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Building a Healthy Relationship with Food

Posted on November 19, 2021 in Blog

Content authored by Chelsea Johnson, MS, RD, LDN – Clinical Dietitian

If you feel different about food because of cancer, you are not alone.

Cancer changes eating habits. Cancer changes your body. These changes, plus a swarm of conflicting messages about food and cancer online, can create anxiety. Luckily, there are simple strategies that can empower you to build a long-term, healthy relationship with food. These are not diets but tools to create a broader view of health on your cancer journey.

Intuitive Eating

Chelsea Johnson, MS, RD, LDN

Food plays a crucial role in our physical body, but it also plays a role in our social activities, cultural quality of life, and emotions. The harmony between mind and body gets disrupted by the burden of cancer. Intuitive eating is a tool to get your mind and body back in sync. The end goal of practicing intuitive eating is not necessarily weight loss or weight gain but being at peace with food. The Intuitive Eating Workbook describes it as, “Intuitive eating is a dynamic mind-body integration of instinct, emotion, and rational thought. It is a personal process of honoring your health by paying attention to the messages of your body, and meeting your physical and emotional needs.”


Click here to view all 10 Steps to Intuitive Eating. Here are a few highlights.

  • Reject the diet mentality. Food is not one size fits all. Fad diets lead to food restriction and unsustainable weight change. Start with individual, feasible goals.
  • Make peace with food. Choose foods that make you feel great. Food fears can lead to feelings of deprivation or guilt- release those fears.
  • Challenge the food police. Cancer can change your tolerance to foods; eat what you tolerate. Identify any negative self-talk around food and find a way to transition to positive self-talk.
  • Movement- feel the difference. Physical activity may look and feel different with cancer. Exercise for joy, not punishment. Exercise to reduce stress and boost energy. Do what feels good and is affordable.
  • Honor your health with gentle nutrition. Consider making healthy choices a form of self-care. Your body is doing hard work fighting cancer!

Mindful Eating

Have you ever been watching television while snacking on a bag of chips? All of the sudden, the bag is empty. We have all been there! That is a picture of mindless eating, which can lead to unwanted weight gain and eating more unhealthy foods. Mindful eating uses all of your senses: sight, touch, taste, hear, and smell. It allows you to be in charge of your eating patterns through total awareness and gratitude. Mindful eating taps into true hunger cues by considering why you are eating. The more you practice mindful eating, the more it will become a pattern.

Let’s look at key principles of mindful eating from Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist for Cleveland Clinic. Be thinking about how the 5 S’s might fit into your daily life.

  • Sit Down. Concentrate on the eating experience. This allows focus and enjoyment. Set a goal for how many days per week you will sit down at the table for dinner with minimal distractions.
  • Slowly chew. Eating slow gives your stomach time to tell your brain when it is full. Try using your non-dominant (opposite) hand to slow down at mealtimes.
  • Tap into all five senses when taking a bite. Chew well to get the full experience.
  • Make the healthy choice the easy choice. Set healthy snacks at eye level in the refrigerator or on your countertop. Place your sweet treats and more processed foods in containers or on a lower shelf.
  • Sounds funny, but give it a try! Pause periodically between bites to smile. It will relieve stress and allow time to read your body’s cues.

**Practice mindfulness by trying frozen chocolate-covered banana bites. Think about the shape, temperature, texture, smell, flavor, nutrients, and how you feel. Move the bite over your tongue to get the full experience.

Shutting Down “Should-ing”

I hear a lot of patients say “I shouldn’t have eaten that” or “I know I should eat this”. Yes, some foods have better quality than others. However, all foods can fit into a healthy meal plan. Removing “should” and “shouldn’t” vocabulary frees you from unspoken food rules. Give yourself permission to enjoy food. Reward your successes with non-food rewards.

Reaching Out

Jessica Antal, LCSW and Counselor – TCSC

Thompson Cancer Survival Center (TCSC) offers a counseling program at no cost to patients with a cancer diagnosis. Jessica Antal is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and counselor with more than 14 years of experience. She offers a safe place to talk more about emotions and thoughts. Learn more about the counseling program and how to sign up here. Learn how to better connect your body’s messages with your behaviors by talking to your therapist and registered dietitian.  




  1. C:\Users\cjohns55\Documents\Patient Education\General Cancer\fsac_nutrition_during_treatment.pdf 
  3. C:\Users\cjohns55\Documents\Research\IE-and-Cancer-Survivorship-Presentation-Handout-1.13.21.pdf
  4. C:\Users\cjohns55\Documents\Patient Education\Weight management\20-mindful-eating-handouts-for-professionals-full-document-color.pdf