So much of recovering from disordered eating habits (like emotional eating, food restriction, chronic dieting, exercise addiction, etc.) has to do with the eating itself. For instance, I had to re-learn how to listen to my body for hunger cues, eating when I was hungry and stopping once I was full. I had to re-learn how to exercise until I felt good, not exhausted and beat up (I also shifted my thinking from exercise to movement). I had to stop counting calories, fat grams, sugar grams, and make food just food.
These things are really important, don’t get me wrong, but I think that all of the above can and does fall into place once you get to the nitty-gritty of the why behind your eating behaviors.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the hows of eating “normally” that we forget to dig deeper.
In order to heal, you must understand your own unique need for control over your food.
I’ll walk through a writing exercise that I find really beneficial for anyone trying to heal their relationship to food. (Answers are in italics, but are just examples…your answers may vary greatly).
What are you most afraid of happening if you were to let go of your rules around eating? I would eat everything in sight and have no self-control.
And then what? I would gain 20 pounds from eating so much.
And then what? I would be ugly and unattractive.
And then what? I would be unloveable.
NOW go through each of these points and ask yourself, “Is this true?”
Would you really eat everything in sight? Are you certain that you would gain weight? If you were to gain weight, would that automatically, 100% make you unattractive? Are all of the people in your life definitely going to turn their backs on you because of the way you look?
Bam. So we’ve just uncovered your actual need to restrict your food and control what your body looks like: A fear of being unloveable (or whatever you come up with in your own writing).
So now that you know this about yourself, you can begin to unpack that fear every time you hear your fear voice yelling things at you when you eat a food you think you’re not “supposed” to.
If you feel anxiety or uncertainty while eating, ask yourself what you’re truly afraid of in that moment. Then ask yourself if it’s true. Then ask yourself what you can do to make yourself feel more at ease so that you can enjoy what you’re eating.
One thing that you may find helpful is to sit with your fears for a few moments while eating and then take a few deep breaths. With each exhalation, allow yourself to release your fears. Release your anxieties and your stories about why you can’t eat this food.
You may even find that you don’t actually want the “bad” food that you’re about to eat. Sometimes you just “throw in the towel” so that you can start over on Monday with your clean eating. But what would happen if you just let yourself eat what you wanted when you felt like it, instead of binge eating the “bad” foods in bulk just to eliminate them completely after the weekend? You may realize you don’t even want the food that you’re so desperately trying to avoid eating.
Your food isn’t something to be feared or controlled. It’s meant to be enjoyed! Give yourself permission to be nervous about the process (after all, we’re learning here) but just know that in that fear, you find your growth.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What things make you fearful of letting go of food restriction? What would happen if you tried these exercises?