How I Healed My Relationship With Food
Updated: Aug 30
The majority of my life I struggled with disordered eating. I remember I went on my first diet in the 2nd grade. In my teen years I struggled with (undiagnosed) anorexia. I got down to 93 pounds at one point, but it remained undiagnosed because I never sought treatment. My 20s and 30s were spent binge-eating, then over-exercising to compensate.
What I've come to realize is none of these behaviors were actually about food. They were coping mechanisms I had learned to distract myself from pain and trauma I had experienced in my life. Restricting food became a way to feel in control of a life that was otherwise uncontrollable. Bingeing on food was a way to numb, and to fill a "hole" in my life, but my fear of getting 'fat' always made me do the work to prevent just that. Later, when I really got into fitness, showing off my "perfect diet" became a way for me to receive praise for being "so good".
Our society praises restriction and control, and it even praises overindulgence... but, only if that overindulgence doesn't actually lead to weight gain - you're praised for being "so disciplined", but also not being restrictive and "living your life".
I was praised a lot... which fueled my unhealthy relationship with food.
Then, of course, if a person overindulges, but isn't blessed to be able to stave off weight gain naturally, or their body doesn't respond as well to exercise as other people to keep the weight off, they are condemned for being "lazy and fat".... which leads to shame, and amplifies their unhealthy relationship with food.
Unlike other vices like smoking or drinking, we HAVE to eat to survive. You can't go cold turkey. There are so many things that can contribute to disordered eating, and the triggers are different for everyone, but universally I believe the root cause to be some type of trauma or pain for most everyone. When I say this to people, and I use the word trauma, the usual response is "No! It can't be that. I haven't had any trauma." Let me be very clear about this....
WE HAVE ALL HAD TRAUMA.
If you are a human being on the planet earth, you have experienced trauma. We always think of trauma as the "Big T" things such as abuse or injury, death, etc. The stuff that completely alters your world, and, yes, that is all definitely trauma, but there are little micro-traumas we all experience throughout our lifetimes. It could be the bully in the 3rd grade that called you fat that one day, or rejection from someone that you love that convinced your subconscious mind that you weren't good enough because you had those last couple of pounds to lose, or whatever... this is all "Little t" trauma, but it's still trauma.
So, does it mean that we're all just screwed? We're destined to live a life of suffering? A life of counting Calories, and constant therapy to finally get our eating habits under control?
Here are the things that I did to remedy my VERY unhealthy relationship with food:
I dealt with my sh*t. I quit avoiding "the work" to heal past traumas. I learned to navigate those emotions without needing to use food (and booze) as a way to numb or control. I allowed myself to feel emotions, instead of stuffing them down inside. I started speaking my truth, and shined a light on the shame I felt... and suddenly that shame lost it's power over me. By doing this, I felt in control of my life. I no longer felt these things consuming me, and I did not feel the need to consume things to excess any longer.
I quit putting restrictions on my food. This was scarier than you'd think. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted, and however much I wanted, without restrictions. I learned to trust my body not to blow up like a balloon, and to my surprise... it didn't. I did gain a few pounds in the beginning, but over time, the novelty of "forbidden foods" wore off because they were no longer forbidden again on Monday. I knew I could have whatever I wanted, any time I wanted, so there was no need to "get it all in" right now. Over time I learned what my hunger and satiety cues were, and I ate to satisfaction... not overindulgence.
I learned to look at food as nourishment for my body, instead of Calories and macros. I identified which foods cause me inflammation, and I avoid them. Not out of restriction, but because I don't want to feel like crap for days or weeks following. Now, it takes no willpower whatsoever for me to avoid inflammatory foods, and I don't feel deprived. In my mind those foods are not food - they are poison to me and my body because of the way they make me feel. I wouldn't drink poison, so I'm not going to eat something that destroys my health either. I also found that the foods that are the most inflammatory to me, are often the ones that trigger MASSIVE food cravings. That inflammation really affects my brain in a bad way. By removing the inflammatory foods, a side effect was a reduction in food cravings as well.
I portion my food. Even though I don't put restrictions on how much I can eat of something, I will unconsciously more than I really want/need if I don't portion it out. If I eat directly out of the pint ice cream container, I will inevitably eat more than I would if I portion out a bowl. Every. Time. If at the end of the bowl, I decide I want more... I get it. I eat to satisfaction, but I still need a stopgap to give me the opportunity to be mindful of my actions. The bowl is just that. It allows me to consciously make the decision to have more. (Pro Tip: use smaller plates and bowls. You'll naturally portion out less.) If there is a time where I do overindulge (I'm human) I simply move on. It used to be one "bad meal" or overindulgence led to eating like an asshole the rest of the day/week/weekend. Not anymore. Now I simply eat like normal (healthy) the next meal. If I'm not as hungry because of the overindulgence, I'll eat less. I listen to my body.
I took my power back. Nothing, and no one, can have power over me unless I let it. Food is an object. It does not have inherent power... I give it power by making it "forbidden" or "good" or "bad". It is all my perspective. Those labels aren't real. Now, when I choose to indulge, it's an #intentionalindulgence. I choose to eat it. I can as easily choose not to eat it if I don't really want it that day. I own my power.
Food has the power to hurt you, or to heal you, but it doesn't have power over you unless you let it. It took me 4 decades to FINALLY have a healthy relationship with food. It's never too late.
If you have any questions or comments, please reach out.
I'm here, friends. Stay healthy. Be happy.
One serving of my favorite non-dairy ice cream. Enjoyed & totally satisfied!