For years, I struggled with an unhealthy relationship with food that bounced between two extremes: either I was “being good” and following strict, self-imposed rules about what I could and couldn’t eat, or I was “being bad” and secretly binging on huge amounts of unhealthy food.
After every binge, I promised myself that this was the last time. Tomorrow, I’d start anew with a rigorous workout and a super-healthy breakfast.
Sound familiar? If so, I want you to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It took me years to figure out how to reach it, and today, I’m sharing some practices that were essential to the journey.
1. Remind yourself that the number on the scale doesn’t determine your worth.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I know that my struggle with food wasn’t really about food. It was a struggle with myself. I didn’t realize that I was inherently worthy, exactly as I was. Without this knowledge, I connected my sense of self-worth to two main extrinsic factors: What I ate and what I looked like. If I had been “good” with food and exercise, and the scale showed what I deemed to be an acceptable number, then I was worthy. If I had been “bad,” or the number on the scale was too high, then I was worthless.
Once I realized that I was worthy, no matter what — even after I’d eaten a whole package of cookies and half a gallon of ice cream — then I was able to create space for self-compassion. The kinder I was to myself, the more I realized my inherent worthiness. The more I realized my inherent worthiness, the less I got caught up in proving it with extreme food measures.
2. Learn how to enjoy food, and stop classifying it as either “good” or “bad.”
For the more than 10 years that I struggled with food, I spent immense amounts of energy thinking about what I “should” eat versus what I really wanted to eat. The result was that when it was actually time to eat, I didn’t enjoy it. I was either dutifully eating my broccoli while wishing I was eating mashed potatoes, or urgently cramming sweets into my mouth without true enjoyment.
Today, I practice eating in a relaxed state and being present with my food, which leaves me feeling much more satisfied. Physiologically, eating this way puts my body in a better state to digest, metabolize, and assimilate nutrients. Psychologically, it allows me to experience the simple pleasure of eating — and I can recognize the nourishment from food.
When I eat with awareness, my meals become a time to slow down and enjoy; a break in the day where the only goal is to nourish myself and take pleasure in the process.
3. Practice feeling your feelings.
Food can be a very effective numbing mechanism. It is much easier to reach for the platter of donuts than to admit that you’re feeling lonely, anxious or overwhelmed — and actually be present with your discomfort. I know it sounds hokey, but learning how to feel our feelings is an essential part of healing.
Today, when I find myself wanting to reach for food when I’m not hungry, I know that my numbing instinct is coming into play. An alarm goes off in my head, and instead of reacting without thought, I stop, take a breath, and ask myself, “How am I feeling right now?” When the answer arises, I practice sitting with the emotion, letting it course through my body however it needs. This is harder than numbing, but the rewards have been well worth it.
Practice remembering that it’s a practice, not a perfect.
The three above concepts are simple, but not easy. I purposefully framed each step as a practice because that is exactly what it is — a practice, not a perfect. All three are areas in which I’m still a work in progress. My relationship with food will never be perfect — and that’s ok, because neither will I. I continue to practice knowing I’m worthy, eating slowly and with a sense of pleasure and feeling my feelings.