Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders: When to get help with your eating habits

wellbeing Mar 01, 2022
When to get help with your eating habits

It only takes one look at the food habits of people around you to understand that so many of us have a ‘bad’ relationship with food. And it’s only a question of time until we get confused about what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; what, how much and when we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ eat. It is becoming quite rare to see a truly intuitive eater and we’re lucky if we grow up surrounded by them.

The pandemic has brought about an alarming 300% increase in people seeking support with diagnosed eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. This is really sad to see, especially because majority of people suffering with eating disorders do not seek treatment (or straight away). 

There still is a lot of stigma about getting help and support with your eating habits. Just like you don’t need to be clinically depressed to get some support and therapy to lighten your load, you also do not have to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to make improvements in your food habits and relationship for the better.

However, many of us have a difficult and disordered relationship with food that includes some features of an eating disorder, such as restriction, binging, over exercising, extreme dieting, purging and so on and that can develop into a more serious eating disorder, that is overwhelming and life-consuming. Spot the signs now and change your food habits while it feels easier to do so. 

How do you know when to get help?

The decision-making process here is quite simple.

If your food habits or relationship with food is making you miserable every day or every other day, if the constant thoughts about food and weight are taking over the majority of your headspace, sounds like you could do with some help.

In my personal healing journey with food I waited a really long time until I sought help, purely because of my stubborn ego and some unhelpful mind patterns, that were keeping me even more stuck.

If you watch a documentary about eating disorders or you know somebody, who’s struggling, you might think ‘I’m not skinny or sick enough’ to get help. But remember, that it is about your own wellbeing and quality of life, not about a clinical diagnosis.

If you’re a self-sufficient person like me, it might be hard for you to ask for help and think that you can do it all by yourself. Trust me, I went through ALL the self-help books out there, until I had to admit that I just couldn’t do it all alone.

When your fridge or washing machine breaks down, do you try and do it yourself (you might do), or call a specialist? So why is it that we try and heal our bodies and minds DIY style, when could get help from somebody, who has figured it out and already has a roadmap?

So if you’re stuck in the indecision land, here are some common red flags that signal the need for help.

You’re thinking about food 24/7

From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to bed- food is always on your mind. You don’t go an hour or maybe just a few minutes without thinking or obsessing about food. It’s the focus on your conversations, thoughts and fears.

The food police is out

You call foods ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘fattening’ and ‘calorific’ and you know exactly what is and isn’t ‘allowed’ for you to eat and often have particular quantities as well. Perhaps it’s even limiting your choices for going out and social interactions.

You can’t shift the feeling of guilt and shame after meals

Does the feeling of shame and guilt after food follow you around like a loyal dog? If you feel guilt around food most days and if that occupies your headspace, it’s an issue that needs addressing.

You’re terrified of gaining weight

Perhaps one of your biggest fears in life is that you will gain weight or won’t be able to lose excess weight. This influences all your food choices, creating restriction, guilt and lets the food police out to play.

You have a love/ hate relationship with the scale

Do you find that your relationship with the scale has been as out of control as your relationship with food? Did you start with weighing once per month and now it’s twice daily? If it is a healthy relationship, then stopping weighing yourself wouldn’t be an issue.

You’re stuck in the vicious cycle

It may have already been a few months or even a few years, since you feel like being stuck in a vicious cycle of restriction or dieting, binging, food obsession and guilt, compensation and negative thoughts. The more you try to get out, the deeper you seem to sink.

Punishing yourself for what you’ve eaten

Does food guilt and overeating turns into compensation, restriction or over-exercising later? Perhaps you turn to a short cleanse, fasting, juicing or liquid meals the day after overeating or a binge.

You have ‘cheat’ days

One or two days a week the food police gets a day off and you allow yourself to eat whatever you like, no restrictions or limitations. Which often results in eating 2-3 times more of what you normally would.

You can’t stop with one

You wished you could just stop with one, but it feels like a distant memory. ‘Having just one slice of cake’ or ‘one biscuit’ stopped excising in your dictionary a good while ago. You know full well that having just ‘one’ for you means another binge.

You eat your emotions and feelings

You don't want to call yourself 'an emotional eater' as perhaps that sounds too extreme or only happens every now and then, but you turn to food when you're happy, sad, angry, excited, stressed and the list goes on. Any emotion, either positive or negative triggers you to food, which is often in excess or unnecessary. You eat when you're not hungry most days and perhaps you even miss the feeling of true hunger.

Calories rule your life

You barely put anything in your mouth, unless you know what is in it or how many calories it contains. You know by heart how many calories is in diet coke or in 80g of rice. And yet it seems to create even more guilt and frustration if you’re binging or overeating.

You’re either on a diet or off the diet

Your food habits are often defined by the newest diet that you are pursuing. And when that fails, you ditch the diet and go for a ‘full blowout’. Until a new diet comes along. Every time if feels like ‘this is the one thing that will change everything’.

You need to deserve food

You have a belief that you need to deserve food that is considered by the food police as ‘bad’. You might do an enormous amount of exercise or restrict on other foods the next day just to allow yourself a little amount of pleasure. Then, of course, followed by food guilt.

‘When I lose weight, then…’

… find a relationship, go traveling, buy that dress I really like, pursue my dreams, go out etc (fill in the blank). You postpone life until you lose weight, convinced that it will sort all your problems out.

You often eat on ‘autopilot’

Have you eaten a whole box of chocolates, but no idea how it happened? Mealtimes are often related to stress or you are mentally checked-out. Sadly, that often leads to overeating and more food guilt.

You wished you could eat ‘normal’

You say that you would like to just be ‘normal’ around food, but you have no idea what that means anymore. Food obsession, feeling out of control and ‘crazy’ around food has been part of your life for what feels like an eternity.

Where to seek help?

There is no single answer where to turn for help. There are many therapists and professionals available out there that can support you in your journey.
Main things to look for is that the person is qualified and experienced in the field. Try and avoid professionals, who are not specialists in this area or never worked with clients with similar issues to yours before.
Have a read on their website, see if they have testimonials that you can relate to and have the first session or introductory call to figure out if you can connect with the person and see yourself working with them.

Here’s what service/ who you might want to seek out for:

Nutritional Therapist/ Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian- a great place to start if you want practical, actionable steps to start implementing and changing your food habits for good. Most will also work on mindset and stubborn patterns. Important to make sure that they are familiar with concepts of intuitive and mindful eating.
Councillor/ psychotherapist- can be extremely useful if you feel stuck in behavioural patterns and are struggling to figure out why it is happening. Uncovering some patterns from the past can often be challenging and make sure that your therapist helps you with solutions and actions to move forward.
Group sessions- this can be really helpful for you, if you thrive with social support and a strong social network helps you make considerable progress.
Use all the resources you possibly can and a mix of services if you can, as that means that you tackle the issue quicker and from all the angles possible.
Medical disclaimer
I am not a doctor, medical professional or a dietician. The information I provide is based on my professional experience as a Nutritional Therapist, studies provided and on my personal experience. Any recommendations I may make about diet changes, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you on this website should be discussed between you and a medical or healthcare professional. The information you receive in these blogs does not take the place of professional medical advice.