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My food anxiety nearly broke me.

As a female business owner (and nutritionist!) I know the part that good nutrition plays in productivity and work. Back when I was struggling with my relationship to food, it had a huge impact on my studies and my ability to focus.

My relationship with food was one that embodied so much fear and mistrust. I was scared of eating too much, eating things the wrong things, not being able to stop and I had a real disconnect with my body and her hunger signals.

When face to face with chocolate, cake, ice cream, carbs, or any food really, it would cause me a lot of anxiety. My thoughts would become engulfed by the situation.

‘I really shouldn’t have any’

‘Oh, but it looks so good’

‘Maybe I could have one and then distract myself’

‘I guess I could just have less carbs tonight to make up for it’

‘What is wrong with me, I am so greedy’

‘I shouldn’t have eaten so much of that’

‘I’ve been so bad today!’

Do you relate with these??

I was playing these thoughts in my head for 10 years when I was around food. I didn’t realise at the time that it’s not supposed to be that way. Eating and enjoying foods in a balanced way doesn’t spark anxiety like this.

The reason why food had such a hold over me was because of the narrative I was playing in my head. I had absorbed rules about food from my environment including my mother, the internet, magazines etc which left me in a very judgemental position when it came to my own eating habits.

By having food rules, I was bringing myself to breaking point. It created the following two effects:

1) A magnetising effect to the foods that I judged as ‘bad’ (because we all want what we can’t have!)

2) A stream of negative emotions like guilt, every time I crossed my imaginary line of what is ‘acceptable’. When you combine both together, you can imagine how frustrating things would get.

The science

By having food rules, we create a situation where food becomes a force that is hard to ignore. Having judgements about what food you eat, what time you eat it and how much you eat leaves you in a position where you are bound to feel a failure.

The truth is that eating is not black and white, there is no right and wrong. All foods have their place in your diet whether it is for fuel, enjoyment or to help you cope with an emotion. By adding feelings of guilt to the situation, you are feeding into a more complicated relationship towards yourself and food too.

Here are 3 food mindsets that lead to overeating, which are caused by food rules:

1. The last supper effect- E.g. ‘I’ll start being good tomorrow’

This thought automatically shifts you into a mindset that believes there is one last chance to enjoy the foods that you won’t be able to enjoy after this opportunity. It’s only natural that you will make the most of what you have in front of you.

2. The forbidden fruit effect- E.g. ‘I really shouldn’t be eating this!’

Having a rule on what is good or bad creates a magnetizing effect towards that food. It is natural that humans want what they can’t have, especially if it’s something enjoyable. Think about when a child is told they can’t play with a mobile phone.. they become obsessed by it!

3. The ‘fuck it’ effect- E.g. ‘ Well, I’ve ruined my diet now so I may as well go all out today’

By judging ourselves over our eating habits, it’s easy to feel like we have failed ourselves when we eat the things we restrict ourselves from with rules. This often leads to overeating, especially when we know we won’t be able to have these foods again when we go back to the stricter days.

My advice

If you think you have food rules, and you feel that they may be the cause of your food anxiety and/or overeating, then I have some advice for you. Firstly, I want you to practice some self-compassion and understand that it’s totally normal to have food rules, but that doesn’t mean it’s serving you.

We live in a world where we are bombarded with messages about how we should eat and what we is acceptable to eat, so it’s not easy to escape them.

Step 1: Awareness- Notice your thoughts and write them down. What are your rules? How do they make you feel? Do they help you become a more intuitive eater?

Step 2: Be curious instead of critical. Find out the purpose of the foods you eat. There is always a reason that you ate something, whether your body needed it for fuel, you just fancied the taste or maybe you were trying to cope with a tricky emotion like stress.

Download our free intuitive eating guide here, to start building a deeper awareness around your body's signals.

If you find this information overwhelming, it may be a sign that you will benefit from professional guidance.

Click here to learn how you can receive support from me.

I am here to listen to, guide and share my expertise with you.

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