Food Freedom Recovery & Health Consciousness
I get asked a lot by clients, women online, and by my own inner voice pretty much every day,
“How do I balance my eating disorder recovery while being health conscious?”
In other words, if you’re someone who has struggled or is currently struggling with food restriction, rules, timetables around when and how much you get to eat, if you’re someone who has had a poor relationship with food, whether that be eating too little or too much, or if you are someone who just can’t find a natural balance between yourself and your plate… I want you to read this blog post.
Because there’s a massive difference between restricting and truly desiring to eat healthily.
When I first began my own food recovery, I went crazy on junk food, takeout, candy, things that I had not allowed myself to eat for years were now on every single plate I made for myself! And that’s great! When you come from a restrictive eating background and you make a conscious choice to begin your own food recovery, you should eat freely and unapologetically. If you crave pizza at 2 AM, do it, girl! If you want seconds, then thirds at family dinner, take that spoon and enjoy!
The question and sometimes confusion I think we naturally fall into when it comes to our food recovery is, “But, what if I choose the apple instead of chips for my side?” Women who struggle with food are usually type A, ‘all or nothing’ headstrong and incredible women who tend to go ‘all in'.
Meaning if we are going to diet, we are going to diet STRICTLY! Which is where food rules and restrictions come into play! But, once we release that, we decide we want to recover (WHICH IS AMAZING!) we can then feel that at every single instance, we must choose the ‘bad or junky’ food option, otherwise we aren’t fully recovering.
And that’s simply not true.
The ultimate goal of food recovery is to find BALANCE & a NATURAL state with food again! I am NOT saying you cannot have days, weeks, even months or years where you naturally want the junkie-food option! I did that! I had restricted and starved for almost 9 years from anorexia and when I began to go through my own recovery journey I ate…. A crap ton. And that’s amazing! I needed the calories to curb my physical hunger and regain my body to a healthier weight and hormonal balance again. I needed the food to curb my emotional hunger. I had been depriving myself for years and placing my body in a state of trauma the entire time. I needed the comfort and the freedom to enjoy food again and also to rebuild my own trust between myself and food.
However, I remember going out to dinner with my boyfriend at the time and ordering a salad… and he got very nervous. He was terrified that I was reverting back to my old restriction ways around food. Salad was a ‘healthy’ ‘low-calorie’ option. I used to allow myself to eat salad all the time. Was I choosing it because it was a safe option for me? Or did I truly want that #6 on the menu? This is where I think it can get confusing when it comes to you and your food recovery.
Healing from disorderly eating is LISTENING to your body 110%. Meaning if for three weeks straight you want to only eat bagels or if for an entire weekend you order seven smoothies, if you are truly in-tune with your hunger, stomach, body, and brain, then there’s no ‘right way’ to recover.
And you can naturally want to eat healthier.
The question becomes how do you differentiate between is this a natural craving for grapes or is it an old disorderly eating action or pattern?
That’s what I want to help you with.
Ask yourself these questions:
For example, I LOVE blueberries, but I also love chocolate covered pretzels. So, if I’m thinking, ‘What do I want for a snack?’ and my instant thought is blueberries! Then, I eat blueberries. If I think, ‘What should I eat because what’s healthier?” Blueberries! That’s not your gut reaction and you’re not honoring your hunger. And this practice takes a long time! It can be extremely confusing in the beginning, but don’t let it frustrate you! Pick your gut food! ‘What do I want for dinner?’ Tacos! Not, “I want tacos, but maybe I’ll make taco salad because that’s healthier, yes, taco salad!” Become intune with what your hunger is telling you and DON’T allow your brain to alter that cue.
Going off the first, you need to create a ‘judgement-free zone’ when it comes to yourself and food
If I ate eggs for breakfast and then at lunch I ate eggs again and then at dinner I was TRULY craving eggs, many women would think this is a setback in their food recovery. They would say ‘it’s not natural’ or ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this and it’s making me sad because I feel like I’m failing my recovery.” But, what is natural eating? Other than what feels natural to you! If you ate eggs all day long and for some reason, you don’t need a reason by the way, you wanted them for dinner… make them for dinner. The more you honor your food cravings without criticism or judgement, the better.
Because you’re teaching your body that you promise to listen to it. You’re teaching your brain that you won’t allow your disorderly eating to win anymore. It’s a major step in the process: not having to make sense of everything because then nothing is a ‘setback.’ For whatever reason, you want Chipotle again for the 8th time this week. Honor it! And don’t question why or feel guilty about it and especially don’t make excuses around it to others, which goes into my third point.
Stop validating your food choices
If you struggle with your own food relationship, it can be really hard to not ‘validate’ your food choices when it comes to recovery. For 8+ years, I believed that the more ‘perfect’ and ‘clean’ my diet was, the better. I believed it made me ‘better,’ in fact! (PS it does not). However, I was so used to believing that my value lied and I was ‘more perfect’ the more ‘perfectly’ I ate. So, when I began to introduce ‘bad’ foods back into my diet or eat a lot more than most people in my family and friend group, it was hard to not validate all my choices.
Phrases like, “Oh my gosh, I am so hungry because I haven’t eaten all day!” or “I ran like 5 miles this morning, I am starving!” Whether these statements were true or not, I was trying to have people approve of me and my new plate. I felt embarrassed to be eating more or eating candy. I felt anxious around introducing more meals and snacks into my day. This is important: your recovery is all about you! If you’ve never been selfish in your entire life, now is your chance, lady! NO ONE has to validate how or what or when you choose to eat. If I ate 12 donuts for breakfast, I wouldn’t make up a single excuse to anyone or anything. Because it’s what my body wanted and I want the best for me and my body. Never feel you must validate your recovery or your choices around food. You do not. And this helps then with, “Why did you pick the salad?” He was being kind and supportive, 100% he was! But, I don’t have to explain why I picked the salad or the cake other than, “It’s what I wanted to eat.” Begin to focus on that, “It’s what I wanted to eat,” or “It’s when I wanted to eat.” That’s enough for them and it’s enough for you:)
Finally, focus on what makes you ‘feel good emotionally’ almost more than physically at first.
What I mean by that is there’s a huge misconception that recovery is all about gaining weight and eating a lot because you’re hungry, but you are most likely WAY more emotionally hungry than you even realize! PS gaining weight and eating a lot is COMPLETELY acceptable at any stage in life, but especially if you are recovering from disorderly eating, remember, no validation needed! But, I think for myself, I never realized how emotionally hungry I was! I had felt deprived and unsatisfied and ignored for YEARS by myself, so when the opportunity to change all of that surfaced, I was HUNGRY FOR IT! Even after a huge meal, I would physically feel satisfied. My tummy may have been slightly bloated, I had eaten a very balanced and yummy plate of food. Physically I wasn’t hungry anymore, but I felt with a state of emptiness still and I desperately wanted to fill it!
And at first, I saw this as a HUGE failure! I would ‘overeat’ then. I would become REALLY full physically sometimes to the point of slight discomfort and I would see that as me being ‘fat, stupid, worthless, ugly’ whatever my ED brain wanted me to believe! When in reality, I was filling a much more important void: the void of emotional hunger and distrust. I needed to trust myself again that I would never bring starvation or trauma to my bodies doorstep year, two years, etc. I wanted to eat more for the simple fact of “I wanted to.” And that’s the key! There is no rhyme or reason behind your food recovery other than honoring yourself, your body, your mind and your plate. And if you ignore that emotional hunger, if you eat a big dinner and still want seconds, but you deny yourself to do so because you ‘ate enough’ your recovery is going to be a lot longer and messier. And I’m not saying this to scare you! I’m telling you that’s what happened to me! I was still denying myself of food freedom because I had an idea in my head of what that should look like and the idea in my head was another restrictive way of eating, just one where I ate slightly more.
I hope this helped you balance your recovery a little more. I hope it helped you see that there is no ‘right’ way to recover and the true was to recovery is to eliminate the ‘whys’ and hidden meanings you carry behind food. Nothing is bad and nothing is good. It’s not a step-back for eating 8 cookies or for choosing some carrot sticks for a snack. The step back would be not honoring whatever the heck your body wants to eat and when. The step back would be questioning, stressing, trying to restrict around it or burn it all off at the gym. The step back would be creating a new restrictive way of eating.
Eat without judgement.
Eat when you are hungry.
Eat when you are emotional.
And the more you can do that, the more you can release the need to control your diet, the more you will live, laugh, and love your way through life by leading it with food freedom.