10 Signs Your Relationship Status with Food is “Complicated”

Most people know about the three main eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Disordered eating, however, can be difficult to define.

A survey conducted amongst over 4,000 American women aged 25-45 found that 3 in 4 women reported disordered eating behaviours, with 1 in 10 suffering from an eating disorder. 74.5% of the women surveyed also reported that “their concerns about shape and weight interfered with their happiness.”

Disordered eating is often overlooked, or worse, celebrated or prescribed in our fatphobic, “wellness”-obsessed culture. Here are some signs that your “clean eating” might be too clean:

3 in 4 women have some form of disordered eating. Are you one of them? Click To Tweet

10 Signs You Might Have Disordered Eating

1. Food is Your Worst Enemy… And Your Best Friend

You agonize over every morsel of food that passes your lips, and pore over ingredients lists with a fine-toothed comb. Even then, you give most foods the side eye, convinced that Big Ag or Big Food are hiding something from you. No one seems to be able to accommodate your dietary needs (Gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, GMO-free and guilt-free) and if you had your way, you wouldn’t have to eat at all! Especially not after what food has done to you!

Yet at the same time, you love food. You love food “too much” – isn’t that what got us here in the first place? Food is always there when you need it. It comforts, calms, soothes and numbs… and then makes you feel awful and guilty and you’re back to being enemies again. It’s a vicious cycle that you can’t seem to get out of.

2. You Talk About Food as Being Good or Bad… Beyond Taste and Freshness

What image comes to mind when you hear the words “bad food”? Do you think of food that’s spoiled and stinky? Food that’s overcooked or overseasoned? Or food that’s “bad for you”?

It all starts innocently enough. As kids, we were taught to eat our greens because they’re “good for us” and avoid all that “junk”. For some of us though, this eventually snowballs into constant judging and comparing. It’s not just the food that’s “good” or “bad”, “clean” or “dirty”, “real” or “fake”. You are bad if you eat “bad” food. You are dirty if you eat “dirty”. And eating good, clean, real, whole, natural food becomes your way to repent.

3. You Live According to Strict Food Rules… And Beat Yourself Up When You Break Them

“Nothing with more than five ingredients.”

No food after 7 PM.”

“No going back for seconds.”

It doesn’t matter whether your rules are about what, when or how much you eat, what matters is that you’re in control. And when you start losing your grasp, you do what you know best, and that is to hold on even tighter.

4. You Just Wish Someone Would Tell You the “Right Way” to Eat

You believe that dietitians who don’t give meal plans are either bad at their job, or they’re hiding something. You’ve tried diet after diet, cleanse after cleanse, supplement after supplement, hoping that you can finally unlock the secret to figuring out your body. You blame your “lack of success” on “not doing it right”, never considering that perhaps it’s really the diets, cleanses, shakes and supplements that don’t “work”.

5. Eating is a Numbers Game

The #1 thing for you when it comes to food is not the taste, the flavour, the texture, or even the cost. It’s “what is this worth?” Whether you count calories, points or macros, food means nothing more to you than a number… that you want to keep as low as possible.

Same goes for exercise. You know exactly how long you have to spend on the treadmill to “burn off” your lunch and “save up some calories” for dinner. You don’t think there’s a point to “gentle movement” – it’s “no pain, no gain” and “go big or go home”.

6. You Can’t Stop Thinking About Food… And You Can Get Totally Mindless When You’re Eating It

Whether it’s planning your Sunday meal prep, counting how many calories/macros/points you’ve eaten so far today, reading on the latest food trend or deciding whether it’s worth it to move your “cheat day” for an upcoming party, you’re constantly obsessing over food. If you didn’t know any better, it would feel like a part-time (or full-time!) job. It’s exhausting, but you’re scared of what would happen if you didn’t “stay on top of things”.

On the flip side, sometimes you eat and you’re not even paying attention. You have no idea how the bowl is empty or why your hand is at the bottom of the bag. You barely remember what you just ate, let alone what it tasted like.

7. You Don’t Trust Yourself Around Food

Your house is a “No Snack Zone” because if there’s even a fun-sized chocolate bar in your home, you know that it’s going to end up in your stomach in no time flat, and you’re going to find all its little fun-sized friends too.

You feel powerless against the foods that you crave, and you’re convinced that you might even be addicted. You feel that you need structure, rules and control in order to eat well.

8. You’ve Never Really Considered What You Actually Want to Eat

Instead, you’ve always asked yourself what you “should” eat or “can” eat, and feel immense guilt if you feel even the slightest craving for something you “shouldn’t” or “can’t” have. You believe that if it tastes good, it can’t be good for you, and that if you actually let yourself eat what you want, that you will simply spiral out of control.

9. You Let the Scale Make or Break Your Day

You weigh yourself at the same time every morning. Naked, because “every bit counts”. You step on and off a few times, hoping that that extra half-pound is from stepping on the scale funny.

If the number goes down, it’s a good day. You’re doing “everything right”. Maybe you’ll even let yourself eat something. If the number goes up, it’s a bad day. You question everything you ate the day before, and wonder how to make up for it today by cutting back on the food and/or spending a few extra minutes at the gym.

If the number stays the same, then it depends if you’re a glass half-full or half-empty person.

10. Your Life is On Hold Until You Reach Your Goal Weight

When you live in a larger body, it seems like the world wants you to put your life on hold until you reach your goal weight. Chairs are too small, doors are too narrow, clothes don’t fit. It’s almost impossible not to succumb to the message that we would just be healthier, happier, more confident and more successful if we were smaller. Our world has taught us to hold ourselves back until we look a certain way.

I Might Have A Messy Relationship with Food… Now What?

If you see yourself in some of these statements, remember that it’s OKYou are not alone.

As cheesy as it sounds, recognizing the problem is the first step. I will admit that even a year ago I was blind to how pervasive and problematic disordered eating really is, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t “unsee” it in my clients, family and friends.

As a few first steps, I invite you to approach your eating with curiosity, not judgment. Question your food rules. Ask yourself why they are rules for you and how they have served you, then ask yourself what would happen if you let them go… Even if it’s just for a meal. As an experiment.

Looking for a few more steps?

Download a free copy of my eBook, Stop the Food Fight, Start Making Food Peace, where I walk you through my 7 Steps to Start Healing Your Relationship with Food & Your Body.

Download Your Free Copy


  • Gayle on Feb 01, 2018 Reply

    I’m a therapist practicing in Sonoma County and wanting to provide more support for individuals with disordered eating patterns

    • Vincci Tsui on Feb 01, 2018 Reply

      That’s great, Gayle! I love meeting other people interested in this work.

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