Amongst a modern diet culture, it can feel impossible to know what to eat, when to eat it and what is ‘healthy’. This can be extremely overwhelming and dis-empowering when trying to lead a balanced lifestyle, and plays a big part in disordered relationships with food. So how can you spot if your own relationship with food needs healing?
As an Eating Disorder Specialist, I am frequently asked if there is a difference between disordered eating, eating disorders and someone embarking on a journey with food to improve their overall health and wellbeing. I must point out that there is a difference between someone who chooses to be healthy for several positive impacts it may have on their wellbeing, as opposed to someone who develops an unhealthy relationship with food and potentially an eating disorder. As Sara Gilbert states in her book Counselling for Eating Disorders, “people who diet may find it difficult to lose the same amount of weight on successive occasions”. Research suggests there may be an underlying metabolic basis for this, which was concluded through a study where rats were given the same diet on two occasions and the second time took longer to reach optimum weight. However this evidence also demonstrates the vast negative physiological consequences that dieting has, not to mention the effect it has on the mental state and the fact that it can make you more likely to develop an eating disorder.
My reason for sharing this with you, is to help you understand that the more you deprive your body of its basic nutrients and food groups, the more malnourished it becomes and the more stress you put onto your body. Living in a restrained way, calorie counting, and embarking on one of the many dangerous fad diets we are constantly bombarded with, will only lead to constant worries around food, weight and body image. It will arouse negative feelings and ultimately wreak havoc with your wellbeing.
Here are 5 signs that may suggest your relationship with food/or a loved one’s relationship with food is becoming disordered and could do with some support:
1. ALWAYS ON YOUR MIND
You are constantly bombarded with thoughts of food, calories, what you are going to eat, or what you have already eaten. There is a difference between looking forward to a warm plate of food after a long day of work and a preoccupation with everything you eat and everything you consume. A starved brain is a preoccupied one and when our brain is in a hypoglycaemic (starved) state, the preoccupation with food heightens, hence why dieting and restricting often leads to over eating and bingeing.
2. GOOD VS BAD
You start to determine your self-worth by what you eat. If I eat a salad I am “good”, if I eat a chocolate bar I am “bad”. No food is intrinsically good or bad if you are informed and understand the role it plays in the body, it is also not healthy or normal to feel better or worse about yourself dependant on what you eat.
3. FOOD + MOOD
Your body image status begins to change based on what you have eaten. A disordered mindset around food and body image often leads to thoughts such as “I have put on X amount of weight because I have eaten X today”, or “Because I have bloated I must be unhealthy or be eating too much”. These are both inaccurate and distorted beliefs, of course you do not gain weight as soon as you have eaten something, a balanced diet is truly everything in moderation and bloating is very often a sign of stress unless you suffer with something such as IBS… Again, a starved brain is a distorted one and can start to impact the way you see your body image.
4. RAMPING UP THE RESTRICTION
Lying or deceiving yourself or others when it comes to food. Do you find yourself or a loved one is making excuses when it comes to dinner time or eating when you are hungry? Are you ignoring hunger signals in order to achieve a desired health or aesthetic goal? The human body NEEDS food to fuel it and as human beings, it is one our most basic and important needs so if you are restricting yourself of it in any way shape or form, it times to take a rain check before it develops into something more worrying.
5. THE ‘HANGER’ KICKS IN
When we deprive our bodies of food and certain nutrients, we are left feeling empty, with cravings, feelings of unease, irritability and often anger. Imagine cutting down the amount of times you brushed your teeth, or took a shower so drastically that your skin started to react or your mouth became sore. Well, consider the drastic impact you are putting on your body if you deprive it of food and the nutrients it needs.
Whilst I cannot speak for everyone, for me, dieting was one of the biggest causes for my eating disorder developing and what seemed harmless, soon turned into a life-threatening illness. Today the statistic is that 50% of people who embark on a diet, are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Don’t let this be you, don’t deprive yourself of nourishment because the consequences speak for themselves.