“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken… You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli
Have you ever seen a woman down a family-sized tin of chickpeas?
Or eat six pita pockets stuffed full of avocado, cheese, tomato, and onion?
Or a dozen greasy samosas?
I used to overeat when I was depressed. I’d eat till I was so stuffed, the only thing I could do was sleep.
(Like Valium, but with added fiber.)
I’d been doing it since I was a kid.
My family was vegetarian, so I knew what healthy food was. The problem was, I felt like I had to eat until all the food was gone.
Sometimes I made myself throw up because I felt so panicked about the amount I’d just eaten.
I never had any professional help. The only time I talked about it was when I cried to friends at parties.
They’d say, “You’re slim, so what’s the problem?”
And I get it. On the outside I looked sorted. But for me, eating was a constant obsession.
I’d try to rein it in by counting calories. Or I’d plan to only have one or two helpings, but I’d always cave in and eat everything.
It went on for years.
It was my normal.
But it reached an all-time low in my final year at college.
In the past, I’d overeat in the evening and then sleep off my food coma at night; but now I was binging and sleeping during the day as well, when I should have been studying for final exams.
It was the most miserable time.
Every morning I’d head out to the campus library, with a packed lunch in my rucksack, and a plan to read all day.
But in the library, I’d be bored. By 10:00, I’d eat the sandwiches. Then I’d want more. So by lunchtime I’d head home with bagful of groceries.
And eat. A lot.
Then, when I was completely, utterly, totally, abysmally full, I’d crawl into bed.
I’d wake up when it was dark. I’d hear my housemates joking together. They seemed to be having a normal college experience!
I hated my body for making me eat. I hated how fat and slobbed-out I felt.
I was at such a loss, I would have tried anything.
Thankfully, help did come my way. And it came in a surprising package… a trashy-looking slimming book, advertised in the Sunday papers!
It promised to “change you from within to help you lose weight.”
I bought it. I read it.
But I didn’t just read it; I studied it. I listened to the audiocassettes that came with it over and over again; I took days over each exercise in the book.
I set aside trying to change what I ate. I wrote “eat normally” every time it said “lose weight.” Instead, I focused on my beliefs around food and body. I found I had plenty to work with!
I filled journals. I found more and more books about the inner world of the eater. And I started to visualize a different future—one with space for other interests aside from my food and my figure.
I kept believing in that future. I changed a couple of eating habits, and others just fell away.
Two years later, I realized I felt more relaxed and guilt-free around food.
As my self-judgment around food disappeared, I got happier in myself too.
I was amazed how happy.
What surprised me was, when I tackled the eating, my depression lifted. Even though overeating was only a side issue!
Working on my eating shifted how I saw myself. And that changed how I approached everything—I was more assertive, more forgiving to other people, I never locked myself out my house by accident any more…
(Only joking. I did that yesterday).
So, in case you’re struggling with food yourself, here are seven mind-shifts that completely ended my overeating.
They also help you get through almost any unhappy moment in life!
1. Tell yourself you’re not broken.
It’s easy to feel ashamed for having a problem when everyone around you makes eating look easy.
You know what you should be doing, and you can’t. It feels like there must be something wrong with you.
But there’s not!
When we’re in a fix, it’s perfectly natural to reach for something. At some point in the past, food was the best solution you could come up with.
Well done, you!
Just because overeating doesn’t serve you now, doesn’t mean you were stupid or wrong for taking that approach then.
For example, I started to overeat because I was pushing myself at school. That sedative, I’m-so-full feeling was a relief from trying hard.
My real problem was I didn’t know how to relax!
Of course I didn’t! I was a teenager! It made perfect sense to zonk out instead of seeking inner peace.
At college I also put myself under insane pressure. My overeating gave me an excuse to hide in bed. It was my way of showig that I was daunted.
Your eating may look crazy, but that’s how your unconscious waves a red flag, telling you something’s up on a deeper level.
Your inner wisdom is alive! That’s very much a sign you’re not broken!
2. Ditch guilt and self-punishment.
I used to feel like the temptation to overeat was this big weakness that won every time.
I’d plan to be strong, but then I’d think, “One last time won’t hurt.”
Then I’d overeat, panic that I’d done it again, and lay on the guilt. I thought, “If I hate myself hard enough, I’ll teach myself such a lesson I’ll never do it again.”
But I still slipped up, and my self-hate grew.
Over time, guilt completely sapped my confidence. I felt like a criminal. That I didn’t deserve to ever be normal.
But there’s nothing morally wrong with overeating. It’s not bad.
You’re not bad. You’re allowed to make mistakes.
Let go of the idea that if you don’t feel guilty, you’ll never learn.
The opposite is true!
When you stop feeling guilty, you can continue your journey, praise yourself for caring, come up with new creative ways forward, and get to know yourself better.
3. Make a no-rules pledge.
Do you have a lot of ideas about what you should and shouldn’t eat?
I didn’t realize I had food rules in my head, because I never dieted.
But I always made promises to myself. I tried to be healthy (“No more frozen cannelloni.”) Or ethical (“I’m vegan.”) Or well-informed (“I’ll try being gluten free.”)
I restricted myself, like a dieter.
It’s a natural mistake to try to get ‘good at’ eating by following rules and plans.
It’s not that sticking to plans is bad—it’s great for getting things done, budgeting for a holiday, and not randomly adding grapefruit segments to a birthday cake recipe (sorry, Mum).
But when it comes to your body and emotions, you need a more intuitive approach.
Rules and restrictions are an invitation to your inner rebel to go ape.
You break your rule, you fail.
Failure is a killer, because you can’t build progress. You just stop! You give yourself a hard time. You start over. It’s a huge drain on your energy and morale.
So stop making rules.
Instead, give yourself permission.
You can choose a vegan option if you want to; you might cook a meal from scratch if you feel like it; and you might pick foods that give you energy, if that’s what you feel like.
4. Slow down and enjoy your food.
If you’re overeating as I was, you might think that “enjoying food more” is the opposite of what you need!
But (weird thought coming up…)
… maybe you don’t enjoy eating enough!
As an overeater, sure, I’d think about food all day. But while I was actually eating, I’d be completely zoned out.
Learning to eat slowly, and concentrate, made it easier to switch off about food between meals.
It also redirected all the worry about what I was eating, into a more relaxing focus on how I was eating.
Plus, when I slowed down everything tasted yummier! Even a sweaty boiled egg from a lunch box was really good.
The more you enjoy the eating experience, the more your cravings settle down. And one day, you notice you’re full: satisfied, but not stuffed.
I was blown away when it happened to me. In my mind’s eye I can still see the potatoes I left on my plate. I just sat staring at them.
They were just potatoes. They didn’t have any power over me.
5. Move your body.
I used to dread sports.
I thought it was all about counting things and competing. And I felt like I never measured up.
The only good feelings I got after exercise were from knowing how many calories I’d burnt.
At college, my friends went for a run, but I couldn’t join in. I felt embarrassed that I could only run for …
So I went to the park secretly, to shuffle around with my headphones.
One minute was almost pointless… but not quite. Because after I did that a few times, I found I liked my body a tiny bit more.
I felt refreshed. I wasn’t judging my body from the outside, I was feeling good inside instead.
There’s a lovely word for that: embodiment.
I started to have fun.
I joined my friends. They liked to go running in nature, with fresh air and flowers. They’d speed off, and I’d just boogie to my walkman by a rhododendron bush.
You can move your body, even if you’re not good at it. You don’t need to be head to toe in lycra. You don’t have to think about calories, or try to do a bit more each time. It doesn’t have to look like exercise at all!
It can look like messing around with a hula hoop.
When you embody, your self-criticism about your body calms down. And that helps eating become natural and easy.
6. Let your desires lead you.
When I overate, I used to feel possessed by urges. A thought like “avocado pita” would start up.
AvocadoAvocadoAvocado! PitaPitaPita! Aargh!
I thought cravings were evil forces that wanted to ruin my life, and that eating to the point of self-disgust was the only way to silence them.
But now, when I look back at those binges, they make perfect sense: My body was starving for carbs!
“Lo-carb” was a fashionable way to eat around that time, and my housemates didn’t buy bread or pasta, so I’d slipped into it too.
So our appetite isn’t evil after all! It guides us to what our bodies need.
When I realized that, I saw that I didn’t accept my other hungers either.
When I was tired, I didn’t rest. I’d party for fear of being antisocial. And I’d never ask for what I liked in bed.
Food, sex, space, sleep, success, money. It’s not wrong to want!
Your desires make you, you. When you enjoy what nobody loves quite as crazily as you, you’re living out your life purpose.
Blue cheese was created by the universe. And then it needed someone to go nuts about it.
That’s what I’m here for.
7. Redirect your energy where it counts in the world.
When eating is an obsession, it takes over your day.
All that brainpower spent on eating doesn’t leave much for things that matter to you. The things that make life fun.
By the end of college, I couldn’t see the point of studying literature anymore. I didn’t want to admit that my degree was a big, expensive, mistake. Hibernating under a duvet was easier.
But I also didn’t dare own up to what I really wanted: to illustrate and write and perform. To communicate and belong and connect.
I always thought, “First I’ll fix my eating and get a better body shape, and then I’ll go for it.”
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we used all that energy to love our people and do our thang?
Straight away, not later when we’re ‘perfect’?
Beneath my food challenge was another, bigger challenge that I was avoiding: to do what I cared about.
It’s ongoing, but it’s worth it.
The more I stop worrying about my eating, the more voom I have to throw at it.