Wellbeing Tips

How I Am Overcoming A Toxic Relationship With Food.

If you currently have a toxic relationship with food or an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone. It’s okay to ask for help or admit that you don’t feel like yourself anymore. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.

Before I delve into my story and share some tips which have worked for me on my journey back to health, I just want to say that it is not an easy road to recovery. It’s a daily choice to choose health over deprivation. Whether you have a diagnosed eating disorder or it has been something that you have concealed from others, I hope you find something of value in this article.

My story.

My issues started when I was bullied in year 7 and year 8. I thought I looked fine but my best friend at the time pulled me aside on the oval and told me: “I was talking to my mum about your weight and she thinks your overweight.

That was 15 years ago and I still remember that moment like it was yesterday. That comment was completely unsolicited and it stripped me of my self-confidence in an instant. I tried to shake it off but it made me think differently about my size and how I looked.

Also in year 7, there were boys who pretended to flirt with me and I overheard them saying I was ugly and fat. Blow number two.

In year 8, I got braces and due to constant bullying, I had a lot of the year off school. This was when my toxic relationship with food began to become a habit. I would not eat foods, making the excuse that they would get stuck in my teeth and I began to lose weight.

Fast forward a few years and I began to discover exercise, not for well-being or movement but for losing weight. I became obsessed with cardio and worked out everyday. Any time I missed a day, I felt so guilty and would punish myself by reducing my food intake.

I also discovered calories and began to count them. I would take minimal food to school and felt constantly hungry but I told myself it was okay because being skinny was more important.

When I was old enough to go out clubbing, I would have a small dinner and barely eat during the day because I knew alcohol had a lot of calories. There were times when I would binge eat uncontrollably and I felt immense guilt. I’d hope on the scales and feel disgusted with myself and I felt stressed when I realised how many calories I had consumed. I didn’t look at the macro or micro nutrients, it was all about calories.

I refused to eat pasta, pizza or burgers and refused desserts because of the calories. I cooked from cookbooks that had the nutritional information and scanned packets at supermarkets. I weighed my food and googled calories for foods that didn’t have a wrapper.

In 2011, when I first started at University, I decided that in order to maintain control of the foods I was eating that I would create a work document. I created a table with 7 columns and 5 rows so I could write down what foods I would eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks each day. At the start of each week I would plan out my meals and if I didn’t go according to my schedule, I got angry.

When mum cooked big meals, I got angry. When I was offered dessert like apple pies or apple crumble, I got angry. When my mum and dad lovingly raised concerns about my weight and food habits, I would snap and say I was fine. I was eating snacks and main meals so it was okay. It didn’t matter that I was still over exercising and under nourishing my body.

After university, I lived in Canada for six months. I had a few big nights out and threw up the alcohol, not by choice. I discovered how easy it was to make myself throw up. So, combined with calorie counting and sessions at the local gym, I began to throw up after some meals, mainly when I felt guilty for eating something I shouldn’t have.

Fast forward a few years later, when I went on a Topdeck tour through Canada and the USA, I requested vegetarian meals and ate minimal food. On one of the last days in Washington, I passed out in front of a museum from heat stoke and exhaustion. This still didn’t wake me up. In fact, I was happy because I lost a few extra kilograms and dropped down to 46kg. I made it my mission to stay at the weight.

After a trip to Singapore in late 2018, my weight increased to around 48/50kg. I tried to eat more salads, opt for vegetarian meals and ensured that I exercised each day regardless of my energy levels. I still wasn’t able to shift the weight and I felt out of control. My binge eating increased and I felt immense guilt. I resorted to buying several Keto cookbooks and thought that carbohydrates were the cause. My weight did not move. Then I decided to try the I Quit Sugar diet. That didn’t work either.

In the middle of 2019, I resigned from my job and took a month off before starting my current job. During this time I gained another 4kgs. I was crushed. I woke up, looked in the mirror and was ashamed of how I looked. Some of my clothes no longer fit and I felt dreadful.

I decided to make an appointment to see a nutritionist after my doctor ran tests and said I was healthy and nothing was wrong. I discussed my concerns with the nutritionist who explained to me what I was doing. I was in a cycle of restrictive binge eating. She explained to me that diets only work 5% of the time and it’s about creating a healthy lifestyle, adopting an 80/20 approach and being kind to yourself on days where you indulge a little more.

The cause of my weight gain is due to a thyroid condition. I currently weigh around 56kg and while I still have days where I look in the mirror and wish I was the size I was before, I have begun to accept that this may be my healthy size. I am more than a number on the scales.

Through this process, I have begun to wake up and see what I was doing to myself. Instead of loving myself and nourishing my body, I was at war with it each day trying to reach a perfect weight and no matter what I weighed, it was never good enough.

I thought I’d fit in and be loved if I was a size six. Instead, I felt exhausted, wasn’t performing at my best and my body was deprived for so many years. Now I am in the process of recovering and discovering how to love my body again and fuelling it with wholesome foods that make me feel good.

Now that I have stopped counting the calories and eat intuitively, my binge eating episodes have stopped. I realised how much mental energy I was using to keep track of everything I ate and now I have space to welcome in creative thoughts and be more focused during the day.

Here are a few tips on how to overcome an eating disorder:

Seek help. Whether it be speaking to a loved one, a therapist or nutritionist, you are not weak for asking for help. You are strong. It takes courage to admit not only to yourself but to another that you have a problem and you want to get better.

Focus on how foods make you feel. Notice which foods make you feel good and those that make you feel sluggish, tired or bloated. When you focus on how each food interacts with your body, you can begin to identify what foods you can incorporate into your daily rotation.

Embrace and celebrate weight gain. When you’re recovering, chances are you will gain weight. When this happens, you may be tempted to go back to your old habits. Be strong. Remind yourself daily that you are more than the number on the scale, your waist and hip circumferences and your clothing size. You are eating food for nourishment and the goal is to improve your overall health, your vitality and to find your healthy weight.

Your healthy weight is the weight you are at when you are in tune with your body, exercise regularly (for movement and wellness) and eat in line with your appetite.

You may notice that your desire to binge eat goes away. When you restrict yourself, you may binge or partake in emotional eating. However, when you eat food for nourishment, the desire to binge eat is no longer there because your body is being cared for.

Try not to count calories. This is hard. It’s a habit which is quick to form and when you’ve spent years trying to be in a calorie deficit to maintain or lose weight, it can be hard to let of the numbers. There’s more to food than how many calories or kilojules are in it. Embrace wholesome foods, healthy fats and foods that nourish your body. Your appetite will balance out when you aren’t depriving yourself when you feel hungry. If you have any applications that track your calories, I would suggest removing them from your phone or other technology.

Identify and remove any triggers. If you have social media, do an audit of the people and brands you follow. If there are any which make you feel poorly about your body and you can’t help but compare yourself, remove it. If there are people who make you feel bad about your body or self in general, call them out on it and if there isn’t any change, distance yourself from them. You deserve to love your life, be happy and love your body.

Once you have done an audit, follow brands and people who you find inspirational. Surround yourself with people who support you and love you as a whole person.

Main photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

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