I spent most of my life as one of those women who "had it together." I was good at making sure that things got done, and following a to-do list. And it paid off -- especially in school and at my job.
Unfortunately, when it came to my eating, that same attitude led me to obsess about everything I put in my mouth -- so I'd either feel deprived (if I stuck to my strict plan) or overwhelmingly guilty. And that would lead to an extremely unhappy cycle of overindulging and then desperately trying to cut back.
Eventually, I figured out how to break free of the cycle: how to listen to my body about when it is hungry, and figure out why the heck I wanted to eat when I wasn't hungry at all. It really was, hands down, one of the best things that has ever happened to me -- I never thought I could be someone who could order cake in a cafe without a second thought (and without feeling remotely guilty or worried about my weight afterwards), but that is actually what happened to me.
But stopping that obsessing about food is especially hard if you are an over-thinker, planner, worrier, or just a general type-A person.
Just telling yourself to "stop obsessing" never quite seems to do the trick, right?
I hear you.
Here's the thing: I'm not going to sit here and tell you to just "stop thinking so much" or "it will be fine," because I've never seen just telling someone to "stop worrying" work for any of my clients, and it doesn't work for me, either.
In my experience, obsessive brains are calmed by proof that things will be okay, not by empty hopes. So here's what I'd suggest you try:
1. Set your intention, every dang day.
A huge source of anxiety is just from not knowing if you are doing the right thing. So I actually want to make sure that you (at least in the beginning) have a really clear set of goals, and that you can track your progress against those goals.
The first part of this process is to set an intention, each morning, for what your goal is with food (or any part of your life). It could be: "I want to eat when I am hungry today," or "I want to take good care of my body."
It could be anything. But define it for yourself, and write it down.
2. Keep a food journal.
The second key step in this process is to have data -- actual hard facts -- about your eating.
That way, when you start to obsess or worry or wonder, you can say to yourself, "Nope, Kate, you ate when you were hungry every single meal today! Nothing to worry about!"
That's so weird, I keep eating cookies that I don't even want at 4 pm, between my last two meetings of the day. I wonder why that is?
If the thought of a food journal freaks you out and reminds you of miserable diets and makes you want to eat an entire pizza in the next fifteen minutes, you don't have to worry. My version of food journaling is completely different, and calories are unlimited.
If the thought of a food journal freaks you out and reminds you of miserable diets, you don't have to worry. My version of food journaling is completely different, and calories are unlimited.
Here's an article I wrote about how to keep a non-judgmental food journal - check it out, and commit to keeping one for at least a week or two.
3. Reflect on your day, every dang day
At the end of your day, you really do have to make a few minutes (even just five!) for self-reflection. Here's three great questions to get you started:
- How was I able to put my intention into practice today? Or not?
- What am I learning about myself as a result of this exercise?
- What changes will I make tomorrow about what I've learned?
Make sure to write them down, and yes, answer the same questions every day. It might seem repetitive, but trust me on this one. This exercise is extremely powerful if done of the course of 1-2 weeks.
Your strong work ethic - the same thing that helped you be one of those people who "gets things done" in other areas of your life - may actually be a great thing for you in this situation. If you can do these things every day for two weeks (and it should take only 10-20 minutes a day), I'd love to see what happens to you!
And you don't need to do this forever! I certainly don't! But for many people (especially habitual worriers), it is a great first step to gather data and calm down the worrying mind.
Finally, I'd love to hear from you. Are you someone who worries incessantly about your eating? What has worked for you? Join the conversation in the comments below!
Are you used to "having it together" in your life, but your eating + weight is the little piece that's not going right? Check out Katie's free "What's Your Eating Style" ebook -- a beautiful, 22-page ebook that lets you identify your eating archetype, and offers detailed, personalized practices to try TODAY.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.