August 21, 2019
You don’t need to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to have a challenging relationship with food. When we’re fed so many misleading myths about what we eat – Sugar gives you cancer! Carbs make you fat! – or have grown up watching a parent on a constant diet, worrying about their weight, then it’s no wonder that our own food choices can be confused. It can be especially difficult if you’ve been diagnosed with a health problem and you’re hearing different views on what you should or shouldn’t be eating.
Learning to be kind to ourselves and listening to our bodies is one of the best things we can do for our health and wellbeing. Eating well gives us energy, makes us feel happy in our skin and helps to protect us from illness. Plus, when we enjoy food and the pleasures of eating with others, we free our mind from worrying about every morsel and instead truly appreciate each mouthful.
Your own attitude to food
Concerns over eating and body image aren’t exclusive to women; men feel the pressure to bulk up, get a six pack, or to slim down, just as women may feel they are too curvy or not toned enough. These are messages we see in the media but that we may also have absorbed in our childhood. Think back to what your mother or father was like when it came to their body and food, and how that example influences you today. If you are a parent, you may notice you’re in danger of passing on a negative attitude to food and your body to your own children.
Finding a healthy balance
Try these strategies to help you rethink your relationship with food…
Stock the cupboard with healthy choices Swap crisps for rye crackers and sweets for dried fruit.
Pause before you reach for something to eat Ask yourself if you’re really hungry or eating to fill another need, such as boredom or a low mood.
Keep a food and mood diary It can help you pinpoint how much or how little you eat, and discover what triggers your food choices.
Cook for yourself Have a stock of quick and easy recipes so you can put something nutritious on the table in minutes. Making a meal from scratch puts you in control of ingredients and lets you explore flavours, textures and the fragrance of a dish, encouraging you to eat mindfully.
Don’t be scared of sweet treats Introduce sweet dishes that are wholesome and healthy, such as carrot or a Nourish drink, that contain protein to balance the sugar. Learning that the occasional treat won’t lead to your weight spiralling out of control can help to take away the fear associated with these foods.
Focus on quality, not quantity If you struggle to eat, piling the plate with carbs or fat and trying to swallow it down will just make you uncomfortable and even more reluctant to sit down to a meal. Instead, eat lighter foods that are rich in nourishing ingredients, such as roast chicken with a salad that has a few beans or lentils thrown into it, or a big bowl of steamed veggies with a dollop of hummus on top and a tomato and onion salad.
Talking to someone about their eating
If you’re concerned about someone’s eating habits or weight (too heavy or too light) – perhaps your child or a friend – then these tips may help you raise the issue with them sensitively:
Be kind It’s not the time for talking about chunky thighs, as a thoughtless remark may lead them to eat secretly or eat too little.
Tell them you’re concerned Talking to someone about any issues they have and offering practical help to get them through it can be invaluable.
How to tell if eating issues are more serious
People with eating disorders are usually not comfortable around any food. The warning signs are:
- they don’t want to eat with you
- have always – they say – had a meal, although you never see them eating one
- they obviously skip meals
- even when you are cooking something you know they love, with delicious smells wafting through the house, they won’t come down to eat
- they always seem to say they’re not hungry
- their weight has changed significantly up or down over a couple of months
- they have rituals around how they eat
- they are particularly body-sensitive
- they over-exercise
- they start to cut themselves off from family and friends
- they start to wear dark-coloured clothes that appear to shroud them (it can be a sign that they are feeling ashamed of their body).
If you are worried, talk to the person first and see if they will accept help to try to break these eating patterns. Otherwise, do consult a doctor or eating orders specialist for advice and support.