Better Food, Better Feelings, Better Health

Much research goes into the roots of eating disorders, from societal expectations of body image to the unreasonable images we see in media. Sadly, disordered eating is at an all-time high. It is estimated that up to 50% of all student girls and 30% of all student boys [1] use forms of restrictive eating or vomiting in an attempt to control their weight.
Disordered eating encompasses food restriction (anorexia), purging/vomiting (bulimia) and binging, which is often accompanied by either purging or massive physical exertion in an attempt to rectify the action. To be clear, I am not an expert, and absolutely not clinically trained in this matter – however, I did want to share my own journey, because resetting how I ate changed my disordered relationship with food.

[1]Neumark Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat! New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.

When disordered is "normal"

Disordered eating is complex, and its fundamental driver is not necessarily about weight, but more often about control and underlying emotional pain. Growing up as a child, I never had any eating issues – apart from loving food and eating huge amounts! I look back and believe I was lucky to have been blessed with a good metabolism. With a healthy food intake and a diet largely devoid of sugar, I could certainly eat huge quantities and maintain a slim figure. 
I am not sure when my relationship with food changed. I was in my mid-20s. I don’t remember the trigger at all, but all of a sudden, vomiting after an evening meal just seemed pretty normal. My body shape hadn’t changed. I was working intensely in finance, so “work hard, play hard” was probably responsible for a few extra pounds, but certainly nothing to cause a stir. After a business dinner, rich in restaurant nutrients and lathered in office politics, a surreptitious trip to the bathroom made me feel so much better, alleviating the stress knot that had built up in depths of my stomach.
And that’s how it continued, on and off. Until I changed how I ate. 

Better food, better feelings, better health
When I started to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, with more whole grains, beans and so many more vegetables, I no longer experienced the knot in my stomach. Stress and anxiety still existed, but the desire to purge faded. I didn’t have the need to rid my body of what I had just put in it. On the contrary, my body felt good — and wanted to stay that way. 
As discussed in a recent article in the New York Times, what we eat profoundly impacts how we feel. We know that by keeping sugar low, we keep dopamine low and promote serotonin — the happy, serene hormone. As I shifted my diet, I found that I no longer had the desire to rid my body of food. I felt good and was no longer consumed by that same anxiety. The voice and that deep pit feeling vanished — all by themselves.    
If we can teach people to experience what being nourished by food is truly all about, we can help them in so many ways. We can unlock a lifetime of good habits — by giving young people, especially, the tools for both outstanding physical health and mental health, too.