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Healing Your Emotional Relationship with Food
By Lori Radun
The other night I lay in bed watching Oprah's 20th Anniversary DVD collection - a gift given to me by my best friend. Story after story of incredible people that have touched and changed the life of Oprah caused my tears of inspiration to flow. One particular person I really identified with - the story of Rudine. Rudine suffered severely from anorexia nervosa. She wanted so badly to battle and win this condition, but her emotional relationship with food and herself was so damaged.
You see, I can identify with this woman because at the age of 13, I came face to face with anorexia nervosa. It followed two very painful events in my life. Looking back, I now understand I was unable to cope with all the emotions I encountered. The anger and hatred I felt - because I could not outwardly express it - was turned inward. I began to hate my body and food became the enemy. I exercised like crazy and eventually ate only 1 small meal per day. After finally breaking that cycle, I swung to the other extreme and began to binge eat late at night. Other things replaced food until, at the age of 21, I got serious about facing and healing my emotions.
I share this with you because I think it is important to understand the devastating effects our relationship with food can have on our health. Maybe you've never suffered from anorexia nervosa, bulimia or obesity, but your emotional relationship with food is still worth examining. In an ideal relationship with food, you eat when you're hungry, and you eat the healthy foods your body needs. Your body weight is healthy and you aren't experimenting with the latest diet. Healthy eating is your way of life, and your physical wellbeing reflects that - not just your body, but your energy level, mood and internal health as well. So come on this journey with me and let's explore some of the common emotions or situations that can trigger unhealthy eating. Pay attention to whether any of these strike home for you. If so, try substituting some of the alternatives I suggest so you can begin healing your emotional relationship with food.
- Angry Eater: When you are very angry with yourself or someone else, do you turn to food? Maybe you're mad because you made a mistake and so you beat yourself up with food. Try confronting and expressing your anger in a healthy way, and then forgive and let it go.
- Stress Eater: According to Dr. Phil, "when you are under stress, your body releases hormones that automatically stimulate your appetite and set off cravings, prompting you to eat huge quantities of fattening food". Take 15 minutes of quiet alone time or a 15 minute brisk walk instead.
- Convenience Eater: You don't have time or don't feel like making something healthy to eat, so you grab whatever is convenient - fast food or take home, chips, donuts, etc. Keep healthy and convenient foods around the house and at the office - fruit, granola bars, Lean Cuisines, string cheese, and yogurt.
- Tired Eater: Morning comes around or the afternoon energy runs out and you need a kick of sugar to keep you going. You load up on cookies, cake or other sugar snack foods and you're off and running until you crash. Try getting 8 hours of sleep at night, exercising regularly, taking vitamins or taking a short cat nap.
- No Waste Eater: Were you taught to never waste food? Were you reminded of all the poor children that had nothing to eat? Now you cannot bring yourself to leave anything on your plate or throw away any food. Put smaller portions on your plate. Give yourself permission to stop eating when you're full. Work in a homeless shelter serving food or give food to the poor so you don't feel guilty.
- Self-Disgust Eater: You look at yourself and hate what you see; you eat or deprive yourself of food to mask the feelings you have, and so starts the cycle of abuse. Work on loving yourself in every way you can - pamper yourself, repeat positive affirmations, stick up for yourself. Invest in gaining confidence and self-esteem.
- Boredom Eater: This is me. I don't feel like doing laundry or cleaning the house. I'm tired of working, playing cars or watching TV. It's cold outside and so I open the food cabinet. Hmmm. I wonder what I can eat. Get creative and find something fun and different to do. Switch projects and start something new. Make a phone call to a friend.
- Fear of Intimacy Eater: Do you eat to hide yourself and avoid getting too close to someone? Sometimes reaching out to people can be a very scary and hard thing to do. Maybe you've been hurt too many times by loved ones. Seek help to heal your pain. Search for supportive and loving people that you can depend on. Take baby steps to reach out and trust someone.
- Hopeless Eater: Have you just completely given up? Maybe you've tried too long to lose weight or given too much to your marriage, and nothing seems to change. You feel hopeless and so you just say, "Who cares? I'm just going to eat whatever I want". Or maybe you've lost your appetite all together. Change your thoughts. Focus on the positive and keep a gratitude journal. Look for the bright side of everything. Search for the sunshine and you will find it.
- "See Food" Eater: You know the saying, "I'm on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it". Are you the type of eater that constantly grazes? If the food is in front of you, you eat it without really thinking about it. You may or may not be hungry - it's just a habit. Graze on low-fat and healthy foods. Keep the fattening foods at the grocery store. Work on being more conscious of how much food you are taking in.
- Social Eater: You love to be around people and what better way to spend time with friends than going out to lunch or dinner. Socializing is great! Eating out is expensive and not always very healthy - not to mention the additional calorie intake. Add a couple glasses of wine and you've consumed in one meal what you should have for the day. Limit your social gatherings at restaurants to once or twice a month. Start a walking group with friends. Participate in a movie or book club. Have a board game night and serve soup and salad.
- Comfort Eater: Sadness or loneliness threatens to swallow you up. Depression seems to be your best friend. Food is your source of comfort. Somehow you feel better after indulging in your favorite meal and dessert. Until the feelings strike again. It's time to face your sadness or loneliness. Maybe you need to grieve the loss of someone or something. Perhaps you need to reach out more to a community of people. Developing a relationship with God may supply the consolation and companionship you need.
Whatever your relationship with food, ask yourself if it's a healthy one. Facing your emotions head on is the only way to heal them. Denial only causes your feelings to go away temporarily. When I watched the story of Rudine on Oprah, a recovering anorexic pleaded with her to feed her brain and give herself the nourishment that it needed. With sad-filled and hopeless eyes, Rudine simply said, "But how?" Isn't that the essential question we are all faced with when making change? How? Change starts with awareness. It's fueled by desire and commitment. And it ends with taking action. Take the steps you need now to develop a healthy relationship with food.