Our Messed Up Relationship with Food & The Food Guilt Trap

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. All recommendations and opinions posted are my own and are not associated with any institutions I am affiliated with.

Eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, obesity and EDNOS are not only a horrible experience for the individual and their families and loved ones, but also a massive strain on the government health system in many first world countries. But instead of combating this with more healthy eating products, food education from a young age and ease of buying and creating delicious healthy food, doctors throw pills at individuals and 13 year-olds are getting lap band surgery to ‘cure’ them of obesity and heart disease.

Shows in the UK like Supersize v Superskinny exist for a reason, people have many reasons why they overeat or undereat, and either way, it’s detrimental to their health. ‘Curing’ this with anything other than reassessing our relationship with food and our personal problems that are connected to it is often futile.

Pharmaceutical companies sponsor doctors, nurses and admin staff. The branding is all over most hospital pens, pads and other stationery equipment. This also leaks down into what the doctor prescribes you for particular ailments. Instead of promoting a healthy way of eating first, and referring someone to a nutritionist or dietitian, the person is given statins, told to not eat as much, shamed, told they are going to get sick and die. This does not help people get healthy. Not everyone experiences their own personal ‘wake-up call’ and different people need different approaches.

Families should be taught together, if you have an eating problem, and you have kids you are basically enabling the child to possibly have the same problem. Those with problems of their own can’t teach others to heal until they’ve healed themselves. You need to be able to put yourself first. As by putting yourself first you are also helping everyone around you. You are special and you are worth it, put some time aside for yourself and realise you do not exist exclusively to make other people happy, you exist for yourself.

Unfortunately, in the media it is all about ‘getting skinny’ or losing weight, making it all about image, how does this or that person look? In reality none of this should even be mentioned. The focus should be on how hard our internal organs are working simply to keep us alive. Looks do not matter for longevity, health does.

Doctors, big pharma, big corporations worldwide, they want us to stay unhealthy. They want us to keep making the same repetitive decisions so they can have a loyal customer for life. They do not care if their product is healthy or unhealthy. They want you to become addicted to sugar, salt, caffeine and other purposefully addictive substances so they can keep getting your money. Don’t let the compassionate marketing side of these industries fool you, their product is just as bad for you as it was 20 years ago. Stick it to them and show them you can make your own decisions regarding you and your families health.

You may think you are making your own decisions but marketing and advertising has been drilled into us since childhood. To unpick those impulses we have to do research and understand what is going into us. Many types of urges control our food decisions: emotions; timing; convenience; intense hunger (such as if we have waited too long between meals); overworking, or even boredom.

One of these points is especially poignant, emotional eating. This is when a certain feeling triggers the need to consume a certain food. This could be chocolate when you’re sad or hot chips when you’re tired. Making the connection and recognising the signs that things are out of control is something you can do. Hiding food and wrappers, feeling ashamed of what you’ve eaten (food guilt); overeating to the point of bursting, and feeling like you’re hiding a secret are key indicators that you may have a problem with emotional eating.

Binging, even not to a large extent, is something that is also struggled with. Eating a small chocolate bar and deciding to write the entire day off, resulting in frozen yoghurt, chips, chocolate, McDonalds and other foods usually avoided is not a healthy relationship with food. It’s okay to have a pack of crisps and then eat a healthy dinner. This can take years to learn, and years for your brain to unlearn how to eat, so keep at it, no matter how many times you fail, you are trying! It’s so important to continue, as it can take a very long time. The most important part is to not guilt yourself. The big companies are already trying to do that to you, not to mention the awful ‘womens’ magazines that promote horrible self esteem, fat and skinny shaming and have a generally disgusting way of talking about celebrity culture. These subtly enter our minds and absolutely have an impact on the way we see ourselves in the mirror, so try to avoid them.

Along with this, supermarkets advertise products in a very strategic way. Companies pay big money to have products at your eye level. So make sure to check out all the shelves to get the biggest range of choice, rather than sticking with that one brand you’ve always bought. There may be a better alternative.

There are complex reasons to why overeating and undereating occur, and it is different for every individual. Both sides of the spectrum ought to be classified as mental health issues. If the root cause of the restriction (or lack of) is not treated, that person is going to suffer for the rest of their lives with food and body image. This can be shown in the way that men’s anorexia and obesity is actually increasing, showing that men along with women are sufferring. People who are having a hard time need to be treated with empathy and above all, love and understanding.

Representation can also really help, so if you or anyone you know is going through something difficult, watching YouTube accounting other people’s experiences can really help you to know you are not alone. It can be so inspiring when you see someone and be like ‘that’s me’ – making the connection and watching how other people overcame similar struggles is really important.

Consider writing a diary, journal or reading books surrounding what you wish to learn more about. Netflix and other subscription services have many documentaries on food that can also help make the connection.

Practising self love and self forgiveness is the first step in becoming healthier in the mind. Finding happiness in other things apart from food is imperative. Do not worship food, and try to cut the connection of food as comfort, as it can start a dangerous path. Talk to a friend or family member or watch a new TV show. Channeling energy into a new hobby or interest can help divert the obsession away from food. Again this can take a very, very long time and it is important to practice forgiveness even when you fall. Self love does not matter if you fail or succeed, it matters that you try. Remember that mental health comes first, with self love and self respect comes health in the body as well.

Avoid triggers as much as possible but also try and train yourself to become immune to them. They are in everyday life. They are everywhere. In the 21st century world of 24/7 intensive in-your-face advertising, it can be very difficult to pay no attention to these advertisements. However if you know certain things elevate you, try to avoid them at first, then prepare yourself for when you ultimately do see or hear about them. Practice it. It can help a lot for when it does appear in reality.

Talk to people, this could be a family member, a good friend or even a counsellor, you have to reach out because remember people do care for you.

If you or someone you love is struggling please call Lifeline: 13 11 14

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    Oh boy. I just wrote about something similar in my most recent blog post. Many of us have such unhealthy relationships with food, and society seems to encourage it because companies can make quick cash off of our insecurities. Why do we have to feel guilty about what we eat? Yes, we need to be healthy, but being strict and rigid about our diets is not the way to do so; constantly worrying about what you’re eating is nothing short of mentally taxing.

    Even people who are aware of this struggle with it; I am also guilty of binging, and I really to have to center myself on some days and remember that my body is only as healthy as my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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