Who doesn’t feel guilty after eating “bad foods”? In today’s diet-driven, weight loss obsessed, thin-worshiping world, I tip my hat to any woman who’s managed to make it through without developing serious issues when it comes to food and guilt. And I should know – that used to be one of the most prevalent issues I had.
My relationship with food was so unhealthy that I developed binge eating disorder – a form of mental illness that still isn’t taken seriously or seen as valid today. But it is serious. I used to spend my evenings eating until I literally vomited. I mean, head in the toilet bowl, puking and crying, feeling more worthless than words can ever say and eventually, wondering if it would be better if I was dead.
Intense, right? I know – sorry! I’ll keep things light from here on out.
But I’ve been lucky enough to be treated for my eating disorder and come out the other side with a really healthy, guilt-free relationship to food. These days I eat intuitively. Sometimes that means craving a spinach and banana smoothie and other times it means relishing in chocolate fudge ice-cream until I’m full. Now, I can keep biscuits in the house. I have a bag of toffee popcorn in the press that’s been there for weeks. I’ll get to it when I want it but I don’t feel that compulsive need to eat it which is AWESOME.
The weird thing about binge eating disorder is the role that guilt plays in it. I ate because I felt worthless. I felt like a fat, ugly, weak willed failure. And I felt so guilty for being that person, that I binged. It was like I was using food as a weapon against myself, a way to punish myself for my guilt. But the form of punishment that I chose (eating until I threw up) just perpetuated the guilt and made it worse. For a long time I couldn’t see it for what it really was – a never-ending cycle of food guilt.
Anyway, here I am 3 years after finishing my year of therapy and recovery and I feel so at peace with food that (brace yourselves) I’ve stopped gaining weight for the first time in my life. It’s not really the weight that’s the big deal here, it’s what it means. Not gaining weight means that I’m not punishing myself anymore, not feeling worthless anymore and eating in a way that works for my body and mind. I’m really proud of myself for that, and I want to do what I can to help you guys get there too.
I remember so well the pain of disordered eating. The emotional trauma of it will always stay with me. And I’m reminded of it almost everyday by my Instagram followers, many of whom are fighting against disordered eating patterns themselves. I’m not a therapist or a nutritionist or a psychiatrist, but I have first hand life experience of this and I believe in the value of that.
So, I wanted to share with you the best way (in my opinion) to help you to end the cycle of guilt and start enjoying food for what it is – a delicious friend.
Understand Your Thoughts, Beliefs And Behaviors – And Make New Ones.
One of the really challenges aspects of our relationship with food is the fact that it’s so deeply rooted in the subconscious brain. Every single thing we do, we do for a reason, including binging or restricting our food intake, but often it’s really difficult to understand why we’re doing it.
Trying to tackle your issues with food without understanding where they come from is – frankly – a waste of time. Sure you can double down on the discipline approach and try to just force yourself to eat differently. But if that approach worked, we’d all look like Kendall Jenner, wouldn’t we?
Discipline just doesn’t work when it comes to the subconscious. You can’t tell it what to do, or try to wrangle it into submission. You have to figure out why it’s doing what it’s doing, what beliefs and values are influencing it and what childhood memories are driving it. When you do that, you can start to dismantle those thoughts and beliefs and that’s when you’ll see changes in your behaviors.
How do you do this though? Well I’ve said it a hundred times before and I’ll say it a hundred times again – journaling is the best way to figure yourself the fuck out. I included a full chapter in my e-book, The Self Care Bible, on journaling because I think it’s so important, but for those of you who haven’t signed up to my Patreon just yet, here’s the gist.
Journaling is the simplest thing in the world but it’s so powerful. All you need is some kind of notebook (I recommend splashing out on one that you really love to make it feel less intimidating, but any old copy book will do), a pen and 5 minutes of free time.
Start of by writing a question in the middle of the page. It could be “why do I binge eat” or “why do I feel so guilty after I eat” – just choose one that makes sense to you. Then draw a circle around it.
From that point, start scribbling down any words that come to mind. At first you’ll probably think of words like “fat”, “disgusting” and “worthless” and that’s perfectly fine. If it pops into your head, get it down on the page.
But after those initial few words, you’re going to want to go deeper. Ask yourself tough questions, like how did your Mum influence you as a kid when it came to eating. Did you have an embarrassing experience as a teen when some stupid asshole boy called you fat or chubby in front of other people? Try to pinpoint those formative experiences that really shaped your belief system and, no matter how vague they might be, get them on the page.
Now, you might find that you’re coming up blank and struggling to think of anything at all. That’s OK, it’s all part of the process. In that case I can’t recommend listening to The Food Psych Podcast enough. It’s hosted by a dietitian who practices a Health At Every Size in her work with women, many of whom are battling long-standing eating disorders and features incredibly intelligent and articulate guests who discus their relationships with food, what shaped them and how they experienced them throughout their lives. If you’re struggling to journal, a few episodes of this podcast and the words will be positively flowing out of you – guaranteed!
Once you are at a place when journaling is really helping you to understand where your guilt around food is coming from, you should start to notice changes in your feelings and behaviors. Don’t get me wrong, a 5 minutes journaling session isn’t going to undo 20 years of conditioned diet culture.
But you will start to question things, think more deeply about how your eating and feeling and, with time, see changes.
For me, journaling allowed me to understand what I was doing and to see it for what it was – self harm. That’s not to say that eating is self harm, LOL, but eating in a destructive way that makes you unhappy is dangerous for your body and your mental health. Figuring out why I was doing this to myself was the key to realizing that I didn’t want to do this anymore and once I realized that, it was like the final piece of the puzzle. I felt free.
Yeah, I still had work to do. Training myself to eat intuitively was literally that – a training process (which I’m planning on writing a full blog post on next month). But without reaching the realization that journaling gave me, the training process wouldn’t have been possible.
I’m so incredibly grateful. I mean, Jesus Fucking Christ I’m so grateful. I’ve come through something that is so difficult to overcome, and I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that it’s so worth the work, it’s so worth the struggle. Living at peace with food is just an entirely different way of living. I feel so free, so at ease.
Do I still binge? Hell yes. And I always will. Gorging on chocolate and popcorn and ice-cream is really important and when you’re doing it for the right reasons (ie. because it gives you comfort when you’re needing some) then it’s perfectly healthy. Today my binges are fairly few and far between, maybe once or twice a month, and God know’s they’re a fraction of what they used to be in terms of sheer volume. But they play an important role in my self care practice and my mental health. And I feel really comfortable with that.
Do I still diet? Hell no. But I do try to eat lots of fruit and veg and keep my diet balanced. I’m not interested in weight loss whatsoever, so I don’t eat well to achieve that goal anymore. Now I eat fresh, nutrition-packed foods because my beautiful body deserves them. They make my poos better, they help me sleep, my skin loves them and so do my moods. My body deserves the best kind of fuel, and I make sure it gets it. But it also gets chocolate and crisps and biscuits dunked in sugary tea, because it needs joy too.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to whether your eating because you love yourself or because you hate yourself. The distinction between these two things is fairly clear but knowing you’re motivated by the latter isn’t enough to create meaningful change. You need to understand why in order to do that, and I believe that journaling is the very best way to do that.
Kakhi shacket, Newlook, €32.99, buy here
Leopard print skirt, F&F at Tesco, not available online but here’s a similar one
Rust semi-sheer top, M&S, €24, buy here
Nude shoulder bag, Primark, not available online but here’s a similar one
Round rose sunglasses, M&S, €24, buy here