Address Your Relationship with Food
Freedom from Eating Disorders, LLC
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Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course
Address Your Relationship with Food
After completing this lesson, you’ll have valuable tips to help you balance your food intake and say no to food-related behaviors.
I was afraid of food, but that’s because I was giving it power. As you work through this lesson, may you gain a healthy perspective on food and cease giving it power it doesn’t deserve.
Whether you find food repulsive or magnetic or you vacillate between the two, you know something isn’t right. You may find that your daily thoughts revolve around what you’re going to eat or not going to eat. You may obsess over counting calories or eat uncontrollably. Deep down, you might feel confused or out of control. Perhaps you can’t describe what you feel, but you know something isn’t right when it comes to food. You also know that your food-related behaviors aren’t good for you. But what can you do to change?
Attitude toward Food
- Think about how food was viewed in your family while you were growing up. Was food scarce? Was it consumed by family members to avoid dealing with feelings? Were you criticized for what you did or didn’t eat? Was food used in some way as either punishment or reward?
- Evaluate how your family viewed food and how you, in turn, came to your conclusions about it. Did you learn that you’d better eat all you can before someone else does or before you run out? Did it seem you should turn to food when you were upset? Did you learn that you should try to control every bite you take? The point is to examine your beliefs about food and recognize where you got them. That’s the first step to changing them.
- Food doesn’t have to be your friend. Yes, it’s a healthy and necessary part of life, and it’s great to enjoy it, but it doesn’t have to take on any other role.
- Food doesn’t have to be your enemy. Food isn’t the “bad guy.” You don’t have to hate it.
- Food is just food. It only has the power you give it. It can’t make you feel good or bad about yourself. Also, denying yourself food can’t put you in control. Even if it feels like food can do these things, that doesn’t make it so.
- Food isn’t an emotional anesthesia; it doesn’t remove inner pain. If you currently use it as such, you don’t have to continue doing so. Instead, you can heal and learn healthy ways to process your emotions.
- The absence of food isn’t an emotional anesthesia. Focusing on restricting food intake may provide a distraction from inner pain or other things, but like any anesthesia, it wears off in time.
- It’s appropriate to sometimes say yes to food and sometimes say no to it, to say yes to healthy choices (such as a balanced meal) and no to unhealthy ones (such as restricting or overeating).
It’s important to give food its proper place: nothing more and nothing less. Food is vital for your survival. The balance of it is vital for your health. Below you will find three sections with tips to balance food intake and resist behaviors. The first section is appropriate for pretty much anyone, the second for those who restrict food intake, and the third for those who overeat. The last section of this lesson contains thoughts about meal plans.
Tips to Balance Food Intake and Resist Behaviors
Do you struggle to stay on track with your food intake? Do you find it difficult to resist the temptations to engage in behaviors such as restricting, bingeing, or purging? While the best remedy is to identify, address, and resolve the underlying issues that drive you to the food-related behaviors, it’s beneficial to have some practical tips to help you in the meantime. Everyone is different, so while you may find some of these suggestions helpful, you’ll see that some aren’t a good fit for you. For example, some people benefit by focusing on the nutritional value of food while others benefit from distracting themselves while eating. Just try what is appropriate for your struggles and disregard the rest.
- Write down what you eat. Perhaps this will be telling for you as you realize how little or how much you’re eating, whichever the case may be. Maybe you need to have this black and white record in front of you to see what you need to change. You might want to mark the meals and snacks that met your meal plan goals. Also, by writing down your food intake, you won’t have to keep going over in your mind what you’ve eaten during the day.
- Record your emotions as they relate to food. For example, you may have skipped lunch because you were angry or you may have had an extra bowl of ice cream because you were sad. After you identify your feelings, you can then journal about them.
- Stop counting calories. You might find it helpful to be mindful of appropriate serving sizes and various food groups instead.
- Concentrate on preparing your body for service. For example, if you’re stronger and healthier, you’ll have the energy to help others.
- Attempt to delay behaviors such as over-exercising, bingeing, or bingeing and purging. Go about it in steps if need be. For example, maybe you can’t go a week or a day without engaging in the behavior. However, when the urge hits, you can start by putting it off for five minutes. When those five minutes are up, you can try to delay it for another five minutes. Start small and increase the time as much as you can until you actually avoid the unhealthy behavior. Then keep practicing this delay tactic and see if you can go a day, then a few days, then a week, and so on.
- Invite God to your table. Imagine him with you. Perhaps you can visualize him sitting with you, speaking reassuring words or giving you an understanding look. He isn’t there to judge or criticize, but to offer support and strength. Realize he wants you to be healthy, and he wants to help you. Let his presence empower you.
- Think of how good you’re going to feel after meeting your dietary goals. Imagine that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- Recall the consequences when you haven’t been able to meet your dietary goals. This isn’t so you can condemn yourself for it. Instead, when food-related behaviors seem enticing, it might help to remember the flip side.
- Keep a list of alternative activities such as calling a friend, working on a craft project, playing a game, or cleaning a closet. Think of things you enjoy, want to try, or simply need to do that will distract you. Instead of over-exercising, bingeing, or bingeing and purging, refer to your list and choose one of the activities. You might even want to put these ideas on note cards and put them in a basket. Then they’ll be easily accessible, so you can grab one the moment you need it.
- Maintain a list of reasons you want to recover. Refer to it when you’re tempted to engage in food-related behaviors.
- Remember that you don’t HAVE to engage in the food-related behavior. You CAN live without it. It probably doesn’t feel that way, but ultimately, it’s true. There are ways to deal with your thoughts and emotions so you won’t feel drawn to the eating disorder.
- Obtain a meal plan. Ultimately, it will be great if you can move toward intuitive eating. It’s an excellent goal to eat when you’re hungry; eat a healthy, balanced diet of foods you enjoy without having to count calories or measure servings; and be able to eat without fear or obsession. It takes time, though, to reach that point. So, until then, it’s okay to do prescriptive eating. It’s helpful to have a meal plan as a guideline until your body has adjusted and you have reliable hunger signals and emotional freedom so your feelings no longer dictate your food intake.
- Change your thoughts about food. Food is just food and has no power in and of itself. It can’t instill fear nor can it give you comfort. It has only the power you give it. Examine your thoughts about food and replace those thoughts with healthier, truthful thoughts. For example, instead of hating food, try to think of it as the medicine or fuel your body needs. Instead of thinking about “comfort” foods, remind yourself nothing and no one can give you the same comfort God can. The Change Your Thoughts lesson has more on how you can adjust your beliefs.
- Express your feelings. Pent up, they can either drive you to food or away from it. Find healthy ways to release your emotions so you can be free from their negative effects. For more on this topic, explore the Learn to Deal with Emotions lesson.
- Use the opportunity when you’re tempted to go off your meal plan, or otherwise engage in food-related behaviors, to invite God’s power into your recovery.
- Respect the body God gave you, and treat it with care.
- Ask a friend or mentor for help, support, and accountability to keep on track with food.
- Balance your intake throughout the day, eating enough for meals and snacks and consuming enough protein. If you tend to overeat, this will help you not to become over hungry and tempted to binge late in the day. If you tend to undereat, it will help you spread out your intake, breaking down your dietary goals into more manageable steps.
- Ignore what other people are eating. You don’t have the same body, hunger signals, or nutritional needs as someone else. Eat what your body needs regardless of what those around you are eating.
- Celebrate every food-related victory. Every success counts. Make the most of each one and let it motivate you to keep on track.
Tips to Balance Food Intake and Resist Behaviors – for Restrictive Behavior
- Distract your mind from food while you’re eating. Try to do one of the following, or something similar, during your meals: talk to someone, read, watch TV, memorize Scriptures, pray, or listen to music.
- Break down your dietary goals for your meal. Instead of facing a meal as a whole, break it down into smaller pieces — to every individual bite if you need to. Find a level that works for you.
- Remind yourself that food is like medicine or that food sustains life. While you’re eating, focus on nutrients in the food and their health benefits.
- Work toward no longer weighing yourself. You might find that knowing your weight, whether it’s up, down, or the same, only serves to bolster the eating disorder. If this is the case for you, start by cutting down on how often you weigh yourself. Approach this one step at a time until you aren’t weighing yourself anymore. When you go to appointments, step on the scale backwards and say you don’t want to be told your weight.
- Keep food handy at all times. This way you can sneak in some snacks in between meals. Eat what you can whenever you can. Even if you take just random bites between meals initially, it’s a start.
- Give yourself permission to eat. It really is okay. Keep telling yourself that until you believe it.
- Tell yourself it’s okay to feel hungry. Hunger isn’t a bad thing. It just means your body needs food. Instead of dreading it, try to think of it as your body’s way to remind you of what it needs, and then be kind to your body. It carries you through life, so try to nourish it.
- Set a timer to remind you to eat. If you often forget to eat, this will help you remember.
- Try a “fear food.” You may find that certain foods are even scarier to consume than others. Choose one of them and plan a time to try it. Attempt to enjoy it. And when it doesn’t make you gain loads of weight overnight, celebrate that it isn’t so bad after all.
Tips to Balance Food Intake and Resist Behaviors – for Bingeing and Bingeing and Purging Behaviors
- Examine your hunger and determine if it’s true physical hunger or if it’s some type of emotional hunger. If you tend to binge, it’s important to identify which emotions drive you to food so you can address those feelings and find other ways to deal with them.
- Avoid trigger foods and trigger circumstances whenever possible.
- Divide food into serving-sized portions. For example, instead of sitting down with a whole bag, box, or container of something, dole out a bowl of it. This will help you be more mindful of how much you’re eating as opposed to eating the whole thing without realizing it until it’s gone.
- Learn serving sizes for your meals and try to stick to them. If you tend to eat beyond the point of being comfortably full, this will help you be more mindful of when to stop.
- Be aware of what you’re eating. Pay attention to what goes into your mouth.
- Avoid circumstances where you can eat in secret if you’re a closet binger.
- Find Scriptures that are comforting that you can turn to instead of comfort food. Here are a few you may want to consider for your list.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (Ps. 116:1-2).
“May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant” (Ps. 119:76).
“…For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isa. 49:13b).
Implement some of these tips. Evaluate what works for you. Also consider obtaining a meal plan if you don’t already have one.
Insights about Meal Plans
Meal plans can be a helpful, and even vital, tool in supporting eating disorder recovery. If you’re reluctant to try one, read on before you decide.
- While in the throes of an eating disorder, you’re less able to assess what is truly an appropriate amount of food to consume, because your perception of a healthy amount of food becomes distorted. Having a meal plan helps you balance your food intake.
- If you tend to restrict your food intake, following a meal plan will insure you receive needed nourishment. You may be afraid that your eating will get out of control, but a meal plan is a safe way to increase your food intake while lessening the fear of going overboard.
- If you have a tendency to overeat, a meal plan will help you limit your food intake without going to the other extreme.
- By having a meal plan, you will learn what your body needs to be healthy. While you may have a goal to gain or lose weight, recovery is about more than just pounds. It’s about giving your body needed nourishment so you can live a healthy, full life. It’s about seeing for yourself that balanced eating is nothing to fear, but something that can enrich, and even save, your life.
- If you’re afraid to obtain a meal plan because you don’t want to release control over what you eat, please understand that a meal plan actually gives you control. Acknowledge that you can’t truly call it “being in control” if you’re so afraid to eat that you deny yourself needed nourishment or make yourself sick. You aren’t really in control if the fear of gaining needed weight prevents you from making healthy choices. A meal plan represents a healthy choice, a choice that you can make instead of allowing fear to make your choices for you.
- It may seem if you consult with a dietitian to obtain a meal plan that you might be allowing the dietitian to take control, but that isn’t the case either. A dietitian or nutritionist is there to educate, give direction, listen, encourage, and support. So if you’re afraid to obtain a meal plan because you don’t want someone else telling you what you can and cannot eat, please realize that it doesn’t have to be that way. A dietitian or nutritionist can tailor a meal plan that will fit your specific situation while still providing the nourishment you need.
- Meal plans may, but won’t necessarily, regulate specific foods. They can be quite specific, and you might find it helpful to have a meal plan structured in that fashion, but they can also be more general. A meal plan might simply provide a basic guideline of how many servings of which food groups to eat each day, leaving the specific food choices up to you. Whether the goal is to gain or lose weight, a meal plan can help you balance your food intake to promote a healthy body.
- A meal plan is about more than weight gain or loss. Think of it as a plan for health and freedom.
- If you’re unsure about implementing your meal plan, share that with your dietitian or nutritionist. Perhaps you can get some ideas to help you work toward your meal plan goals in steps.
- Pray about obtaining a meal plan. Ask God to lead you to the right dietitian or nutritionist. He understands any misgivings you may have, what your body needs, and what will work for you. Why not let him be involved in this aspect of your recovery?
You can recover personal control by making healthy choices. Obtaining a meal plan can help you do just that. Although meal plans may work better for some people than others, they are often beneficial. Also, if what you’re doing isn’t working, what does it hurt to try? You might be surprised to find out how much a meal plan helps. And if you make this a matter of prayer, not only can you gain guidance, but you will grant God a greater role in your recovery.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I know I need to address my food intake. While you help me work through underlying issues, will you also help me balance my eating so I can be healthy? I’m anxious about the changes I’ll need to make, and I know I can’t make those changes without you by my side. I invite you to be with me while I eat. I know that I’m safe in your presence. Thank you for loving me and leading me to a healthier life, both inside and out.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Please Dine with Me
So frightening; I don’t know what to do;
can scarcely breathe. Fear swells inside of me,
cuts off all reasoning and keeps me bound.
Who knew how scary nourishment could be?
I’m certain that from just a bite or two,
I’ll fail to stop and lose complete control.
Entire meal may even pass my lips.
That possibility just scares me so.
But how can I be so afraid of food?
I know I need it to survive, and yet
I won’t partake of what sustains my life.
My fear of food exceeds my fear of death.
Perplexed, I don’t know why I feel like this.
Why can’t I just allow myself to eat?
It seems so simple, yet it’s hard to do.
One bite should not be such a major feat.
I’m so confused. What causes me to feel
that eating means I’m weak and giving in?
There’s more beyond the surface, I am sure.
I know I need to pray and look within.
Oh loving Lord, I ask you to reveal
the reasons underneath I cannot see.
And ‘til confusion clears and fear gives way,
oh Lord, please hold my hand and dine with me.1
Explore what Caused Your Eating Disorder
Think back to when the eating disorder started. Ask yourself questions like the ones listed below and record honest answers:
- What were the circumstances at the time?
- What conclusions did you make about those circumstances?
- What did you think about yourself?
- What did you think about food? Was it appealing or unappealing and why?
- What emotions did you feel? What did you do with those emotions? Were you able to express them in some way or did you think you were supposed to hide them inside?
- In the time that has followed the onset of the eating disorder, what has been your attitude toward the circumstances that seemed to trigger the eating disorder?
- Since the eating disorder started, how have you thought about yourself?
- In the time you’ve had the eating disorder, what has been your attitude toward emotions?
If you can’t answer every question, that’s okay. The eating disorder may have started when you were very young. You may not remember ever eating normally. Just do the best you can.
Consider what you’ve uncovered as you answer these questions and, if need be, seek help to discuss and untangle the thoughts and feelings you have around food. You don’t have to work through this alone.
The remaining features for this lesson, as listed below, are printable. You may download the PDF file here.
Answer Key for Quiz
1Laurie Glass, Inspiration for Eating Disorder Recovery, 2015.
All Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Find out about other lessons on the Recovery Course page.
Change Your Thoughts
Learn to Deal with Emotions
See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out
Address Your Relationship with Food
Invite God into Your Recovery
Let Go of Control
Face Your Fears
Experience Inner Healing
Let Go of Perfectionism
Let Go of Guilt
Let Go of Shame
Deal with Relapses