This episode was inspired by 3 listeners’ questions…
- Jo – Something I am really struggling with is comparing what I eat. I even do this with my husband. I feel totally greedy for what I want and amounts. I get really moody and annoyed if he leaves anything and I slow my eating so that he finishes first so I can work out what I can have. I even get stressed when he exercises. I know this makes me sound dreadful but unless I am honest I won’t get these thoughts rewired. Please help x
2. Marie-Kristen – I always feel guilty when others leave food, don’t eat or when I eat more than them.
3. I have to leave what my husband leaves. I can’t finish my plate if he hasn’t. – client Julia.
Comparing can be helpful occasionally
Mirroring someone’s eating behaviour CAN be helpful occasionally if otherwise you literally wouldn’t eat at all unless others were eating.
When I was in recovery from anorexia, I use to watch what others ate like a Hawk. If they ate more than me I’d feel a sense of safety and achievement. If they ate less than me or if I heard that they hadn’t eaten all day for whatever reason, I literally hated them! My sister told me she used to eat more than she needed to around me to encourage me to eat and to show me that eating was safe and ok. 🥲 That did help me as I had no idea what or how much to eat if I didn’t have a reference point or someone to model that for me. Thank you to my amazing sister Michelle.
When I was in the binge eating and bulimia I used to copy my sister’s eating behaviours so I wouldn’t eat “too much” but funnily enough, what I discovered was that she actually ate what I used to think as “a lot!” She was a normal eater. She had breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts when she wanted them. She also said “no thanks” to dessert sometimes. That triggered the hell out of me as I always wanted dessert but I wouldn’t let myself have any if she didn’t. For me, that restriction turned into binge eating in secret and hating myself for it and comparing myself to my sister.
In terms of exercise, if I had literally just got back from a long run and my boyfriend was on his way out to the gym, I would be so angry at him…! “How dare he go and exercise when I’m not exercising too?!” even though I HAD just exercised. I would be a feeder. I would want others to put weight on. I would want others to not exercise. It sounds crazy but I know so many of you will be able to relate.
After reflection and research, I’ve come to the conclusion that in the migration response when the anorexia gene is switched on, anyone who was moving more or eating less than you would have been a threat to your survival. Think about it… if your biology thinks you’re migrating to a land with abundant food because your current environment is in a famine, anyone else that might get there quicker than you are a threat. They would eat the food first and therefore survive. And you might not. When you’re in this response, you’re not you anymore. You’re evil. You’re grumpy. You’re angry. You’re hateful to those that are trying to support you. You lie. This is because you’re in survival mode and all your animal brain cares about is survival.
So the only way out to get out of the migration response as soon as possible is to EAT and REST. This is the hardest thing in the world to do because you’re literally going against your biology at this point. When your anorexia gene is activated your biology is screaming at you to eat less and move more. Going against that feel impossible but IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE. You CAN override your biology at this point because ultimately you’re also actually starving and malnourished. And you do not have to be underweight by BMI to be anorexic. You can be underweight at any body weight as it depends on what YOUR natural weight is.
If you’re not currently in anorexia, meaning that you either don’t have the genetic predisposition for anorexia (thank goodness) or you have had anorexia previously but you are now weight restored enough to not be in malnutrition (yay!), you will still have severely cemented neuro-pathways that are currently always acting in fear of weight gain. Unfortunately, if you’re reading this, you’d have learnt the fear of weight gain from the moment you were born and your conditioning and upbringing will have determined the severity of this fear.
Migration response or not, these feelings can almost be just as strong as the biology response to the migration response (I have experienced both) and can feel truly debilitating. This is why even if you haven’t had anorexia, you can still experience all of the symptoms such as constantly comparing food, purging behaviours in an attempt to compensate for a binge, excess compulsive exercise etc. All of those are because you have a fear of weight gain. And if you’re physically or/and emotionally restricting, your brain thinks you’re starving because you’re constantly showing it that you’re in a famine and your biology will fight back. You will binge eat. But it’s your brain that needs to be re-wired to not be fearful of weight gain if you’re ever going to get out of this hell hole and live in food freedom and body love. AND THIS CAN ABSOLUTELY BE DONE!
Listening to your body
So as I said, very occasionally, copying someone’s eating can be helpful. I ate more during my anorexia recovery because my sister was always eating more around me to encourage me to eat.
When I was in bulimia, I saw what normal eating looked like and was surprised at how much my sister ate during a typical day. Turns out as grown-ass women, we need way more food than we think we do. The 2k calorie guideline for a typical woman is way off. Everyone is so different. Our bodies know what’s up… Now if I were to guess as I don’t count calories, I’d say I eat on average 3.2k calories a day, probably more. During recovery from anorexia I was eating about 5k a day for months and during my binges, I’d eat 8k in one sitting!
Monitoring other people’s plates and eating habits is not only exhausting, but it’s also perpetuating the eating disorder behaviours. Ultimately the goal as soon as possible is to start trusting your own desires, appetite and hunger.
If you’re not currently experiencing binge eating and you don’t have hunger cues or desires to eat, then it is super important that you eat anyway. I recommend the following:
- Lunch + dessert
- Dinner + dessert
If you DO have desires, appetite and hunger then follow these without exceptions. This means if everyone you’re with only eats half their meal, you eat all of yours and have seconds if you want it. This means if you’re thinking about chocolate and you’ve only just eaten, then go eat the chocolate regardless of whether someone else is or not. Follow your physical and mental hunger always. It’s the only way to be truly free around food.
Over time when your body feels safe that there’s enough food, your cravings and desires for food all the time will naturally diminish as your body settles into the safety of enough food and into your natural set point weight.
This is the case for any eating disorder or disordered eating including binge eating. Binge eating is a restrictive eating disorder. I haven’t met anyone who binge eats without either previous or present physical or EMOTIONAL restriction due to their fear of weight gain.
Here’s a recap of what emotional restriction is:
Emotional restriction is physically allowing food to eat whatever you want but you’re shaming yourself for doing so. You think that you should be eating less. You feel guilty for eating certain foods or amounts of food. You have fear of weight gain and keep thinking about “cutting back” or finding ways to control what you’re eating. All the time physically allowing but still “binge eating” and wondering why…
Emotional eating is sneaky.
When you’re comparing what you’re eating to other people it can be helpful to ask yourself these questions:
- Is this person in active recovery from an eating disorder such as anorexia, binge eating, or bulimia?
- Has this person been through what you’ve been through with food?
- Do you share your body with this person?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, then there is absolutely no point whatsoever in comparing your food with theirs. I know for many of you this makes sense logically, but it can feel almost compulsive and like you just have to do it anyway…
This is because fear is in the driving seat. Fear of weight gain is telling you:
- If you eat more than her/him then you’re greedy.
- You need to finish eating last because you’re not allowed more food if you finish first.
- Why can’t you just leave food when you’ve had enough as they can?
- You’re such a failure, you need to control yourself more.
- If they’re not eating it means you can’t eat.
- You can’t let anyone watch you eat because everyone will stare at you and they’ll see how disgusting you are.
- You need to eat in secret so nobody can see how terrible you are.
- If they’re fatter than you then you’ll feel safer, encourage them to eat more.
- You must purge what you’ve just eaten to feel clean and empty…
Fear has absolutely no trust because it wants to control everything. But here’s the thing… fear can’t hurt you… unless you allow it to by following its demands.
Trust and surrender
Write down 10 things that your body does that you can surrender to and trust that it knows what it’s doing. I’ll give you 5 to get you started:
- Tells you when it needs to pee
- Tells you when you need to poo
- Tells you when it’s cold
- Tells you when it’s too hot
- Tells you when you’re tired
Now finish with another 5…
You CAN trust your body, we’re just taught that we cannot because of society’s fear of weight gain and weight bias. If you do not rewire your fear of weight gain, you’ll never fully recover. I have rewired my fear of weight gain which I never thought would be possible for me in a million trillion years times infinity!
What actions would you start taking IF you trusted your body to let you know what, when and how much to eat? Start taking those actions NOW. Feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s the only way out.
What actions would you start taking if you KNEW you could overcome the eating disorder (because you CAN!) Eg – eat regularly, eat a lot and rest. Start taking those actions NOW.
Your life is happening NOW. Not when you’ve lost _ pounds, got skinny enough or are perfect enough. Stop putting your life on hold all because you have been brought up in a society that has taught you to fear weight gain. You can rewire that fear, love your body and live the life of your dreams in your natural authentic body! Reach out to me for support to get you there.
I’m going to leave you with some tips and tricks that will help you to stop comparing your food to others as you start working on overcoming your root fear of weight gain. If you do not go to the root then any progress will only be temporary.
Tips and tricks to help you to stop comparing food
- Eat alone so you can’t compare (not a great long-term solution)
- Remind yourself that you’re not that person and they’re not you. Everyone has different requirements, different pasts and different physical and emotional needs.
- Share your fears with the person you’re eating with. Sometimes just sharing our shame can help. They can lovingly give you words of support.
- Create 3 mantras for yourself to remind yourself when you’re doing it; eg –
- “It’s safe to eat what I want.
- I want what I need.
- I choose freedom.
- They’re not me. My body knows what to do.
- I can’t control my food and feel happy and free.
- Let go. My food will be whatever it will be.
- Eating is not optional.
- Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
- Use your bloody-mindedness and willpower to stop yourself from taking the action of fear that fear is demanding that you take. YOU get to decide.
If you had a gun to your head would you be able to not take the action of your fear? I thought so… so you do have the ability to stop.
You got this!