I guess the stereotype of a student dietitian or any dietitian for that matter is, we have always eaten perfectly, we never think about touching *insert adored junk food here*, and we have never had any kind of struggle related to nutrition or weight in our lives. We are nutrition gods and goddesses after all! I think this image has definitely been perpetuated by these wellness gurus on Instagram in their tiny sports crops with their skinny teas and this is the “picture of health” that gets associated with anyone who attaches nutrition to their title (a discussion for another time, me thinks).
I’m afraid to break it to you that is not the case for many of us. And it’s certainly not the case for me.
My relationship with food hasn’t always been perfect, actually, I would say in the past it was borderline abusive. It probably started deep in my childhood (as many things do, shout out to Freud) as chocolate was a reward for good behaviour or doing well at school. However, I didn’t really have a problem until I started high school. I had always had a sweet tooth, I LOVE chocolate (I obviously still do – things like that don’t change!), however after experiencing some emotional stuff in my pre-teen years, junk food and food, in general, became a dependency. I leaned on it when I was bored, sad, angry, irritable – you name a negative type of emotion and I would automatically run to food and gorge on it. Yeah, it’s kind of normal to be perpetually hungry and eat a lot more junk food than “recommended” going through your teen years, however, this was something different. This was full-blown emotional eating.
Here’s the cycle with my emotional eating: something in your life makes you feel bad (for me it was either reflecting on the event that had happened, or something at school or whatever it might be – storytime* soon), I’d turn to food to cheer me up, then I’d feel bad about eating THAT food or that MUCH food and go to it again to make me feel better. And so it goes round and round. And no I didn’t magically stay a healthy weight during these years of emotional eating, I did put on a number of kilos. The other part of my relationship with food was that I did everything in “hiding”, I did it when no-one was around, I would be home alone and eat everything or I’d buy stuff and bring it home and hide it in my room and then hide the wrappers, like I was a criminal! I knew my parents wouldn’t be okay with me eating all this junk food, so I hid it.
*Storytime: now at the time this didn’t appear as a red flag to me but now looking back this was the most distinct event of emotional eating I can recall. I had a crap day at school, it was one of my first days the typical “no friends” scenario. I decided to pack myself a healthy lunch of tuna and salad and you guessed it, stinky tuna juice leaked all over my brand new school bag – devastated. Later that day, a couple of girls though it would be fun to poke a whole in the lid of my water bottle whilst I went to the bathroom and when I put it in my bag it leaked absolutely everywhere. Doesn’t seem like earth-shaking stuff but to me, it was the worst day ever! I went home, searched the house high and low until I found what I was looking for – sweet sweet chocolate and demolished it all. That is the clearest memory of me feeling bad about something and eating to feel better about it, I didn’t really feel better I felt sick that I had eaten so much damn chocolate!
Now, I guess you’re asking how did I break out of this cycle. Well, it’s definitely not perfect, I still sometimes fall down this rabbit hole but I worked out that I didn’t need to associate my emotions with food, it didn’t need to make me feel guilty or bad when I slipped back into it. I just came to accept that yes I felt bad, yes I ate a lot of chocolate (or whatever it may have been), and that’s okay but I don’t need to feel bad about it anymore, I just move on and be better now. I think as well I lost this emotional eating behaviour when I got older and understood myself and my emotions some more and tuned out what other people had to say about my body or my skin or my diet – the good and the bad. I just focused on what made me feel good physically and emotionally and went with that, it became a habit and the emotional eating binges subsided, and the weight fell away (about 10-12 kg worth). It does still happen now and again but really only when a life-changing event happens, not just my water bottle leaked in my bag today – catastrophe!
If this sounds like you and you’d like to change it, try some food journaling – sounds lame, but do you feel a particular way before, during and after you eat a meal or a particular food, work out what that is and find the source of it. Sometimes this may be more complicated and requires the help of a professional.