How to Trust Yourself with Food Again (Eating Disorder Recovery)
I remember when I struggled with food that there was also this underlying tension between myself and well me. I would go to a buffet and not only be scared of the food but almost on a deeper level, I was scared of myself. I didn’t know how to ‘eat normally’ or ‘portion naturally.’ I was always on edge during meal times, second-guessing myself, and my decisions before the food even hit my plate. Suffice it to say, my disorder had made me extremely hyper-aware of food and also uncertain in myself.
I think a huge part of my recovery then was regaining my trust when it came to food. Because for so long food and I had had, well, a rocky relationship. Subconsciously I didn’t trust myself around food because I was fearful of eating too little, too much, greater quantities of certain foods than others, and the thoughts would continue to spiral and spiral around my head.
Self-certainty and eating disorders go hand in hand. Because as a people pleaser and constant seeker of other’s approval of me, I ended up not having an opinion of myself by and for myself. It was something like this:
Okay, so carbs are bad, so I won’t eat carbs
If I don’t eat carbs, people will like me
I received praise for skipping the carbs from a friend, family member, or diet culture in general
I continue to search and seek out that approval throughout my disorder by manipulating my food and my weight
See this cycle breaks our self-trust because I was ALWAYS picking others before myself. I was always worried about others, caring for and about other people before me, and this cycle landed me in a position where I couldn’t trust myself with food because truthfully, I didn’t know how to do so!
So, how do we build our trust back up again?
Well, I think there are five tips I want to give you to do just that!
Seeing all foods equally
-The faster you can stop using trigger words such as ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘disciplined,’ ‘off track,’ etc. the better! Because food never asked to be labeled, to be hated, to be seen as allowed and not allowed. Food never asked to carry so much power in our minds and in our lives, thanks to diet culture, we gave all this power and meaning to food and specifically good and bad power to it! I want you to start seeing ALL food equally. Because at the end of the day, if everything is a fair game, then nothing becomes a hidden ruby in the ruff. I believe this to my core! When I began to allow myself whatever I wanted and whenever I wanted it, at first, of course, I craved saltier, sweeter, more treat-like foods because that’s what I had been depriving myself of FOR YEARS!
-But, the more and more I not only honored my hunger but removed the stories behind every piece of food that I ate, the faster I chased the feelings food gave me and not the meanings. Let me explain. I’ve always LOVED chips. Like anything salty is a YES for me! So, when I’m craving some chips, I eat them, and they make me feel good! Because I’m not carrying the guilt, shame, or toxic narrative behind them! However, fruit also makes me FEEL amazing! So, I eat a lot of fruit and whole grains, carbs, fats, protein, etc. I chase how food makes me feel! If it makes me feel sluggish or bloated, I don’t eat as much of it, not because it’s ‘bad,’ but because I always chase feeling good! I also stopped binging when I began to see all foods as equal because binging only occurs when you’re rebelling against a food rule or restriction and if you have none of those, then you have no rebellion!
-I know that seeing all foods as equal may seem scary, but it is the baseline for building your trust back up with food because your body is scared that if you keep these narratives around food and certain food groups then you’ll continue to limit it and restrict it and our bodies and beings don’t want that! They never did, my girl!
Never planning to ‘diet’ again
-This one plays off the first and that’s, “You cannot plan to diet again.” I see this problem a lot with my clients and me for sure experienced it myself. I was always planning to eat freely or have a weekend of treats, BUT THEN go back to dieting on Monday. Or during my recovery, I would find myself eating fully and freely for a week and then being terrified of weight gain or discomfort and quit after 5 days to start another diet. This is why I HATE cheat days in fitness culture! I think this idea of ‘eat whatever you want today, but then tomorrow only vegetables and water,’ is so, so dangerous!
-Especially if you’re trying to heal and recover, you cannot plan to diet again! If you’re subconsciously planning to diet again, your body is going to recognize it and it’s going to fight back! It doesn’t want to starve or struggle or binge again with food! I think this really plays into the struggle we feel when we are trying to regain trust with ourselves and our plates, our bodies and brains are smart, they know when we have bad intentions, and if you’re planning to go on a new calorie-counting app on Monday, you can’t restore your trust because you aren’t restoring your care for yourself.
Ordering what you want FAST
-This one helps a TON with building your self-certainty! Eating disorders feel like eighty voices in your head at once. Calculating, measuring, weighing, wondering, and, of course, worrying, and eventually, we become so exhausted from changing our minds, running the numbers, stressing ourselves out that we end up playing victim to the voice in our heads. I remember when I was going through recovery and I would think to myself, “Okay, Em, tonight you’re going to eat pizza.” But then, my brain would try to spiral. I would begin to think, “But, what if you gain weight.” “You didn’t move a lot today.” “How many pieces are you going to have?” “How many calories have you already eaten?” And eventually, I would just retreat to my default because I was so mentally exhausted from playing this game within my brain that half the time, it would end with me just having a salad. This happened a lot at the beginning of my recovery or times before when I had tried to recover. I wasn’t making decisions quickly AND I wasn’t feeling confident in them even when I DID make them! I highly suggest making choices and just STICK to them! No overthinking or questioning! We forget that we can talk back to our brains just as much as we listen to them! I then began to say, “I’m having pizza tonight. Done.” And truly just like that, snapped my fingers, and moved on, and then that night, I honored my decision, which built my certainty and self-trust.
Spiraling brain >> why and what to do
-The spiraling brain is your brain trying to give you a scapegoat. Something I never realized until recently is that most women that struggle with food also struggle with anxiety AND also struggle with the fleeing part of our brain. I ALWAYS felt like I needed to flee situations. I hated feeling stuck. I hated feeling unsure or anxious. I would be hanging out with my friends and if my anxiety began to rise, I would have to get the heck out of there! I think this ‘fight or flight’ response to pain, at least in my personal experience, became solely a fleeing sort of situation. If I felt insecure or sad or bad or upset or on-edge, I had to go away and hide because I believed that Emily wasn’t good enough if she wasn’t being perfect all the time. So, I think the spiraling in our brains is us trying to cover all of our bases like a form of a protective mechanism. If we do this, then this will happen and that means this. We try to run and crunch all the numbers because we love control.
-After all, control brings us a sense of security. What we fail to realize is that control is the opposite of love and food is controlling us, not the other way around. When you feel the spiraling happen in your brain, I want you to write down on physical paper EXACTLY what you’re thinking! Even if it doesn’t make sense or feels ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’ I want you to get ALL that anxious energy out because energy takes up space and you don’t need the spirals to take up space in your brain anymore! Remind yourself that you’re safe. That you’re okay. AND that you have your back. Remember, we are building our self-trust back up again! Beating and hating and bullying yourself for having spiraling thoughts isn’t going to make them go away or make you feel better, it’s going to mean that you’re turning on yourself and following the voice in your head telling you ‘X’ about “Y” especially when it comes to food.
It takes time>> but the longer you fight all of this the longer you must battle it
-This is hard to accept, but cannot be ignored, “The longer you fight surrendering to recovery, the longer you have to fight in the first place.” One of my favorite quotes ever is, “When it comes to eating disorder recovery, the only way is through.” You cannot beat around the bush! You cannot half-ass it! You cannot plan to diet, but want food freedom or want to honor your hunger as long as you only gain 5 lbs. I cannot stress this enough, your priorities HAVE to be in alignment during your recovery and your priorities need to be for your wellbeing, not your weight. Focus on caring for yourself, not hating yourself away.
-Focus on trusting yourself with fast decisions for you and your recovery, not falling victim to your inner mean girl. Focus on remembering your ‘why’ and the life you wish to gain as you go through all of this, not the fear of gaining weight and wanting to keep your life small. Recovery takes time, rebuilding trust takes time, but the longer you put it off or the longer you try to control it the way your disorder wants you to, the longer you’ll be dancing around the boxing ring and, my sweet girl, life is not meant to be a long-drawn-out battle between you and yourself.