Do you have a healthy relationship with food?
Is food a big part of your life?
Do you find yourself obsessing about what you eat?
Do you have banned and allowed foods and times?
Don’t worry, you are not alone. Most people do not spend a lot of time thinking about why, how or what they eat. And that is actually quite natural.
There are people who care about maintaining a healthy weight, others don’t pay attention to their weight or avoid thinking about it and there are people who obsess about their weight. For the longest time, I was the latter.
As a kid I was really into horse riding and I was lucky enough to get my own when I was 12. Jerry was an absolute beast and over the years I developed very strong arms and shoulders, which I HATED and was SO self-conscious, always looking at my friends and wishing I had their skinny arms and slim shoulders. Even some boys I knew began calling me ‘the rugby player’. I was mortified! I remember from the age of 15 starting to watch what I ate, I would throw my entire packed lunch in the bin except for the apple in an attempt to slim myself down and I would only allow myself to eat half of my meal when I went out for dinner!
I spent most of my teenage life and 20s feeling very out of control with my food and weight. My body never responded the way I wanted it to. Things just got worse when I began developing digestive issues from age of 16 and everything started to slow down. So in addition to my big arms and shoulders I was also now dealing with bloating, water retention and pain on a daily basis, with all the added stress of going through test after test and too many to count medical procedures.
I became fearful of feeling full, thinking that all carbs were the enemy and I developed an extremely unhealthy obsession with exercise, desperate to get that endorphin release to ease my stress and anxiety and to get rid of any bloating, water retention and puffiness. At one point I became very sick, unable to keep food down for weeks due to my undiagnosed digestive condition. BUT I lost weight, and my arms and shoulders shrunk so from then on ALL my attention was on not putting weight back on. I became obsessed! Food restriction and over-exercise just became the norm. I even developed a severe eating disorder which took over my life for 7 years! As crazy as it sounds I didn’t even think that what I was doing to my body was anything but normal. I was healthy, eating lots of salad, veggies, no drinking and exercising every day! No problem right?
Looking back, it's clear to me now what a turbulent and negative relationship I was having with my very own body. I was hating on it. Your body cannot give you what you need when there is constant battle and emotional despair. Your body takes on all the negative banter and self-doubt and manifests it into stress. It cannot function optimally when there is such stress and pain.
Having been through all of this, it led me to start questioning WHY do we become so controlled by food and WHY do so many of us have such a dysfunctional relationship with food aka. The enemy?
What is it about food that leaves us so powerless? From my own personal battles with food and from working with my clients, there seems to be common culprits. Chances are, you can relate to at least one—if not all—of them.
Problem No. 1: You're ruled by rules
I had a banned food list; no bread, pasta, pizza, chocolate, no fried food, no take-aways, no alcohol….. I wouldn’t even allow myself near them!
This kind of rigidity is all about fear of losing control. Our minds love to think in black-and-white terms:
· Right v wrong
· Fat v thin
· Perfect v ruined
Or that's how it might seem when in the throes of an obsession! I was definitely someone who felt lost without structure and my mind was in overdrive, obsessing over what I ‘should and ‘shouldn’t’ be eating. As I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this, I was doing some serious damage to my self-esteem. For example, when one of my rules was broken it very quickly spiralled into; “I’m not good enough”, “I must try harder and be better”.
It can feel very overwhelming trying to give up your rules- trust me I know how hard this is! What I did with myself and what I encourage my clients to do now is, to START SMALL. Take things week by week and each week break your rules just a little bit. I started so small as eating just 3 chips, 3 crisps, 1 square of chocolate…and you know what? Nothing much happened! I didn’t blow up, I didn’t expand to the size of a whale ( which is the picture I was painting in my head). Flexibility started to seem less intimidating.
Problem No. 2: You don't trust yourself
Another given in a healthy relationship is trust. In a dysfunctional "food-ship"—as I like to call it—distrust can be rampant. I know I am weak around sweets, for instance. To keep from eating too much, I developed the ‘rule of 3’. Anything that I deemed bad I would allow myself 3 bites or, if small 3 things e.g. Haribo sweets.
It's not our fault that it's so hard to resist chips and sweets. It's plain biology. Eating carbohydrates (plentiful in pizza and cupcakes, but not so much in kale) boosts our levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. And we may have happy childhood associations with certain treats. No wonder that some of us crave comfort food when we're upset, bored, lonely, etcetera. Stress triggers a jones for sugar; cookies are readily available. If you try not to think about the treat, your mind just becomes fixated. So, when you finally buy the cookies, you're too obsessed to stop at just 1 (or 3), rather than 3 bites!
If we were more mindful of hunger cues, though, we'd make better choices.
Before eating, pause to ask yourself; does my body need fuel? Why am I thinking about food if my body doesn't need it?
If you do need to eat, listen to your cravings: Indulging a little now can keep you from overdoing it later. As for how much to eat, your body can help with that, too. The right amount is about feeling good and not uncomfortably stuffed afterward.
Problem No. 3: You Beat Yourself Up
Imagine having a boyfriend who, after you made a small mistake, called you a worthless failure. You'd dump his butt. But many of us do the same thing to ourselves if we dare to enjoy a piece of cake. We all have that inner food critic who shames us for overindulging and we are driven by these negative emotions to get back on track. Not helpful! My inner critic was SO loud that she drowned out anything else going on in my head.
So, what did I do? She was shouting at me so I began to just stop and listen to the words she was using.
“Look at those arms, of course they are calling you a rugby player.”
“Yuck look at that bloated stomach, you should go to the gym and run until you can’t run anymore!”
Writing these thoughts down really shocked me. I would never speak to anyone else like that and yet this is how I was talking to myself, ALL the time!
What do I do now when my inner food critic starts shouting? I stop, listen to what she is saying and try to replace the harmful message by a kind one, like, “no-one's perfect, I’m doing the best I can”, “boys are mean, that’s just what they do, it isn’t personal”.
Problem No. 4: You really, really want to be skinny
A healthy relationship is honest. An unhealthy one is full of deception. I know I lied to myself at the peak of my food issues. I was in SUCH denial that I was living a healthy lifestyle and I was just trying to be healthy by avoiding certain food groups and exercising all the time. But secretly I was terrified of putting weight back on.
It is proven that the number one case of food restriction is body dissatisfaction. It has mad that 90% of women don't like what they see in the mirror! There's nothing wrong with wanting to be slim. But depriving yourself of crucial nutrients (or eating only a select few)—whether through cleanses, fasts or cutting out food groups—and pretending it's all for the good of your health is a dangerous game. Ironically, it can backfire and set off the "starve, binge, hate yourself" cycle that makes you gain weight instead.
And all that negative self-talk is no recipe for weight loss, either. I know that when I'm nicer to myself, I tend to eat better and maintain a weight that's healthier for my body—and my sanity.
In our culture, so much is driven by shallow perceptions of what's worthwhile.
By obsessing about weight loss, we're not achieving what we're capable of. It's crowding out stuff that's more important, like our happiness and well-being. It has taken me 10 years to personally realise this! Don’t waste as much time like I did!
Please don’t suffer in silence, get in contact and let’s chat! It’s time to start building a healthy relationship with food!