So, what’s your food issue? Come on, you can tell me. It’s just us. Is there just one issue or are there several? Is it a constant or does it come and go? Do you over-eat? Under-eat? Perhaps you alternate between the two? I have in the past. Is your issue minor or major? Do you lie about it? Have you? I have. Does it have a negative impact on your emotional and mental states? Your life? Relationships? Career? Is it worse in certain situations or under certain circumstances? Are there specific triggers? That cheesecake photo doesn’t help! Do you ever feel out of control? Weird? Ashamed? I have. Are you ever preoccupied with food? Only when I’m awake. Have you started and stopped a bazillion diets? Like… totally. Do you eat one way when people are around and another way when you’re alone? What hidden chocolate? Do you eat when you don’t need to? Yep. Do you medicate with food? Reward yourself (or maybe your kids) with it? Are you ever defensive about your eating habits? Am not, you are.
A Common Issue
In my humble opinion (and it’s almost impossible to verify and quantify this educated guess-timation), almost everyone has some kind of food issue. It might be some occasional (and relatively-minor) over-eating, it could be a full-blown eating disorder (with potentially life-ending consequences) or it could be anything in between. There is indeed a lot of space between disordered eating and an eating disorder. If a score of ten on the Healthy Eating Scale (the one I just invented for this post) is perfect eating (does it actually exist?) and zero is total dysfunction, I think the majority of us live someone between three and seven with occasional visits to one and nine. These days, I mostly live around seven to eight but back in the day, I spent plenty of time in the vicinity of three. So, where do you (mostly) live on the soon-to-be-world-famous Craig Harper Healthy Eating Scale?
When it comes to exploring and dissecting people’s eating habits, one of the most elusive things to find is total honesty. Complete transparency. Why? Well, lots of reasons but mostly because we don’t want people to think we’re freaks. So, in order to look and sound normal (which is a myth anyway) we lie our arses off. Ironically, we actually lie our arses on.
Think about it.
And it’s this lack of honesty (that is, deception of others and deception of self) that is probably the biggest barrier to health, healing and transformation for most of us. As long as we keep bullshitting ourselves and others (about our eating habits, behaviours and decisions), we fail to address the underlying issues (they’re always there) and we continue to inhabit our make-believe world. We also fail to deal with our food issues in a logical and practical manner and finally, we keep the cycle of mental, emotional and physical destruction in motion.
A few years back, I worked with a woman who would wait until everyone was asleep (husband, kids), roll her car down the driveway, start the engine on the street, drive to a twenty-four hour store and buy herself a large tub of ice-cream. Following her purchase, she would sit in the car and shovel in four litres (a gallon-ish) of ice-cream with a spoon she had brought from home. She would then dispose of the evidence and drive home. Usually in tears. She ‘enjoyed’ this nocturnal ritual at least three or four times a week.
When I met her, she had been doing this for years. After a month of reading her (largely fictitious) food diary (the one I asked her to keep), I knew she was lying about her eating habits and I told her so. That went down well. One day in the middle of a rather heated and emotional exchange, she blurted out the truth to me. I was the first person she had ever told. Tears, snot, anger and finally, some acknowledgement and honesty. And a little relief.
Progress at last.
I later discovered that the ice-cream trips were just one part of a destructive eating cycle that had been going on for years. It started when she was a teenager and continued for two (and a bit) decades. The day she told me the truth was the last time she ever binged and the first time she had been totally honest with anyone (about her eating issues). Yes, I’m sure. It was also the catalyst for significant (and lasting) weight-loss (over 20 kgs). When she revealed her secret to me, I didn’t judge her, criticise her or question her. I simply hugged her and told her I was proud of her for being courageous and honest. We then put our minds to creating a practical plan for her to do better. Her embarrassment, fear and shame simply fizzled out of existence as we consciously and constructively went about the business of change. It’s amazing what can happen when someone receives love, acceptance and support rather than (the anticipated) judgement, condemnation and criticism.
To illustrate how broad-reaching this issue is, I’ll share with you an interesting fact about my client: she was (and still is) a doctor. That’s right; intelligence, education and knowledge don’t necessarily have anything to do with how we complex creatures behave around food. Knowing what to do and doing what we know are very different things. Her career was a big contributor to her embarrassment about her eating habits. When she started to communicate with me like a person with issues – rather than a qualification with a reputation – the floodgates opened and the wheels of progress rolled into action.
While I don’t have an eating disorder (as such), I have certainly been a skilled exponent of (periodic) disordered eating over the years. Apparently forty-ish year-old (am so) endomorphs don’t need a slab of cheesecake each day. Who knew? So not fair.
While there’s no simple answer, quick-fix or one-approach-fits-all solution to this problem, a good place to start is honesty, awareness and acknowledgement. Not self-loathing or self-pity, just total honesty and a genuine willingness to do and be different.
Now, I know you have thoughts, ideas and experiences you’d like to share on this topic, so start writing. Even you Scaredy-Cats who never comment. We don’t bite.