Uncertainty, anxiety, and this pandemic got me all out of sorts – these strategies will help you manage your food issues.
After complaining to my fiancé about how much I’ve been eating, and uttering my go-to statement, “I feel fat” (which my logical brain knows I am not, I may have gained a few pounds but I’m most certainly not fat). My fiancé said to me, “Can’t you just stop this? I’m terrified you’re going to give these issues to our kids”. That hit me like a left hook—not that we haven’t had this conversation before; we have, it’s genuinely something I think and worry about often. When I say these negative thoughts, I’m not fishing for compliments, I just genuinely feel bad about my body.
Here’s the thing, I never grew up with food issues. My mother, my female role model, had a lot of issues, but body dysmorphia and food addiction weren’t the skeletons in her closet. In high school, I was the girl who would have ice cream eating contests at lunch. I didn’t worry about calories or body fat. I was an athlete who had a fast metabolism. It wasn’t until college when I started dating a male model that my issues with food began (ahhh yes I dated one of those). I honestly don’t blame him, the truth was, my life was in shambles, my mother had relapsed and was battling for her life, and I was the only soldier on the battlefield trying to help her. Anyone who has ever loved an addict knows you have very little control. Insert watching my boyfriend controlling everything he ate to model for Abercrombie and Fitch and insert my new obsession: Food. Food gave me what I had been looking for, a way to fill the hole inside of me, something to control so I could feel safe. It provided me something to help numb my pain, a way to not think about the insanity that was my life, and it gave me something that I could have complete and utter control over. Food became my addiction, which turned into body dysmorphia. Like an addict, I thought about food 24/7. No joke. Luckily for me, food doesn’t kill you in the same way my mother’s drug addiction could. Still, like any addiction, it can rob you of being fully present, being able to deal with your issues, and honestly, it can rob you of simply being able to enjoy a good meal (to fill you in on how bad this got, I studied abroad in Italy and during my time there I can count on one hand how many times I had pasta. How ridiculous is that?!!! I’m embarrassed to even write that but it’s true.)
Since college, I have done A LOT of work on myself. I’ve been in and out of therapy for 15 years, and I know I have made real progress. Then the pandemic hit… and my issues with food came roaring back. My fiancé’s words kept ringing in my ears, I know he was coming from a place of love and concern and what I wanted to say was “you have no idea how far I have come,” but what I said and reconfirmed is “me too, I’m scared to give this to our children. I never want them to feel the way I do.” The truth is, I’m a thin woman, I’m in shape, and I take care of my body— someone may want to punch me now, but the thing with food addiction is, it doesn’t discriminate based on shape or size. This pandemic has made me feel out of control, and my go-to answer is to focus on my food and body issues. But being able to have these difficult conversations with my fiancé has made me look for ways to deal with the lack of control in healthy and maintainable ways.
The Quarantine life we’re living now, while important and necessary, has also been extremely difficult for all of us and especially for those of us that have any kind of food addiction. Let’s face it, most food addiction comes from a lack of control, and well, currently we have very little control right now.
- We are home 24/7:
- Bored? Go to the fridge.
- Feeling uncertain? Go to the fridge.
- Want to numb out? Go to the fridge
- Feeling grief for the end of the world as we know it? Go to the fridge.
It’s a coping mechanism, one that not everyone understands. For those of you out there like me, I see you, I feel you, and I am here for you. I’m no guru, but there are a couple of things that are working for me that I thought might be helpful:
- Ask yourself – What is the feeling you are trying to avoid feeling? – I’ve mentioned control more times in this article than I’ve left my house in the last week, I think it’s safe to say when we have issues with food we are trying to not feel a feeling. Identify what that is. By naming it we have a better opportunity to work through it.
- Schedule – I need to get up and continue with life. Otherwise, I will be in the abyss of Netflix where I won’t know what day it is and before I know it I will have watched 10 hours of tv (Tiger King anyone?) I need to get up early, meditate, do my 5 min gratitude journal, work, schedule my workout, schedule therapy, zoom meetings. Routine has kept me sane, and for someone with needs help with my control issues, this is a healthy, productive way to maintain this.
- Therapy – this too has kept me sane, and I look forward to that one hour a week! Most therapists are doing Skype or FaceTime during this pandemic
- Becoming aware of my thoughts and really becoming mindful – I started a practice where I began to notice my thoughts. I have to admit I was shocked by how much unhealthy chatter lives in my brain, starting the moment I wake up until I finally fall asleep. Becoming aware of your thoughts may not sound like much, but it’s truly the catalyst to change. Don’t judge the thought, just witness it and hear it and watch it like a curious observer. I’ve noticed my inner critic doesn’t really stop, but by witnessing it and disassociating myself from the thoughts, just observing them, I am able to stop them quickly. I don’t go down the rabbit hole, I observe with intrigue and kindness, and when these thoughts come up, I simply say to myself, “that’s an old story” or “that’s a limiting belief that no longer serves me,” or even just “that’s interesting, I’m ready to move on from this now.” In the words of Ariana Grande, “thank you next.”.
- Filling my brain with something new – when you don’t know what to do, give your brain something to focus on. Yale has a free class called “The Science and Wellbeing of Happiness” that I recently enrolled in. Choose anything new, your brain and your mental health will thank you.
As with any self-help work, you may have setbacks, the key is to not beat yourself up when you do. Have a bad day, start the next day with a new slate. Right now, it’s normal to feel out of sorts. Be kind. Be mindful. Be loving. And please know you are not alone.
I would love to hear from you… how are you dealing with your food issues during quarantine?