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Healing My Relationship with Food:
Three snacks and two meals a day. Eat less and move more. It seems so simple, so commonsensical, but it’s not for people like me. Mealtimes used to be a savior and a nightmare wrapped up in the same dark cloak of shame.
I no longer feel this way. I’m just shy of celebrating my third anniversary of healing a 24-year relationship with bulimia.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated the words food and exercise with losing weight. I grew up in an era where dieting and weight loss was all the rage. I didn’t know any different. Groceries were focused on fat free, low-fat and low-carb versions while manufacturers made chips with unforgiving ingredients like olestra.
It was my teenage and college girl priority to fill my mind with tricks, tips, food substitutions, when to eat and how to eat in order to lose weight. I rehearsed food rules in my head for most of my life- I know them all. Seriously, just try me.
The tricky part with all of this healthy nutritional advice has been normalizing it with my old black-and-white thinking. I’ve been carrying an extreme diet-mentality perspective in my back pocket for quite some time. I’m the one that’s made juicing, cleanses and paleo all about losing weight instead of health. I’ve had to retrain my brain to see healthier food choices as just that-healthier, not another quick-way-to-lose-weight scheme.
I’ve joined and failed Body for Life, Weight Watchers, and LA Weight Loss. I’ve dabbled with a Fit-Bit, and had half-hearted attempts with Self Magazine’s annual fitness challenges. I taped shows like “Biggest Loser” for motivation. Nothing ever worked because every endeavor was focused on the weight, not the feelings that made me want to overeat. I had a crystal clear vision of a thin, future version of myself. Life would be amazing once I was her.
My body was never enough, in fact, it was too much.
Healing my relationship with food is one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever endured. It doesn’t just get better or simply go away over time. I have to work at it all day long, every day. Each meal is a reminder to stay present. I have to pay attention because I know my old binge habits are lurking, ready to make an appearance if I’m not careful.
Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. The “not” is code for “I still overeat despite having the tools to choose differently. The difference now is that I no longer beat myself up about these moments. I don’t hold a grudge against myself for days. I don’t actively restrict my calories or stop eating past a pre-determined time so my body can “get back to normal.” I stopped judging myself.
Now I simply move onto the next meal.
I begin again without harboring all that old shame. This time I remind myself that everyone has “sketchy” days with food. I remember that I’m not alone in wanting to use food to cope with my feelings. When my eyes beg for more, I tell myself, “I get to eat again”. I celebrate the fact that I was paying attention in the first place, that I caught myself before I felt familiar regrets.
My recovery isn’t perfect, but no recovery is. No one ever told me how to make peace with food because I never asked. It seemed too shameful to share that side of myself-the one who was scared, the one who could never seem to figure out the whys but was desperate to stop. I never healed my relationship with food because I never talked about it.
For the first time, I finally see food as simply healthy or unhealthy. I take in consideration what nourishment will make my body feel most alive and more often than not, I make decisions that allow me to celebrate. If I chose to indulge, I take extra care to savor that experience. Each week I buy something that would have normally been “off-limits” and I practice relishing the flavors.
I eat what I cook for my husband instead of eating a plate of vegetables for the sake of dieting. I eat oranges and apples for desserts without stressing over how many sugars they contain. I add carrots to our salads even though I once made this vegetable a “bad food.” I allow myself to eat oatmeal, cereal, sandwiches and crackers because I now know how to add enough protein and fats to make these foods keep me fuller for longer periods of time. I no longer worry that one cup of pasta at lunchtime could “make me fat”.
It was easier to talk to friends about what I was “doing” for nutrition rather than how my feelings were driving me to overeat in the first place. No one talks about that kind of stuff! We don’t talk about it because we can’t even make sense of it in our own minds.
What’s your secret?
These are the conversations where we get straight to the point. We keep our chats at surface-level, which means we focus on the weight, the food and the exercise. This way feels natural. It’s how we’ve always talked.
We learn how others are keeping the weight off and we take notes. The focus isn’t about what tastes good, or honoring what we’re craving, or eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full. Instead, we find ourselves talking about how “good” or “bad” we’ve been and how we need to somehow get “back on track”. These phrases give me the heebie jeebies. They remind me of who I used to be.
There’s not usually room to bring up the parts of ourselves that are too embarrassing to mention. I feel alone. I want more for my life. I’m feeling anxiety about everything. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I want to find “my-person.” We might talk about how we feel insecure or unworthy but these words are just masking the deeper stuff – I feel shame and I have no idea what to do with this kind of emotion.
Healing our relationship with food starts by taking inventory of our feelings. This means getting real with someone who can help you, creating a new conversation around the people you love most, asking for support and learning that all long-term changes take loads of time, many tries, lots of new beginnings and oh so much practice!
I wouldn’t go back for anything.
JOIN AUDREY MICHEL’S VIRTUAL BLOG TOUR:
Check out yesterday’s blog post by: Amy Zellmer. Amy shares her personal experience of healing a Traumatic Brain Injury. She promotes awareness of this invisible disability wherever she goes!
And remember to check out tomorrow’s post by: Sahar Paz. She writes about honoring the feminine voice.
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