I grew up in a typical, working-class, Danish household, where carbohydrates in the shape of potatoes, rice or pasta topped with some kind of gravy were served every night – alongside meat, of course, but rarely a salad. Cake, candy and sodas weren’t only allowed on weekends, but pretty much whenever I wanted, because my parents had the same cravings. Most of the time, I never even asked for permission – I just took it.
Needless to say, I was never skinny. However, for some odd reason, I was never overweight either.
My relationship with food has been healthy for most of my life
Although I’ve always had an incredibly sweet tooth, my relationship with food has been healthy for most of my life. It wasn’t until my late teens that I started obsessing over my weight and wanting to be skinny like actresses and supermodels.
I started weighing myself religiously and put up a printed photo of Keira Knightley on my wall as “thinspiration.” I Googled how girls with anorexia were able to stay off food for long periods of time, started jogging and monitoring my food-intake.
Having been a food-lover for so long, I obviously couldn’t just stop eating or completely cut off sweets, and due to my inherent laziness, my jogs were short, relaxed and basically useless. Losing weight wasn’t easy like that, and I obviously wasn’t willing to work hard for it, so I took a shortcut: I started throwing up the food I ate or used laxatives. Not after every meal or every day, but whenever I felt I’d eaten too much or during periods where I felt “fat.” And that method was surprisingly easy.
Luckily, I came to my senses and realized that what I was doing wasn’t healthy – and so I stopped… for a while.
My “habit” returned when I started going to the university, and I was under a lot of pressure during exam periods. I’ve always been the type of person who does everything last-minute, because I need to feel a certain amount of pressure to remain focused on the task at hand. So, for almost five years, I’ve sat up all night finishing my papers or cramming for a test.
I ate and ate until I felt physically ill
That same pressure acted as a catalyst for an unease in my body that I could only suppress with food. Thus, I ate and ate until I felt physically ill, after which I forced myself to throw up, which then made me exhausted enough to sit still. This process would repeat itself for weeks at a time, twice a year for several years, causing my weight to constantly fluctuate according to my mental state. The worst part about this is that I always did well in my exams, so I couldn’t stop working like that.
I don’t binge eat anymore, and haven’t in a long time, although in stressful times, I sometimes feel an urge to do it. But since I figured out why I felt the need to and learned which situations made me want to do it, I finally feel like I have power over it.
About a year ago, I spoke to my therapist about my tendency to use some sort of substance to dull my emotions (I’ve also tended to drink alcohol during bad times). She told me to acknowledge the “need,” notice what it felt like, when they came about and to get acquainted with the specific feeling inside me and to even let them stay with me for a little while.
But most importantly, I had to wait for them to subside, no matter how hard it was. By getting to know the feelings and letting them pass through me, I learned that I don’t actually have to give into them to make them go away and feel better. And that has helped me a lot.
Aside from binge eating, I’d tried diets occasionally, but I never had the discipline to make a healthy lifestyle change, permanently. Cutting out carbs, sugar or alcohol never lasted for long even though I reached great results. I developed the kind of relationship with dieting, where I knew I could lose weight quickly and easily, if I wanted to, but the rest of the time I ate poorly.
You’re programmed by society to think that you must be thin to be attractive
When you really think about it, the word ‘diet’ in itself is so demeaning – it implies that you are too fat; that you need to make superficial changes – and fast. But too fat for whom?
Diets are temporary, encouraged by women’s magazines for special occasions and meal substitute companies who supply a crash-course starvation diet. You’re programmed by external sources – society – to think that you must be thin to be attractive – movies, music videos, fashion shows.
Another important factor that has helped me stave off binge eating is the change in my perception of beauty. The moment I really, truly realized that beauty is a social construct, it changed everything for me. Simply put, I realized that dressing up nicely, buying new clothes, covering my face in makeup and working out wasn’t for myself – it was for everyone who looked at me.
I mean, every time you feel insecure, think about who benefits from it – you or the beauty and fashion industries? There’s a reason there are new clothing collections for every season, new and “improved” beauty products and why we are constantly bombarded with advertisements, and I can ensure you, it’s not for your own interest. Otherwise, junk-food and other unhealthy foods would no longer exist.
Every time you feel insecure, think about who benefits from it
Lastly, going from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian one has changed the way I look at food. I used to joke about “living to eat, not eating to live.” But – and this is important – food is only meant to be consumed on a basis of survival, not to fulfill any emotional needs you may have. And I think that once you really see that, food will no longer be a problem. And that’s why I will never, ever, use the word ‘diet’ again.
And before you do, ask yourself why you even feel the need to.