My Anxiety with Food
Posted by SANE
12th Dec 2017

I wanted to share my story because I've been dealing with an issue for 18 years that has been a huge part of my life, and since travelling around Asia I've been putting more focus on it to try and figure it out, and I've had a major breakthrough.  This got me thinking that if I'm going through this then chances are other people could be stuck where I am too and need inspiration to help them fight their own battle.
If there's anything in my writing that will have a positive influence on even one person, it would mean the world to me to help them in some way. 

Since around the age of 10 or 11, I have regularly suffered with stomach aches.  No matter what I did or what remedies I tried to get rid of them, they always came back.  But they weren't your average belly aches - I was in unbearable pain to the point of tears on many occasions just wanting the pain to go away, and eventually it would, but there would always be a next time.

I went through countless tests at the Doctor's and Hospital, trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  I was even rushed to A&E one night because I couldn't get up from the ground due to the pain, but as soon as I arrived the pain had completely gone and I was fine.  I looked like a right wally!

Every test ever done always came back negative, and every time I felt relieved that it wasn't what they'd tested me for, but I also got frustrated at not knowing what was causing this.  After some time the Doctor asked me to start recording everything I was eating and how my stomach felt so we could take a look at my diet.  He suggested we try cutting out certain foods from my diet to see if it helped.  The first target was wheat.  Back then there were no special aisles in the supermarket or menu alternatives for wheat free foods, and whatever was available tasted awful, so this was a real struggle at a young age when all I wanted to do was eat cake and pizza.  Despite this, I stuck to it for two weeks, and I was transformed!  For the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt good!  I felt normal, I felt healthy, I had energy, I was sleeping properly, I wasn't running for the toilet 6 times a day - I was a normal boy (ish).

Fast forward to my late teens and despite one or two incidents, I hadn't suffered with anything for some time, until now.  Even though my diet for the most part had improved a lot since I was younger, I started to see the familiar signs of my previous suffering, but this was different because after being OK for so long I had started to eat wheat again (which the Doctor advised I should do in time), so I decided to cut it out again to 'reset' my body.  Unfortunately this did not fix the problem this time, and I panicked.  How could this be?!  Why was I still being ill when I was doing what I'd done before?  I took it upon myself to try out other food groups to see if wheat wasn't in fact the problem, but something close to it or associated to it.  I tried dairy, sugar, alcohol and a few other things.  Nothing worked, and the harder I tried and failed to fix it, the more stressed I became.

Fast forward to my late 20's, and I was still struggling with things.  I had tried more things since like specific diets, including being vegan, but nothing improved my problem significantly.  I was also working in a gym as a Personal Trainer and walked everywhere, so I was not a unhealthy guy by any means, but I had this consistent problem that I couldn't shake.  I have been racking my brain over this for years and I was sick and tired of trying to solve it and getting nowhere.  Here I am taking really good care of myself, yet I was being ill all the time.  How was this fair?!

My most recent experience has been since travelling around South East Asia.  For the first few days I was loving life and embracing every moment, then it started.  I always had in the back of my mind to be extra careful over here because of the various horror stories read online and heard from others, but I had been careful and was still sticking to reasonably healthy foods the majority of the time.  I started to blame various things that might be causing it, but as usual I couldn't pinpoint it. This continued on and gradually got worse.  I was truly out of my comfort zone, away from familiar surroundings, with little control over my food, and I was feeling more ill every day.

One night in Hong Kong, after yet another conversation with my lady about the situation and what to do about it, I decide in my mind to take action.  So as we walk around Soho looking for somewhere for dinner, I decide to focus on my thoughts throughout the evening to see what my mind is up to in the background.  I've always had an overactive mind and I'm someone who analyses everything that goes on, but what goes on when I'm thinking about food?  What is it I'm doing when I'm out to eat in public places, or anywhere for that matter?  I knew my mind was doing things in the background but I'd always let it tick along and not give it a second thought because it had gone on for as long as I could remember.  Time to change that...

We find a great looking Italian restaurant and get seated.  I'm looking at the different menu choices and as soon as I start reading, it starts:

"What will happen if I eat this?"
"What is in that sauce?"
"Will that make me ill if I eat it?"
"I really fancy that but it's got cream in it so I shouldn't eat it"
"Wine would be nice but if I drink alcohol I will feel ill"
"Where's the nearest toilet in case I'm ill?"
"What if we leave and then I feel ill?"
"Where can we stop if I am ill on the way back?"
"What if there's a queue for the toilet?"

For the entire time I'm sat in this restaurant my mind is constantly worrying about something that will make me ill, or what might happen if I am ill.  During this time I also notice I'm sat there with a tense stomach and have to consciously relax it two or three times.  I couldn't believe it.  I was in a constant state of stress and anxiety over something that wasn't even happening and may not happen at all - I was making myself ill!  Without even realising it, everything that had happened when I was younger and to this day had produced a defensive barrier in my mind towards food, and since then I was in a constant state of worry over everything I ate because food had been my focus to solve my problem, and so I made myself feel guilty if I ate anything even remotely 'bad'.  Mind = Blown.

There and then was a huge moment for me.  Shortly after this I put my theory to the test and ordered one of my favourite desserts - Tiramisu.  If ever there was a food to supposedly make me ill, this one had it all - coffee, wheat, dairy, sugar, alcohol and more. I ate that dessert like it was my last meal, and the whole time I was using positive reinforcement to silence the worry in my mind of what might happen.  I went back to the hotel that night feeling reborn, and guess what?  I wasn't ill.  Not that night, or the next morning, or throughout the day, or the day after that.  I was in total disbelief.

I went back to the hotel that night in a world of my own.  This is nothing unusual to be fair, but tonight was different.  This 'thing' had controlled my life and everything I had done for nearly two decades, and for the first time I had made myself aware of it and more importantly taken control of it.  I still wasn't convinced though - I'd followed the same rules for years thinking food was the problem.  There was also no explanation as to what had started the stomach aches in the first place when I was younger.  I couldn't expect to just accept this new solution straight away.  I sat there in our room looking out the window over the city, playing over everything in my mind, trying to make sense of it all.  I had stressed over this for so long that trying to break it all down was not going to be a simple task.  Then I started to think about my clients and the problems they've faced and still do now, and how they open up to me and talk to me about it.  I suddenly realised what I needed to do to help me understand this in my mind better.  I decided to write an email to myself, outlining everything that had happened over the years, how it made me feel, how it's affected me, and anything else I could think of.  Then I could read it all back to myself with my Coach mindset as if I was reading over an email from a client in the hope that this would help me understand things better.  I got to work and ended up spending three hours at the desk typing non-stop, laying it all out for the first time in my life.  It felt amazing and even at times emotional to see my thoughts and feelings over this issue in writing for the first time, and reminding myself just how much energy I'd put in to this problem for so long.  I thought of every little detail I could and put it all down in writing, then hit send.

The following day I sat at my laptop and opened up the email.  I sat and read through the entire thing in careful detail, breaking it all down just like I would with any client.  Before I knew it I was writing a reply laying everything out to my 'client' to help them understand what was happening and some theories and ideas based on what they'd told me.  Of course I had a huge advantage because I knew this client inside out!  Nevertheless the response I typed out, which was just as long as the original email if not longer, broke down everything and made perfect sense of it all.  It all started when I went up to High School - I hated school with a passion, and this caused daily stress for me, and what happens when we feel stressed?  Tension, upset stomach, bad mood, low energy, overactive mind, and so on.  When I first cut out wheat I was feeling better because my diet was a typical kid's diet of too many bad things, so cutting out so many bad foods all at once improved my wellbeing dramatically, as it would do anyone.  The problem was I was putting the blame and focus on food from then on because that was the only thing that had made me feel better when I was younger, and when that didn't fix it my problems didn't go away, and I made myself worse by stressing over it more and more, thus increasing the issues of the real problem.  Over time this got to the point where I was in this state of mind as soon as I'd eaten breakfast, right through to after I'd finished eating dinner, every day.  No wonder I was always tired!

I felt a real sense of relief after doing this.  For the first time in 18 years something about my suffering was finally making sense.  I can't be sure if this is the solution I've been looking for and that it will fix my problems - there could still be a genuine issue that I haven't yet cracked.  What I do know is that stressing over something does nothing for you, and if left untreated it can grow out of control and slowly take over your life without you even noticing.  It's a scary thought to think something like this can have such a dramatic impact on you, yet so many people I know let alone everyone else in the World have and still do suffer as a result of stress.

We each have our own battles to fight, and I'm still fighting this battle every day and will continue to do so until I have figured it all out.  It won't happen overnight and I don't want it to because I want to be sure that I am doing the right thing and looking after my body properly.  The difference is I will now be very aware of my stress and worry when it comes to food and instead of worrying about everything I eat, I will train my brain to stay calm and relaxed until there comes a point where my body will tell me there's a problem, rather than the other way around.

I wanted to share my story so that you can see even Health Coaches & people in this industry have their own struggles and aren't perfect human beings that have it all figured out.  None of us do.  Even with my years of knowledge, experience and education over people's health and wellbeing, and knowing a lot of things that do work to help improve people's situations, there's still a lot out there to be learned.  It's because of my own personal experience that I got in to this line of work and is why I'm so passionate about what I do.  I know a lot of people fight different forms of anxiety every day, including those associated with food, and whilst I feel it's becoming more exposed and people are talking more about it, there's still so many people fighting in the shadows.  This is especially true for us males who struggle to show vulnerability or weakness in any way.  There are no quick fixes for this type of thing and if left untreated people can go on suffering for a lot longer than they need to. 

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