I am no stranger to the excruciating dread that comes with disordered eating. I know exactly how it feels to want to burst out of your skin in shame and disgust after indulging in food that is not on your diet. While people around you simply shrug it off or call it a “cheat meal,” you have a hard time moving on and start playing the familiar game of self-punishment.
As many people with an eating disorder will attest to, the issue starts long before it becomes an everyday struggle. Eating disorders often manifest as a coping mechanism for anxiety or other mental issues that may seem outside of your control. Micromanaging every area of your life, including what you eat, gives you the sense of self-control you crave, and focusing on food proves much easier than facing the issues in other areas of your life.
I am now four years recovered from my issues with food. Looking back, no matter how much I tried to control my situation, surroundings, and eating habits, I couldn’t run fast enough from the fear of losing control. Restricting food, trying trendy diets, over-exercising, and all the other mental ambushes I inflicted on myself made little difference. Sure, I lost weight, but this didn’t solve the bigger issues at play.
My mind was my biggest enemy, shaming me or telling me I was nearly worthless with every chance it got. So I restricted food as vehicle to get this self-loathing out of my system. It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college that I realized how much I needed both my body and my mind in my corner if I was going to make something of myself.
After studying disordered eating from every angle imaginable, I finally began to understand that negativity is the enemy – not calories. What feeds your body goes far beyond the food you put in it. The body metabolizes intangible things in your life, from subconscious self-talk to the news you read to the posts you see on social media, and those you choose to focus on grow. If you constantly obsess over your body image, your issues with it will only compound.
The change starts within. As soon as you commit to self-compassion and no longer stand for self-loathing, you can really begin listening to what your body is asking for. In fact, new research suggests such mindfulness – not certain foods or caloric intake – is the best technique to maintaining a healthy weight. This means appreciating food and essentially learning to cope with guilt and anxiety about eating, allowing your body to do what it naturally does: metabolize food for nutrients.
“Increased mindful eating has been shown to help participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune to hunger and satiety, recognize external cues to eat, gain self-compassion, decrease food cravings, decrease problematic eating, and decrease reward-driven eating,” one review concluded.
My eating disorder needed to happen for me to understand that letting go of restrictions and listening to what the body needs will make you healthier than any fad diet or metabolism-boosting trick out there. I surrendered to the idea that struggle is not essential for success, and my body is healthier and stronger than ever as a result. I no longer allow my twisted relationship with food to run my days, and I trust my body to the work.