When I was knee-deep in the thick of my crazy-all-over-the-place relationship with food, I remember the terrifying moment I realized I needed help. For so long, I convinced myself that because I was a Type A perfectionist who had everything together. Surely I could handle my food.
Except I couldn’t.
Diet after diet, I failed miserably. Every Monday, I would “start over”, promising myself that this time would REALLY be it.
This time I’d stick to my rigid food plan.
By Wednesday, I was craving chips, cookies, pizza and pasta (everything I didn’t allow myself to eat). Come Friday, I binged until I couldn’t move.
After years spent trying to do it on my own, I finally reached out for help…although I was slightly terrified and didn’t what to expect.
I finally admitted I didn’t have all the answers. After spending 12 years trying different diets, getting a master’s in nutrition, and taking diet pills, I realized none of it had worked.
So I walked into my first session terrified and afraid, but feeling a small glimmer of hope. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to heal.
I vividly remember the first of many sessions with the woman who helped me move forward in my journey. Sitting across from her, she looked me deeply in the eyes and said words that eventually changed my life:
This struggle will be your biggest teacher and one of your life’s greatest gifts.
At the time I just shot her a look a “whatever” look and glossed over her words. I wasn’t there for life advice, I just wanted her to tell me how to eat to be normal again.
I ignored her words and got on with diving into healing myself from the inside out.
Years later, when my life didn’t revolve around what I was eating (or not eating), what diet I was planning to go on and when I could go to the gym (to work off what I had binged on), I remembered those words that were spoken to me.
This struggle will be your biggest teacher and one of your life’s greatest gifts.
The truth of these words shook me to the core. I did, in fact, realize how deeply true her words were. Having an eating disorder transformed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
I had no idea what my healing process would teach me. Looking back on those 13 years of my life obsessing over every morsel I ate, binging until I couldn’t move, and then swearing I would start over on Monday, I realized why dealing with this battle was the best thing that ever happened to me…
1. I found my own authentic voice
Growing up, I always went along with the crowd, tried not to rock the boat, and avoided all conflict. I kept everything inside. For most of my life I suppressed everything: my emotions, my desires, my wants, my needs and my opinions.
I’m a recovering people-pleaser.
Healing from disordered eating allowed me to discover who I truly was. I got in touch with the real me: the me that didn’t judge myself for the size of my thighs, the me that understood I was more than just my physical reflection, and the me that was kind, compassionate, and giving. I learned how listen to my body, follow my intuition, and live an authentic life in the process.
Each step of the way allowed me to become more authentic and more true to my own self. I discovered that I love “off-the-beaten path” adventures. And that I didn’t want a job in what I majored in. I also discovered that journaling helps me find my voice and yoga mades me feel alive. Deep down, I longed to learn to dance, speak another language and write a book.
Releasing society’s expectations and what others expected of me allowed me to create a life that is more “me” than I ever dreamed possible.
I live in a state where people share my passion for the outdoors, I have a business that is my life’s work, I spend as much time in the mountains as I can, and I have adventures that feed my soul. And now my own authentic voice is what guides all of my life’s decisions.
2. I realized I was more courageous than I thought possible
I’ve had to tap into my courage many times in my life: when I backpacked through Southeast Asia, lived with a family in Ecuador, and spent a year teaching English in Thailand. But the courage it took to live and work in foreign countries pales in comparison to healing from disordered eating.
A screwed up relationship with food forced me to go deep into places I didn’t want to look. It required me to explore a depth within myself that I didn’t know was there; a place where I had to heal limiting beliefs, emotional wounds, damaging thoughts, and destructive habits.
The journey through that murky, messy chaos was an act of pure, unfiltered courage. It left me deeply exposed, raw, and vulnerable. I cried until I didn’t have any tears left. Battling my deepest fears and darkest demons, I uncovered intense emotions I didn’t know how to handle.
Looking back, I realize how much courage this took. To be brave enough to explore the dark places of my soul allowed me to live more honestly, express more deeply, and be more authentic. I now know I have the courage to face anything life throws at me.
3. I know what “enough” means
In my darkest nights, I was convinced my hunger was insatiable. I thought if I was left to my own devices, I would devour every dessert in sight, eating until I woke up 100 pounds heavier. My own hunger terrified me.
CouldI ever know when “enough was enough”? I had always swung wildly between extremes. I was either overdoing it and indulging in anything I could get my hands on or I was frantically trying to control and restrict myself.
Now I realize what enough truly means: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Enough is all about balance. Understanding that if I overeat at one meal, my body will naturally gravitate towards lighter fare the next. Accepting that my progress is enough for today and that each day I get stronger. Realizing that my body is enough and knowing that striving for perfection only deters me from moving forward.
I don’t have to devour 17 bowls of ice cream anymore because there is “enough” inside of me. Enough love. Enough acceptance. And enough trust in myself that I’ll continue learning what “enough” means.
4. I understand that being thinner doesn’t equal happier
For 13 years, I convinced myself that I had to lose more weight, wear a smaller size, and have a flatter stomach in order to be accepted and to be able to love myself.
I vividly remember the moment when I was at my smallest size EVER. There I was, wearing my tiniest dresses and “skinniest” jeans ever. Yet I distinctly recall looking in the mirror at this size, pinching my stomach, analyzing how “fat” I looked at each angle. Despite my size, I still despised what I saw in the mirror.
I realized then the futility of my battle. No matter how much I weighed, no matter how small I whittled myself down to, it would never truly bring me lasting happiness or fulfillment.
When I began to believe that I was innately acceptable-now, not ten pounds from now- my recovery deepened and opened the door to a new relationship with myself. When I began working on self-acceptance, my entire life changed.
Body acceptance is a life-long journey and one that I continue to work on. Each day, I realize more and more that self-kindness and compassion is the key to confidence and happiness.
5. I recognize that my relationship to food mirrors my relationship to so much of my life
It took me a long time to recognize that what I was doing with food reflected my own deeper patterns of how I dealt with everything in my life. When I began exploring my relationship with food, it took me deeper into how I was dealing with my emotions, my family, my relationships, and myself.
I know that when a rigid, inflexible “food rule” pops up, I’m desperately needing to control something else in my life. When I want to eat for comfort or escape, I know I need to look at where I’m feeling lonely or empty. When I’m hurrying through my meals, rushing to get on with my day, I know I need to see where I’m hurrying through life, always wanting to be in the next place and achieve the next goal.
Once I was aware of this connection, my relationship with food became something I paid more attention to. This awareness has taught me to slow down, be more aware of my emotions, and helped change the way I live.
When you’re knee-deep in fighting the food battle, it’s hard to see the value in your struggles. But sometimes, our biggest obstacles can be the biggest catalysts for change.
Allow me to whisper those same words to you that were once whispered to me: This struggle will be your biggest teacher and one of your life’s greatest gifts.
This journey takes immense courage, steadfast determination, and a compassionate heart. But staying the course. Diving headfirst into your deepest fears and beliefs, and being open to what it is here to teach you can bring about incredible transformation and change.