Are You in Control of Your Eating? Or Is It in Control of You?

Are you in control of your eating? Or do you think you would feel better or be happier if you were even MORE disciplined?

‘I have no control! I’m weak, such a failure, cow! I have no willpower!’

‘I manage to make it through the morning sticking to my plan, but I just lose it in the evening.’

When working with disordered eating, the food diaries clients show me are often extremely regimented, restrictive or unrealistic – either in the types of foods or the amount of food that is allowed throughout the day. When your plan is so strict and controlled, it’s no wonder that you lose control of your eating by the end of the day.

One common pattern I see is trying to eat as little as possible in the day to ‘save up’ calories to eat in the evening.

Regulating like this makes you feel in control of your food, but inevitably, this pattern will lead to overeating and bingeing.


Because your body is no fool. It is longing for some quick energy. When you repeatedly override your body’s natural hunger cues, it thinks it is starving and will behave as if there is not enough food around to sustain you. When you finally do allow it something to eat, it doesn’t want lettuce. It wants calorie dense nutrition as quickly as possible. Crisps, chocolate, chips. After a day of restriction, these are the foods you often end up eating….and in large amounts.

When you do ‘go off plan’, it’s often interpreted as a total failure (called ‘All or Nothing Thinking’) or so awful that you won’t be able to stand it (called ‘Catastrophising’). The emotional response (guilt, shame, rage) to this biased thinking can often lead to another binge to punish yourself or just numb out any negative feelings altogether.

Thinking in these distorted ways is a one-way road to irrational and impulsive decisions, and the conviction that you have completely and utterly failed in your quest to be in control of your eating.

Well, I’ve got some news for you – you’ve got it wrong.

Wrong, wrong wrong.

The problem is not that you don’t have enough control of your eating. It’s that you have TOO MUCH control!

By repeatedly ignoring your body’s hunger cues and rigidly controlling your intake with distorted and extreme thinking, your eating has actually taken control of you.

Real control means being able to exert CHOICE over your behaviours while staying engaged in a meaningful life.

When your definition of control changes so that all that matters is living by a strict plan that leaves you constantly stressed, alone and feeling like a failure, you are no longer ‘in control’ of your eating or your life. Your eating is in control of you.

So, what can you do if you find yourself being controlled by your eating plan?

Is your head full of counting calories, planning the food you eat, and being mean to yourself for failing? How can YOU get REAL control back?

This is not an easy task and there is no quick fix. However, here are three things that you can do to start taking back control:

  1. Take a good look at your eating plan and exercise plan.Is your plan achievable? Is it unreasonable or too rigid?Even if you do have a more reasonable plan, how do you talk to yourself when you deviate from it? Are you engaging in catastrophic or black or white thinking? Look for the ‘nevers’ and ‘always’ in your thinking for clues.

    Does this sound like you?
    ‘If I eat that piece of bread at lunch, I’ll never be able to go out tonight.’
    ‘If I’m ‘good’ during the week, I can be ‘bad’ on the weekends.’
    ‘If I can’t go to the gym for an hour, it’s not worth going at all.’


  2. Start to question it.At first, this can feel scary, but you don’t have to DO anything differently at this point, just start to feel it out a bit, rather than blindly accepting the messages you give yourself.Q. Is it really true that because I had this extra slice of bread that I’ve ‘totally blown my plan’?
    Q. Is it worth missing out on the fun of after work birthday drinks, just so that I don’t have to have those extra calories?
    Q. What would my best friend say? Or somebody who really cares about me? Would they speak to me this way?
  3. This is the brave bit. Start doing things differently.Start to challenge your thinking and experiment with shades of grey. Try softening your thoughts to be more realistic and less rigid:Instead of:

    ‘If I eat that extra piece of bread, I’ll look bloated and disgusting and I’ll never be able to go out tonight.’


    ‘If I eat that extra piece of bread, I may feel a bit fuller, but it’s not the end of the world and certainly not worth me missing out on a great night with friends.’

    Instead of:

    ‘If I can’t go to the gym for an hour, it’s not worth going at all.’


    ‘Going to the gym for even a half an hour is good for my health. And rest days are also important to my overall fitness.’

    By slowly changing things in this way, you can find some real balance and real control. Remember, no one food is ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Nothing terrible can ever happen from one meal.

If you can find shades of grey in your thinking, you can eat and live in a way that that is sustainable, and most importantly, leaves you feeling settled and at peace with yourself.

So, I’ll ask the question again… are you really in control of your eating? Or is it in control of you?

Do you want to bypass life just so that you can remain living within a controlled, restrictive plan, or can you allow yourself to relax the plan without the world ending?

Your body will thank you for it, and it might not be the disaster you imagine. Try letting the reigns go a little and just observe how you feel about it and what really happens.

You might just enjoy yourself.

If you’re struggling and trying to control your eating, but would like to live a fuller life, please get in contact and arrange a chat to see if we can help. Trained eating disorder professionals can help you develop more balanced thinking and healthy eating behaviours.

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