The Client’s Relationship With Food
If a person feels out of control of their eating, struggles to eat in a healthy and balanced way or is struggling to lose weight or achieve long-term weight management, it’s really important to address their relationship with food. It’s not enough to have a weight loss goal. Unless a person is aware of and addresses any underlying, problematic eating issues and unhelpful eating behaviours, they’re unlikely to escape the yo-yo dieting trap. Rather than embarking on yet another diet, a much more effective strategy is to embark on a journey of self-awareness. Awareness is power, and with this awareness positive change is possible. Once a person improves their relationship with food and their relationship with themselves, they can feel empowered and start to feel more in charge of food, rather than food being in charge of them.
Understanding Your Relationship With Food
Thinking about how you might be using food and identifying possible triggers can be very valuable to help you understand your relationship with food. It’s not about blaming yourself or others, it’s about developing self-awareness and self-care, both of which are really key for positive change. Some ways in which you can explore and improve your relationship with food might include:-
- Understanding your eating triggers, including people, situations and events
- Developing a positive sense of self
- Self-care strategies- finding ways to be good to yourself and more attentive to your own needs
- Finding alternative coping strategies other than food
- Being willing to explore your inner feelings, without being fearful of them
- Addressing secret eating, which is liked to guilt and shame around food
- Being willing to ask for support from others when you need it
- Being aware of and addressing any ‘crooked’ thinking, attitudes and beliefs that could be holding you back.
If you think you might be using food in an unhealthy way, it’s important that you learn to invest in yourself if you want to improve your relationship with food. Getting to know yourself without being self-critical, being patient with yourself and self-compassionate is the first step to highlighting issues and finding strategies to enable you to break old habits, thought patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you.
Sometimes our past can have a significant influence on our eating habits as adults- this is why exploring childhood and the client’s overall relationship with food is such a key part of successful weight management. If you were overweight as a child, any ongoing critical comments, whether from family or through bullying might have led you to falsely believe that you were destined to be fat, leading to a sense of hopelessness and a ‘what’s the point’ attitude, which can cause a person to self-sabotage if they’re dieting in order to lose weight. Messages and belief systems that we might have internalized from childhood can also cause us to ‘play old tape’, which is why it’s important to not allow the past to affect the now and the future. I therefore help clients to work on ‘wiping the slate clean’ and start a new journey that can lead to positive change. Looking at childhood is not a blame game, it’s just a way of putting parts of the jigsaw puzzle together. It’s also important to be aware of the fact that problematic eating habits may not stem from childhood but might be triggered by an event later on in life such as a toxic relationship, divorce or bereavement.
Using Food To Self-Soothe
If it wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to get upset or express feelings in your family, you might have learned as a child that it was necessary to pretend everything was ok, even when it wasn’t. If a child doesn’t learn to express feelings or if they didn’t receive the emotional support they needed from caregivers they might have learned to ‘self-soothe’ with food instead. In this way food might then be used, in adulthood, to self-soothe or to take the attention away from uncomfortable feelings, or a person might eat instead of communicating their needs or feelings to others. Using food in this way can then result in getting trapped in a cycle of emotional eating. For some individuals, it can result in binge-eating and secret eating. You can read more about emotional eating HERE.
Not Knowing What You’re Really Craving
Food cravings or a desire to binge eat can be a reflection of something else going on. For example, a person might feel lonely, bored, unfulfilled, in need of support or they might be in need of some pleasure. A person might have a desire for more fulfilling, closer relationships, but if they experienced being let down by others in childhood or they have emerged from a toxic relationship in adulthood, this might have led to an inability to trust or rely on others. If something is lacking in a person’s life then food, because of its easy availability, can become a best friend, whereby eating provides temporary relief or distraction from a deeper need or craving. When food becomes a person’s main source of pleasure or coping, this can lead to an unhealthily strong attachment to food.
Eating To Fill A Void
If a person received little love, encouragement and nurturing as a child, or spent much time alone, that child might have grown up emotionally unfulfilled and with a poor sense of self. As an adult they might even find it difficult to enter intimate relationships, leading to isolation. There is quite a strong link between being emotionally ‘full’ or ‘empty’ and being physically full or empty, and the person may find it hard to distinguish between the two- they might turn to food in an attempt to fill an emotional void, and feel the need to eat the moment they feel emotionally ‘hungry’. An unhealthy relationship with food may develop, whereby there is an unhelpful preoccupation with food. This preoccupation with food can lead to losing touch with hunger cues or a fear of hunger, and it might also lead to eating until excessively full. If a person has little experience of loving, fulfilling relationships, they might not have the resources to nurture and care for themselves- there might be self-loathing, leading to a harsh inner critic, low self-esteem, a lack of self-respect and possibly self-neglect, leading to poor food choices, an unhealthy lifestyle and possibly self-destructive overeating.
Had Enough Of Dieting
A person’s relationship with food and how they approach dieting as an adult might be influenced by how they approached dieting as a young adult or teenager. If, as a teenager, they went on very strict diets to lose weight, they might have learned to associate dieting with hunger and discomfort, and have the false belief that in order to lose weight or to be in control of food, you have to be hungry all the time or that the only solution is to go on a diet. The belief that losing weight has to involve hunger, restriction and having good willpower can result in procrastinating- putting off the diet until next week because you don’t enjoy dieting but believe that there’s no other solution. When we procrastinate we might find ourselves coming up with a whole range of excuses to justify overeating, eating certain foods, or putting off the diet. If a person has a past history of dieting, they might also put off diets or start a diet and then self-sabotage because they don’t believe they’ll stick to the diet for long, or the dieting might trigger overeating. They might lack self-belief to control their eating and yet because they might not trust themselves around food, they keep embarking on diets in an attempt to feel in control of their eating.
If an individual experienced a parent always being on a diet, or the parent worried about the child being overweight, they might have restricted the child’s food in some way such as through rigid portion control or not allowing certain foods in the house. This might have resulted in the child overeating in secret to defy the parent, or overeating in adulthood to break free from the food restriction experienced in childhood, or as an adult still rebelling against the parent perhaps without being aware of it. Experiencing food restriction as a child may lead to a fear of deprivation, a fear of hunger or a sense of entitlement around food, possibly leading to a need for fullness, and therefore a person’s relationship with food might be unhealthy, dominated by overeating. Some people might find that in adulthood they rebel against strict diet rules, or feel angry if a partner or friend points out that they’re eating ‘bad’ foods or too much food, causing that person to eat only more. Rebellious eating has no benefit, and only harms the person doing the rebellious eating.
If you would like help in addressing your relationship with food, give me a call for an initial chat on 07961 423120 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am based in Lightwater, Surrey, but I also offer online sessions for clients living further afield.
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