How does one establish a normal relationship with food? Most of us have dieted and are aware of healthy choices that we should make in order to succeed. We just need help figuring out what stands in the way between us and actually carrying through with those choices.

The key to success is to focus on WHY you are using food to cope instead of focusing on what you are eating. This is part of the healing process for eating disorders.

Learning to eat naturally is the act of doing your best to wait until you’re hungry before you eat. Know when to stop eating when you are comfortably full rather than to continue until you are stuffed. You should not feel guilty for eating certain foods as long as you’re eating when hungry and stopping when full.

Learn to respond to stress in appropriate ways. Discover what is causing your stress and look for life-enhancing solutions for the problem.

If you focus on the WHY of your eating, you can enjoy success, just by taking the focus off food. If you do not attend to the WHY of your eating, then you will start to obsess about what you are eating again and feel like a total failure.

Enjoy success! Focus on directing your food choices. You must have consistency in being able to remind yourself that when you start to want to binge or think about purging or restricting, these are coping strategies. Doing this will remind your that there is some stressor in your life that is triggering your irrational, all-or-nothing thinking.
Observing yourself consistently and connecting these dots any time you feel drawn to use food to cope will provide you with the foundation to start being free of the stranglehold of binging, purging, and restricting. You will be more conscious about what you’re choosing to eat, and how much.

Success comes from being willing to set aside any judgments of what you are eating and instead, just focus on reminding yourself when you are using food to cope.

Helping yourself overcome an eating disorder begins by:
1. accepting the reality that right now you have a dysfunctional relationship with food;

2. accepting that in order to straighten out any dysfunctional relationship, you’ve got to first acknowledge that it’s dysfunctional and that you play a part in that dysfunction;

3. taking a big step back from trying to control and change the other person/substance and do the work you need to do on your thinking and your behaviour in order to be the person you need to be to have a healthy relationship with that person/substance (i.e., let go of trying to control food and instead focus on why you’re wanting to control it or overuse it at that moment);

4. re-entering the relationship with your new skills and awareness and self-esteem, and continue to use your tools in the relationship whenever you feel any of the old stress or triggers arising;

5. change certain food choices (i.e., stop having dairy if it makes you feel sick, maybe stop all together or just have a little a few times a week; stop having 3 diet pops a day if you notice it dehydrates you, maybe just have two, then one…) or balance the kinds of foods you choose (i.e., a gradual reduction in your consumption of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars and an increase in whole grains, fruits and vegetables);

In the early stages of eating disorder recovery you will still feel the need for food to cope. Any restriction will be met with resistance and a compensatory overreaction (binge). It is easy to choose not to have certain foods in your diet if they make you feel unwell once you are grounded in self-esteem and do not need to use food to cope. This will not feel like restriction at this point in your healing – it will feel like rational thinking and great self-care.

Accepting this reality means you acknowledge that right now your connection with food is confused, and that you can’t expect yourself to make the best choices about when and how much to eat because you use food to cope with stress. As such, expecting yourself to have a different relationship with food when you still have the same stressors and do not have a firm grasp on new life-enhancing tools to identify and resolve your stress is not fair or reasonable.

You may find that, as you get farther along in your healing, you become aware that certain foods make you feel unwell, bloated, tired or they give you headaches. This is typical, as we often have sensitivities to certain foods (particularly dairy or wheat) from our overuse of these foods in our efforts to numb and cope with our stress.

These sensitivities will typically fade in time if we approach these foods moderately for a year or two; although it is possible that an allergy has developed through overuse. A doctor would be best to consult if you have concerns about this.

If you feel the need to experiment with quantities in the early stages of healing, the best way to do this is to invite yourself (if you overeat) to start out with two thirds of what you’d normally take at any meal, reminding yourself all the while (and meaning it) that you will let yourself have more when you finish that portion if you are still hungry.

If you finish that portion and you’re still hungry, take a little more and then check in again. If you finish the first portion and you’re not hungry but want more you say, “This is me wanting to use food to cope.” Make a list of what is stressing you and see if there is something there that is triggering you to want more.

If you have done the two thirds test and end up binging or feeling really anxious, it means that you are still too immersed in using food to cope. Acknowledge this and give yourself two more weeks to focus on WHY you are using food to cope instead of focusing on what you are eating.

When you are ready to focus on WHY you use food to cope, the process moves very quickly and your relationship with food becomes simple: Eat when hungry, stop when full.

If you restrict primarily, you will want to invite yourself to take just a few bites more than you otherwise would, for just one meal each day, and let that be all you ask of yourself for a week. Then when you can see that your body is fine and didn’t blow up like a balloon, add a few more bites to another meal and so on. It may take a few months to get to a reasonable-sized portion if your restriction is severe, but this way it will feel safe and it will be lasting, and you will see that your body can eat well and not be overweight.

This approach to coming back to center in your relationship with food is truly the fastest, simplest path to healing.
The solution to overcoming eating disorders is not to get structure around food but rather to get structure in your brain and start to think rationally about your stress and to begin to see yourself as worthy and capable of creating a life that is full of joy, passion, love and safety. Your relationship with food is quite easily sorted once you’re no longer using food to cope.

Author's Bio: 

CEDRIC Centre founder Michelle Morand is a recovered compulsive eater and counsellor with over 17 years of experience in the field of recovery of from eating disorders such as compulsive eating, anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, as well as casual factors such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Author of 'Food is not the Problem: Deal With What Is', Morand is a skilled educator and lecturer and frequently appears at live health shows, on radio and V, and in print media. Michelle is the editor for Insights Into Clinical Counseling (IICC) and won the BC Association for Clinical Counsellors 2009 Communications Award which recognizes a member or individual/organization from the media field who has provided regular, continuing, or special assistance in promoting counselling and/or mental health issues in the community.