So, I have a confession to make. For a very, very long time, I’ve been afraid of food. Not all foods, mostly those that I worried would 'make me fat', or as of late – sick. I can remember being a very little girl and asking my mother if I would get fat if I ate too many oranges. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t consciously thinking about everything I ate.
Many of you know I was ‘heavier’ as a child. With this came the ridicule from peers, lack of interest in sports, the fear of never having a boyfriend or even being wanted in general. But it also brought with it the introduction to a world of dieting. I don’t know how old I was the first time I was on a diet. My earliest memories of dieting were going to the local hospital for a program called “Topps” where we shared our weight loss struggles and had “secret pals” that we gave gifts to each time. I enjoyed going to these sessions with my mum, and the many more that followed – weight watchers, Jenny Craig. Etc.
I remember celebrating my willpower and when I only got crackers and cheese instead of a doughnut at the doughnut shop. I remember binging on treat foods at Christmas because it’s the one time where no one judged you for doing so. I remember basing my day/life on that number on the scale.
My weight has always been a problem for me – not in the sense of how much I weigh but a problem because it contributed to anxiety and fear around food for many, many years. I may have been the “ideal” weight but the trade-off was that I was very strict with my eating. It wasn’t until I started nutrition school that things escalated once again. I won't go into the details but you can read more about it here.
I was fearful of everything. I thought that if I had gluten I would be sick for days, I thought that a date would send me into a diabetic coma (ok a bit of an exaggeration), I thought that dairy was the root of all evil and carbs, in general, would throw me over the edge!
I had so many food rules that I couldn’t keep them all straight – and was beginning to be fearful of having lunch with friends or going out to dinner because I might eat something that would leave me feeling horrible. I was falling for the food fads. I was believing that there could actually be a way of eating that would suit everyone and forgetting what my basic training had taught me, what my intuition was telling me and what deep down we all know we’re all so deeply unique.
The real ah-ha moment for me was when I was writing an article for the Holistic Performance Institute on orthorexia and was telling my husband about it. His reply was – “So you’re writing about yourself?”. I denied it of course but then realised… maybe he was right – maybe I was heading in a dangerous direction. It was then that I realised it was time to make some changes. 2016 is the year I officially ditched the food rules. I decided to “let go” in a sense, and it felt AMAZING. Did this mean that I had given up on healthy foods? Given up coaching? Given up on myself? Hell no!! In fact, things are only getting better. I’ve let go of the fear of food. I ate that amazing Lindt chocolate truffle, I ate those crisps and guess what…. I didn’t feel awful. I felt amazing. I felt liberated. Because I’ve learned a lot over the past few years, not just about myself, but about us all – and I know that it’s not moderation that is the culprit as some health gurus will have you believe (if you eat that lolly you won't be able to stop), it’s the deprivation that causes the binges. One Sunday in 2016, I did something I never thought I’d do. I went to the greasiest local fish and chip shop and got my first fish and chips EVER. Full batter, fully deep fried and wrapped in greasy paper. I sat with my husband, I savoured every bite of food and conversation, we laughed we ate and enjoyed. I listened to my body, ate slowly and stopped when I knew I was comfortably full.
This is what I call primary foods – spending time with your loved ones and not depriving yourself of these experiences. Yes, we could have eaten somewhere else, but it was close, we were hungry and I really wanted to try it. This is also called eating intuitively – slowing down, savouring your food, and listening to your body’s natural hunger cues. I did so without any judgment or guilt. And it’s such an important step for anyone on a health journey because often the guilt –leads to binges or just plain giving up. Will I eat fish and chips twice a week now? Will I seek out chocolate bars every time I have a stressful day? No, because part of listening to my body is knowing that it won't nourish me and won't give me the energy I want to do the things I love. Does it mean I will never have it again? Are you kidding me??? I loved it! And though it’s not an everyday or every week food for me, it was something that I enjoyed sharing with my husband and sitting in the sun to eat. It really is an amazing gift to be able to listen to my body, and I feel so privileged to be able to help people do the same so that they can learn to apply some balance in their lives and still be able to enjoy the foods they love while eating well most of the time. I teach people how to truly listen to their bodies so that they eat consciously and not emotionally. I’ve created my Empowered Eating Course and some wonderful women have already learned so much about their bodies and their food triggers. I’ve been able to focus my practice on what I believe are the key elements to health. Enjoying foods that make us feel full, satisfied and energized. It’s also about changing the way we think where my experiences and training in cognitive behaviour gets put to use. We need to learn how to deal with our emotions, to stop passing judgment and guilt onto ourselves and to love both who we are and who we want to be.