Food Restriction: Seeking Validation Through Food
This was one of the hardest blog posts for me to right and also one of the toughest lessons I had to learn when facing my own eating disorder recovery: That most eating disorders or poor food relationships have nothing to do with the food itself.
Reread that statement because it can seem crazy, judgmental, condescending and downright idiotic to say, but as someone who has ‘been there, done that,’ this could not be more important to understand.
I guess the best way I can begin to explain my own personal experience with disorderly eating. It began in the seventh grade and I won’t go into too much detail, but somehow I got it ingrained into my skull that to be liked and especially loved, I had to be perfect. I had to achieve and accomplish and climb. I had to look a certain way, act a certain way. I had to build up a facade of who I was and that I was worth something.
If this sounds familiar, you are absolutely not alone! I loved receiving the approval of others. In fact, I needed that approval. It can begin from a place of insecurity. I was unhappy with who I was or what I saw in the mirror. I felt unsure of myself and my own self-worth. And overall, when you don’t know what to think about yourself, especially young women, need to find out from others.
Validation is something ingrained in all of us to a certain extent. We all seek out the approval or our peers from time to time or we want our husband/wife to tell us how much they love and need us. Validation can be seen in teachers giving high praise to a student or when a child scores the winning goal, the crowd cheers their name!
Validation is not a bad thing! It’s a feedback channel. If you do well, you will receive praise, acceptance, affirmation. It tells us that what we are doing is a good thing! That we are good people even! In fact, this is where a hyper awareness to food can come in.
Because what happens when we believe the only way to be validated is by looking a certain way and by looking a certain way, we must be attached to a specific, restrictive diet?
Every magazine, book cover, TV commercials, social media post is FLOODED with how you should look and what it means if you don’t. If you don’t look like this model, good luck getting a boyfriend. If you don’t look like this superstar, trust me, you’ll never make a lot of money or own a house like that.
Somewhere in history, society decided that it wasn’t enough to try to be a good person. It wasn’t enough to work hard at your job or to be an incredible parent. These were things that we were already receiving validation for in our day to day lives.
With the rise of social media, we threw into the pot, the validation of image.
There was a specific way to look to be successful, beautiful, desired, worthy and it’s not achievable by simply wishing upon a star.
No, to have that dream body, you need to diet and eat less and less as time goes on. To feel enough and confident in your own skin, your plate needs to shrink along with your waistline.
We tell ourselves that we need to look a certain way and eat a certain way to be validated by society.
How often do we ask one another what diet they are trying? Or since when did New Year’s resolutions become solely tied to calorie-counting apps? Self-improvement and development barely has a thing to do with your mind, heart, creativity, or spirituality and has been streamlined into ‘all good people go vegan.’
We’ve completely lost sight of where true value lies and let me remind all of us, it isn’t found at the end of our forks.
For me, having a restrictive diet made me feel strong, controlled, successful, accomplished. I liked the rush of eating less and showing that I had a full head of willpower and a heart made of gold. I believed that the more perfect my diet was, the more my own value would rise and my weight would drop.
Did all of that happen? All except the value portion.
I ate less and less. And each time, I refused something sweet, I had created a secret meaning in my mind that that made me valuable. Because I was chasing perfection. I was dreaming of that bikini body. The one that would take me right to confidence and validation.
There is it: validation.
I had placed so much value on my diet that I had lost complete value in myself.
Because that’s what the magazines told me mattered. What didn’t matter was what charity I wanted to volunteer for that year. What didn’t matter was the night I drove to my friends house to hold her while she sobbed over her ex-boyfriend. What didn’t matter was my creative spirit and the way I could speak to a crowd or a room full of people.
What mattered was if I ordered a salad or not.
We need to stop placing so much meaning on diets, foods, food groups, fasting, fads, and more. We need to stop restricting food and believing that will bring us joy.
We need to stop seeking out the validation we only really need from ourselves from other people’s opinions regarding our weight or plate.
Your value does not lie in your food choices.
Your beauty does not lie in the scale under your feet.
Your worth is not dictated by if you do or do not eat carbs.
If society doesn’t begin to take back the power from food, food will continue to take the power from each of us. Because when you place all of your esteem into something as silly as saying no to a cupcake, we will never find true happiness or confidence in the brilliant people we are.
Because every time you then ‘mess up’ on your diet or you ‘fail’ at a new restrictive way of eating, you believe it impacts the person you are. You tell yourself it means you are worthless, stupid, sucky, and probably much worse.
And trust me you are not.
You are simply a sweet soul who has been brainwashed to believe that you need to be validated by what you do and do not eat. And you don’t. You are simply a sweet soul who has been brainwashed to believe that you need to be validated by others based on your pant size. And you don’t.
You are simply a sweet soul who needs to take back the meaning you give food. Because it’s just food. You are way more than that. And the more you begin to take away this need to be accepted, approved upon and validated through your meal choices, the better you can begin to validate yourself.
Which is the validation you’ve been seeking the entire time.