My bad relationship with food – and how I’m learning to overcome it

Disclaimer: This is not a fat-shaming post, nor is it a post criticising those who identify as being fat. It’s a post discussing my bad relationship with food, and my experiences with being unhappy with my weight.

Nothing quite riles me up as a skinny girl telling me how to be healthy. ‘You must drink protein shakes,’ they grin on Instagram, waving a bland smoothie in my face. ‘You should be going no-carb,’ ‘it’s easy, just stop snacking!’ And while I’m thrilled for these fit-fanatic beauties in all their hard abs glory, they have no idea what my relationship with food is really like.

Like many other people out there, I’ve had a very turbulent relationship with eating. For a start, I love it. So much so, that it’s basically my full-time job, and my main blogging passion.

Eating out, trying new dishes, dining with friends, cooking at home – all of these things are some of life’s greatest pleasures. But my relationship with food hasn’t always been that way.

It all started during my teenage years when my eating habits became my own worst enemy. I could be a pretty miserable teen, and often turned to food to curtail boredom, anger and sadness. But this soon turned into a vicious cycle. I was miserable because I was fat – five stone heavier than the weight I should be, and I knew it. So I turned to food as my coping mechanism. Bowls of pasta if I felt unhappy about myself, a sharing bag of crisps if someone was nasty to me at school, a tub of ice cream if the boy I fancied didn’t reciprocate my feelings.

‘But why didn’t you just stop eating?’ I can hear you ask. But if like me you have a bad relationship with food, you know it’s not as easy as that…

My light switch moment came when I had yet another meltdown in a changing room because I couldn’t fit into a dress I wanted for a party.

I looked in the mirror and there wasn’t a healthy and happy teenage girl staring back. I was unfit, I was out of breath, I had bad skin – and most importantly, I was miserable.

So I joined Weight Watchers, a mortifying moment for a teenager, but over the course of around two and a half years I lost just over five stone. A huge feat for me, and a huge middle finger up to my biggest demon. And it took a long time because I wasn’t just losing weight, I was completely changing how I viewed food.

I had to teach myself portion control, and to learn when I was full. I learnt to make healthier choices, and to do something other than eat if I was sad, bored or in a bad mood.

But I also had to teach myself that treats were OK – that a slice of cake, or a takeaway, or alcohol was fine – as long as it was in moderation. As long as I using food for fun and fuel, rather than a coping mechanism.

But the really hard part was yet to come. According to some experts, nearly 65% of dieters go back to their pre-dieting weight within three years. That’s well over half of us creeping back up to the weight that we tried so hard not to be.

And while I’m nowhere near the weight I was, since moving back to London from university in 2015, I have put on around one and a half stone.

Because losing weight healthily isn’t just about trying fad diet, after fad diet, it’s about completely changing your lifestyle, and your eating habits. And while getting myself into a routine of counting calories and meal prepping was easy, I still had to face my unhealthy mentality when it came to food.

You see, it’s easy for someone with a lot of self-control, and ability to say ‘no.’ But that’s not that easy for me. Put me in a room with a chocolate cake, and all I’ll be able to think about is the fact there’s cake. Put a bowl of crisps in front of me, and like clockwork, my hand will go back and forth like an unstoppable mechanism from bowl to mouth.

Once upon a time, I used to hide wrappers where no one could find them, or chew really quietly so my parents couldn’t tell I was snacking on something bad. I was embarrassed – if no one else could see me eating again, had I really eaten it?

Thankfully I’m not like that anymore, it’s more about making better decisions when I’m out. While I rarely opt for a burger or pizza (South East Asian food is my weakness), my job sees me attend a lot of lunches and dinners, often surrounded by calorific, rich foods, or wine. And that’s where it can get tough…

And unfortunately in the past year I’ve struggled with my mental health, meaning healthy eating has often been the last thing on my mind.

So now that I’m back on that rocky path of loving my body and fuelling it with good food – what steps am I taking to overcome my bad relationship with food?

1. I remind myself that everyone is different.

Just because a fitness blogger on Instagram fills her body with a lot of protein, I remind myself that that’s because she exercises two hours a day – something that I don’t do. So I tailor my healthy food choices to my needs.

2. I practice mindful eating.

You’ve probably heard a lot about mindfulness if you’re someone that suffers with anxiety – but mindful eating is a great way to be calm, and to eat more healthily. It’s simple to practice. When you’re eating, make that your sole concentration. No phone, no TV, no slouching on the coach… sit up at the table and really concentrate on the food going into your mouth.. You end up feeling a lot fuller.

3. I don’t equate being ‘stuffed’ to being full.

Before, I wasn’t satisfied until I had that uncomfortable, stuffed feeling after eating. But now I’ve learnt that feeling comfortably full is the right way to feel.

4. I stop feeling guilty about what I’ve eaten.

It’s easy to beat yourself up after an indulgent evening of eating and drinking, but just remind yourself to be more thoughtful about your food choices the following week, or go out for a long walk the next day. But most importantly, if you’ve binged-eaten an extra-large pizza to yourself (we’ve all done it), and you’ve felt sluggish and bloated the next day – maybe consider whether it’s something you want to be eating again.

5. Stop making excuses.

‘Oh, they’re only small, I’ll just have another one,’ or ‘I’ve been good all week, this won’t hurt,’ is something I’ve said far too many times as an excuse to eat something unhealthy. But while these statements are normally very valid, they kind of lose their meaning when you say that every day.

6. Learning to say ‘no.’

Probably the hardest one for me… but I really struggle to turn something down. At an event where canapés are flowing, many will politely decline while I can easily stuff five or six of them in my mouth before dinner.

Or if someone brings a cake into work and passes it round – while many will say no, I’m quick to say ‘oooh yes please’ with my napkin at the ready.

But most importantly, I still love food, I still enjoy eating and I won’t stop going out or having fun because I’m worried about my diet. More importantly, I’m never going to be one of those ‘fitspo’ women with a size eight wardrobe and rock hard abs.

That’s not how my body was built…

But I want my skin to glow again, I want to feel energised, and I don’t want to be carry unnecessary extra weight that makes me unhappy.

And if you’re reading this and you feel the same, remember that not one person is the same, and that other’s needs and relationship with food is entirely different to yours. If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s all about a lifestyle change not a month of starvation, cutting out essential nutrients, and calorie-counting obsession. Healthy and happy… healthy and happy.

Main image: Lucy Richards Photography 

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