There's no denying that obesity is a massive, worldwide issue. According to the WHO, in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight, and 650-million of these were obese (with a BMI of 30 or greater). For us in the western world, this has caused a recent push to spread awareness around healthier diet and exercise habits, which has been amazing for educating the public and encouraging people to take their wellness into their own hands.
But when does having an interest in healthy eating go too far?
Research suggests that as much as 50% of the population have experienced a problematic relationship with food, their body, and/or exercise. This disordered behaviour might be less severe than the symptoms of a full-blown eating disorder, but it is still something that can be incredibly challenging and stressful to suffer with. Those who suffer from such behaviours are also at a higher risk of developing not just eating disorders, but other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, as well - so it's not something to be taken lightly.
So, what are the symptoms someone may experience if they have a disordered relationship with food?
- Always trying to lose weight, often going from diet to diet
- Obsessing about food and weight
- Fasting, skipping meals or eating too little
- Over-exercising, often to the point of exhaustion
- Eating when not hungry, often as a comfort
- Feeling out of control around food
- Feeling guilty about or after eating
- Obsessive calorie counting
- Anxiety around food, or certain food group
- Having a rigid approach to eating, such as inflexible meal times, refusal to eat in restaurants or outside of one’s own home
It goes without saying that if this is something you, or someone you know, is struggling to cope with, then seeking medical help by booking an appointment with your GP is crucial. However, here are our top tips for those who feel like they can make some changes themselves, to help create a healthier relationship with food:
Fad or crash diets are very restrictive, in terms of nutrients, quantity and variety. Not only is this harmful to your health, but can also cause a feeling of deprivation, which is likely to lead to binge eating, food obsession and a "loss of control" around food. Instead, try to focus on a balanced diet, that is full of fruits and vegetables but also allows you to eat everything you're craving in moderation.
Work on More Positive Body Talk
Disordered eating is often a result of poor confidence and overly critical inner talk. Start to be mindful of the negative body talk going on in your head, so you can begin to break down these thought patterns and learn to change your outlook.
Throw Away the Scales
If you have an obsessive focus with your weight, it’s time to step away from the scales. Your weight is no indicator of your health or worth and worrying about your weight can be a massive trigger for further disordered behaviours. Likewise, rigid weighing or tracking of food is not going to do anything positive for your relationship with food.
Seek Professional HelpOur relationship with both food and our bodies are extremely complex, often tried up in deep-rooted emotions and past traumas. Seeking out a professional to talk to, whether that’s a life coach or psychotherapist, can help you untangle your feelings, helping you to final piece with your body and food. Alternatively, a nutritionist, who specialises in eating disorders and disordered eating, can be useful for helping you to adapt a healthier, non-diet approach to food and exercise and relearn your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.