I have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Reading that, I think the gut reaction is “No shit Casanda that’s why you’ve been overweight most of your life.” but that’s not exactly what I’m onto right now. Yes, I know my eating habits and my lack of physical activity are the reason I haven’t been a healthy weight since before puberty hit but I’m also realizing that my relationship with food is negatively impacting my mental state as well. And that’s just not something I can afford to let happen.
In therapy I learnt how to not let people’s opinions control me, which was hard for a girl who had been severely bullied by people she considered friends. I also learnt to not let my grades control me, which was difficult for a student who had taken pride in straight A’s throughout high school and had to face the reality of lower marks in university. With the help of my counsellor I learnt a number of important life lessons that have helped me manage all sorts of difficult situations but I never learnt how to not let food control me.
I don’t think I even realized that it did until now.
More than friends, more than grades, more than anything, food has a huge impact on my mood. A satisfying meal, no matter how unhealthy, leads to good feelings, even if a stomach ache or other adverse symptoms accompany it. Conversely, not getting to eat whatever I’m craving leads to feelings of sadness and anger. I’ve lashed out, I’ve cried, and it has all been over food.
Perhaps it would be easier to just eat whatever I want when I’m craving it but then I’ll never be healthy. And to be quite honest, I don’t need to eat that way.I don’t just eat because I’m hungry or I’m craving something. I eat because I’m bored, because I’m upset, because I’m happy. I just keep eating with absolutely no regard as to what that is doing to my body and my mind.
It has to stop somewhere.
When we talk about addictions we generally focus on drugs or alcohol but we don’t talk about food. Maybe it seems silly to since food is something we need to survive. But not all food is created equal. There are many studies that suggest that sugar is highly addictive and to be honest, that makes a lot of sense. Sugar releases large amounts of dopamine into your nervous system which plays a huge role in reward behaviour. Basically, the chemical is telling your brain that it wants more and that’s why high sugar foods can be so addictive. It’s also part of the reason why I lash out when I’m denying myself those foods because my brain has been conditioned to want more. Because of this conditioned response these unhealthy foods make me feel good, even if they aren’t good for me.
The thing is, for most of us who go on these healthy lifestyle journeys, this information isn’t new. It certainly isn’t new to me and yet knowing it hasn’t changed too much in the grand scheme of things. I still shovel chocolate into my mouth at every opportunity and I still wouldn’t hesitate in ordering the new Unicorn Frappuccino even though it has same amount of sugar as three snickers chocolate bars. Clearly I’m not taking the lesson to heart. Perhaps that is one of the hardest parts about weight loss and healthy living: knowing what you need to do and still not seeing yourself do it.
So what now? I’ve admitted I have this problem and I’ve begun to acknowledge some of the causes but what does that matter if I don’t have a plan moving forward? If I don’t make changes I will just keep going back to this; I’ll keep crying over food and getting frustrated when I give into it again and again. Knowing this, I decided I wanted something to work through to help try and beat this addiction. I’m already well on my way with my healthier lifestyle but now I’ve got to work through some of the mental roadblocks that are not only hindering my progress but also hurting me psychologically. I could lose all the weight I’d like to and still not have made it if this mindset sticks.
So I looked to the 12 step program that’s well known for drug and alcohol addiction just to see if I could apply it to myself since this is very much an addiction for me. Unfortunately, the spiritual component doesn’t really suit my mindset. In this instant, I want to see myself as the creator of change, not some higher power. So I’ve come up with my own program to try and follow based on the general motivators the 12 step program uses.
My program is only 7 steps:
- Accept that your relationship with food is a problem that creates negativity in your day to day functioning by promoting feelings of self-loathing, doubt, and overall unhappiness.
- Acknowledge when cravings and bad eating decisions affect your mental state and the decisions that you make.
- Observe and note any experiences, feelings, and situations that trigger emotional trauma over food.
- Seek ways to rework these experiences, feelings, and situations in order to stop food cravings and desires from controlling your emotions.
- Find alternative experiences to avoid relying on food for fun, pleasure, and happiness.
- Begin to see treats as they should be: an occasional indulgence that you should enjoy and not something that should control your actions, mindset, or mood.
- Continue to acknowledge when food impacts your mental state, applying the new strategies you have come up with to control the situation instead of letting it control you.
I’m not sure how well this will work or if it’s really in the most productive order but I find that having something to reference can’t hurt. If anything, this will be a good reminder. I know I’m stronger than my cravings and I know I can be happy without eating chocolate or some sort of other sweet every single day. Will I ever give it up entirely? Of course not. That’s not a life I’m interested in living. However, I can create a better relationship between me and what I put into my body. Plus, changing the way I view indulgences will hopefully allow me to enjoy them more. It’s all a part of the journey.
And as is the hope with the 12 step program, I hope that maybe this post will inspire others to acknowledge the negative relationship they have with food, not just physically but mentally as well. As always, If you have any thoughts or questions please share in the comments below.