Like so many young women, I struggled with body image through most of high school and college. I was by no means overweight but between media and listening to other girls (particularly my fellow athletes) talk about their weight and disgust with themselves, my relationship with food quickly became a destructive force in my life. The summer before my junior year, one of the girls I coached gymnastics with went on a diet. She was a tall, thin, beautiful blond. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, if she thinks she is overweight, what does she think about me?” I started dieting that very day.
My diet soon morphed into something more like anorexia—challenging myself to eat less than 1,000 calories while training for 4-5 hours per day. Then one day my body screamed, “EAT CHILD!” and my brain screamed back “NO! DON’T LISTEN!” My body won out and I started eating, and eating, and eating…until I felt like my stomach would rip through my skin. To get rid of the food I found various ways of purging. This cycle of starvation and binging went on for the next 5 years (yep. BIG ugly BULIMIA).
I’m now 27 and my relationship with food is so different than it was 10 years ago. Those years of disordered eating were really tough, but looking back, I’m glad I went through it. In all that torment, I thought about food a lot. I read anything I could about how different foods affected the body. I discovered parts of me that had been hiding and learned to recognize the desire to binge as a symptom of a much deeper need. I went on so many “diets” that now I know they are almost all bullocks.
If someone told me on the other side of that long, dark tunnel there was freedom and pleasure in food, I would have thought they were crazy. If they told me I’d be in a place where food excites me rather than frightens me, I would have laughed in their face. I have absolutely no clue how many calories I eat in a day. I don’t cry on Thanksgiving because all the tormenting food. I’m no longer tempted to eat the whole bag of snickers.
Food torments so many people in North America. There’s two opposing forces battling for our souls—neither of them healthy and both of them based on pure greed. The two forces I’m speaking of are the food industry and the diet industry. Americans spend an estimated $40 million a year on weight-loss programs and products yet about 1/3 of Americans are still obese. If we’re spending so much money to lose weight, why are we getting fatter?
Here’s what I think part of the problem is:
Most diet programs deprive your body of nutrients—leaving you feeling tired and unsatisfied. Many focus solely on calories in vs. calories out. This kind of thinking is way too simple for our complex bodies. The food industry plays on this, creating “100 calorie” snack packs and putting, “A No Fat Food” on things like red vines. If your mid-afternoon snack is a 100-calorie back of cheez-its, you’re body is going to be angry. You’re probably going to be really hungry (causing you to over eat later) and your energy levels are going to dwindle. Still other diet plans seek to cut out or severely limit crucial macronutrients (ie. Atkins).
Either way, your body is saying, “YO! NOURISH ME!” but you’re hearing, “I’m a big fat failure, I’m just going to eat this container of rainbow chip frosting.”
Alternative Approach: Forget about counting calories or how many carbs you’re eating. That’s right, calories aren’t your master! Start focusing on eating nutritionally rich foods. When you give your body all the nutrients it desires, you will feel satisfied. This is your cue to stop eating. I eat some pretty calorie dense foods—nuts, oils, seeds, avocado, and the sorts. They satisfy my need for nutrition and keep me from over consuming.
Overtime you’ll learn to listen and respond to your bodies hunger and satiety signals (this doesn’t come natural to many of us anymore because our relationships with food have become so hectic). You’ll still overeat from time to time (I DO!) but you’ll just laugh it off and move on with your day.
When we begin to see food as something to nourish, heal, and energize instead of a big scary demon trying to destroy us, we start desiring life-giving foods!
But how do I get from here to there?
The journey from the insecure teenage girl with an eating disorder to the confident young woman with a passion for food and health has been a bumpy one. I didn’t transform over night—it’s a process. I view eating as an incredibly intimate activity. Putting something in my body that will become part of my flesh is a pretty big deal. Because it is such a big deal to me, I read about it, watch movies about it, think about it, and talk about it a lot. With every bit of new information I receive, I filter it through what I know about myself and the world and make a decision to either adopt a new habit or continue what I’m doing.
If you want to change the way you eat;
- Start slow
- Educate yourself about food
- Don’t just follow conventional wisdom blindly
- Start by making small, sustainable changes to your diet
- Phase in the healthy life giving stuff first, then phase out the other stuff
- Spend time with other people who are making healthy choices
- Think about why you eat.
- Don’t strive for “perfection”, you’ll be disappointed.
- Forgive yourself
- Enjoy every last bite.
Okay, I put it out there. I threw out taboo words such as “bulimia” and “eating disorder” into the cyber world for all to see! I’m sure some of (if not all of) my readers have probably experienced some type of disordered eating habits at one time or another. I’d love to hear about your journeys with food! Leave a comment or send me a personal e-mail!