Heads up: this post mentions eating disorders
If my body and I were dating, our Facebook relationship status would be ‘it’s complicated.’
All my life, I’ve struggled to love my body. More often, I’ve loathed it. I’ve analysed every lump and bump, spot and stretch mark. Couple that with bouts of depression and anxiety, and my weight has bounced back and forth.
It all changed when I took off to go travelling.
For over two years, I was too busy facing my fears, scaling mountains, scuba diving, and sampling sumptuous local cuisine to care about how I looked in my minimalist outfits.
I also rarely sat on my butt (just a few hours each morning to get my writing work done) and spent most days walking or exploring new cities and countryside.
It’s only when I look back at travel photos that I see it: the glowing skin, the balanced weight, the shape of a woman who’s healthy and happy in mind, body, and spirit.
Fast forward to today. Just one year after I stopped travelling, I’m settled in the UK, taking on more desk-based freelance work (and running Worry Warrior), and married to a Greek giant who can chow down on burgers and fries and still stay hot. Side note: he also turns a delicious mocha colour in the sun, while I become a lobster. Sigh.
So maybe it’s no surprise I’ve gone up a dress size. I’m eating more, moving less, and working from home. My adventures used to involve jumping on a motorbike and cruising the coast. Now? Going to the cinema and seeing a friend for coffee is, like, totally wild and spontaneous. Oh heck, I’m feeling risky…let’s make it a soy latte!
Thing is, I like my simpler life. I wouldn’t want to still be floating around, living out of a backpack, and having brief encounters.
I like nesting. Making jam is now my jam. The craziest thing I did last month was a macramé workshop – and I bloody loved it!
But there’s one thing ‘setting down’ has revealed:
I’m an anxious eater
Some people run for days when they’re worried. I’m not those people.
Me? I stuff my face.
I mindlessly search out the sweetest, sickest, saltiest food I can get my hands on.
I don’t binge. I used to – in my twenties – and I’m so relieved the binge-purge pattern has been broken. I hope forever.
No, I’m talking about being so anxious and frozen in indecision, that I snack. Or overeat. Or frantically shovel my dinner, just so it’s done and I can move on to the next task. It depends on the day, on the moment, on my mood.
Anxious eating ain’t healthy.
It’s something I’m working on. I’m not quite there yet, but I’ve been trying a few different things to see what sticks.
How I’m reframing anxious eating
Here are a couple of things that have so far helped with my anxious eating:
- Only eat. I try not to eat while watching TV, or reading, or writing, or talking, or even thinking. I’m being all Buddhist monkish about it – mindful of each mouthful. If you’d like to try it, you can run through all senses while eating: “What am I tasting? What texture does it have? How does it smell? What does it look like?”
- Use a smaller plate. If I’m going to scoff every morsel, it doesn’t really matter how much food is on the plate. So I use a smaller side dish for all my main meals. Not only does this mean I’m eating smaller (and more appropriate) portions, I’m also eating slower. Because the food disappears faster, I try to savour the experience. My hubby still has a huge helping and a big plate, so I make an effort to finish at the same time as him.
- See food as food. This is a tricky one – and something a therapist helped me with a while back (side note: see a therapist. They can be incredibly helpful for kicking bad habits and understanding eating disorders and issues). I try to see food as food. It’s not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s not a reward or punishment. Food is simply a way to give my body energy, so I can get through the day with a little zing. I can choose foods that have a better nutritional profile, or foods that offer little nutritional value. But I try to avoid making food choices based on my emotions or sense of self-worth.
- Take a breather. Before eating, I put down my knife and fork. Close my eyes. Take a few deep inhalations and exhalations, and only eat when I feel relaxed and in the right frame of mind. If I’m feeling all fidgety and frazzled, I drink a glass of water and wait ‘til my mind is clearer.
- Avoid boredom eating. I’m trying to just eat when hungry, and never snack when bored. Instead, I go for a walk, clean the house, call a friend, do a yoga class, or even head to the gym. If I’m truly hungry after that, then I’ll prepare a healthy snack like carrots and homemade hummus.
- Ask my anxiety. Before or during frantic eating, I stop and check in with my anxious mind. I ask, “Are you alright? Is there something we need to explore here?” The reply can be revealing. The other night, I realised I was actually desperate for some human connection – and seeking it out in a tub of peanut butter. So I put the spoon down and called a friend. And afterwards, food was the last thing on my mind.
- Meditate. Ah yes, good ol’ meditation again. I know it pops up in almost every post I write, but it’s pretty much my go-to now. It takes the edge off my anxieties, brings me back to the moment, and teaches me to really listen to what my body needs.
Above all, I’m trying to rediscover the joy of eating. And I’m doing my darndest to appreciate my body once again.
I’ve realised eating can be a convenient distraction from the things we don’t want to deal with. It silences the fear – of being bored, alone, rejected, unsuccessful, broke, unemployed, unloved – and provides comfort and security when we feel worried and wobbly.
On the flip side, it can be a way to nourish the mind, body and soul. To show self-love, by only gifting yourself fresh, fabulous foods that make you feel fab.
There’s still some way to go. But as I learn to love my new life, I’m learning to love my body.
If you have any tips for anxious eating, I’d love to hear them! Just pop a comment below or join the conversation in our private Facebook group.