Does it spark joy? If not, get rid of it.
All my clients come with a bag full of food rules and our work together is to slowly unpack them all. I have a mental image of each client coming in and literally emptying their bag of food rules on the table, some stay in the little inside pockets for a while, some get stuck in the nooks and crannies, you know with all the fluff, but generally we get there – it always depends on the size of the bag and how much there is in there.
I don’t know about you but I hate clutter and it actually negatively impacts on my ability to think and concentrate. So, think of eating disorder therapy as “Marie Kondo-ing” your brain, let’s de-clutter the place so that there’s more room for you to think.I remember well having tons of food rules, in fact I had written down, like a contract I had signed with myself. There were foods I was allowed, foods I was forbidden, and then situation when forbidden foods could be allowed if X, Y and Z had been met. It was exhausting! I was exhausted and it is perhaps what helped me get better in the end: I just had enough of the noise and of the game of Twister that was constantly playing in my head.
The reasons we develop food rules is to keep ourselves safe. Rightly or wrongly we have learnt to perceive food as a threat and so keeping them at bay from it make us feel safe. Tigers could kill us but not if they are securely contained in an enclosure, right?
A while ago I shared on my Instagram stories that I had eaten two bananas that day and I asked you what you thought. A resounding 70% of you voted that was insane. What that really meant is that 70% of you held up bananas as a potential fear food. There tends to be a hierarchy of fear food (I like to classify them as green, amber and red, like a traffic light system): bananas might be below cake but they are often at the top of the fruit pile and it got me thinking about the purpose of fear.
Fear is a often a good thing
Fear is there to keep us safe. It’s a really good thing that we are scared to play with fire, that we are afraid to go to dodgy places at night, that we think twice before jumping from great heights; or that we are nervous to drive when we first learn. Without fear there would be a lot more accidents, we’d be throwing ourselves left right and centre injuring or killing others.
So what about food? Most people would agree that bananas aren’t out there to get us and that they are not toxic, so they won’t kill us. And yet, so many of you are petrified of them. It is not that you are making of meal of it all (excuse the pun), you are not being a diva, you are not exaggerating those feelings. With food the fear IS real but the perceived threat is exaggerated. Why? It’s because you have been mis-sold information. You have been told it contains the most calories of all the fruit, you have been told it “pure sugar”, you have been told it will spike your blood sugar, you have been told the more yellow bananas the worse they are for your health, you have been told that when the smell really sweet it’s to attract you like a bunch of sirens calling fishermen to their deaths. You have been told many, many times that bananas are dangerous and that you should, on no account, eat them or eat more than a given amount.
Where did those food rules come from?
You have been told that this is to keep you safe. But who told you that? Your doctor? A nutritionist? Tracy’s mum (the very same one who has been trying to lose the same 10lbs for 25 years)? That voice in your head, which was born out of diet culture, which is permeating our every lives? You mean your eating disorder?
The reasoning behind your food rules isn’t factual; this is mere propaganda. You can’t believe your eating disorder into avoiding certain food when its sole purpose is to make you sicker. You can’t take your thoughts as proof that something is true – believe you me, most of my thoughts are based on nothing and are utter rubbish.
What’s the evidence?
You need to go look for something more tangible than hearsay or than TikTok videos. Sure tigers could be dangerous, they could kill us but how often do you come across tigers where you live? When you do get close to tigers how close are we really talking? And are they tigers on the loose in the park or tigers in a zoo? How likely is it that the tigers will escape the enclosure? Do you know the number of death in the UK by tigers? Me neither but I’d be ready to bet it’s quite low. Would there be positives to getting close to a tiger? They are majestic, aren’t they? It’s like seeing your cat on a large scale, bit daunting but incredible. To me it’s a reminder that my environment is not representative of the entire world, my life in Devon with my cats is only a tiny fraction so the whole wide world and universe. There’s a lot more out there, things to see and to explore. I could live without ever seeing a tiger but my life will be richer for having seen one, plus facing the tiger and witnessing that nothing untoward happen to me will ease my fears of tigers, if only a tiny bit.
Your food rules aren’t keeping you safe; they are keeping you stuck.
You eating disorder will tell you this is to keep you safe but the more you follow those rules the more stuck you are going to be. Your rules are unlikely to be contained to bananas, there will be bread, pasta, butter, meat, dairy, sugar, biscuits, ice-cream, you name it, it will be there and you’re going to be left with chia seeds and broccoli. These are great but can you really thrive on those two things alone? Of course not. Ok, this is over the top, no one just eats broccoli and chia seeds that but you get the idea, a very restrictive diet just isn’t conducive to good health. And if even your body could sustain you living off chia seeds and broccoli, you would miss out in other ways. My friends going out for pizzas? Not possible. First date? Awkward AF to order broccoli with a side of chia seeds. Birthdays? Nope…
Don’t confuse safety with shackles
Restricting your diet will keep you “safe” from weight gain, it will shrink your body but it will also shrink your world and the irony is that the smaller your world is, the more afraid you are going to be of what exists outside of it…
Your eating disorder is like a toxic spouse telling you you can’t live without them, that they provide you with everything you require, that the world is too dangerous and that it’s best if you stay at home cleaning and never watching the news. They might be beating you up but outside you wouldn’t make it, they tell you. That’s a lie and you need to escape because that spouse is hurting you and outside the world is a beautiful place. There are risks, of course, there are always risks but it’s not as risky as you’ve been told, you’re clever and you’re not on your own.