If food and I were in a Facebook relationship the status would be “It’s complicated”. That’s how I felt for many years.
Let’s go there. Let’s talk food balance and nutritional health.
Those who read my last “Keep it tight- Tuesday” blog may recall in my second photo I captioned that I am about 20 pound lighter now than most of my younger adult years.
Some of you may be wondering how, especially with the trend to gain weight as we age.
I’ve hesitated in doing a post about my personal weight loss journey because….. well numerous reasons. Firstly, I am not a dietician or a nutritionist. I am just an average 40 year old who grew up in the 80’s with a single mom whose ideals of “healthy eating” included Chef Boyardee, cheese from a can, Vienna Sausages (not even kidding), fat free everything and cheap frozen dinners. To say that my perception of healthy eating was skewed is an understatement. Secondly, part of the reason that I lost weight is frankly due to grief and loss of loved ones. Thirdly, as always, I don’t want to be judged for my personal eating opinions and practices. However, I think it is a journey that needs to be addressed. It deserves its moment.
Body image and food are a huge part of all of our lives, especially as women. We are inundated with contradictory messages, marketing and advertising from a very young age. Not to mention familial and cultural impressions. It is a complex and multi-faceted topic way beyond the scope of this blog post.
Yet, here we are. The part where I delve into my personal story of where I came from and where I am now with food.
I can recall from very early on until fairly recently having a crazy sweet-tooth. The sweeter and more sugary the better. Cake icing, ice cream, cupcakes, cookies, candy. You name it. I was an equal opportunist with an insatiable appetite. We didn’t have a lot of sweets in the house, oddly enough, because there was no shortage of other preservative laden crap posing as food. But I was always vying for my next treat.
I can distinctly remember the very day I became concerned about the way my body looked. My best friend’s older brother told me that my thighs were fat. I immediately went on a “diet”. I was 9 years old. Since that time I have spent the better part of my life grappling with body image. I have never been a person who could consume whatever they wanted in massive quantities without literally wearing it. I was not a natural athlete or interested in many sports or organized physical activities. Not that there was extra money for that sort of thing. Sure, I played all the neighborhood games, rode my bike or walked everywhere. I wasn’t a total couch potato.
Fast forward to my preteen and teenage years where I lived on junk food. I was constantly comparing my body to the models of all the teen magazines I perused regularly as well as the popular actresses of my time. In my eyes I never measured up. As 90’s grunge and heroin chic swept into popularity I took up smoking. I continued to eat like shit and was even less active. I was never what would be considered obese. But I was soft. I loathed exercise. I was looking for a fix that wouldn’t require any effort or hard work on my behalf. I wanted to look a certain way but not at the expense of sacrifice.
Throughout my early 20’s and 30’s I ventured into exercise. Weight training at the gym, classes, walking, easy cardio. I adjusted my diet minimally. I took a variety of over the counter weight loss pills and herbal remedies (Surprise! None of them work!). Though I became stronger physically, I lacked real muscle definition. I was still eating my feelings both positive and negative. Food was a comfort that I didn’t want to relinquish. I was also diagnosed with a sluggish thyroid which caused weight gain. I got pregnant and had my daughter. Post pregnancy I had a difficult time accepting the shift in my body. I was obsessed with losing my muffin top and getting my pre-baby body back.
In my mid- thirties I took up running. I wanted a new physical challenge. I thought if I introduced a more intense form of cardio into my routine I could get the physical results I craved. Running did change the shape of my body a bit but I didn’t actually lose much weight. An unexpected perk of running was that it gave me an outlet mentally and emotionally. One that I still use today.
In my late 30’s I noticed that I began to put on weight even more easily. I couldn’t eat the way I had been without repercussions. It wasn’t my thyroid, though I checked. I guess it was just part of what happens with the aging process. My metabolism, which I had always cursed and loathed seemed to be betraying me further. I was frustrated and full of self-pity.
A coworker of mine began a keto diet. Having maintained the premise that all diets were bullshit and we should enjoy food and eating. Translate that into “eat whatever and how ever much I want without consequences” I wasn’t sold. But watching her diligence and transformation motivated me to give it a go. Initially, I was doing a form of keto light. I was becoming more aware of the nutrition of what I was putting into my body but wasn’t really hardcore. I still cheated a lot! I lost some weight but not what I was hoping for. I educated myself more on nutrition and sugar and processed foods and our whole process of digestion. I implemented a “food is energy” mantra to try and control the emotional eating. But I wasn’t getting far.
It took the ultimate twist of fate to quell my emotional eating permanently and alter my relationship with food. Bizarrely enough, when my mom became gravely sick, ultimately dying I stopped emotional eating. Over the course of that time period I stopped getting hungry. I ate small amounts of protein rich, healthy foods because I knew that I needed to sustain myself calorically but any over-eating immediately resulted in protest from my digestive system. I simply couldn’t eat the way I always had because the results were me spending time in the bathroom dealing with food coming out one way or another. After her death I felt so broken that nothing could fix that void. I lost about 10-15 pound in a month. Acquaintances who didn’t know me well complimented my weight loss. “Wow! You look great! What did you do?” I sheepishly replied “Oh, I call it the grief diet.” explaining the reasoning behind my weight loss. I was happy with the way my body looked but horrified with how the change had been accomplished.
Up until this point in my life my ritual with regards to food as an emotional fix resembled something like this: “Yum! I want that! It looks so good! But I really shouldn’t. It’s not good for me. I don’t feel hungry anyway. Well, maybe just one bite. Stop eating. You’re going to feel like shit later. You are so disgusting! You have no will-power! Why couldn’t you stop after one bite?! Gross. You are such a pig! Now you feel sick to your stomach because you ate all of that.”
Overeat to fill an emotional void, shame, berate myself, hate myself, repeat.
Thankfully, this process is completely gone from my life. I wish I cold articulate exactly how, but honestly beyond describing highlights of my personal journey I am not certain how it shifted and stopped.
Since that time I have continued to educate myself and alter my nutrition habits while maintaining my exercise levels. I have also recently begun kickboxing. Some of the things that have changed for me:
- I rarely emotionally eat anymore. If I do I do not derive as much pleasure as I once did. It doesn’t work the way it used to for me.
- I finally realize what Mr. Reinvention and countless others have told me for years. What you eat is more impactful than how much or how intensely you exercise.
- I eat when I am hungry rather than based on a clock or schedule. I try to eat more thoughtfully in regards to portion size and I eat as real as possible. I stop eating when I feel full! I do not feel socially obligated or pressured to eat.
- I still stick to a keto or low carb diet. I feel great when I eat this way. I feel more energized, sharper, less bloated, less digestive issues. Overall, this way of eating is a good fit for me.
- I no longer shame or guilt myself for eating certain foods. I removed “bad” and “good” from my vocabulary with regards to food. Everything in moderation!
Overall, since my mom died I have lost about 20 pounds. I am content with where I am and I have never felt so comfortable in my own body. I love the way I look. Arriving here made me realize how long I belittled myself for the way I looked and yet refused to change my relationship with food and nutrition. I wasted a lot of years in turmoil with my body rather than appreciating my body. Ultimately, our bodies are amazing specimens! Think about all of the tasks our bodies accomplish just in keeping us alive. I love the recent cultural shift to all types, shapes, and sizes of beautiful. Finally, society is recognizing the unique forms that fit and healthy embody. I think what I finally understand is that a healthy relationship with food, wellness and physical activity is where my power and strength reside. When I resolved and reprogrammed my internal issues and triggers surrounding food, when I acknowledged my emotional eating and recognized the food fix was no longer working for me. That’s when my transformation began.
What’s your relationship with food like?