I have always been the kind of person who prefers not to talk about their struggles or worries. I prefer to listen to and help other people with whatever is on their mind. Despite this, for a long time now I’ve struggled with my body image and my relationship with food. I have downplayed it because I know that I do not have a serious eating disorder, I am of a healthy weight and I have in a way liked being that “healthy friend” that people know not to bother offering the sweet snack to and that prefers to take the stairs over the lift. But it’s time to out my hidden struggles and recognise them for what they are.
I cannot pinpoint when it all started for me but for years, I have been very invested in nourishing my body and only consuming foods that I deem to be healthy. If I was in a situation where I felt obliged to eat an “unhealthy” food, I would be riddled with guilt for hours and this is definitely something that I still struggle with even to this day. I would secretly judge other people for their food choices and in fact very openly judge those closest to me. I would try to convince them that their diets were completely wrong and that they needed to adopt healthier behaviours and follow my strict rules around reading the food packages to ensure that there was no added sugar, no preservatives and that the foods were low in fat and salt. I saw my behaviours as being the right way to live and that everyone else was doing it wrong.
These strict rules and restrictions allowed me to justify eating extremely large portions of food and going back for seconds and thirds as long as it was healthy. This led to an unhealthy cycle of binge eating to the point where I felt over full and unwell. This would happen on a daily basis – sleep, overeat, rest and repeat. I had the all or nothing attitude, that: I would either have a good day and eat well and if I failed to meet that standard then I would give in for the day and eat anything and everything and my strict rules would restart again the next day. My days would be consumed about thinking about food and worrying about my body, feeling that I would never be happy in my body no matter how well I ate or how much exercise I did.
The world we live in today is a mixed bag of dietary advice. One day we are told that the keto diet is the way to go and the next day we are demonising meat and opting for a plant-based diet. No wonder we are all so confused about what to eat. Societal views on food have definitely impacted my attitudes towards my diet but on reflection so have my perfectionist personality traits. I am constantly striving to be better and do better and one way I thought I could do this was aiming to be as healthy as possible. This sounds simplistic as I know that overall health is not just about what you eat but is related to a whole number of things including lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep and stress levels but it is easy to get caught up in obsessing over one thing and for me that was and sometimes still is, food.
Over the course of about a year I have begun to realise that my behaviours and thoughts have negative impacts on my life and my relationships. Although the thought of seeing a psychologist about it scared me, I thought it was time that I did something to help myself. I went to my GP who also thought it would be a good idea, however after that conversation I managed to find every excuse possible to avoid seeing a psychologist. Then on another visit to my GP and after conversations with my friends I decided to bite the bullet and book in to see someone.
Even though I would have probably been okay continuing the way I have been for many more years, I found sitting down and talking to a complete stranger a beneficial experience. After seeing patients on placement and asking them to talk openly about their mental health struggles I felt that it was important for me to do the same and feel no shame about it. I spoke to my friends about it – something that I wouldn’t have done a year ago and now I have written it down for more people to read and hopefully I can help someone else out there who may be struggling with their own battle.
We all have our own struggles and it can be easy to deflect them but the sooner we identify and talk about them, the sooner we can start to heal and realise that we are not alone. I am now a lot more content with myself and have started to focus more on the positives including how amazingly functional my body is. Slowly, I am overcoming my obsession with healthy eating and focusing more on the shared experience of a good meal with loved ones and the power that food has in bringing people together