If you struggle with negative thoughts and anxiety around eating on a daily basis, you are far from alone. Whether or not you have a diagnosed eating disorder, in the words of Francesca Eats Roses, we are ‘swimming in an overarching diet culture’, that equates weight and appearance to value, leaving many of us - including myself - feeling unhappy and disconnected from our bodies as well as fearful about how to approach food.
Inspired by my discussion on evolving your relationship to food with Francesca, and based on what has been helpful to me in the process of finding a healthy balance here are some key steps you can take to alleviate the fears you may have around food and heal your relationship with your body.
1. Consciously Committing to Change
It might sound a little obvious but this first step on the road to evolving your relationship with food, the way you see and feel about your body is the most difficult. Both myself and Francesca can attest to the fact that not only does it take time to make this commitment, but you may break it over and over before you finally get to a place where you can keep it.
No journey to find self-love and inner stability is linear, just have compassion for yourself and remember you are strong and if you fall you will be able to get back up again. Know that you will keep growing overtime and the more you make a conscious effort to create positive change in the relationship you have to your body and the way you approach food, the easier it will become to find a healthy balance.
2. Building a Community
One of the unfortunate things about being in a negative headspace - whether it’s in relation to food or other aspects in life - and the reason we so often get trapped there is because it feels so isolating. Our inner critics are adept at convincing us we are alone in our emotions and that no one could possibly understand, but this is far from the truth. We all experience similar anxieties, especially in relationship to our bodies and food.
Building a community of people around you who remind you, you are part of a wider world of human beings that understand and care for you is key to helping you feel safe and supported. If those people also have an unhealthy relationship with food and insecurities about their bodies, then you may feel able to be more open about your struggle and you can support each other in working towards health. If those people have strong self-love and an already healthy approach to food then they can motivate you and remind you that it is possible to reach a place of balance, free from fear. In my experience, it’s helpful to have a community made up of both sides of the spectrum so that you always feel supported and inspired.
3. Finding Inspiration
Whether this is through the people who you surround yourself with, others outside of this group or any other element in life, finding things that inspire you to live, love and be kind to yourself is key to feeling better and reminding you that there is more to life than food and appearance.
There is so much beauty in this world, and seeking it can be an incredible awakening to a life beyond your inner critic. My inspiration initially came from watching the people who I was in therapy with evolve past their traumas to live stronger happier lives. I also found comfort and motivation in nature and my ever growing love of animals. In fact, a key part of my healing journey was working with horses. Overtime, I have found inspiration in so many things including theatre, philosophy, history, art, the people in my life outside of therapy and so much more.
If you are in a difficult place with how you view yourself and the way you eat look for the things in life that remind you why you want to live and what you want to be a part of. These beautiful pearls of inspiration will help support you to move forward on your journey to feeling better about yourself and food.
4. Discovering Healthy Distractions
Focusing on and falling in love with things that make you happy is a wonderful way not just to take your mind off your body and food but affirm your incredible capabilities as a human being and give you confidence in yourself.
One of the most jolting, yet wise things a nutritionist ever told me was ‘if the focus of your day is food, you need to take another look at your life”. At the time, I found this so minimising and seemingly dismissive of the emotional pain I felt about my body and the fear driven fixation I had developed around food. However, now I see that what she was encouraging me to do was look beyond the limitations of my focus on food and my body and focus on how much more there was to myself and life in general.
You are able to do so many brilliant things with your mind and body. Whether it’s meditation, crosswords, reading, dancing, singing, gardening or any number of productive positive activities, find what you love and keep doing it! Over time you will feel more and more sure of yourself and find you are less and less focused on food and your physical state.
5. Intuitive Eating
Intuitive or mindful eating is the process of learning to really listen to your body, what it wants and when. Initially, especially if you have a long history of self-criticism and control around food, this can be quite difficult mentally but your body remembers how to eat from a place of freedom, so the more you practice hearing your needs the easier it becomes to listen to them.
The starting place of creating an intuitive approach to food is rejecting a diet mentality and culture. Try not to look at content that encourages this and when thoughts shaped by the idea of weight-loss as a goal enter your head, do your best to distract from them or push them aside.
The next step is to appreciate and accept your hunger. Keep yourself adequately fed, regularly and when you feel hungry eat, despite fears around under or overeating. Over time, learn to feel when you are full too and embrace this as you, nourishing yourself.
Then, forgive yourself for any negative thoughts around food and give yourself permission to eat. Try not to see foods that trigger you as bad and embrace them. Over time you will come to realise that nothing happens whether you do or don’t eat these foods.
After you have taken these steps, then begin to explore how you can enjoy food and the experience of eating. For me this was through cooking, but there are so many ways to discover this pleasure. Perhaps you could experiment with different taste combinations, new ways or places to eat?
The most important step is to be kind to yourself and respect your body. When you have moments of anxiety or self-criticism try and answer those voices from a place of compassion and remember that your body is unique and exceptional in it’s own way.
If you need help with your relationship to food or any of the steps I’ve mentioned in this article, there is no shame in turning to therapy. For me therapy was exceptionally helpful, - especially at the start of my journey to find a healthier relationship with food - as a source of guidance and support.
If you live in the UK like I do, therapy is of course available on the NHS for free, but if you don’t, there are many affordable online and offline options, a few of which Francesca details on her blog.
Therapy will provide you with a safe space and the structure you may need to get to a healthier place so you can thrive and move forward on your own.