Is Your Relationship with Food Messed Up?

And How to Change It

“I’ve been in an abusive relationship for 20 years,” a young woman once told me by way of introduction.

Given that she looked barely 30, her revelation startled me. I braced myself for a hardcore story of abuse, violent or sexual, a threat not just to her wellbeing, but her safety.

“It’s controlling me — day and night,” she said. “I can’t think of anything else. I need it to stop. I need to get out. But I’m trapped, I just can’t leave.”

You’ve probably figured out her abusive partner was food. They had “met” when she was 11-years-old. She’d matured early, had her period, was bigger than most of her friends, and been whipped off to Weight Watchers by her slim and well-meaning mother. The mother who, of all the things in all the world, did not want to be the mother of a FAT KID.

This young woman was typical of many who seek psychological help for struggles with food, weight and their bodies. She didn’t like her body but, more than that, she was tired of the relentless battle in her head. She wanted to be free of it, to find a way to move forward.

The Psychology of Overweight

The psychological consequences of being overweight or obese can include a raft of issues that people often keep hidden, or don’t acknowledge, for far too long.

Being overweight might not cause or trigger depression but “hating” your physical self can maintain depression, anxiety, undermine confidence and self-worth which can spill over into the rest of your life, impacting relationships, families and opportunities.

Many overweight people report low mood and motivation, irritability, exhaustion, various forms of anxiety, loss of pleasure in activities, social withdrawal, guilt and shame. People will say they feel “flat, stuck and defeated” and struggle to form a hopeful view of the future.

Can I Blame My Mum?

Mothers worry hugely about the effect of their weight and body issues on children — particularly daughters. With society and the media’s constant pressure to be thin, mothers are rightly concerned: research tells us that mothers have a huge influence over the way their daughters think and behave in relation to food, diet and exercise.

Many mothers do their best to help their daughters develop a positive, healthy body image. But our own behaviour is the greatest teacher. If women are yo-yo dieting, constantly expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies, eating differently or separately from the rest of the family, exercising excessively, using unhealthy (and sometimes dangerous) ways of coping with stress, then those are the messages being passed on.

Changing Your Food Relationship

But how? you ask. How do I break it off, how do I end my exhausting, addictive, dysfuntional relationship with food? Is there a way to train my brain to relax?

The truthful answer is you can’t change your weight permanently without understanding your food psychology: your biology and family/cultural history, people, triggers and hotspots, strengths and the way you interact with food.

You can diet and exercise all you like — and that can work — but, without greater knowledge of the way you operate and some authentic incentive, it won’t last.

So here are the key steps you need to follow to make permanent change.

  1. Have a REAL, SPECIFIC, LASTING reason for losing weight. Write it down.
  2. Change your BEHAVIOUR. Be honest about what you eat. Reducing your food intake/eating differently and increasing your activity will help kick-start new thinking. Start small but start today.
  3. Challenge your thoughts and beliefs around food. First you need to identify those (often from your past) that are holding you back. What are your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and how can you address them?
  4. Reduce your stress. Stress and seeking to comfort or fulfil ourselves with food wrecks the best weight loss intentions. Identify your biggest stress and do something about it.
  5. Work on yourself, not your weight. View yourself as a person, prioritise that person and treat her well.

Above all, be realistic. As the saying goes, good things take time. Stop focusing on your body and make your mind do some work too. After all, you are a person with a bum attached — not the other way around.


If this approach appeals, you might like to check out My Bum Looks Brilliant in This (the one true secret of lasting weight loss) If you enjoyed this article, hit the heart button. It means a lot and it helps other readers to find it. If you want to talk more message me on Facebook, tweet me, or visit karen@onthecouch.co.nz

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