Binge Eating - What's Really Causing Yours?

Binge eating is a common struggle for many, but the root cause isn’t always the same.

It can be caused by physiological or emotional factors, but it’s often a combination of both.

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Physiological Drivers

Excessive dieting and restriction, via overall caloric density or a specific macronutrient, can lead to the body’s physiological response to counter this deprivation—bingeing.

As we know, our bodies are smart, and they’re going to find a way to get what they need to survive. We tend to resent this quality and perceive our bodies as the enemy, but this is a gift! We literally wouldn’t be here today without this.

Furthermore, restriction elicits a mental battle.

This often comes back to the discussion about Moderators vs. Abstainers—those who can enjoy all foods without going off the rails, and those who believe they have to follow strict rules or they’ll go off the deep end (i.e. binge).

I have witnessed many self-proclaimed Abstainers—even those with very addictive personalities—become Moderators by simply easing up on their rules and restrictive behaviors.

With a newly developed self-trust and relaxation around food, the urge to binge on “bad” foods lessens significantly.

As someone who formerly subscribed to the label of Abstainer, I can attest to this personally as well.

If you’re struggling with binge eating, and you believe it’s due to excessive restriction, slowly add more foods into your diet. This might be overall food quantity (i.e. calories), a specific macronutrient (i.e. carbs), or allowing yourself to enjoy more processed or “bad” foods.

I completely understand the fear this process invokes if you’re in this situation.  

Leveraging a coach can be extremely helpful, and commitment is essential. You may find yourself continuing to binge throughout the healing process, so it will be tempting to throw in the towel and accept that you’re destined to live a life of deprivation and bingeing.

I promise this urge will dissipate as you get more wins under your belt and your confidence grows. It’s a practice, just like anything else.

Emotional Drivers

The emotional component can be more complex, as there are often several factors at play, but it’s often driven by the need to fill a void or to serve as a distraction for something deeper.

  • Loneliness and lack of deep connection in relationships.

  • Feeling trapped in a relationship that’s no longer serving us.

  • Lacking inspiration in our careers and/or being on a career path that stifles our souls.

  • Pretending to be someone we’re not in front of others due to a lack of acceptance of ourselves or fear of the outcome.

  • Not speaking our minds or setting boundaries with others, so we’re left feeling like shells of our true selves.

  • Making choices in life rooted in fear.

  • Not trusting our intuition.

  • And the list goes on.

There is no shortage of reasons why we use food to circumvent addressing a deeper concern.  

We’ve become so accustomed to deflecting our emotions and believing that anything that resembles discomfort or pain doesn’t have a seat at the table.

That happiness and exhilaration are the only acceptable ways to show up in the world.

As a result, we use food to numb these feelings rather than address them—similarly to using drugs, alcohol, attention, or shopping.

Furthermore, many of us may find ourselves living our lives from a place of fear. 

  • Fear of being unlovable if we show our true selves.

  • Fear of failure if we decide to quit the jobs we hate and try something new.

  • Fear of saying something that may upset someone else.

  • Fear of rejection if we make the first move.

This fear leads to playing small, becoming condensed versions of our true selves, and living lives that are completely unfulfilling.

Eventually, discontentment becomes our standard mode of operation.

This discontentment leads us to self-medication via food, as we believe this to be our only “escape” from our misery. For some, it’s the only source of happiness experienced throughout the day.

As I noted previously, you can apply this concept to some of society’s more widely accepted forms of distraction and superficial medication—booze, drugs, sex, attention from others, gambling, shopping—as they provide a quick hit of exhilaration that distracts us from everything else.

The same level of understanding and acceptance is not usually applied to food.

There are additional layers of complexity with food, too.

We HAVE to eat to survive—there’s no getting around this fact. We can go “cold turkey” with the others, but we have to engage with food on a regular basis.

Additionally, in most Western cultures and societies, food is widely available, making it incredibly difficult to avoid. If food is a person’s “drug of choice”, they’re fighting an uphill battle right out of the gate.

These challenges don’t mean it’s impossible to overcome them, but I do believe they (hopefully) foster additional understanding for those using food as a coping mechanism.  It’s complicated.

What To Do

As we can see, the emotional layers associated with food run deep for many, so the healing or unraveling process is equally as nuanced. There’s no “one size fits all” approach.

However, every single person benefits from introspection, honesty with themselves, and a willingness to address the root cause. 

1.     Introspection—meditation and journaling are widely available to almost everyone, so this is a great place to start. Dedicate yourself to becoming familiar with your internal landscape to better confront and understand what’s going on beneath the hood.

2.     Honesty—when following Step 1 above, you may find yourself wanting to justify or neglect whatever bubbles to the surface. This is common! And very understandable. However, it doesn’t serve any of us in the long-run. Commit to being radically honest with yourself, but ensure you’re being equally as compassionate with yourself too.

3.     Address the Root Cause—it might take several iterations of the first two steps to arrive at the root cause, or there may be several (which is common). The awareness itself is a huge help, but action also needs to be taken to address it (them). Don’t let yourself off the hook by telling yourself, “I don’t know how or what to change though”, or some other fear-based narrative. The faster you begin to take action, the faster you’ll uncover what does or doesn’t work for you!

Binge eating isn’t a surface level issue, and it certainly isn’t one derived from a lack of willpower.

The causes are layered and nuanced, so the remedy is equally so.

The introspective path may not sound as sexy as a cookie-cutter program that promises to teach you how to finally stick to its diet rules, but it’s the only way to experience lasting change that will actually improve—not only your relationship with food—but the way you interact with life, too. 

How Would Life Be Different With The Dream Body?

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I used to spend all of my time and energy thinking about food, exercise, and how amazing I would feel when I finally achieved my ideal, dream body.

I imagined that:

  • I’d finally wear the clothes I believed were only reserved for those with abs.

  • I’d confidently walk around in a bikini and shorts.

  • I would develop a slew of hobbies, like rock climbing, wakeboarding, backpacking, painting, or photography.

  • I would spend my weekends fully enjoying social activities, where I wasn’t constantly fearful of the tempting food and drinks that would be present.

  • I would feel confident with the guys I liked. In fact, I would feel confident all the time.

  • I would be able to eat foods that weren’t on my “good” list without stress and without going off the deep end—making myself sick.

  • I would spend my time learning about something other than nutrition and fitness.

  • I would finally be free to start living.

As the years ticked by, and I eventually became sick of my own internal dialogue and lifestyle, I saw a glimmer of what my life could look like if I didn’t spend all of my time and energy on food and my body.

I asked myself if I could really become the woman I envisioned—with the life I dreamt about for myself—despite not having the body I had been hustling for.

Was it possible?

Of course! Logically, we know this to be true. 

My list above may look differently than yours, but we can look at each one of those items and understand that none of them are dependent on the appearance of my body.

Not one.

And the same is true for your list.

Rather, each one is fully dependent on our mindsets and the actions we employ in tandem.

Upon reflection, it dawned on me that I had been playing the victim for almost a decade. I had convinced myself that I needed permission by way of my appearance to live the life I envisioned for myself.  

A clever way of playing small and keeping myself safe, no? 

I see this ALL the time with clients and friends alike, too. Waiting until everything about ourselves is “perfect” before we make the leap. Before we step outside of our comfort zones and go after the things we want in life.

This all comes back to a lack of belief in ourselves.

Rather than focusing on developing our own self-worth, we outsource this to others.

We believe that we need the permission of others (friends, family, society at large) to go after what we truly want and that our bodies hold the ticket to what we’re really seeking.

I call bullshit.

Everything we want is available to us RIGHT NOW. But we have to be bold enough to prove this to be true. 

  • By wearing the clothes we don’t believe we’re worthy of wearing yet.

  • By putting on the bikini and shorts and realizing that—we’re still alive and well.

  • By signing up for the hobbies and saying “yes” to the next opportunity.

  • By attending the social events and giving ourselves permission to simply be present without overanalyzing our food and beverage choices.

  • By developing confidence in ourselves on a deep, internal level, which is the only form of true confidence anyways.

  • By slowly adding in foods we’ve been avoiding and fearful of and developing trust in ourselves around them.

  • By reading the books, watching the movies, and reading the articles that have nothing to do with nutrition and fitness.

These things take time, to be sure, and you’ll likely feel like an imposter at first. We don’t reframe our narratives and belief systems overnight. 

However, all we need is one win—just one—that proves our stories to be false. To prove that everything we long for can be ours, regardless of our appearance.

If this sounds like a lot of work—it is. There’s no way around it.

But time is going to pass regardless, and if you’ve been caught up in the same patterns for years with no change in outcome, then I’d argue that the work is absolutely worth it.

Your dream life actually depends on it (not your body).

Can you allow the sh*t times to level you UP?

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We’re so quick to wish the present moment away as our minds drift into the past or future. We may think we only do this during the bad times, which is understandable, but we put this into practice during the good times too when we’re not immersed in awareness.

During the good times, we begin to worry about the future and how it will pull us away from the enjoyment of the present moment.

I truly believe detachment is useful and necessary, as everything will eventually change, but we also don’t want to miss what’s right in front of us.

During the bad times, we want to wish them away and usher in the next comfortable season. Which is only natural—but is it useful? Do we grow from the cushy, warm, comforting times?

Without the bad, we aren’t able to relish in (or even experience) the good, and we aren’t able to develop into the humans we’re meant to be either.

Rather than lamenting about our current shitty situation, can we lean into it and choose to gain something from it?

My body, and often my mind, haven’t felt like my own for several months of this year. I believe a lot of this has to do with the Hashimoto’s and generally running myself into the ground, but I can’t say with absolute certainty.

Now that I’ve experienced vast improvements since May (I want to be sure of the consistent improvements before sharing what I did), I’m honestly grateful for the experience.

  • I’m much more in tune with my body and my health.
  • I know that it’s not worth it to sacrifice my health for the sake of ego, vanity, or the comfort of routine.
  • I’ve slowed the fuck down. This is primarily physically, but also mentally.
  • I received a lovely reminder of the practice of detachment from my appearance and physical capabilities.
  • I’m better equipped to guide others who are struggling with a similar experience.
  • I learned to lean on others and learned who really cared when I wasn’t my usual, positive self.
  • I was reminded of how strong and capable I am.
  • Probably most importantly, I was reminded that the shit times will come, they happen for our betterment, and they’ll pass.

To that last point, we may as well sit with whatever we’re experiencing and use it to our advantage, no?

If I reflect on the times that have really shaped me during my 29 years, they haven’t been the rosy times—although they carry great memories. I am the human I am because of the challenges, and as I learn to embrace them, there is so much less to fear.

I write this with the intention of reminding all of us, including myself, that every one of us experiences the dark, shitty times, and if we really dig deep and sit with the emotions of those experiences, it will be time and energy well spent.

If the darkness is going to come anyways, and it inevitably will for each and every one of us, we should soak up as much as we can from the experience while it lasts.

We can choose to level ourselves up as a result. How’s that for taking back our power?

Let your Identity Die If You Want to Reach Your Goals

 The way we adhere to our unproductive and often-harmful narratives holds us back in so many ways.

The way we adhere to our unproductive and often-harmful narratives holds us back in so many ways.

  • I don’t know how to control myself around food.
  • I’m an obsessive eater.
  • I’m not a disciplined person.
  • I’m a control freak.
  • I don’t know how to motivate myself.
  • I’m too shy to talk to new people.
  • I always give up on myself, so that will never work.
  • I failed at that before, so I’m a failure.
  • I’m closed-off, insecure, lazy, unpleasant, unworthy, un-loveable, [enter negative story].

We all define ourselves with the adjectives and words we have available, and we’re usually doing this unconsciously. Oftentimes, we’ve assumed these narratives from someone else—potentially someone we held in high regard.

Or perhaps we made a decision that wasn’t in alignment with our true, deeper values, such as lying, cheating, gossiping, failing to adhere to our responsibilities, or procrastinating, and we allow that one instance to define us. Every one of us has been here!

Rather than detaching from that one behavior, or even a series of behaviors, we begin to assume these behaviors as our identities. Rather than saying “I was emotional, zoned out, and over-ate.”, we tell ourselves, “I am an overeater”.

If we tell ourselves the latter, how do you think we’re going to act next time?

We’ll likely act in alignment with what we believe to be who we are.

We’d rather not experience the discomfort of misalignment with our “identities”, despite the harm we’re inflicting upon ourselves.

The truth is, we can reinvent ourselves at any time. Sure, there are characteristics and limitations that are hardwired into us (nature), but even then, I believe we can learn how to make subtle changes that enable us to use these to our benefit. Or at least temper them.

By adhering to these narrow definitions of ourselves, we immediately remove the possibility of experiencing personal growth and evolution.

I clung tightly to my identity as an obsessive and neurotic eater who couldn’t be trusted to make my own decisions around food, and all of my behaviors were consistent with this narrative.

By assuming this as my identity, I didn’t have to take responsibility for my own decisions, and I succumbed to this definition of WHO I was, rather than looking at my choices as simply behaviors. And behaviors are malleable.

It wasn’t until I took responsibility for the ability to write my own damn story that I was able to make changes counter to this notion of myself.

Slowly but surely, I grew to understand and accept that I was perpetuating my own suffering.

As another example, we may have made “practical” decisions at one point in our lives that truly felt right to us at the time (or didn’t, but we made them anyways), and before we know it, we and others have labeled ourselves as “practical”.

There isn’t a lot of wiggle room there, so what happens when our heart and soul are begging us to make decisions that are more unconventional? An identity crisis.

Begin to Detach

Instead of clinging to these words and stories, what would happen if we began to separate them from our identities?

There would be a world of possibilities! And a lot more personal responsibility. Rather than believing we are the victim of pre-determined traits and qualities, we would then be forced to reconcile with the fact that we’re actively playing a part in our stories. Initially uncomfortable, but also liberating AF.

How does one do this?

  • Take an honest inventory and make a list of the words and narratives you use to define yourself.
  • Ask yourself if you’re happy and in alignment with them. Are they serving you today and where you want to be in the future?
  • Be radically honest about how you’re responsible for perpetuating the story. Taking responsibility for this can be frustrating and painful, but it’s worth it! (reminding myself here)
  • Write down the behaviors you prefer to exhibit. ***We don’t want to get attached to another identity here—so focus on behaviors only.***
  • Remind yourself that your identity is always malleable (and perhaps false altogether), and this is a constant process of reinvention.
  • Put these new behaviors into action! This process takes time, but the belief that they can change is hugely transformational in itself.

In order to grow beyond our current struggles and our current versions of ourselves, we have to be willing to let our labels and narratives die. To let the former and current versions of ourselves die.  This can be scary as hell, but it can also the source of a new beginning whenever we’re ready and willing.

The Importance of Seasons - It's OK for Our Bodies to Have Them Too!

I’m in a season right now in my life, and my body reflects that. We all go through these seasons, yet we often feel the urge to resist them—as though everything in life is supposed to be tightly controlled and maintained.

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I do this too, yet with every season’s passing, I’m reminded of just how little control I have in this life. The only thing within my grasp is how I choose to respond, so I lessen my grip on the external, little by little.

It’s easy to fuse certain parts of our lives into our identities—people, places, things, the state of our bodies. Which is a huge reason why we’re often so resistant to the change.

During the good times, we want everything to remain static for as long as possible. During the bad times, we want the change to come more quickly than is natural. We tend to forget that it was always meant to be this way.

I’m beginning to view the seasons in my life—with people, my body, my career, my priorities—with a new-found appreciation, as I learn something new in every single one. Although, admittedly, it can be so damn difficult to view things through this lens while we’re in the midst of it.

Don’t like your job? Work towards what really lights you up while you learn as much as you can in your current position. This may be an opportunity to learn the art of patience, trust, and persistence while you embrace what you currently have.

Dealing with health struggles? Focus on what your body may be telling you if it’s within your control, and use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. If it’s beyond your realm of control, use it as an opportunity to practice surrender and to strengthen your mind.

Your body has changed? It’s OK, mine too! We can view this as an opportunity to challenge what we believe to be true about our own self-worth, how we respond to the opinions of others, and how to speak kindly to ourselves. We can challenge ourselves to fully accept what it is right now without wishing it away.

Relationship changes? We can marvel at the positive memories, and we can challenge ourselves to appreciate the growth we’re currently experiencing through increased patience, forgiveness, or stronger boundaries, perhaps.

Seasons of our Bodies

As this relates to the states of our bodies, they can ebb and flow with the actual seasons of the planet. Not due to some metaphysical forces, but because our lives and priorities often shift in tandem.

The summer is often rife with social gatherings, vacations, drinks on rooftops, and barbecues, and spending time being active outdoors is often more appealing than being inside a gym. We may gain a few lbs. or lose a bit of strength or muscle—it’s all OK!

Winter is associated with holiday gatherings and heavier food choices, and it may involve some extra gym time depending on our location. We may feel the desire to focus on building strength and lessening stress on our bodies through meaningful connection with others, downtime indoors, and amply fueling our bodies. Some fat and/or muscle gain may be associated with this time of the year—it’s all OK!

Spring and Fall are transitional seasons that are often great opportunities to dive more deeply into a routine and work towards our goals—we may slim down as a result or we may not. It’s all OK!

Each one of these seasons brings something magical with it, and if we’re holding on so tightly to one iteration of our bodies, we risk missing out the beauty of these various times of the year.

Or unique live events (like becoming a new parent, weddings, or extended travel).

We risk neglecting the present for the sake of control.

Someone once said to me,

“Appreciate the good times, because they’ll come to an end. Don’t worry about the bad times, because they’ll come to an end too.”

My initial reaction to this statement was fear, as I want to hold onto the good times for dear life, but this was proceeded by a sense of calm.

Accepting that nothing in this life is guaranteed and static can be a tremendous source of fear and discomfort, or it can be an amazing source of adventure and ease. The choice is ours, really.

If you find yourself in a season you would typically categorize as unpleasant with your body, your food, your health, or your mindset, ask yourself if you can reframe it.

Can you choose to accept it fully for what it is in the present moment? And trust that a new season will come?

When we begin to look at things through this lens, we may begin to understand that it’s not that serious (shout out to Neghar Fonooni).

Our assumption is often that the various aspects of our lives and bodies were never meant to change in the first place, and this mindset is what makes it ALL SO SERIOUS.

The unwillingness to flow and the aversion to change is what makes it ALL SO SERIOUS.

For those type-A perfectionists out there, I feel you, and I am one of you. And this is one of the most healing things we can do for ourselves.

Create the structure, practice the discipline, and do the work, but take a step back and marvel at the notion that you don’t have to bare the weight of that which can’t be controlled.

Can We Stop Complimenting Each Other on Our Bodies?

Most of us grew up witnessing women comment on other women’s bodies, and we see it all too often today as adults.

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These usually were comments of adoration or jealousy after someone lost a few pounds or “toned up”, in addition to snarky remarks about those who gained weight or who didn’t fit their ideal of what a woman should look like.

These comments slowly solidify themselves in our subconscious, although few of us are aware of this as it’s taking place. We begin to understand that thinner is better, and gaining weight warrants mean-spirited discussions behind another woman’s back.

We (hopefully) understand that speaking negatively about another women’s body is inappropriate, mean-spirited, and is simply a reflection of the perpetrator’s own insecurities and hang-ups.

However, we rarely consider the consequences of compliments.

They seem innocent enough, right? In fact, many would argue that it’s better to pay a compliment to another rather than keep it to oneself. Why wouldn’t we make an effort to make someone feel better about themselves?

Because this is where many obsessions and eating disorders begin.

Many of the women I work with, in addition to those in my personal circle, lament on the compliments that kicked their hustle for the ideal body into high gear.

They began their health and/or weight loss journey as a result of their own preferences for themselves, and once the weight loss was in motion or achieved, the compliments rolled in.

“Oh my gosh, you look so good! What have you been doing?”

“You look so skinny—you look amazing.”

“You are body goals. I want a body like yours.”

These comments are often said before asking how anything else in the woman’s life is progressing, too. Talk about a hierarchy of values, no?

Panic then ensues. Did everyone think I looked bad before? Does everyone like me better now? Are they only interested in me because of the weight I lost?

I have to maintain this or I’m going to lose their interest/attention/love/acceptance!

If weight is gained, the compliments cease, and they may even be told not to worry—that they’ll lose the weight again soon.  And the notion that their worth is tied to their body is solidified.

They begin to believe that people only see, value, and love them for their appearance.

We Don’t Know the Whole Story

Furthermore, changes in weight can be the result of a multitude of scenarios, both positive and negative, including divorce, death, illness, stress, or an increase in happiness.

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.

The woman who lost weight may be suffering tremendously inside due to circumstances that have nothing to do with her physical form, or she may be deep in the throes of an eating disorder.

Does complimenting her on her body send the right message in any of these situations? I don’t believe so.

We could argue that this is the responsibility of the recipient, and there is certainly some onus on each of us to filter both compliments and insults alike.

However, can we wrap our heads around the idea that our compliments to other women regarding their bodies may be doing more harm than good?

It’s a foggy line, to be sure, and I have been on both sides of the fence.

Today, I don’t comment on another woman’s body unless I have a deep and established relationship with her and am privy to the motivations and circumstances behind the changes.

The last thing I would ever want to do is further cement another’s belief that all I value her for is her body, or that the circumstances that led to these changes are less deserving of my attention than the result itself.

The vast majority of us have been conditioned to pay these compliments, and while they’re often well meaning, they may be doing more harm than good.

There are SO MANY more important things about each of us, and so many of us are just waiting for the space and nurturing environment to show them. Instead of commenting on a woman’s weight loss, ask her about her life.

See her as a human being first—a body second.

How is her family? Her relationships? Her career? Her travels and recent fun adventures? What has she learned or read recently? What is she struggling with?

Focusing on the qualities that truly matter in each of us prior to the superficial will do us all a world of good.

I'm Tall, White, Thin, Able-Bodied, and Privileged - Why Was I Still Obsessed with Food?

When sharing my story about my history with disordered eating and my obsession with food, exercise, and my body, I’ve received comments about the validity of my experience and whether it’s relatable to others.

 I've been 15 lbs. lighter and heavier than my weight in this pic, and my obsession with food was the same regardless of the state of my body.

I've been 15 lbs. lighter and heavier than my weight in this pic, and my obsession with food was the same regardless of the state of my body.

I am white, tall, thin, able-bodied, and young, so what could I have possibly been obsessing over?  Shouldn’t I just shut my mouth and be grateful for what I did/do have? These questions initially elicited a knee-jerk reaction of frustration and disappointment, but after giving them some thought, I have been able to see these questions through a different lens.

It’s important to recognize my position of privilege due to the aforementioned qualities and how others do not receive the same benefits, and there are ways in which these privileges manifest that I’m still not aware of. 

However, this does negate nor take away from my experience, and it doesn’t for anyone else either. Our relationships to food aren’t just about our bodies, and our experiences are valid simply by virtue of them occurring.

Where It All Began

When looking through the lens of my own experience, my obsession with my body began in response to circumstances many other women can relate to: I learned that my appearance is my most valuable currency, and in order to be lovable, I must look perfect as defined by society’s standards.

Furthermore, in a household of four children within four years and as a middle child who was relatively “easy” and calm, I yearned for attention and accolades. I believed that obtaining perfection (in every way—not just with my body) was the only way to achieve this.

I was 5’8” by the age of 13, so I was deeply insecure about my height. It made me different, and similarly to any teenager, this instantly made me resentful of the trait.

Additionally, as I progressed further into puberty, I looked to my dad and brothers to gauge appropriate portion sizes during mealtimes, and I steadily gained weight.

I didn’t feel any connection to my body at that point in time, so I overate processed foods regularly.  Was I unconscious with my choices? Absolutely. Did I demonize specific foods? Not yet.

Fast forward a few months,  and I was tall and now heavier than was natural for my frame, and I began to feel myself drifting farther and farther away from the ideal. The last thing I would have categorized myself as was “feminine” according to society’s standards.

Was I technically overweight? No, but I was heavier than felt comfortable to me, and I was certainly too heavy according to others in my immediate circle. And they made it known.

After listening to this unsolicited feedback and observing interactions around me, I slowly started putting the pieces together:

  • A leaner body means more attention.
  • More attention means an increased likelihood of receiving love, acceptance, and being seen.
  • Less food and more exercise leads to a leaner body.
  • Food is the barrier to feeling love, acceptance, and the ability to be seen.
  • Food is the enemy.

This isn’t true of course, but this concept ruled my life for a decade. I viewed food as the gateway to my self-worth and value in the eyes of others, so it’s no great surprise that it became my obsession.

It was a love/hate relationship, and it was one that I so badly wanted to make peace with.

Obsession at Any Stage

My issues with food and my body started and continued due to feelings of unworthiness, and they didn’t let up for ten years regardless of the state of my body.

It didn't matter if I was 15 lbs. heavier than today at my heaviest or 15 lbs. lighter at my lightest—my obsession remained constant as I ebbed and flowed within those 30 lbs.

When I was leaner, I was obsessed with maintaining my body fat percentage for fear of losing my value as a person.  I was fully convinced that my friends and family truly loved me more when I looked that way, and my love of myself followed suit.

When I gained weight, which often occurred when I loosened the reigns and allowed myself to live my life in college, I felt a deep sense of shame about my appearance and the fact that I had “let myself go”. Even during these joyful and fun-filled times, I oscillated between periods of pure joy, panic, and fear of the looming outcome—more fat on my body.

There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t obsessing, and this was irrespective of the state of my body.

The Chase Never Ends

My obsession with food went far beyond my body, and the underlying reasons shifted based on the stage of life I was in, but the pressure to fix “just one more thing” was endless.

While I inhabited the qualities noted above, I was and still am far from the absurd standards of beauty women are held to.

I have cellulite, I’m not “curvy in all the right places”—whatever the fuck that means, I’m flat-chested, I’m taller than many men at 5’10.5”, I’m really pale with freckles, and the list goes on and on.

With the endless list of qualities we’re told to embody simultaneously, as if we come with ala carte options, there is always one more thing for us to obsess over. One more thing to hustle for. One more way to feel as though we’re inadequate.

We see women who are walking around with insanely low levels of body fat and continue to obsess over their meals and exercise routines, because the issue isn’t our bodies themselves—it’s our subscription to the stories we’ve been told about where our value is derived from and other underlying emotional distress we’re often masking (such as my staunch subscription to perfectionism).

Others may include the need for control, binging to numb our emotions and subsequently starving to undo the “damage”, seeking love and attention, lack of self-worth and self-esteem, deflecting from other areas of our lives that are calling for our attention (like hating our job or an unhappy relationship), lack of authenticity in our lives, etc.

Our Bodies Don’t Determine Our Relationships with Food

I have worked with overweight and thin women, all of whom are constantly obsessing over every morsel of food. While their motivations can be different, their relationships with food are very similar.

To assume we know someone else’s story based on their appearance is short-sited, and it furthers the notion that we are defined by the way we look.

Lean women may be labeled as lucky and perfect, despite deep pain they may be masking, and overweight women are often labeled as lazy, despite the care they may show for their bodies.

This contributes to the problem on a larger scale, and it can also be deeply harmful to the individual.

It doesn’t serve us look to our appearance or those of others to determine what someone’s relationship with food “should” look like or assume we know what is true.

When we “should” each other, we miss the opportunity to connect with other women on the deep level we’re all seeking, and we collectively take a step back.

We all have a right to our story, our experiences, and our emotions, simply by virtue of them being our own, and we can take ownership of them while simultaneously recognizing our privilege and seeking to learning about the experiences of women in marginalized bodies.

This is a new-to-me conversation, so I welcome all feedback in an effort to learn more!