Jo with her daughter. (Image supplied.)
On the outside I look like I have myself pretty much sorted. I’ve been overweight in the past, but for most of my life have been at a healthy weight thanks to food delivery services, portion control at family functions, and regular exercise.
On the inside I’m a total mess. I suffer from silent food anxiety every single second of every single day (and I wish I was exaggerating about that). Thoughts of food, what I have eaten, what I’m going to eat, what I should eat, what I shouldn’t eat, what I really want to eat, run through my head constantly.
I have never achieved peace when it comes to food and I realise now that while my weight makes it appear as though I have a healthy relationship with food, I definitely don’t.
It’s exhausting. Why can’t food just be food? Why do I think about it so much? I just want to be normal like I imagine everyone else to be. In my head, people think about lots of different things and only start thinking about food when they are hungry.
I think about food during every activity. In my head, it’s all related.
Watch: A simple quinoa recipe by Paper Tiger. (Post continues after video.)
I skipped breakfast so I’ll have a bigger lunch…
I’ll write this article and then it will be time for afternoon tea…
Tonight when I take the kids to the Christmas lights I’ll just have a small scoop of ice cream…
I’ll give the kids their dinner first and wait until later to eat mine…
After I finish this run I’ll probably be really hungry so I’ll have something with protein in it…
See what I mean?
I just want it to stop.
I’m a child of Oprah, having spent most of my formative years watching her show religiously, and I’ll never forget her food and weight struggles. There was one episode that aired after she’d met trainer Bob Greene, during which she read out excerpts from her personal diary. She had written something like, “I want to remove food as an issue from my life”.
That’s exactly how I feel. I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’m loved, so why is food still such a major issue in my life? Why is it constantly in my thoughts? Why can’t I shut my brain off from the manic food thoughts all the time?
I’m turning 40 in a few weeks and have been giving much thought to how I want the rest of my life to be. This is one of the issues I am addressing. I can’t go through the next 40 years of my life worrying about every single bite I take.
I think I know why I think about food so often, and it’s not about the food. I think it’s my brain’s way of coping with life, stress and pressure. It’s become a way to tune out of those things I find overwhelming; then, at some stage, it became a habit. A default setting.
Now I want to turn all that food noise off in my head.
Yuliya Richards from Blue Horizon Counselling says food and other feelings often get mixed up in people’s minds. (Post continues after gallery.)
“A craving for food can be a craving for comfort and nurturance. When you think about it, our very first feelings of safety and comfort and love were experience we had together, when we were fed as babies. Receiving food very often goes with a loving or caring presence, so it is not surprising that we turn to food when we want comfort or love or reassurance," she explains.
“As we mature, we need to find ways to give ourselves those things through a variety of means and interests, not just food.”
That all makes sense — but how?
“Some research has shown that when people change just small habits in their daily lives – say just mixing up the route they drive or walk to work – this sparked a lot more creative interest and thinking in new ways, creating new pathways in the brain," Yuliya says.
Evidently, due to my past struggles with weight and food, I’ve categorised foods as “good” and “bad” and “allowed” and “banned”, instead of making food choices based on what I want to eat or what is the healthiest choice, leaving me in a state of constant conflict and stress.
“Food marketing is in our faces everywhere these days, tempting us like never before. Marketing aims to lay guilt trips on us, either convincing us we are virtuous for eating certain types of food, or indulgent for eating food that is just packed with very unhealthy goo," Yuliya explains.
“Feelings of guilt go with food quite naturally, because it is always a choice we are having to make about ourselves daily and one that impacts so much on our health.”
Speaking to Yuliya made me feel more “normal” and I suspect more people than I realised think about food as often as I do. Completely removing food as an issue from my life probably isn’t a realistic goal, seeing as eating isn’t a choice but a basic requirement of survival.
This is where a wise friend or relative taps me on the shoulder and says, “How about just chilling the hell out about food and not being so tough on yourself?” Or maybe I should start saying it to myself whenever I start lamenting my choice of peanut butter and honey on toast for breakfast or trying to “earn” my chocolate sundae later in the day.
Food is just food. For me, food, or at least thoughts of it, serve a different role — one that I will try and replace with other thoughts. Such as: how beautiful the day is (and wouldn’t it be better if I was holding a skim cappuccino as I looked at it), how wonderful my children are (and if they’ll notice if I help myself to another one of their fruit Roll-Ups), how lucky I am to live where I live (where there is excellent sushi available practically on every corner) and how much I love my life (especially when I have a cup of tea and a Mint Slice biscuit in hand).
I can do this. I just have to reprogram the cognitive pathways in my brain. No problem, consider it done. I’m always up for a challenge.
Food is just food. Food is just food. Food is just food…
Have you ever struggled to maintain a healthy relationship with food? How did you overcome that?