By Denise Jorgensen, LPC
I grew up in a household fixated on dieting. My earliest memories of learning about food involve my mother teaching me that sugar was essentially poison and my grandmother bragging about how tiny her waist was when she was young. Restriction and body shaming were the norm. I began my first diet at the age of twelve. Unfortunately, while diets are often glamorized and even prescribed, no one tells you that they are also a leading cause of eating disorders. By the time I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. This evolved into bulimia, and I spent the next five years binging and purging up to twelve times a day. My eating disorder was both my best friend and my tormentor. At 21, I entered an eating disorder treatment center, where I began to understand the reasons behind my food struggles and embarked on the long, arduous journey of finding healthier ways to cope with everything my eating disorder was working so hard to suppress and heal my relationship with food. That was nearly twenty years ago. Today, I can confidently say that not only am I fully recovered, but I also enjoy food rather than fear it — something my 21-year-old self would never have believed possible.
Maybe you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, but you know the feeling of constantly thinking about food. Perhaps you can relate to the stress of deciding whether or not, and how much of something, you should or shouldn’t eat. Maybe you are burdened by tracking macros and/or calories and feel anger at your body when signs of hunger arise, as if it has betrayed you. Perhaps you’ve felt both jealous and judgmental of someone who can seemingly go out and eat with friends without a care in the world. Maybe you can relate to jumping from one diet to the next, thinking you’ll do “better” this time and wondering why you don’t have the “willpower” to succeed. Perhaps you do “good” all day and find that every evening you give in to your food cravings and promise to do better the next day. Maybe you dread walking by a mirror because every time you do, you’re flooded with shame and hatred towards your body. Perhaps you say no to dates, cookouts, or parties because you don’t trust yourself around food or feel embarrassed by your appearance, leaving you feeling alone and longing. If any of this resonates with you, I want you to know I see you, and I hurt with you. You do not have to have a diagnosable eating disorder to suffer from your relationship with food. You are not alone, you are not broken, and you can be free from this.
I overcame my struggle with food and my body not because I am special or strong. My recovery was neither simple nor easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I would go through it all again without hesitation because being on this side of recovery offers things that my diet and body image-obsessed self could only dream of. If you’re ready to stop being at war with food and your body, here are some things I learned from my recovery that I hope will encourage you in yours:
- Seek the support of close family and friends: Diet talk and body shaming are sadly part of everyday conversation. Let those around you know you’re working hard to improve your relationship with food and ask for their support by avoiding food-related discussions or comments about your or anyone else’s body. There is so much more to praise about you than your appearance, and so many more interesting topics to discuss!
- Learn about anti-diet approaches, such as Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, and HAES (Health at Every Size)that are backed by research and encourage self-trust and self-care, helping to make eating positive and pleasurable again. Becoming an Intuitive Eater was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
- Eliminate social media, food tracking, scales, and other influences in your life that make you feel fearful about what you eat and bad about your body.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude for what your body does and how hard it works for you every single day, rather than focusing on the ways it has disappointed or let you down.
- Expect it to be hard and for there to be setbacks. We live in a diet and thin-obsessed culture, and healing your relationship with food and your body can feel like swimming upstream in a hurricane with a leaking raft and one broken paddle at best. Celebrate your wins and learn from the setbacks. Perfection doesn’t exist. It’s about progress and persistence. You CAN do this!
- Remember your WHY. What has dieting and chasing a smaller body cost you, and what do you stand to gain from letting it go? You are so much more than your body, and I’m excited for you to discover all of the amazing things about yourself that have always existed but have been overshadowed by not feeling good enough in your own skin. It’s time to let those things shine!
- Be courageous and seek help: These food struggles don’t develop overnight and are complex. Seek a therapist trained in body image and food struggles to help you identify and challenge the lies that keep you stuck. Remember that shame keeps us silent, but speaking sets us free!”
Photo by Erriko Boccia on Unsplash
1 – Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders 2020; Deleel et al. 2009