It Is Not About The Food

This blog is geared specifically for people who are currently living with an eating disorder and might find themselves in various stages of recovery during the holidays. As always, we encourage you to be brave and take good care of yourself.

What does your relationship with food look like? It may sound like an odd question, but food can be a source of comfort and a communal act with loved ones or in some cases extreme distress. If you find yourself in a strenuous relationship with food, or at gatherings with food and friends, or lingering at food or body image posts, your struggle is valid. You are seen and you do not have to do this alone. 

Rushing to the gym or pantry may find you temporary relief, but the pain always comes back. That part of you that is driven to run one more mile rain or shine never seems to get quiet, does it? That part promises a certain weight or body shape will get you a step closer to your dream goal, but it doesn’t, it leads you on to the next number.

That part of you is trying to protect you, shield you from pain. It might have worked in the past, but now this part of you is in the driver’s seat and controlling your journey in life.

You may feel like you are in control, but if you feel lost and hurt, or beholden to this part of you please take a moment and read through these questions to see where you are. There is hope. There is healing. It is hard, but nothing is more difficult than living with an eating disorder. 

  • Do you deliberately alter the food you eat in hopes of influencing your shape?
  • Do you have a strong desire to have a totally flat stomach? That perfect thigh gap?
  • Has thinking about food or caloric intake gotten in the way of your social life? Or gotten in the way of doing things you once enjoyed at school or work or in a hobby?
  • Have you had a strong sense of disgust or feeling out of control, and the only thing that soothed that panic was to vomit?
  • Do you ever feel guilty about what you ate? Scared it will influence your body shape in a negative way?
  • Do you define yourself by the number on the scale? Or the number on the string you measure your thighs with?
  • Can that number measure your soul? Your wit? Your kindness? Your competency? 
  • Do you cover your mirror? Do you hide from yourself? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, please know support is available. As we go into the holidays surrounded with meals, meal prep, and food advertisements, know you do not have to suffer in silence. Please seek out a licensed professional therapist who specializes in ruptured and broken relationships with food. You may not feel worth it, but you are loved, seen, and can be known and understood – sometimes it starts with a therapist. 

This is the part of you that walks around the grocery store aimlessly reading food labels, with your stomach gurgling and your fingers and toes cold as ice tells you that the next pound you shed will boost your sense of body image. It tells you one more pound will give you the opportunity you need, the confidence you want. The person at the grocery store or the family member that complements how much your body shape has changed does not know how much you are suffering on the inside. That compliment might give this part of you that extra boost of energy to keep restricting, telling you a few pounds will let you live a life free from a painfully low sense of self-worth. 

Sadly, this part of you is lost in pain trying to survive, trying to help you be strong.

It tries to give you a voice through your body shape when using your actual voice seems impossible to access. The reality this part of you misses is that the more you restrict, the more energy and strength you lose, not gain. This part of you tells you that changing your shape might hide you from your abuser or that you will feel better about yourself if you are smaller. The truth is you don’t, it is never small enough, good enough, “right” enough. Instead you wind up living in a body with such low energy and very little ability to focus, incapable of living out many activities worth living for. 

If your eating disorder feels seen or exposed in any part of this blog, please know you are strong and not alone.

Wherever you find yourself in the struggle with food, this blog might be for you. 

Self-care is extremely important during this time, but sometimes we don’t feel worthy of self-care. Boundaries are a form of self-care and at times are one of the most important areas to explore and implement in such high stress times like holidays.

No matter where you land in your strained relationship with food, let’s chat about a few things to help prepare you: 

  1. You cannot make everyone happy. Protecting your inner peace and emotional well being comes first. We will discuss some practical ways this can look in a moment. Hang in there. 
  2. People will absolutely have reactions to your boundaries, AND it is NOT your responsibility to manage them. 
  3. Maybe you are thinking, “Self-care is hard enough, but boundaries….forget it. I am _____ (fill in the blank with whatever uncomfortable emotion) of setting boundaries.”
  4. If number 3 resonated with you, that is a sure sign that this would be a great opportunity to discuss boundaries with a therapist. 
  5. Choosing between eating something you do not want to just to be polite only to find yourself scrambling to find a bathroom later to purge is not freedom. 
  6. Restricting yourself to make yourself happy or feel accomplished that you held out on holiday food is not freedom. 
  7. You have permission to protect your mental health, emotional, and physical health – even with friends, family and loved ones. 

Here are some practical things you can explore to see what would be a good fit for you:

  • “I already have a dietician/therapist on my support team that I am working with for my recovery”
  • “Actually I don’t want that, thank you though.”
  • “No thank you”

Follow the Assertiveness formula:

  • When you….. (Insert fact, action of other person. Keep it short and to the point and do not add conditions such as “well, sort of, kinda, I guess, maybe,” or try to lessen the action. Just repeat the facts as you observed NOT how you interpreted them.) 
  • I feel….. (insert your emotion or emotions…keep it to two or three emotions) 
  • Because (insert a personal value) 
  • I request (insert the boundary – stop calling, stop texting, start picking up after yourself, etc.) 
  • If you do not, or cannot, this is how I will respond (insert the “consequence”) 

Example family reaction:

A family member, friend, co-worker, etc. says, “I can’t believe you’re going to eat that much” and comments on your plate in front of the family at holiday gatherings. 

Example response you could use:

When you comment on my food choices without me asking, I feel discouraged and frustrated. Because I value intuitive eating/community/recovery, I request you not comment on my food unless I ask for your opinion or insight. If you continue making comments, I will not engage with you about this topic.

A few tips on how you can respond well:

  • Follow the DEARMAN tactic.
  • Respect yourself – what are your wants, needs, desires?
  • Express your thoughts and feelings calmly – giving the silent treatment or ghosting is not setting a boundary, it just prolongs the tension. 
  • Plan and prepare what you are going to say. What will you say when people comment on your shape? On your food choice? On your lack of food choice?
  • If possible, reach out to a safe person that will be at the gathering to let them know how they can support you. 

If you are not sure about seeking professional help, follow this website to take a free screening. And then reach out to get connected with someone who can step in and help.

Written by: Catherine Virden