Earlier this week, I came upon a memory of being a senior in high school. It was prom season, I had a size 2 dress to fit into, and I was meticulously tracking my food intake in MyFitnessPal to make sure I was on track to look flawless the upcoming weekend at my senior prom. I entered all the food I ate into the app and tracked my exercise. My daily goal? To make sure I burned more calories than I ate everyday. To be "in the hole". Negative. Zero calorie total intake. I remember one night bragging to my mom about my continued "success." I was terrified of food. I was terrified of not being "skinny" enough. At 17 years old, food was my biggest enemy and I was letting it destroy me.

What I've learned since then is that it doesn't have to be that, and it shouldn't. Over the last 5 years I've developed a healthy relationship with food, but it didn't happen overnight. Trial and error, many mentors, lots of reading, and working on my mental health is how my perspective on food shifted. If you are someone who finds yourself controlled by food, I have a few suggestions and strategies to jumpstart your journey toward a healthy mindset.

If you've noticed, I've mentioned mental health and I've mentioned having a healthy mindset. That's because that is where this all begins and comes back to. It's not food that's the enemy, it's you. It's your own brain and emotions controlling every negative thought that filters through your head. Food is just food. The only reason we eat is to fuel our bodies with the energy it needs to help us perform our everyday errands, go to work, run a few miles, or simply stay awake. Food is only there to keep us alive. There isn't a single emotional need for food, so why do we tend to fill voids and mask the emotional wounds with it? Easier said than done, but work towards finding an emotional disconnect between yourself and food. Food is just food. You don't have to give it any more credit than that.

Stop using exercise as a tool to compensate. Don't eat to "run it off later" and don't run so you can "eat it all later." Exercise should never be means for punishment. You should workout because you love it -- the sweat, the challenge, the endorphins -- not for "damage control." If you workout every day because you actually want to, you'll reap emotional and physical benefits. Don't let a calories-in-calories-out mindset control your desire to exercise, because that will take away the joy of working out all together.

Lastly, stop rewarding yourself with food when you've accomplished a goal, finished a project, or made yourself proud. Food isn't something you need to earn (like I mentioned, we need it every day!) so you shouldn't treat it as such. Maybe buy yourself that dress you've been eyeing for awhile instead. Or maybe that purse you'd die to have. There are many things that can be deemed "reward worthy," but food shouldn't be one of those things.

Take a moment and reflect on your relationship with food. How often do you think about food? How much does it control your life? Free yourself from the suffocating grasp that it has on you. Harsh as it may sound, remember that it's not food, it's you. Don't be its prisoner.