Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Putting food in its place

This post is not only relevant to anyone that has struggled with an eating disorder but also to anyone who has ever dieted.

I used to subscribe to the “good/bad” food idea. In fact not only did I subscribe but I was its number one customer. I had a very short list of foods on the good list that I allowed myself to eat and everything else was on the bad list. The deeper I was in the eating disorder, the shorter the good list became.

In recovery I have learned that food is food and that it doesn’t carry any morality. There isn’t one food that is better then the other, nor is one food worse. It really is all relative and we as humans are the ones that give it the power.

If you have ever gone on a diet or struggled with an eating disorder there has probably been a food (or many) that you have completely cut out of your life. By telling yourself that you will no longer eat X, you are giving this food power over you. Most likely you will attach the idea that you are “bad” if you give into this food or lack self control. By doing this you are now setting yourself up for trouble. You have now put this food on an unnecessary pedestal and it will probably be near impossible to resist it. More likely then not, this food becomes the only thing that you wish to eat. In fact, you probably spend a lot of time trying to avoid this food, time that should be spent on more important things.

While actively struggling with the eating disorder I thought about food all of the time. I could honestly say that more than 60% of my day was spent thinking about food and eating. It was a giant time suck and really no way to live. Food is just like air, something that is essential to stay alive and nothing more.

This example that I describe below may sound really odd to someone who has never struggled with an eating disorder but it is the perfect example to get my point across. Please just go with it and feel free to laugh if it sounds completely ridiculous to you, I won’t be offended.

For the longest time I wouldn’t allow myself to have macaroni and cheese. I had convinced myself that this food was “bad” and therefore was to never be eaten by me. With that, every time someone else ate mac and cheese I was so jealous. Hell, I even had dreams about it. It was as if mac and cheese was magical and had power over me. With a lot of coaxing from my nutrition therapist and a desire to beat this eating disorder I finally decided to let this go and try some mac and cheese. For some time I had been imagining how glorious it was going to be. So much so, that I had convinced myself that it was going to be the best thing I had ever eaten. When I finally had some, I was very disappointed. It tasted like cheese and noodles, exactly what it is. Once I allowed myself to take it off of the pedestal that I had created, it was just another food, instead of something special and forbidden.

It may seem far fetched to fear food or eating if you have never suffered from an eating disorder but we as society put food on a pedestal all of the time. How often do you save cake or other desserts for special occasions? Most people “allow” themselves to eat cake at a birthday party but would never consider eating it on a normal day. Why is that? Cake is cake and it doesn’t change depending on the time or occasion.

The key to eating normally is giving yourself permission to eat and letting go of the morality that you have attached to food. I used to believe that if I allowed myself to eat whatever and whenever I wanted that I would never stop eating, especially after denying myself for so long. I also feared that given options I would never choose anything healthy ever again. This hasn’t been true at all.  When you normalize foods by taking them off the pedestal they are now on equal playing fields. A lot of things that I once feared have lost their appeal. Some days I want more cookies or less broccoli, but other days it’s the opposite. Food is just food and shouldn’t be given a higher priority in your life.

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