I was speaking with someone recently who was adamant she didn’t need an emotional eating coach, she just needed to be more focused in what she was doing. She claimed she didn’t have an issue with food or eating but everything she was saying to me rang alarm bells! (especially as this was a business meeting over lunch and it’s an occupational hazard of mine….I spot a dysfunctional eater a mile away!)
So how do you know if you aren’t a normal eater?
Here are the 11 ways of knowing when your eating is far from ‘normal’
(you don’t need to recognise all of these in yourself by the way, but the more you do, the more you and I need to chat…)
#1 you think about food all the time
Food is your #1 priority. It dominates your thoughts, it’s the first thing you think about when your feet hit the floor in the morning (or maybe even as soon as your eyes open) and it’s the last thing on your mind when you go to sleep. You may have times throughout the day when you are busy or distracted but as soon as you can, you bring your full undivided attention back to food. Food is in your head when you are watching tv. You are thinking about food when you are with your partner, children, in a business meeting.
Obsessive? Quite possibly.
#2 you plan your life around food
The day ahead of you is influenced by eating and particularly food choice. Let’s say you need to go out somewhere, you might plan your trip so you can go past the bakery, stop at the garage first or call in at your favourite cafe. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. You take a different route so as to avoid the bakery, the garage or the cafe (as you are trying to be healthy this week and eating cake and drinking a vanilla iced latte won’t help with that!)
Either way you cannot get on with your day without food and eating being involved somewhere in your plans.
#3 eating is stressful
You very rarely look forward to eating as it’s now become a big stressful mess. Everything you choose to eat you second guess yourself as to whether that was the ‘right thing’ to choose and everything you eat makes you feel concerned, guilty, worried, anxious and stressed. Eating isn’t a relaxed experience anymore. In fact you can’t even remember the last time you felt relaxed whilst eating.
You may even wish that someone could just help you stop eating all together, give you a pill and then the stress would disappear. The idea of going out for coffee with friends creates stress and worry, just incase you end up eating a cake with your skinny latte (when you’ve promised yourself you want to be good this week), and heaven forbid you get a spontaneous invitation out somewhere and you aren’t sure what kind of food will be on offer…. (you run off to check what foods are ‘allowed’ on your current healthy eating plan before you leave the house)
#4 eating often causes anxiety
Too fattening, too many calories, too many carbs, too much salt. Your internal dialogue is so filled with worry and anxiety, that in itself can trigger you to eat more! Let’s face it, turning to food when feeling stressed in what many of us do, yet when that stress is self created, you find yourself in a persistent and never ending cycle which seems impossible to break free from.
#5 you try and make sure you are eating a well balanced diet all the time
If you are aware of how much protein and carbs you eat, you manage to get your 5 portions of fruit and veg everyday (no matter what!) and you always try and eat as organic and natural as you can….it’s possible there is some dysfunction with your eating. I appreciate that sounds a little controversial but let’s be honest, trying to eat ‘healthy’ is very different to making sure you ‘always eat healthy.’ When you are pushing yourself and making yourself in order to tick off the ‘recommended amounts’ something isn’t quite right, and this often brings up other signs of being a dysfunctional eater (see points 3 and 4 above!)
#6 people know you as being the healthy one etc
This was me….I was known for years as the one who was always ‘good,’ who would never eat sweets or chocolate, I’d always say ‘no’ to deserts in restaurants and eat as clean as possible. I was always to designated driver when I was at Uni. I claimed it was because I wasn’t a big drinker, my friends believed I was because I too health conscious to drink, yet the truth was neither of those. I knew how many calories were in those weekend drinking sessions down in the student bars and that filled me with fear. Being healthy has nothing to do with it (I’m clearly not advocating binge drinking but my health was not my motivating factor)
Behind closed doors I was a binge eater, a secret eater and I was permanently filled with guilt and shame after pretty much every food choice I ever made. If you are viewed in your social circle as being the ‘healthy one’ or the ‘good one’, then maybe step back and see how that title suits you….
#7 when you aren’t on track you find yourself binging and feeling terribly guilty. All or nothing approach.
So if you’ve started eating ‘well’ and you’ve got everything planned out and ready for the day or even week(!) ahead, but then suddenly you fall off track. You have a biscuit or a piece of chocolate (and God damn it you said you weren’t going to do that anymore!) so what do you do??
Carry on eating and binging of course.
Dysfunctional eaters have a very all or nothing attitude, it’s black or white, this way or that way.
There is no BALANCE. There is no MIDDLE GROUND.
So if you perhaps find yourself either being very good or binging and there is no balance, you might want to check in with that behaviour. Or maybe you are either on a diet or eating ‘healthy’ and if not you feel totally out of control with what you eat, when you eat and how much you eat. Again, step back and acknowledge what’s going on. This is not a normal way to eat.
#8 a bad morning turns into a bad day or even week
This follows on really from the point above. A ‘normal’ eater would never allow an overdose of chocolate or crisps or bread to pull them into a downward dark spiral lasting days or weeks and coming out on the other side in a sugar/bread/carb coma. They’d draw a line under it and move the hell on. In fact many ‘normal’ eaters probably wouldn’t find themselves overeating on chocolate, crisps or bread in the first place as they give themselves permission to eat that whenever they like. As soon as we judge our food choice or rather judge ourselves for what we have eaten, this is not ‘normal’ behaviour around eating.
#9 you have fear around food
That’s putting it mildly. Fear of what to eat. Fear of what not to eat. Fear of what you’ve eaten. Fear of eating out. Fear of eating in. Fear of not being able to stop. Fear of temptation. Fear of not trusting yourself to have certain food in the house as it triggers you to obsess and then binge. Fear of putting on weight if you eat certain things. Fear of not losing weight if you eat certain things.
Fear. Around. Food.
I don’t need to say anymore, do it??
#10 you often weigh, measure or count what you eat
If you aren’t counting calories, you may be weighing your potatoes or measuring the amount of fat in something you are contemplating eating. Perhaps you try and portion your plate with half vegetables and the rest carbs and protein (sorry nutrition world but that way of eating is so restrictive).
This isn’t normal. This is obsessive. This is showing a lack of self trust and complete disassociation to your body.
#11 you spend hours trailing the internet reading paleo recipes and looking into the ‘health’ benefits of food (and then try and get them into your diet)
One hour here and one hour there. Maybe you even have things book marked and printed out in neat little folders of low-carb, paleo friendly recipes (or was that just me??!)
Either way you spend far too long investigating food from a health point of view, but mostly from a weight control point of view, when you could be doing something else (and more often than not when you should be doing something else such as working or eating lunch!)
If you can identify and relate to even just a few of these, then you my darling, could be on a very slippery slope to becoming a very dysfunctional eater. And that could range from general food and weight obsession to the start of disordered eating and more serious eating disorders.
Back in 2004, I had reached the peak of my dysfunctional relationship with food and my body and I remember sat on the floor of my apartment, having inhaled an entire box of cocopops (chocolate breakfast cereal) crying my eyes out, just wishing it would all stop. The obsession, the calorie counting, the fear, the panic, the anxiety, the dieting. All of it!
I was displaying most of the 11 points mentioned above and had been for years, yet at the time (bizarrely) I wouldn’t have classed myself as being a dysfunctional eater or someone who didn’t have a ‘normal’ relationship with food.
I thought I had no willpower. I thought it was a problem with my focus. I believed I wasn’t disciplined enough. I wasn’t enough.
Since my recovery from being a dysfunctional eater with disordered eating, here’s what I’ve learnt along the way:
1) there is no perfect way of eating and there is no perfect body
We often become so fixated on the idea of eating perfectly and getting the perfect body and following the perfect diet, that we find ourselves in this place where perfectionism is IMPOSSIBLE. I wrote a blog post about it
There is no perfect way of eating EVER. Eating shouldn’t be perfect, it should be in alignment with YOU and YOUR BODY. That means some of us eat meat, some if us don’t, some of us eat sugar ,some of us don’t, some of us eat bread, some of us don’t.
Get over trying to eat perfectly and instead START LISTENING to yourself and YOUR BODY…….
2) eating can and should be easy
When you have your freedom from food, eating is exactly what it should be. It’s about feeding your body and nourishing your soul without guilt, fear or anxiety. It’s easy.
3) eating should never stop you from doing what you want
If you are waiting right now perhaps on your weight in the belief that, once you are 5lbs, 10lbs, 2 dress sizes smaller, life will suddenly be more enjoyable and wonderful and be filled with unicorns and rainbows, I hate to disappoint you my darling but it won’t. Nothing will change. You will still find ways of measuring your self worth. You will still not feel good enough. Why? Because your size, weight, shape and relationship to food has nothing to do with the REAL ISSUE…..your relationship to yourself and how you feel about who you are and what you want.
Life is all about experiences and creating memories. This is completely independent of what size, shape and weight your body is.
You are amazing who you are RIGHT NOW!
The more you try and control your food, the more food will control you and ultimately pull you away from the most important thing….LIVING YOUR LIEF NOW!
Trust me, I lost over a decade of my life doing exactly that.
I don’t want you to do the same.
Want some extra help with ditching diet mentality?
I’ve created a free food freedom guide just for you, which contains a comprehensive approach on how to heal your relationship with food and yourself. It also includes a free meditation to help you start listening to your body MORE and the diet gremlin LESS.
To get started, get the guide here: http://www.rachelfoy.com/foodfreedomguide
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