While on my way to class, I listened to a podcast, the topic was women and their relationship to diets and body image.
This subject has been on my mind for a while, as I recently evaluated how far I’ve come in my own disturbing path with an eating disorder and body image issues.
Talking about this has been something I’ve gone back and forth with, as one; I’m generally a very private person when it comes to many aspects of my life. And two, it requires me to be vulnerable, something I struggle with (I was raised in a family where you keep your feelings and struggles and always present yourself as strong).
Which brings me to one of the reasons that motivated me to this blog. How many other people feel the same way? I can’t be alone in this. If there’s anything I’ve learned from years in and out of therapy (another thing my family never understood), it’s that we’re never alone in our struggles. There’s always someone out there who can relate.
How it began
In my teens (and I’m pretty sure a lot of teens do this), I compared myself to every girl who seemed to have it all, above all, a “perfect” body. This led me down a destructive path, I truly believed that the only way to a “perfect” body was by restricting food, binging and occasionally even vomiting.
This continued into my early 20’s, until I went through some hard life lessons- marriage, divorce, the loss of my best friend, and major depression. In a span of four years, I gained over 100 pounds.
Early spring of 2009, I woke up. I no longer wanted to feel sick. This was also magnified after an awful eye opening visit to the doctor, the words “morbidly obese” was all I could hear.
It started with yoga. That lead to daily walks, and that led to calorie counting. At the time programs like weight watchers advertised the success of cutting calories. At first it worked, within a few months I had lost 55 pounds. It didn’t take long for calorie counting to become an obsession. I was watching every single calorie going into my body and I began exercising non-stop.
Until, it no longer worked.
Despite having lost 90 pounds in just 7 months, I was still dissatisfied with who I saw in the mirror. I continued to focus on my “flaws”. As for my diet, I began a very restrictive vegan diet, one that left me consistently hungry and tired. During this time, vegan diets became all the hype. Celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Gwenyth Paltrow, and well… everyone seemed to be selling veganism as the key to ultimate health and happiness.
Although I was starving and tired most days, I was driven by the number on the scale. Despite the number dropping, my anxiety was at an all time high. When people complimented my weight loss I would become anxious and fearful of not meeting their expectations. As a result, I’d push harder in my workouts to make sure I was living up to those compliments. Even worse, I found that when I didn’t count calories, the weight would slowly creep back. It was a vicious cycle of over exercising, under eating, and constant disappointment.
The turning point
In 2013 I began to see a therapist, she helped me realize all the toxicity that was influencing my behaviors. Living in Los Angeles, and working in the entertainment industry was adding to these unrealistic expectations for myself, above all I was very unhappy with my job and needed a change.
I moved from Los Angeles to San Diego, and spent an entire summer working on my issues. Everyday I practiced yoga, read, and cooked. Soon I began a yoga teacher training program, where I learned how to practice mindfulness. It taught me to listen to the signals my body gave me and to listen to my thoughts without judgement. This new found mindfulness spilled over onto my plate.
It quickly became obvious my body had been starving for more protein. So without judgement, I gave it what it craved. Mindfulness influenced other parts of my life. If my body was tired, I listened, and without judgment I took days off from the gym and slept.
Healing and learning to eat again
As the months went by, my body slowly healed. I’ll be honest, I still kept a rough estimate of calories in my head of what I ate from time to time (it was a habit after all, and habits take time to break). I also began to put on weight, which was mortifying. After some research, I found that my body was trying to make up for it’s years of feeling starved through restricted diets. That’s when I came across the Whole30 and the paleo lifestyle. I was intrigued, I figured I’d try it out, what could I have to lose by trying something new?
I did my first Whole30 in December of 2015 (talk about a challenge) and what I found was that after the first week, I felt incredible. After two weeks, I noticed I had stopped counting calories. Three weeks later, I no longer thought about food the way I used to, I wasn’t afraid of what it might do to me. Four weeks later, I felt unstoppable.
At the end of 30 days, I began to reintroduce foods I had previously been eating, such as grains and some sugars. I quickly learned that I have major allergies to grains, mostly I get severe sinus allergies and hives. Sugar has the worst effect on me, in addition to allergies I become very moody, very quickly. Knowing all of this, I stuck to a consistent diet of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and proteins.
Healing didn’t happen over night, it took time. For a while I experienced weight gain, and although at times it was discouraging, I pushed through. I stopped weighing myself. I focused on eating good food (especially eating enough), exercising for health (not for a weight goal), and got plenty of rest when I needed it.
Eventually I lost the weight I gained from healing, and now I’m the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been.
I worked on my relationship with food through the support of therapy, books (I recommend Melissa Hartwig’s books), research, and a community that supports my health journey. Above all, I was kind to myself and stopped comparing my journey to the journey of others.
I am enough
I’ve struggled most of my life with weight and self acceptance, and I won’t lie, there are still days when I catch myself wishing I could be thinner or more toned, but the difference now is that I quickly catch myself doing it and redirect myself to focus on all of the achievements I’ve had since I first started.
At the end of the day, I’ve learned to just say screw it, this is who I am, this is what my body looks like, and I’m pretty bad ass. I don’t count calories anymore, I don’t restrict myself (except for the stuff that actually causes true allergies which even then if I’m on vacation in Québec you bet your ass I’m going to have pain au chocolat and a poutine everyday, okay maybe not every day) I don’t over exercise, and I don’t let a scale or mirror influence how I feel about myself.