Content note: This article discusses mental health and the relationship with food.
One of the most striking things I’ve found since starting to lose weight and get fit is just how transformative the process of telling another human being about your diet has been.
After my first session with my personal trainer, I diligently filled in the food diary she had sent me. Right from the off, it was transformative.
Obviously, I had been largely aware of just how shocking my diet really was. I’d tried monitoring my diet in the past. But even so, it’s a whole different kettle of fish when you know somebody else is going to find about all your awful eating choices.
On the first day, my thinking about food changed quite radically. Before making a meal, the first thought wasn’t “how much of this utterly delicious food can I cram onto a plate and into my stomach”, and instead, “how will this look when written down on paper in the cold light of day”.
Similarly, before tucking into an oversized snack, my immediate thought was “can I rationally explain why I’ve eaten a 150g back of crisps and a packet of cocktail sausages at 1 in the morning.
Fortunately, this thought process has now become relatively second nature and hasn’t had a negative impact on how I experienced food. That was always a risk.
There are so many ways that our relationships with food can becoming damaging and toxic. For a long time, mine has been. Eating in excess hasn’t been something I do on occasions, or at moments where I treat myself. Rather, it’s something that has long been a day-in day-out part of my routine.
At a simple baseline, for a number of years I’ve been eating far more than is healthy – and specifically eating far more of the things you aren’t supposed to eat lots of than is healthy. A friend of mine used to ask me when I last ate a piece of fruit and make light of the way the days, would become weeks, would become months. No doubt a fun joke between the two of us, but indicative of a much larger problem.
Outside of that, for a long time, I’ve been self-medicating sadness, depression and mental ill-health with food. Going through a depressive patch for a week or two? Why not binge eat take-aways, cheese and crisps? Had a bad day? Build the biggest portion possible for your dinner and make sure to find the time to squeeze in two or three snacks before bed.
The ramifications of this are probably quite obvious and straight forward. Most meals I’ve eaten in the last four or five years have left my stomach pained from the sheer volume of food I’ve put inside of me. The numbers on the scales have gone up and up and up. The size of my waistline has grown and grown and grown. My reaction to my reflection has got worse and worse and worse.
The obvious implication here is that this only serves to make things worse and worse. Going to sleep most nights with a pain in your abdomen and a feeling that you’re on the verge of vomiting doesn’t do wonders for your state of mind or your wellbeing. Being in a constant state of upset at the shape and size of your body doesn’t either.
So this all becomes reinforcing, and it’s obviously a very difficult cycle to break.
For me, the psychological impact of writing down what I have eaten, showing it to another human being – in my case, my personal trainer – and then being held to account on it has helped start to break that cycle. I’m not a psychologist, a nutritionist, a doctor, or any other kind of medical professional that has any evidence whatsoever to back this assertion up. But I’m certain that this has more impact on my relationship with food than anything else I’ve done in the past six weeks.
Obviously my diet isn’t totally transformed. And obviously some times I remember that I can just circumvent the accountability mechanism by being a little economical with the truth when filling in my diary.
Nonetheless, it’s been five weeks since I’ve had a takeaway, whereas before doing this, I would rarely go five days. Since starting the diary and taking advise from my trainer, I’ve not eaten a single grain of white pasta, rice or bread at home. Since I started my training, I’ve completely cut out my binge eating in the early hours of the morning.
Most of this has come through the act of telling someone else exactly what I’m eating and little else. Who knew something so simple could be so transformative?