I was inspired to write this post by a lovely follower of mine on Instagram who mentioned how strange it is that eating issues are “nothing to do with the food and often to do with the mental/emotional side of things”. It really got me thinking about thoughts that have been bubbling up within me for a long time of what is really underneath our eating issues?
I know this answer is complex and the answer is highly individual and different for every single person who has struggled with or is struggling with eating issues. However, I wanted to share some of the things that were under my eating issues that show it was never really about the food in the first place. I won’t share all the reasons, as this blog post would become about 20 pages long… But I think it is an important topic and conversation to shed light on.
I often find that when I speak to people who have had issues with food, that it is never actually really about the food. It is usually always something underneath that. That is why I believe that exploring what is under your food issues is essential for healing and recovering.
There can be so many things behind someone’s food issues, from a lack of self worth, a way to control, a way to cope with trauma, a way to find fulfilment in a life otherwise lacking any joy or fulfilment, and so much more… Eating issues are multifaceted and are different for every single person from all walks of life. And therefore healing is individual and holistic for each person.
For me personally, a big part of my restrictive eating issues were from a place where I had a lack of self worth. I thought in order to be worthy and loved, that I needed to make my body smaller. I was never in a large body growing up, but I was on the chubbier side of slim and I felt it acutely as a teenage girl. I remember my first thought of feeling less than was actually when I was in year 5 at just 10 years old. It was when I looked down at my crossed legs in assembly and thought my legs were so much fatter than the other girls. And that somehow that made me wrong and less worthy. And then when I put on a lot of weight in my first year of University (as a result of rebound restriction plus a myriad of emotional reasons), the reaction from my family and friends was that the larger body I was now in was wrong, unattractive and not acceptable. Cue massive restriction -> hello spiral into eating disorder and into a very thin body that I thought would make me more loveable and worthy. And even once I healed from the super restriction, the diet mentality of always just wanting to “just lose a bit of weight” was always there. Because I still had that core (incorrect) belief that I would be more worthy if I was smaller.
In my (wrong) beliefs during those years, I truly believed that I would be so much more worthy if I could just become thinner and lose weight. And I think this is a highly common incorrect view and belief. And it makes me incredibly sad. It makes me so sad because so many incredible human beings who have so much potential, gifts and love are spending so much time attempting to be smaller because we are fed a lie that being smaller is more worthy. It makes me incredibly sad that there are probably more little girls out there in assembly thinking their legs are too fat and that they need to change to be loveable and worthy. And because many of us struggle with a low self worth for a variety of different reasons, our brains think we can heal that low self worth if we just became smaller.
But the truth is that we truly are worthy and enough just as we are now. No matter what size we are now. Measuring our self worth on our body size and how much fat is on it is like measuring our worth on the size of our feet or how big our toes are… And when we put it like that it does sound silly doesn’t it?
When we truly know and believe that our worth is not aligned to our size, then the freedom to not restrict can come. Because we can make peace that no matter what size we are, we ARE WORTHY AND WE ARE ENOUGH. We are worthy of nourishing ourselves and looking after ourselves.
So for me, a big part of my restriction was because I truly believed I would be more worthy if I was thinner. And that was a part of what was under my eating issues. Now I know that is a lie and that I am worthy no matter my size, I choose to nourish myself in mind, body and soul and let my size be whatever it wants to be naturally.
The other place I experienced eating issues was with orthorexic behaviour and this was driven by me believing that if I just ate the perfect diet then I would be perfectly healthy and all of my anxiety and life’s issues would go away. Underneath these behaviours, largely, was a quest for control in a time when my life felt out of control when I was healing from an anxiety disorder that had taken over my life. Food was a safe place and an obvious way for me to control because I read that “if you healed your gut with x diet then your anxiety will be healed” etc, etc (insert palm to face emoji…). From latching on to this way to control, the anxiety actually got way, way worse (shock…) and my anxiety around food was crazy, with worries of what x chemical or y gmo would do to my health. I was so fearful of feeling anxiety or “not well” that I became so afraid of eating “not healthy foods” and if I did, it would fill me with paralysing anxiety.
I finally clicked one day that worrying so much about what I was eating was creating so much more anxiety in my life and it was inhibiting my life in so many ways. So I made the commitment to heal from this and I started to take care of myself properly and loosen the reigns on what I ate. Although eating well and eating enough is absolutely therapeutic for helping to heal anxiety (our brains need proper nourishment and enough nourishment), I started to fully realise that eating some “non text book healthy foods” some of the time was not going to dramatically effect my health. In fact, by doing that, I was actually opening the gate to better health, because our mental health is so important for our overall health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, our health is SO MUCH more than just what we eat. Of course food is one part of our health, but health is also our mental health, our sleep levels, our spiritual health, our life circumstances and so much more. I truly began to see the light that a healthy relationship with food was so important and sometimes more important than what I was actually eating. Because all that stress about eating the “perfectly healthy diet” was doing more harm than good for me.
A big part of healing what was under the orthorexic behaviour was to heal from being fearful of feeling anxious. Sounds ridiculous of being afraid of feeling anxious right? But for any of my anxiety warriors out there, you will know how debilitating an anxiety disorder can be and how strong the physical and mental sensations can be. It is just simply not nice and can be truly crippling. I also used to worry about people seeing me be anxious as if it was a huge flaw and made me an unworthy human being for feeling anxious. BUT with time and healing, I truly began to understand and learn that anxiety is just a feeling and although it can be crippling, it cannot hurt me and I do not need to fear it. I also started to fully love myself, anxiety and all, and if someone sees me be anxious, so friggin what? Did the world end? No!
Being scared of a feeling and being worried about people seeing me anxious seems so silly to me now, but at the time it was all so real and crippling. Now that I know I can handle feeling anxious if it pops up and I don’t care if people see me anxious, I don’t need to control what I eat to ease anxiety. I can sit with the anxiety, let it pass and move on with my life. I don’t need to run away from “negative feelings” or be scared of people seeing me “not perfect”. Being scared of what people thought of me, perfectionism and running away from my negative feelings and emotions was driving the disordered eating behaviour. Make sense? I know this is pretty deep shit, but I feel compelled to share.
Another thing is that during my orthorexic time and my restrictive eating disorder time, I was also living a life that was not fulfilling or full of self care. And the more and more I have added in things into my life that I love doing (getting in nature, doing fulfilling work, dancing around my flat – yes I need to get back into classes soon, seeing my favourite people etc.), and the more and more I took care of myself (in mind, body and soul) the more and more food became just food.
As well as all of this, I started to make peace with the fact that so much of life is out of our control, and I began to manage my anxiety in different ways (see above) other than food and food became just food. I embraced intuitive eating and health at every size and now I have a fire in my belly to help other people find this peace around food and their bodies, take care of themselves and love themselves.
So as you can see, my food issues, were never really about the food. They were about the things under that; lack of self worth, incorrect beliefs about myself and what made me worthy and loveable, emotional reasons, mental health reasons and more.
The point of writing this post today is to get you, if you have issues around food, to take a big and honest look at what is underneath your issues with food. This can be deep and emotional work and I would highly recommend seeing a qualified professional / practitioner who can help you with this work.
Because you can be free of your eating issues, and I have every faith in you that you will get there. You can heal and you are worthy of healing.
Sending you all so much love from my heart on this Thursday xx