I’ve spoken briefly about my challenges in body image before, and continue to discuss them on Instagram. It’s been a long journey filled with lots of overeating, dieting, exercise trends, a therapist, books, and meditation. I’ve ridden the roller coaster of weight loss/weight gain and the varying degrees of self acceptance. I’ve had two babies with food allergies that served as a catalyst to discover foods that nourish the body. It’s been a long journey with a seemingly non existent destination. But this morning, as I listened to a podcast about intuitive eating, I was reminded that as much of a piece of my life this has been, I have yet to discuss this piece of me on the blog. Part of me wants to believe that it is behind me, so why discuss it. In reality, it is not behind me AND ALSO diet culture still has such a hold on so many people, I think discussing my own struggles is important. As a woman who’s body has been through so many changes, I am the ideal client for diet industry execs who understand the despair one can feel as our body ages. Having children can be a beautiful disaster to our hormones, and can wreak havoc on a body image that wasn’t 100% solid in the first place. The purpose of my post today is to talk a bit about my struggles with my body and the one thing that still gets me, every. single. time.
The video above is an interview I did with Diana Schieke. She is a body positive activist and amazing person as well. Diana and I met during our yoga teacher training, and we hit it off instantly. That teacher training was a difficult time for me in my journey towards self acceptance because I was adjusting to intuitive eating and gained some weight. Talking to Diana about the feelings I had and the trust I was trying to build with my body was healing for me, and so of course, I felt honored for her to invite me to be a part of her work. I recommend you watch the video as well as the others, especially if you’re stumbling onto this journey of self love and self acceptance.
After getting sober in 2000, food quickly became my substitute for drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have any of the tools I have today to deal with all of my emotions, and quite frankly, the damage I had done to myself during that time of drinking and heavy drug use. Recovery is about so much more than just ridding our bodies of the substance. There are difficulties I had to face that caused me to drink, and even more difficulties I created in the midst of the storm. I am grateful for a recovery program that offers me a way to heal, but healing takes time, and during that time, I created some other methods of escape in the form of food and shopping. Because I was young and healthy, the effects of my food abuse didn’t appear until I was a senior in college. I was the biggest I had ever been, the least fit I had ever been, and had no concept of what healthy food was. After I graduated, the buffets of college life were gone, but the dependence on cheap, fattening foods were not. I knew my addiction to fast food was a problem, but knowledge wasn’t helpful. It was like my body was in control of my mind and though I knew I shouldn’t eat that whopper, I just couldn’t stop myself. I would cry as I went through the drive thru, knowing that I would hate myself once I was done. And I just couldn’t stop.
Shortly after, I found weight watchers. And then some beginners’ version of the Keto diet. And then paleo. I also found crossfit and a group of friends as obsessed with weight loss as I was. I had a solution to my issue and a new substitute. I was no longer addicted to the food, I was addicted to exercise and the planning associated with food. I’m not sure I can even describe what I mean by the planning but my mental obsession was no longer the food itself, but more the meal and exercise planning. I know what you’re thinking. What’s wrong with meal planning, I do that every week? There isn’t an issue with meal planning such as creating a menu for your family each week. The challenge with obsessive meal planning is the rigidity, the guilt, and the extreme limits created by meal planning. I tried to eliminate entire food groups in the hopes that I would be fit. Not thin, but fit. And because my addiction to food was strong and I am a compulsive person by nature, I would fail every time. Through that failure, I would find another way to beat myself up for not being thin enough, fit enough, strong enough, or dedicated enough.
I found a therapist who specialized in disordered eating. I thought she could help me lose weight. Nancy Neal wasn’t trying to help me lose weight, though, and thank goodness for that. I couldn’t see that the issue existed in how I felt about myself, I thought it was still about the food. I saw Nancy for several years and through her care, was able to begin a journey towards self love and self acceptance. For so long, I had fought my body, hated my body, and tried to escape my body. She helped me to learn that my body is holy, a vessel for my time on this earth, and a gift. The biggest challenge I had to face, letting go of dieting, to learn how to eat intuitively. To learn that food is not good or bad, but just a form of fuel. That food is holy. Food is not the enemy. And in reality, my dieting didn’t have a damn thing to do with the food and even the weight. I was creating yet another story that led to guilt and shame. I didn’t feel worthy of love and happiness. I didn’t feel worthy of pleasure and joy. And it wasn’t until I understood that I am holy and that God loves me that I saw all of it from a different perspective. I read a life changing book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food, and God and I began to see.
Here’s the thing, this whole thing has taken me 11 years and I AM STILL STRUGGLING. I probably always will. But I’ve come a long way. The first challenge was to allow myself the freedom to eat whatever I wanted. It was hard because, at first, I freaking pigged out. I gained all kinds of weight. My biggest fear was that I would let go of dieting and I would never stop eating again. You know what, that’s exactly what I did. And whew, was that scary. It was scary but necessary. After denying my body so much joy for so long, of course it went wild. And then, I got pregnant. And gained a WHOLE FREAKING LOT OF WEIGHT. Everyone I encountered told me how big I was. I cried a whole lot because I never felt so out of control in my entire life. But I promised myself I wouldn’t diet and I knew that I had a grander purpose which was to be healthy for my baby. I had an amazingly healthy pregnancy and a relatively easy birth. I was able to breastfeed my first baby for 17 months! Then I had another healthy pregnancy and an even easier birth and breastfed that baby for 2.5 years! I am in awe of what my body has accomplished and I am so proud of this beautiful body that has helped me become something as wonderful as being a mother is. I also found through yoga (and even crossfit), that my body is strong, really strong. I’ve found through having kids that my body is healthy. I am surprised at how little we get sick, and our immune systems are amazing. I am so grateful for the body I have and all that it can do. I thank Nancy for this because it’s through her guidance that I have come to the other side.
Permissive Eating vs Restrictive Eating
I want to mention this because it has been a slippery slope for me. Geneen Roth talks about this is her book, so I won’t go too in depth, but I just wanted to mention how I struggled with these two issues. When I was restrictive, I would eliminate foods from my diet such as grains, or carbs. I wasn’t able to actually eliminate them for any length of time, though, so I would switch to permissive eating. When I was restricting, I was in planning mode. I wasn’t going to eat any sugar or chocolate or carbs or whatever. That would usually last a week or so. When I was in permissive eating mode, I deserved to eat this food (the food I was trying to eliminate), and then I would eat ALL OF THE FOOD. I would binge. I would then feel guilty for not following the plan I made, beat myself up for being weak, and then start the planning all over again. It was always an extreme.
I believe that I will always teeter between these two modes but to less varying degrees. And I don’t beat myself up anymore. My focus isn’t cutting things out of my diet as much as making sure I am fitting in certain parts that I think are important such as greens, water, and balance. Then I’ll have a day like yesterday where I will eat everything in sight. And then I’ll have a different day where I’m much more in tune with my body. Both are okay, and both are normal.
As I stated above, both of my kids had good sensitivities. Ellie had issues with dairy, soy, and gluten so I had to eliminate those things from my diet while breastfeeding her. Alex had issues with dairy, soy, and corn and I eliminated those from my diet while breastfeeding him. After I weaned him, I felt free to do whatever I wanted so I did what I’ve done in the past which is binge on the things I haven’t had in a while. I gained some weight and my face broke out in a crazy way, which made me pause and look at what I was doing. I think it’s important to allow myself the freedom to eat what my body wants, even if in the short term it seems like a mistake. Here’s the thing, I am building a bond between myself and my body again. I am having to show my body that it can trust me again. I have to show it that I will let it eat what it wants, and also, I will not eat so much that it feels sick. I have to remind my body that I love it, I trust it, and I will always listen to it, even if it goes against what I’ve recently read about sugar or heard about carbs. Because I’ve made it that promise, and stick to it for the most part, it guides me in the right direction.
How do I manage it now? When I am in alignment, meaning, when I am feeling good and in my highest vibration, picking foods that I love and make me feel good are easy. How do I get there? My daily tasks for alignment are meditation, yoga, and a solid morning routine that includes staying away from my phone. I must have a strong connection with others and I try to do daily affirmations (just call me Stuart Smalley). I’m not there every day, and I don’t always do the best in eating healthy foods, but I refuse, flat out freaking refuse, to EVER, EVER EVER EVER, diet again. And I flat out refuse to continuously binge on food ever again. Because both are a violation of the agreement I’ve made with my body and I hold that relationship in too high regard to do that.
What’s happening when I overeat? The main feeling I get when I feel like I can’t stop is FOMO. This tastes so good, I feel like I’m never going to get to eat it again so I have to eat it all right now. I think that’s some residual effects of all of the restriction I’ve done in the past and I don’t know if it’s ever going to go away. If I can eat mindfully, without a lot of distractions, actually taste and enjoy the food I have, that usually doesn’t happen. And if it does, I just say, that’s okay, I love myself anyways and I can start over at the next meal. I also make sure to eat frequently because if I get too hungry, it’s over. There is potential to eat the entire table, chairs and all, so yeah, let’s not get hangry.
It’s been a long journey towards loving myself so I wanted to list a couple of resources below that have helped me along the way. If you’re struggling too, please feel free to contact me as I am an open book and will help in any way that I can.
Women, Food, and God Geneen Roth
A Return to Love Marianne Williamson
Radical Acceptance Tara Brach
The Untethered Soul Michael A Singer
A Life Worth Breathing Max Strom
Healthy Habits, Healthy Moms
Truth Telling with Elizabeth Dialto
The Lively Show Jess Lively
Sharing this depth of my struggle is a little scary, so I hope someone out there can identify with this. I think it’s important to note that disordered eating doesn’t JUST include anorexia and bulimia, but can exist in even the smallest thought such as “I have to run 3 miles today so that I can eat a piece of pie later”. It’s considered such a norm in our society that those thoughts are revered, when in reality, those thoughts are dangerous. Food is not our enemy and being thin (or extremely fit) is not necessarily our friend. Self love and self acceptance are everything, and that can happen at any stage and/or any weight.