As March 1 marked the last day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it’s a good time to take inventory of your approach to eating.
“Is food your frenemy?” asks California psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell, author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. It’s key to love yourself more than you love food, Campbell says, because otherwise you’re giving food too much control over how you feel about yourself. Campbell lists five progressive red flags, in order, that let us know we’re heading in a dangerous direction:
1. You use food to feel good. Eating replaces boredom by giving you something to do, and of course it tastes good. “Our bodies respond physically and emotionally when we eat,” Campbell says. “Who doesn’t want to feel good? Food is a quick fix to getting our mood elevated.”
2. Food makes you feel bad. Before and during the meal or snack, you feel great—but then comes the letdown. Maybe you ate too much or ate the wrong type of food. We feel bad when we lose control, and that leads to guilt and self-loathing, according to Campbell.
3. Feeling full makes you feel fat. “It is hard for many of us to tell the difference between fat and full,” Cambell observes. “When we feel full we are often feeling fat and writhing in the discomfort of our recent eating adventure. We can’t stand ourselves, our loss of control; we are full of regret.” It can make you want to never eat again.
4. You try to balance any overindulgence. Do you ever feel that, if you just exercise enough or if you barely eat for a couple of days, you’ll make up for last night’s nonstop snacking? “We go extreme the other way trying work off our bad behavior,” says Campbell, which she says puts our self-esteem on a roller coaster ride.
5. You can’t get your mind off the eating cycle. Fat/thin, fat/thin—it begins to be all you think about. You label your days and, when you’ve determined that you’re having “a fat day,” you let your insecurity take over, asking anyone you can find whether you look fat. On “thin” days you’re just as focused on being thin. Campbell calls this having a “Jekyll-and-Hyde with food,” and you may find it running your life.
At this point, you’re about at rock bottom. How can you climb back up?
Make friends with food, Campbell advises. Since we cannot survive without food, we must come to terms with it. “The way to make food your friend is to know your limits,” Campbell adds. “Food should make you feel good about yourself, not bad.”
Rather than giving into the temporary euphoria of tasting something good or eating a lot only to have it lead later to self-hatred, learn to see the rewards in self-control! Recapturing your self-control will help you love yourself.
“When we are in a love-hate relationship with food, we are actually in a love-hate relationship with ourselves,” Campbell continues. “We cannot feel love for ourselves if we are buried under feelings of having no control. We are feeling fat and unattractive, or full and guilty. Nothing positive can enter when we allow food to trigger these low-self-worth emotions. It comes down to being healthy and disciplined. Control is sexy, control is confident and control is elegant.”