Closer to What I Really Want: Changing My Disordered Eating

I’m going to preface this piece by stating I am not a healthcare professional. I’m not a doctor or a counselor. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not even a personal trainer anymore. What I am about to share is not meant to be advice. It is simply my experience and my personal perspective. If a reader gleans some feeling of understanding, then it will have served its purpose. Also, this could very well be one of my longer diatribes…please bear with me.

Until recently, I would never have considered myself in the category of having an eating disorder. I don’t think anyone who knows me would either.

I’ve not been in the practice of binging or purging. I’ve always had an appetite, and for the most part, I’ve satiated it. But I’m learning disordered eating is complex. There are millions of women (and men) who live each day with fear and anxiety related to food, eating, and body image. And I’m learning…I was one of them.

As I’ve aged, my body has changed with the side effects of dealing with injuries, multiple surgeries, pregnancies, childbirth, hormonal imbalances, and more. *All pretty par for the woman’s life course, I’d say. With these changes, the internal dialogue in my head and how I perceive my body also changed.

Let’s go back in time for a quick minute.

In my twenties, I worked as a personal trainer. I helped countless clients meet fitness goals during those years. There were parts of my job I truly enjoyed…and other parts I found draining, frustrating, and in general, not-good for my own wellbeing.

I won’t get too specific. Suffice to say, the magnifying glass placed on professionals who are paid to give diet and exercise advice is intense. And in some cases, like with me, it can encourage unhealthy behaviors.

There was an almost three year period of my life when I didn’t eat french fries. Like…not one.

Now, not eating something because you don’t like it, you’re allergic or intolerant, or because you simply don’t want to eat it, is one thing.

I told myself the reason I refused to eat french fries (among other foods) was simply because they are chalk full of trans fat, drenched in salt, and composed of empty, nutrient depleting calories. All true. What I didn’t admit to myself, and certainly NEVER to anyone else, were the other thoughts that went into my french fry abstinence…

What if one of my clients sees me eating bad food! Only a hypocrite counsels others to avoid such bad foods, yet eats them. French fries are the kind of bad food that make a person unhealthy. Bad foods are what make a person FAT…. 

Are you seeing a pattern?

Bad food = Bad Person. Fat Person = Bad Person

I just wrote that. And I’m leaving it there. Yep. Said it. Claiming it.

I admit to the outrageously high level of twisted, ugly, false thinking of my past. And my sincere apologies if my confession is hurtful or offensive to anyone reading. But, this is an exercise in honesty. And those thoughts went though my mind…often.

Of course, in my mind, the only fat person who was also a bad person was…me. Yes, I was that self-centered. I think most people are when it comes to body image.

That kind of thinking, and a decade of body changes as a result of the life events I’ve already mentioned, eventually led to the birth of The Head Wench and the better part of five years spent perpetually fighting with myself to “be good,” “be clean,” and “be healthy.”

Bouts of what I would call depression followed me whenever I had to don a swimming suit, spend time with my “thin” friends, or after I indulged in “bad” food and/or not enough exercise.

I HAD to eat a certain way and exercise a certain way in order to feel good about myself.  I spent a large amount of my time feeling like a failure for not living up to the standard I’d created in my head. And there was no end to my imaginings. I could always be better, stronger, leaner…

I wasn’t good enough, and in hindsight, in that frame of mind, I never would be.

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Hubby and I are trying to be funny in this picture, but leading up to this vacation there was strict diet restriction, extra time at the gym, and certainly anxiety about looking fit in my swimwear. None of which made the vacation any more enjoyable. Good grief, at the time, I thought my abs weren’t defined enough, my arms flabby, my ass too wide, and my cellulite disgusting. Dumb. Believe it or not, at almost eight years older and roughly 35 lbs heavier, I would enjoy this vacation so much more NOW. There is power and peace in learning to unconditionally love yourself.

 

This story is nothing new. I believe there are millions who share it, or something similar. It has taken A LOT of honest self reflection and learning to see the mind-bending bullshit I was feeding myself for what it was—total crap.

I could write for days about all of this, but I’m going to cut to the chase.

I know what I really want out of life. And that list is comprised of things like…

Memorable experiences with people who are important to me. Fun and laughter…lots and lots of laughter. Peace and contentment with who I am. And most of all, love…more love—true, unconditional love.

Living in a place where I’m obsessed with food—whether it is good or bad, and whether it makes me good or bad, and living in a mental space where what I look like and how that measures up to some societal standard of “healthy” or “beautiful” determines my goodness (my worth), only takes me further from what I really want.

For the last eighteen months, I’ve been focusing on moving my body—exercising, not as punishment for what I’ve eaten or will eat, done or not done, and not as some kind of pathway to being “good.” Instead, I exercise because there is little else that makes me smile more than spending time working out with my friends. I exercise because the peace I experience playing outdoors is second to none. I exercise because part of who I am will always identify with sports and athletics, and I especially love that part of myself. And, finally, I exercise because it keeps me sane and helps me parent with far less anger and fewer “mom has lost her shit” moments.

As for food, I’m getting ever closer to it being…just food. Not good, not bad…just…food.

I eat what I want to eat. Either I like it, and I eat it. Or, I don’t like it, and I don’t eat it. I’m paying attention to how foods make my body feel—separate from how they used to make me feel on an emotional level. Not, is it worth the…calories, necessary workout to negate, guilt, muffin top or cellulite? But, is it worth how my body will react to digesting it? Will it make my body feel nourished?

It seems so simple.

I’ll tell you, if ever there was an example of easier said than done, I’d say this one fits the bill. At least, that has been my experience. It’s a steep uphill fight to re-train my mind and re-create my thought patterns. I still stumble…often.

This simple practice is called intuitive eating, or mindful eating. It’s a bit of a buzz word right now, although it’s nothing new. It’s basically common sense. But that is something we rarely use anymore. Am I right?

Here’s the thing…

This moving for pleasure and enjoyment, and eating intuitively…it’s brining me closer to what I really want.

I am living with less time and energy wasted obsessing about food and/or exercise, which in-turn has led to less time and energy wasted on negative thoughts about myself. And that has opened the door for more time and energy at peace, with laughter and love, shared with people who are important to me…including…me.

 

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I’m looking forward to more peaceful moments like this as a result of climbing mountains both literal and figurative…I’ll get there one step at a time.