For as long as I can remember, I was called fussy. I blatantly ignored food my parents prepared for me, I would come home with a full lunchbox from school, and would keep them guessing as to whether I had actually eaten that day or not. But let me loose in the kitchen on my own, or leave home alone for a few hours – and you couldn’t stop me! I was like a Tasmanian devil – cooking up a storm and eating like the unattended child I was! Mind you, my parents rarely ever had “junk” in the house – the food available was generally pretty standard (apart from the occasional McDonalds as a treat). But I simply needed to control my food and needed to have no witnesses to it.
It took me many years to start to become aware of food. I was always super aware of my body and how much I disliked myself, but didn’t seem to make the connection between food and the way I looked. Perhaps I just assumed this was the body I was given and that was it? Once I learned that what I ate and how I moved would determine the way my body looked, well, what changed? In a word, buggerall! I would still eat no breakfast, eat junk at school (to avoid my parents lunch boxes) then eat alone at home before anyone came home and then hid in my room at dinner, perhaps only coming out if I knew I could eat by myself? Food and eating was always an isolating experience – I was and still am, a bit of a One woman Wolfpack and I suppose my eating is just a part of that.
The older I got, the more sad I got. I felt out of place, alone, unsure of myself and ugly. I had gone from a happy go lucky, mischievous, sassy kid to a depressed, reclusive, angry teen. And no, this wasn’t a phase. When I was 14, I was diagnosed with depression and medicated, along with intensive anger management and therapy. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. Life sucked. And so the idea of nourishing my body and looking after myself went out the window – I did not care about me, so any semblance of eating and living well disappeared.
I stopped eating. When I did eat, it was loads of junk. McDonalds, Steers, beer, tequila, cigarettes. Food was no longer a priority – but it didn’t matter, because I was in control! That’s all I needed, my life was spiraling but hey, at least I could control this. And then all of a sudden, I couldn’t.
When I left varsity, and I started to feel a little more happier with life and myself, I started working as a bartender and then bar manager. The hours were long, I hardly ate anything and I was on my feet for several hours a day – my body wasn’t doing too bad. I felt good, but there was a niggling feeling in my head and in my heart that I wasn’t living a healthy life. I still smoked like a chimney, and my food intake was limited to a pizza or burger from work on shift and that was about it. Then I started work, and that was just around the time I discovered the gym and eating well. But I took it to the extreme once again – gymming for hours every day in any spare time I had, eating matzo crackers with hummus and cucumber and drowning my body with more than 6 litres of water a day! I am not good with moderation – it’s all or nothing. I went whole hog – and got so small that my family genuinely became concerned.
Fast forward a couple of years, and a couple of weight fluctuations, and I met my now-husband Juan. When we met, we were both well focused on our health and I was in the middle of a REBOOT. He was rocking a six pack and I was looking quite cute really! Then, we moved in together and got comfortable and I in all honesty got lazy with cooking and I reverted to the tiny meals, the hardly eating, too much booze blah blah blah.
Have you noticed how I keep mentioning that I hardly ate? That I picked? That I had one or two meals a day? While that is not untrue, the nature of the meals were not as they may seem. They were uncontrollable, they were manic, they were eaten in secret, they were rushed and I can hardly remember most of them – it’s like I went into a trance when I ate. I loved going out for dinner, lunch, breakfast – I loved food. Wait, I love food. Food was my happiness. My comfort. My release. My brain could switch off from the world, even for a brief moment. And so the more I ate, no how matter how little I assumed I did, I got bigger. I kept putting on weight. I kept training and nothing was changing. I was rebooting, I was paleo-ing, I was doing everything everyone said I should try, but nothing was changing. What the hell, body?!
I had a breakdown in February 2016. A full on platz. I was sent to a therapist who also happened to be a dietician because I was determined to figure this food thing out, as well as get my head checked. And through several sessions with her, I was diagnosed with binge eating disorder. Through more than year’s worth of exploration and tears and medication, I have acknowledged that I have never had a good relationship with food. My eating was a band-aid to all the awful feelings I had, and so I ate and ate and ate to cover up how miserable and alone I felt.
After a lot of therapy and a binge eating disorder diagnosis, I started to better understand my body and how it functioned, and that I needed to see food for what it was – simply fuel, and not a band-aid to my unhappiness.
I am going to share some tips that I have been taught over my journey that may be useful for you.
Acknowledge the feeling that comes up. Sad, depressed, ecstatic, lonely, thoughtful? It’s really helpful to equip yourself with a rich emotional vocabulary. It can be so helpful when you’re trying to notice a feeling, to be able to speak it’s name. In our coaching, we use a principle called notice and name, which is what it says on the box; noticing what you are feeling or what is up for you, and then putting a name to it. A great tool to use to help improve your emotional vocab is Plutchik’s wheel of emotions.
Once you’ve noticed the feeling, do not “velcro” to it. Simply know that is what is up for you in that moment, and allow yourself to be in that feeling until it passes. Don’t get consumed by it, because that can often lead to being swept away. A nice way to do this, is to treat your feelings like guests at a guest house – welcome them in, and then let them be and get on with whatever they need to do, and then let them go when they’re done. You can even quietly say to yourself “welcome, sadness”. Don’t judge the feeling, don’t call it good or bad, don’t fight it or try to escape it, just be with it and let it pass or change.
Give yourself a quiet moment to think whether the hunger you’re feeling is body hunger or mouth hunger. Listen and feel for some physical cues of hunger, tummy rumbles, a little fatigue, and maybe some groaning and croaking from your belly – hear and feel that, and it’s time to eat. Mouth hunger is cravings, a desire for food even though you aren’t physically hungry. Or maybe the feeling you’re feeling is making your tummy hurt and feel hollow, but not really hungry. Are you even hungry for anything at all; or are you just bored, or feel like you need to eat because it’s that time of the day? Really start to learn to understand your body, with compassion and patience. Having a close relationship with your physical body is so important to achieving a nice balance.
If you’re physically hungry, you need to eat. Find something filling, nutritious and something you will enjoy. It’s important to put it on a plate or in a bowl – some way of containing your food. If you’re eating out of a packet or picking from another plate or serving dish, you can tend to get carried away (that’s where the trance-like state comes in). Eat slowly and savour each mouthful. Enjoy the taste and texture of each bite and put your cutlery down while chewing to help you slow down. If you finish the plate or bowl, and are still genuinely physically hungry, then dish up a little bit more onto that same plate and savour and enjoy that – until you feel around 80% full. There is never any reason to eat until you’re so full you can’t breathe or move, you are going to be able to eat again in a few hours, so don’t try to make up for lost time.
If the hunger doesn’t feel like true hunger, but rather something emotionally driven, you need to spend a few moments acknowledging that feeling and as mentioned before, simply see it for what it is and let it be there as long as it needs to be. It’s also important in these moments to perhaps try and occupy your mind while you let the feeling do what it needs to do. Often times, doing something with your hands is great, and try not let it be something mindless. Try colouring in, or crochet or knitting, or even throwing a ball with a friend or family member (or even throwing it against a wall). Moments like these are also great times to get moving if you can – mindful walking is a fantastic tool! All mindful or meditative walking is simply walking while taking care to notice every step and every breath, and being really in each step you take.
This article about emotional eating is also full of helpful tips and tools.
While I have definitely not defeated my demons, I am starting to build a happier relationship with food and eating. My journey is not over and I have not reached my goals, but I am never done – I am working hard to regain my focus after my wedding and get to where I want to be.
I currently follow a basic IIFYM (if it fits your macros) style of eating, so I don’t cut anything out but rather moderate my portions and make sure I am careful with over or under eating. My training goes between at home bodyweight workouts and lifting weights at the gym. I am currently injured so I can’t lift anything heavy at the moment, but once I can – I will be back in full force.
My tips for those on their own journey –
- Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go the way you want them to. Be patient and remember this is a journey.
- Find food you like to eat and training you like to do – don’t make it harder than it needs to be!
- Find support from friends, family and the community around you.
- Read, research – educate yourself before diving into a decision.
- Love yourself – no matter how much weight you lose, if you aren’t your first priority, it will never be enough.