At the risk of making myself vulnerable, I wanted to share with you a little more about the weight issues I’ve held onto for most of my life in hopes that by sharing my story and what I’ve learned, you too can find not only food freedom but food forgiveness as I have.
Most of you know that I struggled with weight loss as a child. I had been on as many diets as I was old. I had zero self-esteem thanks to other kids on the playground, and food to me was a symbol of love from parents who had so much for me. I can remember all those times I stood on the scale, which would be followed by either celebration, depression or determination to never let it happen again.
Then, when I was 12, I became a vegetarian and shortly after that I had my first job which involved a whole lot of walking and biking. These two things combined helped me lose weight and I was smaller than I had ever been. Unfortunately, I was still “that little fat girl on the inside” and this remained the case for years to come afterwards. This means that though I was physically thin, I still saw myself as a ticking time bomb of weight gain and everything I ate revolved around an intense fear of gaining weight. I had body dysmorphia which meant that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see the same person others did. And with every inch that my pants tightened – the person I saw in the mirror ballooned.
My self-confidence continued to be low and fuelled me into some self-destructive behaviours through university including alcohol abuse and unhealthy relationships. For me, alcohol gave me the freedom to let go and the confidence to go out and have a good time without being self-conscious or insecure. I also looked for others to make me feel good about myself rather than finding that compassion from within.
There was a time shortly after, where I was restricting what I ate to the extreme. I was counting every calorie – not because I wanted to lose weight but because I was so afraid of gaining it. I was a vegan for a short time, which for me was simply another form of restriction. I thought – there’s no way I could ever gain weight on a vegan diet because it cut out so many foods. And I didn’t, but my confidence didn’t improve.
Later, for convenience sake, I reintroduced dairy and eggs and things went well for a while, I was happy in my own skin and wasn’t worrying about what I ate. I simply ate for enjoyment. I didn’t weigh myself, didn’t even own a scale. It was the furthest thing from my mind. This went on for several years and my self-confidence solidified as I spent a lot of time alone, travelling and learning to enjoy my own company. Later, I found a man who treated me like gold but the real kicker wasn’t that he made me feel good, it was that I was at a point where I felt good even on my own.
Then, two things happened and everything changed.
1. I weighed myself. A couple of years ago, I started at a gym. When I signed up, I weighed myself and then in a months time I did the same. This had been the first time I had been on a scale for years. Turned out since starting my exercise routine I had not only put on weight but somehow gained body fat (I’m still not convinced about the quality of the measuring devices) but what it did to me was send me spiralling all the way back to my childhood. Suddenly the old fears surfaced again. I was freaking out about pants being tighter, looking at myself in the mirror a little too much, and I was becoming fearful of food again.
2. I started studying nutrition.
Roughly around the same time – I began my studies at IIN. Because I was studying hundreds of dietary theories, each one seemed to be the holy grail of weight loss and health. I wanted to try them all, convinced each was best for me. I was a raw vegan, macrobiotic, low carb, high carb, and everything in between. I tried them all. But the panic was still there, the self-esteem was low and my energy levels were suffering.
Thanks to that one weigh-in – my health deteriorated for a good year afterwards. I became afraid of food, just as I had been when I was younger.
A lot has happened in the past year and I’m happy to say that I am once again at a place of self-acceptance.
I believe I have found the holy grail when it comes to health but before I share it, I want to share with you how my thinking has changed.
I went through phases where I believed that we had to completely omit certain food groups to be healthy whether it be meat, eggs, grains or even sugar.
I believed that weight loss was an important part of being healthy and that in order to be healthy we had to be a certain size.
I believed that there were special foods that promoted weight loss and that my former programs helped because they weren’t diets they were just “healthy eating”. What I realised was that though these programs work amazingly for some – for emotional and problematic eaters, it was no different than simply going on another diet!
I have also learned is that being thin doesn’t always equal health or happiness that health is much more complex than that.
I totally understand where it’s all come from, however. Just look at magazines and TV ads. Healthy people are portrayed as being thin, muscular, brilliantly happy and flawless. It’s no wonder we’re convinced we’re not healthy if we don't in some way resemble those people. But look around. How many people do you see around you that fit those types? Do extremely thin people actually look well and healthy? Do you think they would have survived evolutionarily?
I glanced at some magazines while waiting at the Auckland airport and sure enough, everywhere you look it’s “How to lose weight” “How to look like ___” So- called health “guides” are playing on your fears in order to sell magazines and products. They make you think that you need to lose weight and that by buying their magazine you will learn everything you need to make it happen.
Not only that but there is such fear around not being in the perfect state of health. We are told we can always be healthier. That we have to fear disease 24/7 and that this food or that food will give you cancer and this one or that one will not. These are multi-BILLION dollar industries! They make money on your fear of not being healthy enough or not being skinny enough. They are preying on our self-esteem and I am yet to meet someone who went on a restrictive diet and made lifelong sustainable changes. Diet’s not only don’t work for the long run – but they are one of the many drivers of weight gain.
We’re becoming afraid of so many things. Fearing food, fearing the sun, fearing even each other and I’m starting to see it for the madness that it truly is.
What we’re losing is that intrinsic ability to not only self regulate but to truly listen to our body. To be able to ask yourself – how do I feel? And base our choices on that and not on a number or how society tells you you should feel.
Since starting The Empowered Eating centre I have always discouraged dieting, I was always encouraging crowding in whole food and encouraging cooking more and spending more time doing the things that we love.
What has changed this year however is that manifestation of fearing food. Yes, omitting sugar may make you feel better but does that mean it has to be demonised? Is it healthy to refrain from eating out altogether because you’re fearful it might have gluten contamination (and you’re not even intolerant?), Is it healthy to eat less veggies because you’re fearful of pesticides and only choose organic? Will carbs instantly make us fat? Or is it part of a bigger problem? Are legumes and grains toxic? Will sitting too much kill you? I admit, I got caught up in it all for a while but am now in a place where I hope many of you can join me. A place I like to call food freedom but also food forgiveness. It’s a place where we can strive to eat well because it makes us feel awesome – and allow ourselves some foods that are purely for satisfaction.
I fear this has turned into a bit of a rant, So where am I going with all this? Well, I’m angry that I have fallen for the empire that is the weight loss industry for so long, and an industry that creates fear of the very thing that keeps us alive.
There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” foods nor are you a “bad” person for eating a particular food. No, that piece of chocolate cake will not make you fat any more than a salad will make you thin – but it will make you happy, even for a short time and so it should be celebrated simply because you enjoyed it, rather than being a bad food that means you “blew it” because we all know where that leads.
I’ve had some time to sit back and take a breath and realise once again that I need to go way back. Back to the basics of eating as well as we can because it makes us feel good, and back to listening to our body and our hunger levels so we can self regulate. It’s a time where we don’t deprive ourselves but instead listen to what our body needs and being able to tell the difference between foods that nourish and foods that don’t make us feel awesome.
I want to be able to provide the right support for the people who visit my office so that the changes we make will last a lifetime rather than a healthy blast. My focus is now to help those who have been where I have been. To help people that have been fearful of food but also using it as an emotional crutch. Those who have deprived themselves for too long and are ready to enjoy all that life and nourishment have to offer. Those people who weigh themselves too much and can’t pass by a mirror without some critique. Those who have tried it all and can’t seem to make it stick.
Lastly, I hope to help those who are tired of the propaganda, rules and dogma and who just want to eat and enjoy life again. That's what Empowered eating is all about.