My relationship with food isn’t exactly easy. Over the years, it’s been a source of pleasure and pain, comfort and guilt, a never-ending roller coaster of emotions. How did it happen?
I could blame my family, where being skinny meant being successful, and where self-control was valued way beyond self-acceptance – the term I was blissfully unaware of until many years later.
I could blame the fashion business, that has successfully seduced me into believing that being skinny is the only standard of beauty worth considering. No breasts, no belly, just skin and bones.
Having worked in the industry for seven years now – from Milan to London – I understand perfectly the mechanism behind this unachievable illusion yet, somehow, I still can’t detach myself from it completely.
In fact, while having a delicious, healthy, yet unusually abundant breakfast this morning, I noticed that I still look at food through the foggy lens of feelings and struggle to see it for what it actually is – the fuel for my body and mind.
In my long and turbulent relationship with food, I have gone from executing extreme self-control, which for me was the ultimate accomplishment, to loosing that control entirely, leading to overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.
I can barely remember days when I wasn’t on any diet, or at least counting calories. And I can distinctly recollect how, during my first year of living in Italy, I felt embarrassed and stressed to eat in front of other people.
Please note that I wrote in front of and not with, as if they were there to criticise and judge me. Luckily for me, my then boyfriend and his big Italian family didn’t seem to notice, so I went through a successful shock therapy.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t changed the fact that I still don’t consider myself good enough, unless I reach a certain number on a scale. For me, that number is 55 kg which, in combination with a height of 175 cm, is pretty low – at least so I’ve been told.
The funny thing is that, only three years ago, after a devastating breakup from the aforementioned boyfriend, I reached my dream weight and – drum rolls, please – I wasn’t feeling dramatically different from how I feel now. Maybe only more desperate to stay skinny.
Since then, I’ve gained the crazy amount of 10 kg, a number that dragged my fragile self-esteem down into the deep sea of self-commiseration, or whatever other opposite of confidence you can think of.
I blamed my body, my mind, my environment – none of this managed to influence the number on the scale. Naturally, I tried different diets and forms of deprivation, but no breakthrough occurred.
As I write this, I wonder – is there a better way? What if, rather than fighting against my imaginary idea of perfection, I could come up with a new, sustainable standard? Could positive psychology help?
It turns out, we are wired to notice the negative. Unpleasant emotions are perceived as stronger and more distinct. They also tend to narrow down our attention to details, rather than seeing the bigger picture.
In contrast, positive emotions lead to a broadened vision, they widen the array of thoughts, encourage action and produce a preference for the global view. They help in dealing with adversity and creating supportive compensatory strategies.
So, by proactively practicing positivity, I could train my mind – the same way we train our muscles – to be more open to information, mindful of emotions and focused on the long-term goals, rather than immediate benefits.
After so many years of struggle, it seems like a chance of a fresh start. What follows is a list of my new and redefined food fantasies, where old beliefs are replaced with positive alternatives. Let’s take a look what’s on the menu.
Skinny Vs. Healthy
I want to prioritize my health and happiness, rather than seeing just a number on a scale.
Emotions Vs. Energy
I want to fuel my body the right way, so it feels and performs at its very best.
Judge Vs. Observe
I want to pay attention to my body and treat it with respect, rather than judge it.
Expectations Vs. Appreciation
I want to see my body for what it is and stop beating myself up for what it’s not.
Control Vs. Kindness
I want to treat myself the way I’d treat a friend – with compassion and kindness.
What are your strategies to stop the cycle of emotional eating? Please, share in the comments below.