Out of all the people I work with, the common goal that most of them strive for is a balanced and normal relationship with food. A relationship with food that is positive, that doesn’t focus on dieting, unreasonable restriction or an all or nothing thinking.
For some people, this comes naturally, food is just food. It doesn’t have any power and doesn’t consume their thoughts. For others however, food is constantly on their mind, and is often fraught with indecision, confusion, shame and guilt.
If this is you, then it’s important to address not only what food you are eating, but also your relationship with food.
An important part of this means understanding the difference between self-responsibility for diet and body and self-control over diet and body. There is a big difference between these in the world of eating psychology.
So let’s look at these a little further. What is self control and where does it come from?
More often than not we start putting in control measures around food and body at a young age – often in our pre/teens (especially women). This comes as a result of our environment. Dieting culture is all around us and as young adolescents we are much more susceptible to the external messaging in our environment. This means when we feel like we don’t fit in, when we are told we don’t look the right way, when we get messages that we are too big, we often reach for self-control – a tight control over food and body, in a bid to control how others see us and how we see ourselves. We start to control what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how much we exercise, what clothes we will and won’t wear, often in a bid to fit in and be accepted. In our mind, we have the thought that when we take control of these things, good things will happen.
But here’s the thing. There’s a dichotomy between taking responsibility for self -i.e. stepping up, and being in control, which can have a dark side to it. Self-responsibility is the flip side to self-control. This is where we are taking care of ourselves, nourishing ourselves, prioritizing our own self-care whilst not trying to manipulate an outcome.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we rate self-control above self-responsibility, and this is when our relationship with food can spiral. When we feel like we have to be in control of food, a fear is born of being out of control. There’s a fear there – what if I lose control and everything falls apart?
This is where we need to really understand the difference between these two positions. This is where the work lies in slowly relaxing control. After all, we can’t actually control what our body wants or what it can do. What we can do is take responsibility for it, care of it, nourish it, move it well, be kind to it and value it without the tight control for a particular outcome.
The body is constantly teaching us.
For many, certain pleasurable foods have a big power over them because they control their diet and try not to give in to the temptation. However, ultimately, their body wants those tightly controlled foods and there’s a war going on inside them because they know their body will crave these at some point. That’s where some of the work lies. Finding a middle ground without tight control. You can be responsible for your diet, body and health while not being 100% in control of it. Think of it this way, you can do all the right things and still get sick. Make sense?
Sometimes the thought of releasing the tight control and rules you have built up over time around food and body can be terrifying. It may feel like you don’t actually know who you would be without them. How would you be around food? Would you actually be able to stop eating? What’s interesting is the body can actually self-regulate if you let it. The more you relax, the more the body will the relax, the safer it will feel and the easier it will become to moderate diet without the tight control. This takes work, however it is achievable.
Focusing on understanding self-responsibility vs self-control is a good place to start in the journey to healing your relationship with food. If this is something you need help with, let me know.