5 signs you are a dysfunctional eater

At the peak of my food obsession and diet-binge relationship with food, I tried everything to lose weight.  Over the years I had literally been on every diet and detox known to man and all had the same results…….even more food obsession, feeling more screwed up around food and feeling even more of a failure as I couldn’t stick to the god damn rules!

I was an dysfunctional eater but hadn’t fully realised

After what felt like my 100th attempt at Weight Watchers, I finally cracked.  I remember sat on the floor of my kitchen, shovelling in mouthful of chocolate breakfast cereal as I had saved all my points all day (and not eaten anything other than an apple) and I couldn’t stop.  I wasn’t eating it.  I wasn’t tasting it.  I was literally shovelling it in whilst trying to ignore the feelings of guilt and disgust raising their head.  I tried to justify my gluttony as I was allowed it.  I had saved the points.  I wasn’t breaking the diet rules.  But then I found myself being even more compelled to just keep eating and within minutes, I had eaten an entire box of chocolate cereal.

Something felt wrong.  I felt so uneasy.  This wasn’t normal.
I wasn’t normal.  What the hell was wrong with me??

Fast forward some time and as I begin my own journey of finding my food freedom,  I started to question everything I had been brainwashed to believe about diets and restrictive eating plans. I started to question whether there actually wasn’t anything wrong with me, maybe it was the diets??

In those years since my chocolate cereal binge on the kitchen floor, I’ve worked with hundreds of women break their emotional dependancy on food and help them break diet mentality and dysfunctional eating.  I’ve come a long way since those days and now have a ‘normal’ relationship with food.

I’ve seen time and time again people who have no issues with food or their weight.  They eat when they are hungry and they stop when they’ve had enough.  They never gorge on food or crave chocolate when they are stressed.  Yet for me and perhaps for you too, that was something I tried so hard to be like yet never could.  I soon realised my emotional connection to food was the driver of that behaviour.

If you are emotionally attached to the way you are choosing to eat, which all diet plans and programs are, should you ever slip off the plan you’ll find yourself feeling rubbish, guilt and probably over eating and binging.  What I think so many women don’t realize (as diets such as Weight Watchers and Slimming World are so normal and accepted within our society) is that being a dysfunctional eater is NOT solely reserved for someone with an eating disorder. These are by far the more extremes of food dysfunction but I’d argue that anyone who is a long term or chronic dieter is by default a dysfunctional eater.

So how do you know if you are a dysfunctional eater?

Here are my top 5 ways you might recognise yourself as being a dysfunctional eater…..

1 Obsess about food

Perhaps not quite 24/7 but as near to, right?? Every waking moment, every quiet minute, your head is filled with food, food and food.  What should I eat? What can’t I eat?  What would I like to eat?  What shouldn’t I have eaten?

I’ll tell you something, that inner dialogue is a drain on your life and it’s bloody exhausting.  I was constantly thinking about & planning around food and eating.

I would avoid social invitations if I was dieting as I couldn’t break the rules.

I would take packed lunches of bland lettuce, beans and tuna to work and eat at my desk in fear that the canteen might tempt me to eat something unhealthy

I would avoid going to the cinema with my boyfriend as the thought of the sweet popcorn would make my mouth water and self trust….well I didn’t think I had any!

Food obsession is a really BIG problem for anyone who is a dysfunctional eater.  It’s something which cannot and will not be ‘fixed’ or eliminated by dieting.  In fact dieting will simply make it worse (multiply studies have shown that diets are significantly responsible for food obsession)

2 No idea when you are hungry

Do you often find yourself eating yet you aren’t hungry (or even worse you don’t even want it??).  I don’t think I truly felt hunger for years when I struggled with emotional eating.  I was constantly snacking, munching, eating.  I never allowed myself to get hungry (for many reasons including not wanting to feel, not wanting to be aware of what was really going on)

As our bodies are so perfectly complex at what they do, if we eat when our body isn’t asking for food, you’ll have no way of noticing that you’ve had enough!   A physical sensation of needing food can be felt in our tummy, it’s our body’s way of asking for physical nourishment.  But have you heard of emotional nourishment?  I can’t tell you how many times I craved chocolate around 3pm at work as I was bored.  Or the amount of cake I’d eat sat on the sofa in the evening as I was lonely.  My body wasn’t craving or needing physical nourishment.  She was craving emotional nourishment and let’s face it, for most of us, food is the cheapest, easiest and most accessible way of feeling entertained, loved, safe and happy.

3 Feel guilty a lot

Oh yes this little beauty.  Guilt.  I thought feeling guilty around food was normal.  That everyone felt guilty for eating pizza or chocolate or cake.  Everyone felt guilty for binging on chocolate cereal sat on the kitchen floor.  Yet here’s the thing, guilt is almost always associated with dysfunctional eating.  When you have a ‘normal’ and non-emotional dependance on food, you feel satisfied and content after eating.

And.  That’s.  It.

If you often find yourself feeling guilty either when you eat, after you eat, or later on in the day when you think back to what you ate earlier,  the chances are you are demonstrating behaviour of a dysfunctional eater.

By the way, breaking diet mentality is really important to eliminating guilt.  You should never feel guilty for eating.  You should never feel guilty for food choice.  It steals the pleasure from the eating experience and the more pleasure you steal, the more of the food you want to eat.  ‘I really shouldn’t be eating this chocolate cake….I really shouldn’t have anymore…..I really need to stop now…!’ (carries on eating until it’s finished and then the guilt kicks in)

4 Trying to be perfect with how you eat

Perfectionism is crap!  There is no such thing as a perfect way of eating.  It’s what works for you.  The harder you try to get everything perfect, the more likely you are to start turning to food for emotional support as you feel stressed, confused and overwhelmed.  Not to mention guilty as you ate pizza yet you were trying to follow Paleo.  Argh!!!

We’ve all been there.  Yet for some, this can be the trigger to send us into days or weeks worth of emotional eating and binging.

Drop the need to get ‘it’ perfect and focus on eating in a way that nourishes your body, your mind and your soul.

5 Your body is not your best friend

Dieting is centred on body hatred.  I know that sounds really harsh but it’s true.  If we loved and accepted our bodies for what they were, would we have a need or a desire to lose weight/tone up? Of course we wouldn’t.

So here’s the thing.  As most dysfunctional eaters tend to find themselves eating more than their bodies asking for, as they turn to food for emotional and nutritional needs, it can become quite easy to begin criticising and blaming our bodies for life in general.  ‘If I could just sort myself out and lose 10lbs, I’d feel better’, ‘If I could just tone up my thighs/tummy/arms, I’d be so much happier’

If you can identify with this pattern and some of these behaviours of a dysfunctional eater, I want to help you get out of it.  And before you start thinking that you are more messed up than you thought, I just want to stress that there is nothing wrong with you and you are certainly not broken  The reason why my approach works is it is totally counter intuitive to what you’ve tried before.

It’s not about restriction or deprivation.

It’s not about denying yourself or finding loads of willpower.

It’s actually more fun than that.  It’s all about allowing yourself to find your trust around food again and reconnect to your natural ability of knowing what to do when it comes to hunger and satisfaction.  It’s also easier and more enjoyable than you think.

I’d love to know in the comments below, what is your biggest challenge with eating at the moment?

I believe in you,

Rachel xox

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