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How I Learned to Love Food and Stop Hating My Body

True to my nature I’ve put this particular blog post off for a while. Not because I’m a procrastinator, but simply because I feel like I need certain pieces in place when sharing thoughts from deep inside. I am an open book, but as an educator I always wonder if my “credentials” are enough. Pretty much every time I become passionate about a topic I feel like I need to go receive some “official” certification or education on the topic to enable me to share. But, the truth is, that regardless of my results or education, this is my story. This is my wonderful, beautiful, scary, sad, lovely story… and I’ve determined I don’t have to be at the end of it with some particular degree under my belt to share it.

Six months ago I came to terms with the fact that I have battled an eating disorder for nearly my whole life. Due to my limited understanding of eating disorders I never categorized it as such before, because, well, I figured I was just like every other woman. I was overly concerned about what I ate, how my body looked, and generally filled with some form of bodily hatred. But, given my experience in the world of women, this is pretty normal. I mean, for most women, complaining about our bodies is a bonding point… a rite of passage… a community building topic… so how could I possibly go as far as to say I had an eating disorder?

But, irregardless of other women’s experiences, mine was not a healthy experience. I can’t remember the last time I put a bite of food in my mouth without over-analyzing it. Seriously, I can’t remember a SINGLE meal that didn’t stir up a level of emotional connection that simply wasn’t healthy. My feelings would fall into one of three categories:

Healthy eating feelings: “Look at me doing so well. I’m going to lose weight and look great again. I can do this. I can learn to love these foods only and forget sugar and fast food and all that other stuff. No food tastes as good as skinny feels. I’ve got this! I don’t need to eat any more. The hunger will go away. I’ll eat some more spinach or something. I don’t need that thing I’m craving. Cravings are just weakness. I’ll starve it out. This is good. I’m good.”

Gluttonous eating feelings: “I can’t do this anymore. I hate my body. It won’t respond to healthy eating anyway so why bother. I will have to be perfect tomorrow to make up for this. I hate my body. I hate my metabolism. I hate my genes. This tastes good but I know it’s terrible. I’m really sad. I’m really mad. I give up. This is bad. I’m bad.”

Normal eating feelings: “How many calories are in this? How many carbs? How much fat? How much protein? Is this nutrient dense? How much do I need to work out to burn this off? If I eat this now what type of food do I need to eat for my next meal? How long do I need to wait? If I eat this will it justify eating that? What additives are in this? Is this organic? What oil was this cooked in? Does this count as good or bad?”

That’s just a sampling of the kinds of things that would run through my mind. But in short, food was not just food. Food was my life. Food was my indicator of how well or poor I was doing. Food consumed my thoughts. Food, at times, was my identity.

At home I was restrictive to a fault. Green smoothies would be one of my only meals throughout the day. Maybe some leftovers from the paleo meal the night before. Dinner was massive because I was starving, but always as healthy as I could make it. When friends came over or we went out to dinner I would eat pretty much anything I wanted. I’d swing so far to the other side because I had no will power outside of my perfectly stocked refrigerator or pantry. I wanted a tiny bit of joy and food would provide that. But, not without a cost. Guilt that would hang on me like a cloak for hours, or even days, afterwards.

I got on the scale EVERY day. I measured my body fat EVERY week. I analyzed and critiqued my body in my full length mirror multiple times daily. I critiqued my body and eating in self talk every time I made a plate of food.

Food was love. Food was hate. Food was reward. Food was punishment. And my body was an emotional punching bag.

Through all this, my assumption was that it was normal.

Then, about 16 months ago, my body crashed. For dietary, physical, emotional and spiritual reasons which I will share in a future post, I crashed. I began rapid weight gain that I could not control. I cut calories, worked out, took supplements, but the scale kept going up and up and up. The year before this had shown mild weight gain that I’d blamed on pregnancy. Granted, I had never before gained this much weight in pregnancy, but I tried not to fret.

So, after an 80 pound weight gain, I gave up.

I’d been working with an amazing dietitian for a few months who’d been helping me on and off the clock with suggestions. Some of the resources she’d shown me led me to a place where I was ready for a real change. The book, “The Slow Down diet” also started to shift the way I viewed food and my own relationship to it.

As I let go of the calorie counting, paleo pounding, weight obsessed, food restricted, self loathing way I’d been living, the blinders came off and I realized how unhappy I was. I would call myself a foodie, but was I really? Did I even like food? Seemed like I considered food a mortal enemy.

I stopped obsessing so I could heal.

I stopped weighing and measuring. I stopped checking ingredients. I started giving into cravings with reckless abandon… not to fill an empty place emotionally but simply to feed my starving body. I stopped caring about how I looked. I decided that I’d rather be happy than skinny.

A few weeks in to my healing journey I found the cravings I’d been fighting for 17 years began to dissipate. I didn’t care about the cookies in the pantry or the fast food on my way home. I didn’t want it anymore. I noticed my cravings turned to all the good things my dietitian had been encouraging me to eat (those high calorie, high sugar enemies I’d been avoiding). Orange juice, ice cream, cheese, fruit, jello, chocolate milk, seafood… oh my oh my… the deliciousness I allowed in my life was so much better than the junk food I used to crave on my way home from a class… but it filled me up in a real tangible way.

My panic attacks went away shortly thereafter. My fast food cravings went away. My morning hunger returned and my evening hunger lessened. My muscle tone improved. My thoughts improved. My mood improved. My sex drive improved. My energy improved. And I began to enjoy food… really enjoy it. Not with a caveat thought that this food made me good or bad… but just enjoy it.
I gained another 20 pounds *gasp*… but I felt healthy again. I stopped hanging onto my skinny clothes and began to release anything that made me doubt my beauty or worth. I rejoiced in my improved mood rather than a number on the scale.

Now, did all concern for weight go away? Of course not. I still had a hope to look as healthy as I felt one day, but I decided that I was ok with that being a process.

About two months ago I started measuring again. But this time, it was merely to observe all possible changes, and not to let the scale control things. Now my measurements consist of body temperature, skin complexion, stress level, and all of the other physical measurements I used to take. I’m looking at myself through a “whole person” lense and celebrating more than scale losses. I’m celebrating brighter skin. I’m celebrating less moments of depression. I’m celebrating more strength. I’m celebrating quicker thinking. And, after over a year of “letting it go” I’ve been celebrating a move downwards on the scale and body fat measurements.

But… that isn’t the point… and that’s why I’ve decided to share.

I originally wanted to wait til I’d “lost the weight” to share my story. Not because this would be my most important success element in this story, but because I assumed that’s all people care about. Well, maybe it is. Maybe you can’t imagine ever “allowing” weight gain. Maybe you look at your body the way I used to. Well, that’s why I’m sharing this…

If you are someone like I used to be… someone who can’t remember ever loving food or loving your body… someone who feels like you have to fight your body rather than live in your body… please hear me.

The number on the scale is NOT the measure of your worth.
Food is meant to be enjoyed.
Your body is beautiful no matter what size you wear.
If you are not happy with yourself now, you will never see a number on the scale that will make you truly happy.
You can decide to do whatever it takes to be happy and healthy, even if that means weight gain at first.
Let go and begin to heal.