How I Stopped Overeating
This is a big subject and has been a fairly big part of my life, too.
I struggled with food for a long time, and would often be stuck in a cycle of overeating until I was in pain and then under-eating until I had no energy left or couldn’t bare the hunger anymore. None of it made me feel good, and yet it took me a couple of years to get out of it. My struggle with food and diets was the result of diet culture messages that I was seeing every day in advertising and on social media, making me believe that I had to look a certain way and that I needed to lose weight. What a load of **** those messages were!
After a couple of months of following the right people on Instagram (people who share positivity and love, not people that I compare myself to negatively), I eventually realised that I needed to figure out a few things if I wanted to feel better:
Why do I not like the way I look?
How can I change my mindset and love the body I have?
Why do I overeat, if I want to lose weight?
How do I know when I’m full?
I’m going to go through those questions one at a time, because they were the key things that helped me get out of that disordered eating cycle.
So let’s start with number 1.
“Why do I not like the way I look?”
I love the way I look now, two years on, but when I was in the middle of my struggle I really hated my body. In short, I didn’t like the way I looked because I had been told through advertising that a woman should look one way. I believed from these adverts and marketing images that I had too much fat on me, that my hair wasn’t thick enough and that it was too frizzy, that my face needed to be thinner and that I weighed too much. They told me that I should buy their product and give them my money because I would feel better about myself if I did. I felt worse. I became more critical of myself. I aimed for ‘perfection’ - for someone who wasn’t me and was most definitely edited in photos anyway, and therefore was aiming to look like someone who did not truly exist.
I wish I’d set myself free from those beliefs earlier on than I did, because they affected me on a scale much larger than I could see at the time. They were on my mind far more often than they weren’t.
It took me a long time to realise that I looked great just the way I was, but more importantly that the way I looked wasn’t anyone else’s business to care about or comment on. I was always trying to figure out what other people thought about the way I looked, whether they said anything or not. I was always checking to see if people’s eyes were looking at my spots or my waist or my thighs.
The truth is that they most likely aren’t at all bothered, but that if they do say anything negative, it is only because they are a victim of diet culture too and see highly edited photos of people far more often than they see unedited photos - just like me. Remember that what you see in others is simply a reflection of yourself, and vice versa.
“How can I change my mindset and love the body I have?”
Luckily things are (albeit rather slowly) changing on social networks like Instagram. There are still a lot of highly edited and morphed photos of people, but there are also people spreading a message of honesty, love, acceptance and positivity. Surrounding myself with these people online and unfollowing anyone who I compared myself to massively helped me shift my mindset and my negative view of my body and face. I also had to realise that my body would never be someone else’s - and that that is okay. Everyone has a different body structure. Some people are meant to have bigger or smaller hips. Some people are meant to have wider or thinner faces. The way we look and the way our bodies are shaped is how we were meant to be. The reason I can’t lose a lot of weight and keep it that way is because I get hungry, my body naturally needs more fuel, more energy, and it needs to be restored to the size at which it can function best. Food is fuel and my body knows how much it needs to work effectively - read that a few times.
“Why do I overeat, if I want to lose weight?”
This one confused me for a long time. If the diet culture messages made me feel like I needed to lose weight, why was I eating more?
This all came down to emotions for me. I was definitely an emotional eater. I wanted food instantly when I felt sad, angry, empty, lonely, ashamed and so on. But there’s another level to this. Once I’d eaten something that I regarded as being unhealthy or as something that I wasn’t physically hungry for, I felt guilty. I felt like I was a complete failure. Those feelings weren’t comfortable and so because I loved the taste of food, I ate more. I thought that eating more would make me feel better, and every time I’d remember and then soon forget again that this good feeling is only temporary. It would only last for as long as the food was in my mouth. Yes, I loved food, and that was completely okay. The part that wasn’t okay or that wasn’t helping me, was that I was using that love of food to distract me from emotions and feelings I wanted to avoid. When I soon began to feel full, I didn’t like the feeling either so would eat more and temporarily have that good taste distract me from the not-so-good feeling of being full up. This would build and build until I was so full that it hurt. But realising all of this was a huge help for me in slowly beginning to notice when I was eating emotionally or impulsively.
At first it was incredibly difficult to stop myself from eating when I noticed that I was only trying to cover up emotions. After all, this was a kind of habit that I’d been doing for 3-4 years every single day. I eventually began to realise that I felt a lot better when I pulled myself away as soon as I noticed what I was doing. I trusted that in time, this feeling would outweigh the temporary ‘hit’ I got from eating emotionally. And I’m very happy to say: it did.
“How do I know when I’m full?”
This question ties in with the answer to the previous one. If I want to eat more because I want to cover up the feeling of being full, or the feeling of no longer being hungry, then I am full. I need to take a step back, walk away from the food and trust that I have had enough. If I am still hungry however, it is definitely okay to eat more! I found that the amount I ate fluctuated a lot whilst I was in the middle of recovery. Some days I was just more hungry than others, either because of hormones, exercise levels or because I’d had a bit of a slip-up with my eating behaviours earlier in the day. Either way, I learnt to keep on loving myself no matter what which is in my opinion a huge part of any recovery.
I also learnt about eating intuitively and really listening to my body when I thought I was hungry or when I was about to get some food. I found that dropping the typical ‘3 meals in a day’ thing really helped me. If I was hungry at 11am despite having had breakfast, I’d eat something without feeling guilty for eating outside ‘meal times’. If I was hungry at 4pm, I’d eat something. If I wasn’t very hungry at dinner, I’d have a smaller portion. If I started eating but felt that I was still hungry, I’d have seconds. And I’d do all of this with acceptance and love.
A lot of what filled my mind during recovery was guilt, shame and a fear of ‘messing up’. I started reading emotion-specific affirmations daily to help with this, which resulted in a lot of positive changes for me (and for all of you, which is always so lovely to hear!). I reminded myself every day that the ups wouldn’t feel as amazing if the downs didn’t exist. I reminded myself that life is a non-linear journey, for everyone. I reminded myself of how far I had come already. I reminded myself that there was so much more to me than the way I looked. I also learned to care for myself partly through learning to care for animals (veganism), which I’ve shared more about in my ‘Veganism’ story highlight on Instagram.
I was also introduced to what codependency was about a year ago - I used to think that if you were codependent it just meant that you were dependent on other people. Turns out it’s a lot more than that! It was a huge part of why I struggled with a disordered way of eating. Codependency summarised in 4 phrases would be this: low self-esteem, compliance, control and denial. I won’t go into it in more detail here but if you’d like to find out a little bit more, I’ve written two blog posts on it here and here.
I know the major ups and downs that happen in recovering from this disordered way of eating, and although I am not a qualified counsellor or nutritionist and can’t therefore give you any qualified advice, I am always open to listen to anyone who needs a chat in a safe space - just drop me a message over on Instagram.
I hope that the way I am now - happy and comfortable in the way I look and the way I eat - can be an inspiration to those of you struggling. If I managed to find my way out, you can too.
Sending love and light,