) and getting pregnant with my first child (2010):


Zone Diet and Conventional Gym Workouts 5-6 Days a Week (College Years)
I Would lose about 2 sizes in a couple of months, but would only keep it off for another 4-5 months.


100% Paleo and CrossFit 6-7 Days a Week (7 months leading up to my wedding July 2009)

Hated every bite of my strict clean eating because I never allowed myself even one cheat meal. I was this person “No thanks, that piece of chicken MAY have touched that vegetable that MIGHT have been near gluten!” We all know someone like that and let’s be honest, you’ve had thoughts of force feeding them a delightful gluten sugar filled cookie. Gained the weight back within 2 months of my wedding.


Crappy Diet and Hardly Working Out (Somewhere in Between the Wedding and Getting Pregnant) (Got stuck in an unhealthy rut but after having an emotional breakdown to Jason realized this wasn’t making me happy either).


Soon after that I got pregnant with Ava, and 3 years later had Kaden.


I would like to say that I ate healthy during my pregnancies but I ate what I wanted. It was AWESOME! It is the one time in your life that you can eat what you want, get fat and no one will judge you. I still worked out during my pregnancies so for anyone getting worked up about this, put down your pitchforks, it’s going to be okay.


My children came out perfectly healthy and I don’t ever regret my decision. With all the crappy things that come with pregnancy, one of the few enjoyable parts is to be able to eat what you want. After Ava, I lost weight quick, but most of it came back after I stopped breastfeeding at 11 months post-partum.


The weight came off a lot slower after having Kaden. At 5 months post-partum I had 10 pounds I just couldn’t shed with 3-4 weekly workouts and eating decently clean. I talked with my doctor and he told me something I think I had always known, but never wanted to admit: I was just eating too much.


Nine out of ten times I could eat as much or more than Jason. I realized it didn’t matter if I was eating healthy, I still would not lose the weight if I ate too much of anything.


I started portion controlling myself and eating half of what I normally would. I lost the excess pounds in 2 weeks. I had to teach my body to stop eating when I thought I was still hungry.


After I lost a little more weight, I started adding in working out more consistently and I started feeling really good. I would eat clean for most of my meals but if I felt like eating something unhealthy I would eat a little!


Life is just too short to not enjoy the simple things in life.



In the past, I never was able to control this because I would eat super clean and then, when in the presence of something bad, I would go nuts and over eat.


Today, instead whenever I feel the need to have a little cheat, I go for it but just in small portions. I finally found what works for me and this is something sustainable.


Do I still have moments when I go a little crazy and overindulge? Hell yes!


There are times where some dish is just too damn good to stop eating it.


You might feel like death afterwards, but it was totally worth all those delicious carbs.


My relationship with food will always be a struggle for me.


I am okay with that because good food brings a lot of joy to my life.


There are actually people out there (aka: my husband Jason Khalipa) who exist that when they eat gluten, sugar, etc. they feel sick and terrible so they don’t have the craving for it as much because of the negative effect their body feels.



I really do wish my body had this reaction (just like I wish my body would be excited to workout) but the reality is my body will always crave food that does not do a body good. I understand that it is okay to indulge once in a while (and sometimes let go and eat an entire plate of fries).


I am not trying to be a CrossFit competitor nor am I trying to be a size 0.


I am trying to balance my love for food with also the want to be healthy and happy with my body.



Yes, I have to make some sacrifices in the food (and exercise) department but it’s worth it so my children have a good role model and my husband has a happy wife to come home to.


Ashley Khalipa


How is YOUR relationship with food? Here are 10 Signs it may not be so healthy…


1. Rules dominate your mind. For instance: “You can only eat fruit in the morning.” “Nothing after 10 p.m.” “If it so much as touches anything with gluten, it’s unhealthy.” Or perhaps you KNOW fats are good for you, you still avoid them. Fat=fat right? There’s no other way. Despite unconventional wisdom that healthy fats are actually part of a healthy diet, you can’t wrap your head around that. Or one more: In your mind, carbs are an enemy. Evil carbs! So you cut them out all together. Cabrs “go straight to your butt or thighs” and if and when you let yourself eat any (other than veggies)—even wholesome carbs, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, fresh fruits—you feel guilty.



2. You cut your body down based on what you eat (or don’t eat). “You are what you eat”—therefore if you ate carbs last night with your dinner, surely that’s why you feel thicker than usual. Or your abs are directly attributed to your ‘self-control’ with the nutbutter—lay off of it for a bit and perhaps you’d see some results. Etc. You are your own worst critic—and your body is directly correlated to your food.



3. You think about food—all the time. When’s the next meal or snack? What are you going to have for it? You are going out of town—what are you going to eat there? Or, you dwell on the past: Whatever you had for dinner last night, or that larger portion you had a lunch, makes you feel guilty still the next day—just can’t shake it.



4. You have to ‘earn’ your food. In order to justify eating—or eating certain foods (like potatoes, or a larger portion, or some rice, or a sweet treat you really want, or just your regular meal), you have to work for it in the gym first.



5. All or nothing. You are either on a ‘strict’ diet or at the other end of the spectrum—extreme opposites with no middle ground.



6. You can’t make up your mindever—about what to eat or order at a restaurant. Indecisive the majority of the time. Or you let fear dominate your decisions, making you indecisive altogether: Trying new foods is scary, and quite frankly, something you don’t want to do. Not liking mayonnaise or seafood is one thing…but not trying a food out of fear is another.



7. Happy plate. You always finish all the food on your plate, no matter what. You are disconnected with your hunger-fullness cues and if it’s in sight, it’s in mind, and in your mouth.


Close-up of a place setting with diet dinner-plate

8. You can’t keep certain foods in the house—without eating them. You lack ‘self-control’ you say around particular foods—nutbutter, cookie dough, ice cream, cookies—even if they are ‘Paleo-approved.’



9. Dwelling on the past. Whatever you had for dinner last night, or that larger portion you had a lunch, makes you feel guilty still the next day—just can’t shake it.



10. “Good” and “Bad”. You tell yourself you were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on what you chose to eat—or not eat. You have an all or nothing mindset. You are either on a ‘strict’ diet or at the other end of the spectrum—extreme opposites with no middle ground.


If any of these signs sound familiar, you don’t have to stay stuck in a rut. Here are a few ideas for establishing a new relationship with food:


What do you want? Grab a pen and paper, and reflect on what it is you REALLY want in your life, your health and your relationship with food. What is your current relationship like with food and yourself? What do you WANT it to look like?…The world is your oyster, but without vision, it’s hard to establish ‘where you are really going.’


Mindfulness. Begin to raise awareness to that negative self-talk and food talk jargon you hear on a daily basis. For the next week, consider keeping a food log—nope, not to log or count your calories, or to obsess over how many carbs you ate, or beat yourself up for ‘succumbing’ to that sugar craving—but INSTEAD to shed light on your daily thought patterns.


In your food diary, here’s what you will do:


  1. Write down the time of day you ate, and what you ate
  2. Note your level of hunger before the meal (on a scale of 1-10, 1 being famished, 10 being stuffed); as well as note your feelings and state of being prior to the meal (physical, mental, emotional, etc.; such as ‘shaky’, lightheaded, stressed about work, busy and on the go, etc.)
  3. Note your level of fullness (scale 1-10 after the meal, as well as feelings, mood and state of being after the meal.
  4. Over the next week, reflect and use this log to bring light and shed insight on your current patterns, routines, thoughts and feelings around your food; and to begin to promote a mind-body connection to your food.



Out with the Old. In order to establish healthier habits, sometimes we have to clean out the clutter (the bad habits) in our lives, in order to come back to them in a healthier way. For instance: Sweet treat ritual got you down, day in and day out? You just can’t seem to kick the habit of downing the whole bag of popcorn while watching TV every night? Or drinking 2 glasses of wine is your norm every evening, even though you know you don’t feel your best? Or, have an addiction to Diet Coke or Frozen Lean Cuisines? Consider cleaning it out of your life—for at least 7 days…if not an entire 30—to hit the re-set button. By stepping away for a bit, you may find that maybe, just maybe, you will be able to come back to it in a healthier way. In other words: You WILL be able to have your cake and eat it too.


Do the Opposite. Deliberately decide to challenge one of your food rules. Even if it’s ‘not healthy.’ MORE than likely…you will survive.


Reach Out. Establish a support person—or two or three—who are on ‘your team.’ Let’s connect! I love nothing more than supporting individuals in developing this framework for what a healthier relationship with food, their bodies and/or fitness looks like in their own lives. As a Nutrition Therapist and Occupational Therapist, I specialize in helping others create new habits and establish a personalized plan for their health goals (mind and body).

  • THRIVE Life Program: A customized blueprint for HOLISTIC wellness—mind, body, and soul. Depending on your goals, I provide you with an individualized nutrition therapy plan-of-care, a customized training program for navigating the gym, and/or regular therapeutic coaching sessions (offered both in Austin and for distance clients).


  • Nutrition Therapy: Not really looking for the ‘total package’ of nutrition, fitness and therapy? 1:1 Nutrition Therapy is a unique approach to nutritional counseling. I am not just going to give you a handout of the food guide pyramid; teach you what a fat, carb or protein is; weigh you; or ask you to track your calories and meal exchanges…Instead, I am going to perform an in-depth initial assessment to address your individual body chemistry and system in order to formulate a nutrition plan that views “food as medicine” for restoring your health and feeling AMAZING in your own skin. Along the way, you will learn how to incorporate balance into your daily diet, develop a sustainable relationship with food, prepare and enjoy delicious food that is great for you, break up with the scale, and…not feel so overwhelmed.


  • Eating Disorder Recovery Services: I specialize in working with girls and women in recovery from eating disorders through regular therapy sessions and/or nutrition therapy support. Therapy sessions are aimed at empowering you to make strides towards your personal recovery, discovering life (and who you are) without ED in a fun, adventurous and guided way through my ‘hands-on’ approach (we won’t just talk about ED, I am here to therapeutically support you and incorporate activities and therapeutic opportunities, from body image work, to meal prep and grocery shopping support, addressing social anxieties, stress management, exploring what a healthy relationship with fitness can look like, etc.)


Not sure how or if THRIVE could really help you? Or if it’s even worth it? I’d love to simply just chat and get to know you!


Set up a free phone consult by e-mailing me at [email protected] and we can find a time that works for you to chat about your goals, your vision, your rules and your desires for life outside all that clutter.



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