I’ve kept a lot of journals over the years. 🙂 I find writing to be magically therapeutic for processing some of the crazy stuff that goes on in my brain. The words in many of these books serve as a reminder to me that there is a way through anything that feels hopeless.
I don’t tend to talk about my history of struggling with food, eating and body image. But I feel like it’s worth digging up old (painful) memories and sharing because I talk to people ALL the time who are dealing with what I’ve spent years going through. If it can give someone hope, then it is well worth it to open up. ♥
I really believe it helps to have firsthand experience to best relate to and help others. While on the surface it may appear that dietitians and nutritionists have healthy relationships with food, for many of us it hasn’t always been that way. This is often what brought about our passion for this field in the first place.
Remember back to the freedom of being a kid with no food stresses? I do. I ate what was put in front of me and food wasn’t anything that took up much brain space. On the occasional trip to McDonald’s I was much more excited to get the toy that came in the Happy Meal than the food itself…
Notice the stylish Dr. Scholl’s clogs of the 70s !
For those with eating and body image issues, there comes a time when that shift from freedom to preoccupation or even obsession occurs. Most people can remember when it happened and what was going on in their life at the time. It could have been triggered by something as unassuming as a comment from a stranger or it could coincide with something traumatic. For many people it was their first diet that started out innocently enough but then snowballed into an eating disorder.
When I went off to college I decided that I wasn’t thin enough. Dieting led to overeating which led to even lower self-esteem and feelings of failure and depression. At the time I thought there was something wrong with me. I now know that diets are the gateway into eating problems for most people. Once you stop listening to your internal hunger and satiety cues, your system goes off-track.
My life was a nightmare. I hated myself and my body and I felt like I had no control around food. I had absolutely no clue about nutrition and eating to support my health– it was all about trying to eat the least amount of calories– and then wondering why I would get so out-of-control hungry.
Hindsight truly is 20/20. I can see all the things that were wrong about how I was eating, what I was eating and my entire mindset about life in general. If only I had a dietitian to work with me back then. I know I would have freed myself of my food and body image agony.
What finally helped get me out of this? I began thinking about what was really important to me and the type of person I wanted to be. Gradually my emphasis on weight changed to health, happiness and kindness and I embraced veganism. I began reading not only about the ethical reasons to avoid animal products but also the health reasons. (Some of which I now know are highly debatable 🙂 ) Regardless of whether beef was going to give me cancer or dairy throw my body into a state of inflammation, one thing did begin to sink in and make sense: Humans are designed to eat real food. More actual plants, less sugar and flour. And hunger is normal and natural and something to pay attention to rather than fight. My diet improved a little and my binges lessened but I still had a long way to go.
What also helped me turn the corner was really understanding food’s impact on the body and mind, and deciding that I wanted to be healthy and respect my body. That would mean not eating a lot of the crap I had been eating– sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, “vegetable” oils– while also eating more whole foods. And so I became a healthier vegan. I felt great and while most of my family and friends couldn’t understand how I could not want to eat animal foods, I stuck to my beliefs for about 12 years.
Veganism worked for me… until it didn’t. First, a test result from a research study that I participated in came back showing deficient levels of omega-3 fatty acids. I incorporated fish into my diet for about a year and a half. Then I began noticing that I wasn’t feeling so great and that’s when I figured out that my iron was very low. I began eating meat and other animal products again. (You can read about my vegan to omnivore transition here.)
It’s been quite the journey, but I am now connected to my body so that I know which foods make me feel my best. I have found that balance where wholesome foods make up the majority of my diet– but I also give myself unconditional freedom to eat whatever I want if I really want it. I’ve reached a place where I can accept my body for what it is and I’ve stopped trying to change it.
Food and my body are no longer the main story line in my mind and my journals aren’t filled with restrictive diet plans, food logs and obsessions about how I don’t look the way I think I should look. While a journal is a helpful place to vent about your troubles, it can’t replace talking to someone who’s been there, who will listen to you and who wants to help. Nobody’s journal entries should look like mine did.
You aren’t alone and you don’t have to do this alone. I’m proof that when you feel trapped in an emotional hell with food, eating and can’t stand being in your own body…it CAN be overcome and you CAN find peace. ♥
Love. Connection. Respect. Kindness. Gratitude. Trust. Presence.
Cultivate these within yourself and you’ll find your freedom.