Food is powerful. It has the capacity to make us extremely sick or extremely healthy. It is capable of completely changing our body physiques and our moods. With something so powerful and prevalent in our daily lives, it is no wonder that food often gets used as a tool of punishment. I have seen, and experienced, using food as punishment in two ways:
- not eating anything
- binge eating
Not eating anything as a way to punish an action is something I have personally done on more than one occasion in the past. If I found myself embarrassed or angry about something I said or did, I would let myself be hungry. I would consciously make the decision not to eat as a punishment for whatever my action was. I felt like I deserved to feel hungry for as long as it took for that emotion or event to pass.
With clients, I have seen multiple women use binge eating as their forms of food punishment. The same emotions of embarrassment and anger turn into an out-of-control binge session where eating to the point of pain is the “deserved” outcome.
We should not be letting food have this punishing role in our lives. Food is made to fuel our bodies, give us clear minds, and provide the energy we need to be our best selves throughout our day. If we start seeing food as the enemy, or as a disciplinarian, then how are we going to see it as this life-giving source?
It is time to overcome the mentality that food can be used as punishment. Whichever category you fall into (not eating or binge eating), there are a few steps I want you to take to move past using food as a consequence.
1. Recognize that it is happening. I always knew when I was withholding food as a way to get back at myself. I could recognize it instantly. Bring that recognition to the forefront of your mind rather than pushing it to the side. Own your decision and become conscious of it.
2. Identify the cause that led to it. Using food as a punishment has a triggering event. An embarrassing presentation, a stressful work conversation, or an argument with a loved one can all be that triggering event. Figure out what it was and why it made you feel the way it did.
3. Determine if there is anything you can do to fix how you feel. Often times, my triggering events were ones that I could do something about to at least alleviate some of my embarrassment and anger. Do you need to apologize to someone? Do you need to work an extra few hours to cover yourself? Do you need to have a follow up conversation with the people involved?
As hard as it might be to do some of those things, you will be benefitting your health so much more, making yourself stronger, and gaining more respect from the people involved if you deal with the issue head on.
4. (For non-eaters) Eat something healthy. You need to eat something. Starving your body of nutrients is not going to improve the situation. Getting some food in your body is going to give you more of a clear head to tackle your emotions and the event better. If you eat something healthy, then you can rest easy that you are doing your body good rather than punishing it.
4. (For binge eaters) Do a productive activity. Rather than making a binge your activity, do something that will benefit your life. Call a friend, go for a walk or a workout, listen to a meditation, clean the house. Give your hands something to do that is a positive for you. Something you can feel good about accomplishing.
While these steps could be used for a triggering event of sadness, grief is a different beast. Everyone experiences grief differently and often times food takes on a new meaning. If you are grieving, please reach out to a friend, counselor, or psychologist to discuss your pain with someone who can help.
What are some ways you overcome using food as a punishment?0