I cannot tell you what it is with me and peanut butter. My body just seems to absorb it like a black hole absorbs light. If you buy me a jar of peanut butter, I will have easily finished it within a week; and if I am overruled by one of my late-night food cravings, the jar will be gone in one day. The problem is however that I always feel incredibly guilty after such indulgent munchies. You see, when it comes to my diet, I am tuned like a clockwork: I start the day with my pre-gym banana at 7am; at about 10 to 11am I then enjoy some fruit-loaded porridge beside some toast topped with some kind of protein-rich topping; and I eat a big bowl of veggie rice for dinner at about 6pm. Of course, I do variate this routine a little bit from day to day. Still, most days you can find me eating as according to my very personal dietary pattern.
To tell you the truth, I have a quite strong routine for almost every aspect of my life, which is naturally including food. I am as predictable as the date of your next birthday. Any serial killer could easily track me down as I do not step out of my routine that often (not that I would encourage or want this to really happen, of course). So, munching on a jar of peanut butter definitely counts towards stepping out of my routine.
The thing is though, whenever I do break with my daily eating routine by eating more than usual, or eating something not as healthy, I immediately feel guilty. I instantly start worrying about gaining weight and I keep worrying about this “bad food choice” for the next 24 hours. Any inconsistency in my eating habits that I perceive as unhealthy will cause me negative emotions. Opposed to my emotional experience, I am totally aware that such one-time incidences do not mess up with my otherwise healthy lifestyle from one second to another. Nevertheless, my rational awareness of my unjustified, extreme attitude towards these inconsistencies does not prevent my negative emotional reaction, making it hard to handle these “uncontrolled” munchies.
On top of that, I tend to inflict punishment on myself for eating too much, too unhealthy food too late, even though I know that such extreme late-night munchies are the exception to my rule in my dietary pattern. Punishment means that I drastically restrict my food intake just after I had such munchies or made unhealthy diet choices in general. Say I just had another late-night peanut butter munch: I would dictate myself to fast for as long as I can directly afterwards, meaning that I would skip meals and force myself to overcome any feelings of hunger for the next 12 hours at least. As I said, this punishment ought to penalise excessive, unhealthy food cravings. At the same time, investigating my behaviour more thoroughly, I realise that part of me also wants to punish myself for being weak and lacking the willpower to resist my hunger.
“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection”The Buddha
Overall, you could say that I ruminate about my food choices a lot. My eating behaviour forms an important, big part of my life and my identity. You can tell by the way I think and talk that I focus on, and perhaps even obsess about food a lot. It is therefore not surprising at all that friends of mine have previously voiced their concern. They pointed out that I may be too concerned with my diet. They furthermore suggested that my relationship with food might be an unhealthy and maladaptive one. Highlighting these abnormalities in my eating behaviour, they encouraged me to enjoy a guilty treat from time to time, such as some indulgent cake, some sugar-sweet candy, or any form of fried carb.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you”Dan Millman
My friends’ advice got me thinking, so I started to monitor my behaviour and thoughts more closely. I realised that I do worry too much about my diet, and that I do have this weird habit of punishing myself for eating “unhealthily”. Reflecting more critically on my own behaviour, I soon came to realise something else. I got suspicious that my maladaptive relationship with food potentially extended into something else – something that I feared and dared not to say: an underlying eating disorder.
Since I study Psychology, I am well aware of the typical symptoms of eating disorders. To my dismay I could recognise more and more symptoms of anorexia the more I analysed my behaviour. Admittedly, Psychology students can be prone to over-diagnosing which is why they should not over-analyse, to be fair. Regardless, I fitted the described symptoms of an anorexic eating disorder enough to say that I had at least some mild form of anorexia. The specific symptoms that I showed were the following:
- Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting
- Exercising excessively
- Preoccupation with food, which sometimes includes cooking elaborate meals for others but not eating them,
- Frequently skipping meals or refusing to eat
- Denial of hunger or making excuses for not eating
- Eating only a few certain “safe” foods, usually those low in fat and calories
- Fear of gaining weight that may include repeated weighing or measuring the body
At this point you may wonder, why am I telling you all this? It seems as I was perfectly capable to identify my problem without any further counselling, right? And identifying the cause of my troubles, the roots of my behaviour so to speak, solves half of the problem already, doesn’t it?
See, the thing is that even though a part of me knew that I am suffering from mild anorexia, the other part of me did not want to acknowledge this. I refused to label myself as anorexic because giving it a name made it concrete; it made it a thing; it made it real; it made it a real problem. Before I had given it a label, I had just shown some peculiarities in my relationship with food. Labelling it as anorexic though took it to a whole other level of consciousness, self-view, and self-esteem.
For sure, finding a name for your problems can be helpful because you can suddenly be classed as just another case of a known issue, which ultimately allows you to receive targeted, effective help. On the other hand, there is a fair amount of inner resistance to be fought before you are ready to come to terms with the type of problem you seemingly meant to have as according to the general belief. Acknowledging and accepting the full extend of such a problem which is ultimately linked to your behaviour, state of mind, and thinking is really not that easy, as I can confirm. It is especially hard when you have previously repressed, ignored, or understated the issue. Anyone who has ever gone through such a diagnosis (whether it was made by yourself, friends, family, or a professional) knows exactly how hard it can be to face such a diagnosis without fighting it back on some level – the reality is that accepting our very own little troublesome baggage can be as hard as jumping a hurdle that we perceive as taller than ourselves.
I am glad that I was eventually able to take this hurdle. I am glad that I became aware of my eating condition. I am glad that I had good friends with whom I could talk about it. I mean, I did not suddenly make my maladaptive behaviours disappear, but I certainly am walking on the road of recovery now. I am now doing my best to not give into my disordered emotions and thoughts, whereas I had been feeding into them before my jump over the big hurdle of acceptance. Some days I get ahead of my abnormalities better than others. This is completely natural, however. While trying to find a balanced relationship with food, I am the most grateful for all my friends as their open ears, support, and tolerance guards me with the strongest armour against my disordered behaviour.