Why your relationship with food may not be about food at all...

“I tried every diet in the book. I tried some that weren't in the book. I tried eating the book. It tasted better than most of the diets.” ― Dolly Parton

Many people that we work with at the clinic, come to us for help with their relationship with food. They are really keen to change their habits and behaviours around food. Many will have worked with nutritionists or dieticians in the past or tried endless diets or meals-plans - however they would have rarely found something that they had been able to sustain for the long-term. The reason for this is that our relationship with food is rarely just about food. Our relationship with food is very often about so many much deeper rooted values, beliefs, emotions and habits. If you were you examine your relationship with food, do you think that any of these factors play a role in the food choices that you make:

Self-esteem and confidence

For many people, their relationship with food is very closely tied to their self-esteem and confidence levels and also to their self-perception. When someone feels very bad about themselves and has lots of negative thoughts about themselves and their body, they will often then feel down and in turn may turn to food to cope with their low mood. It can become a very vicious circle. Equally, when someone feels down about themselves and their body, they can also try and punish their body with very restrictive diets and starvation, which may last for a short while but then often end up leading to periods of binge-eating or over-eating. So our self-esteem levels are very tied up with our relationship with food. Often when clients get to a place of valuing and respecting themselves and their bodies, they just naturally want to nurture, nourish and take care of their bodies rather than punish them with extreme dieting and/or overeating.

Not prioritising themselves

Tied in with our self-esteem is how much we give ourselves the time, space and permission to take care of our own needs. So many of the people that we work with spend so much of their days rushing around after other people, that they end up completely neglecting their own needs. They are giving far more than they are allowing themselves to receive. The result of this is often that they feel depleted and down. However this often also has an impact on their relationship with food. They may find no time to eat all day long- as they are too busy working hard and helping others - but then by the evening, they are so ravenous, that they will end up devouring anything in sight. Here the root of the issue isn't really just how much they are eating or not eating - but the fact that they don't feel able to prioritise themselves and their needs. Exploring where this underlying belief has come from and shifting this belief can then help individuals not just with their relationship with food but also in their romantic relationships, their professional life and their interactions with friends and family too.

Comparing to others

Again tied to self-esteem levels is how much time an individual spends comparing themselves to others. Often when they feel a lot of pressure to be more like those around them (or perhaps even those that they see on TV or social media), this can drive low self-esteem, which in turn can lead to an unhelpful relationship with food. Of course, when we compare ourselves to others it is very rarely a fair comparison, as we tend to compare our worst qualities/flaws against other people's strengths. Therefore working to help someone to stop unfairly comparing themselves to others can help them to feel more confident and in turn develop a more positive relationship with food and their body.

Body image

How someone feels about, relates to, perceives and connects with their body very heavily influences their relationship with food. Disordered eating is usually driven by an individual not feeling very good about their body. Therefore, developing a healthier relationship with food involves getting to a place where someone can work with their body (so that both mind and body can feel great), - rather than working to punish their body or working against their body. When someone is able to have more positive and helpful thoughts about their body, this can really improve their mental health and their relationship with food.

Anxiety and not having control in other areas of your life

When someone feels anxious or that they can't control certain areas of their life, they may try and manage this by controlling things that they do have the power to change. This can then involve either not eating or being very disciplined around food in order to feel some sense of order or control. For some people, this can lead to very restrictive eating patterns, however for others this can lead to skipping meals, which in turn drives binge-eating or over-eating by the end of the day. Either way, the issue here is not really the food itself. The issue is more the anxiety and lack of control that the individual is experiencing and the fact that the only coping mechanism they feel that they can turn to in these circumstances is controlling their food intake. Helping an individual to find new ways to manage anxiety and to come to terms with not having complete control over their lives, can therefore help shift their relationship with food long-term.

Food is a coping mechanism for stress/sadness/low mood