When food rules your life – disordered eating explained

6 May 2022

Are you constantly on a diet? Do you think about food all the time? Have “good” and “bad” foods? Maybe you binge in secret or skip lunch to make up for eating too much the night before?  Disordered eating is an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.  And,  if you have it, you are not alone.

Unrealistic pressure leads to disordered eating

Men and women face pressure to look a certain way and be an “ideal” size and shape. We are all bombarded by countless images that are impossible to live up to.  From morning to night, the media feeds us with a diet of unrealistically young, thin and attractive women and slim, muscular men.

Disordered eating starts with dieting

Most people start to diet because they feel dissatisfied with their bodies, even when they are a normal weight. A study conducted in the USA on over 4000 women aged 25-45, found 74.5% reported concerns about their weight and shape interfered with their happiness¹.

The cycle of dieting and weight gain

It’s not surprising many people can’t achieve their ideal body and end up on a diet – weight gain treadmill. Often they become preoccupied with food. If this carries on over time, a disrupted and unhealthy eating pattern often develops.

Disordered eating affects lives

Many people have lived with disordered eating for years. They may use restrictive dieting, skipping meals or binge eating as a way to control their weight. People with disordered eating often experience a cycle of yo-yo dieting and frequent weight changes. Many eat in an unbalanced way, for instance, avoiding a major food group such as carbs or fat.

worrying about eating

Constant worrying

People with disordered eating habits spend a lot of time worrying about their body shape, food and exercise. They feel out of control over eating, guilty and ashamed about the amount or types of food they eat. They often feel upset when they don’t eat the way they want. Many will eat alone and in secret.

Vicious cycle

It’s easy for people with disordered eating to get caught in a vicious cycle of feeling low and worrying about how they look. They avoid seeing friends or doing things they used to enjoy, especially if this involves food. This can leave them feeling worse about themselves, increasing the focus on food and weight as they try and control these feelings.

Client story

Jackie’s problem

Jackie, a married 51 year old business owner and mother of two, had struggled with with disordered eating and her relationship with food since she was a teenager. She felt negative about body.  Jackie was constantly dieting – working hard to lose weight, only to put it back on again. Every year or so, she went up a dress size and now had a wardrobe of clothes she could no longer fit in to. She felt in despair and desperately wanted to change..

Jackie would try all day to eat healthily or not at all, only to be overcome by food cravings.  She would rush out to the nearest shop and cram chocolate into her mouth while she was in the car. She felt bad about herself and would criticise herself for what she’d done.

This was affecting all areas of her life. Jackie couldn’t look at herself in the mirror without being consumed by her self critical thoughts. She felt self conscious and judged for her weight, comparing herself negatively to her friends and colleagues.

Jackie’s results

We worked together to find ways for Jackie to manage the problems in her life without turning to food. She developed coping strategies that worked to make her feel better in the short term and the long run.

We developed ways to help Jackie let stop dieting but still feel in control. And we worked together to help her to find ways to manage her cravings.

As she made changes, Jackie started to feel better about her body. She found she was gradually losing weight.  It happened naturally so, for the first time ever, she kept the weight off.

Jackie stopped being controlled by thoughts about eating and her body. Instead, she focused her time and attention on other areas of her life. As she felt happier in herself, she noticed her confidence and self esteem improving too.

self esteem part of being happy

This is what Jackie says about her experience.

It was great to finally talk to someone that understood how I was feeling. Within minutes of talking to Celia I felt she empathised with my situation and it put me at complete ease. Celia really listened to what was going on for me and tailored each session accordingly, The sessions focused on my experience and what I wanted to get out of it, and this personalised, feedback-based approach has been really helpful in making sure I get the most out of my sessions. I now feel a lot more capable of managing my life as a result of the work we’ve done together. It was fantastic to have the recordings after each session and the other resources to look through and practice. Celia is very friendly, non-judgemental, and understanding, and she’s an excellent therapist that I would highly recommend to anyone who is struggling.

Change is possible

If this sounds like you, there are steps you can take to change. It takes courage, but it can be done. When I work with clients with disordered eating patterns, I listen to all their worries and fears about giving up their eating behaviours. I support them to make changes at a pace that is right for them. We work together to develop a balanced attitude to food and eating and to see it as just one part of life.

Here are some steps you can take to change disordered eating habits right now.

Work with your body

Understanding how your body reacts when you are on a diet can help you. When food is restricted over time, the body starts to react as it would if you were stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat. Your metabolism slows, so the food you eat will last for as long as possible. As your body thinks it needs more food, it sends messages to your brain to make you think about food so you will eat as soon as you can.

When you do eat, your body wants as much food as possible in case it has to go without again. Your body encourages you to eat a lot of food (binge). It also keeps your metabolic rate on slow so you do not use this food as quickly as you would normally. This is why people gradually gain more weight when they diet. For more on how to change the way you think about food, take a look at Creating the Mindset to Lose Weight

Eat regularly

Regular meals and snacks will help you develop a positive food routine and give structure to your eating. Regular eating can help to combat binge eating, because it prevents the extreme hunger that often leads to over-eating.  For more check out https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/five-ways-mindful-eating-can-stop-you-overeating/

Understand the psychology of disordered eating

We don’t always eat just because we are hungry. For some people being hungry is one of the least important reasons for wanting food. Boredom, habit, stress and feeling down or low can all be reasons for eating. Comfort eating can become a way of covering up feelings and needs, rather than dealing with them.

Try this exercise to recognise your psychological reasons for eating. Write a list of everything which influences what and when you eat. Your list may include coping with emotions, as a reward, to please friends and family, being criticised or they may be totally different.

Recognising the way we eat helps us cope with life is the first step to finding other ways of coping.

Now make a list of the times and reasons you eat other than for hunger. Try and find different ways of coping with them and try them out to see what works best for you. Check out Five Ways Being Assertive Helps You Communicate to help you.

Use Self-Hypnosis

Hypnosis allows you to experience positive thoughts and images as if they are real. Using self-hypnosis can support any changes you want to make to the way you think and feel about food and your body. It can help you to learn to respond to situations and emotions in new and helpful ways. Self-hypnosis harnesses the power of your mind and teaches it to work for you in the way you would like.

For more on how hypnosis can help you have a look at https://www.blossomhypnotherapy.com/how-can-hypnotherapy-help-me/

courage to change eating patterns

Reward yourself

Starting to change takes bravery and perseverance, especially if you have had your problem for a long time. Make sure to recognise any steps you take towards change.  Consider even the smallest shift will take you closer to your goal. Acknowledging what you have achieved is very important.  Remember to congratulate yourself for any action you have taken, no matter how small.

Contact your GP if you are vomiting, misusing laxatives or severely restricting your food, even if you are still at an average weight.

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¹ Patterns and Prevalance of Disordered Eating and Weight Control Behaviors in Women Age 25-45 

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