Who, like me, has an inner battle with food? Too shy to come forward? That’s ok… I get it. For a long time, it was not easy for me to admit that I used food to prove my willpower or to control my emotions or to control my existence.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s. You know, back in the day when it wasn’t socially acceptable to NOT have an eating disorder. I kid, but in truth, being a pre-teen and teen in the 90s wasn’t easy when it came to body appreciation. I wasn’t skinny. I was a chubby baby and a round-faced little girl. I was always tall and when I came into my own, I was big-breasted and curvy – never rail thin like the girls I would see in magazines. I grew up in the age of Fat-Free everything. I limited my snacking to once per day and often I would wait until late at night in my pjs, unbothered by the outside world, to indulge in my favorite snack, licorice.
I loved sweets – still do. I indulged on muffins and cookies and brownie sundaes and candy and ice cream. But in moderation. Strict moderation. Unless it was my birthday and then I would say, screw it and eat whatever I damn well-pleased. But during the Fat-Free craze, when I wanted ice cream, I would get fat-free fro-yo. It would kill my stomach, but it satisfied my sweet tooth.
Eating disorders run in my family. I was exposed to it growing up, in the media, amongst friends. I used food to make me happy when I had a tough day. I used food as a way to show my control (I gave up eating French fries for ten full years to prove that I could). It wasn’t a happy way to exist. It all came to a head at the end of my freshman year of college. I definitely gained weight first semester, so second semester, I decided to join Weight Watchers. But I quickly became point obsessed and needed help. I sought out the assistance of a nutritionist that not only focused on weight loss and portion control, but also on healing the mind. She showed me that I could still eat a slice or two of pizza and have dessert if I was mindful of how much and what I was eating. She made sure I didn’t feel deprived and I was still allowed to occasionally have licorice and I could have my fro-yo every night if I wanted. I lost thirteen pounds that summer, dieting and working at day camp, and I went into Sophomore year of college at a great weight for my height feeling fab.
And just a couple of weeks later, I met my husband and he quickly showed me that he loved me, in whatever form I existed. He still does. Every day. Seriously, every day he reminds me how much he loved my body then, how much he loved it pregnant, and how much he loves it today. He may not be perfect in every way (sorry love), but he pushes me to see my body through his eyes, and for that I am always grateful.
Throughout the remainder of college, my weight fluctuated as does the weight of most collegiate girls. I worked out at the gym with friends, made conscious healthy choices with whatever I ate, I even took the bus to the supermarket just so I could get fresh sliced chicken to top my salads versus some of the unhealthy choices I was exposed to on campus.
I graduated college, got engaged, worked with a trainer, ate mindfully, and still questioned whether or not I was thin enough to be a bride. The struggle was real – the body dysmorphia was legit. I looked in the mirror and saw myself as extremely overweight. When I look back at pictures now, I cringe realizing how youthful and healthy I looked and felt. I wish I could’ve realized it in the moment.
When I was diagnosed with a borderline ovarian tumor, the nurses released me from the hospital with strict orders – cut out the fat free crap. Eat low-fat. They weren’t implying the fat-free was why I developed the tumor, but they wanted me to add some fat into my diet and to avoid the artificial crap that was messing with healthy digestion. It wasn’t an easy switch, although I do remember being excited to eat low-fat fro-yo!
Months later, I got pregnant for the first time and ate whatever my heart desired (in moderation). My husband mocked me for my big eyes when it came to ice-cream only to be somewhat amused and a little horrified that I could actually eat the big order I placed at Haagen Daz. Carvelanches were my Wednesday night treat and although in the first few months I resented feeling like a fat blob, I really embraced the beauty of my growing body by the end.
And then came the post-pregnancy emotions and body-shaming. I hated how fat I felt and resented that my body wouldn’t shed the pounds. I went shopping for some new clothes wth my mom just so I wouldn’t feel disgusted when none of my old clothes fit. I held onto the extra weight for three full months before losing a pound and then suddenly it was like a literal weight lifted and the pounds flew off. By my son’s first birthday, I was the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life and I LOVED how I felt and looked. Like literally loved it. My husband missed my curves, but I spent less time talking about being unhappy in my skin or about how fat I was, so he liked that.
With each subsequent pregnancy, I gained the same amount of weight pound for pound every weigh in and it took three months post pregnancy before I lost any weight. Each time, I got back down to the same weight I started at, but… and this is a big BUT, my body never looked the same. My weight distributed differently. My chest was big again and my hips a little wider, but the scale said the same.
And that’s when it hit me that I really had no control. My body could face a horrible health scare and bounce back three months later to carry a healthy and successful pregnancy. My body could face illness and still birth two more healthy babies. My body could determine where the weight would settle. It wasn’t up to me. It was time I started treating my body better.
So over the past few years, after quitting dairy and soy to nurse my allergic son, I started to experiment with food and using food to fuel the body. I’ve since given up gluten, sesame, millet, and tapioca as well. I’ve embraced wellness journeys, like the low-histamine diet, with bravery and confidence in using the right foods to heal my body. I face chronic pain and bizarre symptoms every day and I am on the quest to find the key to once again feeling healthy. I now know that being a few pounds thinner or heavier doesn’t mean being healthier. And I wish I would have loved my body a littler more when it was healthy instead of shaming it for being a few pounds heavier than I wanted to be. Today, I try VERY hard to overlook the fact that almond flour and coconut and nut butters are fattening because I know that they are providing my body with fulfilling nutrients.
So, while I still have fat days and I still bother my husband about why my fat rolls have fat rolls (no they don’t really – that’s the dysmorphia talking), I have a MUCH healthier relationship with food now and I recognize it’s all about balance. I won’t eat cookies all day long and then eat pasta for dinner. I balance my choices daily to stay healthy. Going low-histamine for three weeks taught me that I can still feel fulfilled by food and that I don’t need an evening snack every day just because. I can eat when I am hungry and enjoy a piece of chocolate midday with much less guilt than years ago. I am STILL a work-in-progress, but I am grateful that today, in 2018, eating healthy means eating real food, with natural ingredients, and that ALL body shapes and sizes grace the covers of magazines and there is no shame in gaining a few pounds or losing a few pounds or leaving the house in sweats. We live in an age of honesty and bravery where models can now say, things like don’t shame me for not being anorexic – I have a thyroid condition that makes my weight fluctuate, or you know what, hey, I am happy being a size 10 versus the Calvin Klein models of 1990 at size 00. Hallelujah!
So let’s all raise a chocolate bar (or a whole damn cookie sundae) to being honest with ourselves and with trying to love our bodies in the best ways we can – eating foods made with real ingredients – praising our bodies for the miracles that they are – and accepting that above all, our health will bring us happiness, not five less pounds.
And side note, my birthday is coming up this weekend and I plan to stick with my motto – eat whatever the heart desires because it’s my birthday yo!