Why restrictive eating made me unhappy!
For 4 years I lived in a world where food was the major piece in the jigsaw to a healthy and happy life. What I didn’t realise was that the need to control my eating was causing me a lot of anxiety and unhappiness that stopped me living a life I love. At 22, whilst battling my depression and anxiety my life became about making myself happy.
I began reading books on how food can control our mood. Almost over night I went from a crisp, chocolate and sandwich eater to a health food fanatic. Cutting out sugar and processed food had a rapid affect, and over the next few months my panic attacks reduced from 3 a day to one a week. Life was becoming bearable and I got it into my head that the perfect diet meant perfect happiness.
I spent the next 4 years becoming more and more restrictive with my eating. I became a vegan (for health reasons) and I cut out anything sugary (including fruit and any carbohydrates). For long periods I was only eating vegetables. My happiness was improving, my energy levels went through the roof, the panic attacks disappeared and my skin was constantly glowing.
BUT, I was still getting episodes of depression.
I couldn’t understand it… I was trying so hard but I still had weeks where all I wanted to do was lie in my bed and cry. A dangerous habit began. Every time I had a bout of depression I would look at what I was eating and restrict a bit more. “No more nuts”, “no more dried fruit”, “no more soya yoghurt”, it was manic. Before long, not only was I analysing every thing I ate, but bad food even started to trigger my depression. It got ridiculous. I would start worrying about meals 2 hours before I ate. I was scared of breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I lived this for four years. I was trapped. One day it all changed. A mentor told me something I will never forget: “your body is designed to deal with what you eat George, trust it. With your diet [vegetables], it isn’t the food that is making you unhappy, it’s your relationship to it”. These words changed my life. Over the next few weeks my “eating disorder” evaporated as I decided to take away the control around food.
My first change was to eat what I was given. If someone cooked me a meal I would eat it. My second change was to let someone else pick the restaurant. I would just pick something off the menu. Go with the flow. I quickly realised that these two changes were having a huge effect on my happiness. I was probably eating 5% less healthily, and I had reduced my anxiety by almost 100%.
I was free. For 4 years nearly every decision was driven by my need to control my eating. What I hadn’t seen was the wider impact of this need for control. No weekends away, no evenings out with friends, in fact very little contact with anyone that was going to stop me eating the perfect way. I was a loner, because I was scared others would have me eating the wrong thing.
Less control, more freedom
I have seen how a need for a control in life leads to unhappiness — whatever it may be. I am incredibly good at dealing with most things in small doses; bad food, nights without sleep, heavy work loads, etc and so forth. I don’t want to abuse myself, a week with no sleep or poor food choices has an impact, however, it’s not going to kill me. Being out of control, taking life as it comes and being malleable is giving me so much more freedom than I ever thought was possible.
I now try to look at every area in my life and see what I am trying to control in order to succeed. The less control I have, the less obstacles seem to be in my way and the easier life becomes. What do you think that you HAVE to do to make life work? Is it food, sleep, exercise, checking the taps are off three times. The chances are you’ll be better off without it.