As a Food Freedom Coach I specialise in working helping people heal disordered eating and all that that entails for my clients. But so many people don’t understand why they struggle with disordered eating in the first place. How can we truly heal something when we don’t know why we have it?
So in this blog I wanted to talk about some of the reasons why we may struggle with disordered eating.
Diet Culture – The fuel for the fire
Now, we can’t talk about disordered eating without talking about diet culture. In so many ways diet industry and the culture that has been bred from it is the fuel for the fire for so many when it comes to their disordered relationship with food.
Diet culture has led us to have such a warped perception of health and looking after ourselves. So much of what we see health and wellness to be is weight loss and being in a smaller body.
We see looking after ourselves as restriction, ‘making healthy choices’ and keeping their weight down. And yet in reality true health is about more than weight. It is our physical health, mental health, our social wellbeing, our happiness, joy, resilience and so much more! Health and weight loss are so far from the same thing.
The other thing that diet culture has really warped for so many of us is the idea that a smaller body is the answer to all our problems problems.
We are told that having a smaller body will give us more confidence, will help us feel more worthy.
We are told that having a smaller body will make us more loveable, attractive and wealthy.
These messages aren’t always transferred consciously, but they are prevelant in films, in advertising, in the office kitchen talk and so much more.
Maybe you have heard people say: ‘Oh don’t you look great, have you lost weight?’, ‘You’re not fat, you’re beautiful’ or ‘should you really be eating that?’.
All these phrases that imply that being in a smaller body and restricting makes people better and being in a larger body makes people lesser than.
Maybe you’ve noticed that people in larger bodies play very different roles in TV dramas and films, than people in smaller bodies too. That is all diet culture, and all the time we are being submitted to more messages like this!
So no wonder we want to do what we can to fit the diet culture mould, to be in a body that will make us ‘better’ even though our body shape or weight has nothing to do with our worth.
And I know this might be quite shocking to so many of you, but it actually has very little do with our physical health either (you can learn more about the Health at Every Size movement here).
Diet culture alone is toxic but there are other aspects that are worth exploring here too.
Were you taught to feel all the feels?
Another aspect that I see in all the clients I work with is difficulties in processing their emotionality.
So many of us who have or do struggle with disordered eating or eating disorders are empaths or Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), that means they feel more intensely.
Empaths and HSPs are the people who cry at films, that feel other people’s pain as they hear their stories and usually the go to agony aunt for all their friends. But whether we are empaths or HSPs or not, learning to feel is so integral to our development as children.
However, so many cultures around the world see emotionality as weakness, as a vulnerability that needs to be shoved down and ignored. We are taught from a young age to shove our feelings down, to self-medicate with alcohol, to hide our feelings and in some cases even be ashamed of them.
Again not all of this will be that obvious, but a mum pouring a glass of wine as she says ‘mummy has had a bad day’ is teaching us that when we feel bad we use alcohol and when we see a parent or care giver hiding to have a cry we learn that sadness is something that we should hide.
This isn’t about blaming our parents. After all they did the best they could with the tools they had and likely didn’t know any better. But hopefully it helps you see how many messages there are telling the children of this world that they aren’t supposed to feel and if they do they should do something to numb it, avoid it or distract from it!
Children don’t have access to alcohol and so many of the other coping tools adults do, but one thing they do have access to and control of is food. So we often find children using food, whether that be restricting, comfort eating or both, to soothe emotionality they don’t know what else to do with.
Trauma with or without the capital T
On top of that, if we have experienced traumatic or life-changing into the mix without the tools or support to process it, we have a real cooking pot for unhealthy coping tools and disordered eating.
Now it is important to note that trauma isn’t necessarily those life-changing horrendous (Trauma with the capital T) events we so often think about. Trauma is anything our brains deem to be traumatic.
That could be being made to feel ashamed in front of a class or your grandparent taking away your favourite toy without explaining why (trauma with a lower case t).
Whatever our experience is, if our brain has boxed things up as trauma, it will have an effect on how we see the world and how we behave. And if not dealt with, people who have experienced trauma have a propensity towards unhealthy coping mechanisms such as disordered eating and other issues as ways to cope.
Obviously, we are all unique and our healing journeys may all be different as a result. But challenging the beliefs that diet culture internalises, learning to feel our feelings and healing trauma are so often the cornerstones to so many of our journeys to true food freedom.