I was bulimic for three years in college. I was so desperate to lose weight that I resorted to throwing up almost everything I ate to lose it. I would binge eat, make myself vomit, and do it all over again. It was physically very painful and it almost destroyed me emotionally. I have never hated myself so much in my life, and the disorder itself was an indicator of how much I did.
You may never have had this experience. And if someone asked you if you’ve ever had an eating disorder, you would say no. But just because you’ve never had an eating disorder doesn’t mean you don’t eat in a disordered way — which simply means that you have an unhealthy relationship with food.
If you are constantly focused on what you eat, how much you should or shouldn’t eat, or when you’re going to eat next, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you feel an uncontrollable urge to eat whenever you feel stressed, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you consistently overeat or binge eat, you have an unhealthy relationship with food. If you are obsessed with how many calories or fat grams your food has, you have an unhealthy relationship with food.
And if you have spent the last ten or twenty years of your life on a diet — you have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Disordered eating and dieting go hand in hand. Eating in a disordered way stems from a lack of self-worth; you are trying to fill an internal void with food. And dieting is the natural solution if you have low self-worth, because you believe that weight is the issue and that losing it will solve your problems.
The truth is that if you were really in touch with yourself, you would recognize that your issues go way beyond food. And then there wouldn’t be anything to shove down, and you wouldn’t need to keep dieting to try and fix yourself.
Having a healthy relationship with food means that you enjoy eating for the taste of the food and the experience of actually eating it, as opposed to inhaling it to feel better. It means that you eat to satisfy true hunger instead of eating anytime you feel the urge to. It means that you stop eating when you’re full instead of eating mindlessly and in a zoned-out state. Dieting addresses none of these issues.
Dieting focuses you on getting rid of the weight as fast as possible. So you restrict your intake, engage in all-or-nothing behaviors, and obsessively focus on what you look like — all of which ultimately send you right back into disordered eating.
Dieting is the bridge between eating to fill an internal void and getting rid of the weight that eating this way brings. You diet out of desperation to fix something outside when the real problem is inside.
And this is the point: it’s not what you eat, it’s the way that you eat it. Disordered eating is caused by a lack of self-worth. You have to understand this in order to make progress. When you fix what’s wrong inside, the outside will change.
You have to realize that you do in fact have an eating disorder — and it is just as serious as starving yourself or making yourself throw up. It may not seem like overeating and obsessing about food are that serious, because our whole culture encourages these behaviors. But they come from the exact same place of low self-worth that pushes some women (like me) to extremes. And this lack of self-love will keep you forever stuck, wasting your life trying to lose weight.
Understand that you have an unhealthy relationship with food and that this can be fixed. Stop trying to fix the byproduct of this unhealthy relationship (the weight) and get to the source instead. Dieting keeps you focused on the result of the problem, not the origin of it. And suffering failure after diet failure only deepens the feelings of unworthiness you have — feelings that cause you to have an unhealthy relationship with food in the first place.
Take baby steps toward changing your disordered eating. Understand that you are doing it and figure out why you are. Start making small, steady changes to your thoughts and your habits. Most importantly, quit dieting.
Just making the decision to give up on the dream of quick weight loss and instead committing to doing the inner work required is an act of self-love that’s more than enough to get you started.