|Posted on February 29, 2012 at 12:25 PM|
“Stop trying to LOOK like a fighter and BE a fighter.”
(from Prayfit Daily earlier this week)
Wow! What profound words. How about if I words it like this…
Stop trying to LOOK healthy and BE healthy…
I am always trying to do my best practising the above. As I work on my daily Lenten mediation and my mindful eating challenge, and after reading some other very open and honest blogs on the subject from ladies that I deeply respect, I felt that it was time to share my struggles with disordered eating.
PLEASE NOTE: the use of the words “disordered eating” are not synonymous with “eating disorder”. My challenges are FAR from what many would consider to be serious, but they have affected my life and my mental health and that makes them serious enough of an issue to share. I pray that by sharing my story with you that it might somehow help you in your journey too.
The Early Days
I did not grow up with any food issues. I was well fed, but with a somewhat healthy balance between nutritious food and treats. I say somewhat because back in those days food was different. Mom baked her own white bread (still does) and we used our deep fryer almost daily, but almost every supper meal was made from scratch, contained vegetables, I always ate breakfast and food rarely came from a box or a bag; and convenience food was a newly developing phenomenon.
My Mom was a baker. I often went to school with my fabulous lunches of sandwiches or salads and fruit which was, more often than not, to be followed with a piece of homemade cake or pie or an apple flip. (The teachers loved to see me coming.)
And yes, I did often take salads to school. I am proud to say that I have always had a taste for healthy foods. I could take or leave the sweets. I enjoyed a taste but that was enough. Cake could actually dry up in our house when I was a child, and have to be thrown away!
I naturally have a small frame and for the majority of my youth, I did not really struggle with my weight. Once I got to high school I started to become more aware of my shape and size. I was not big, but I was not tiny either. I had hips and curves and scale wise, I averaged around 130 lbs. While I was fascinated with food and nutrition, I did not think too much about my weight. I walked a lot but that was about it as I was in NO way athletic. I ate well. I cut out red meat from my diet for a couple fo years because I felt that it was not healthy for me and replaced it with lots of rice, pasta, bread and other processed “health foods”.
So in my late teens my weight gradually crept up to the higher end of my range, especially as I was working through high school and into college. I think that my highest weight at that point was probably 138 lbs. But I just blamed it on genetics and life, and figured that I would eventually begin an exercise program, when I got the time.
The Tides of Change
Ironically, my mindset started to change when I started to work out, which didn't happen until I was around 21. It wasn't a big event, it was more insidious. The more magazines and workout programs I read about, the more fascinated I became, not to mention confused! I wanted to learn everything that I could about nutrition and body composition.
I would first start to increase the protein in my diet, limit certain fats, portion my carbs. Eventually I would start to count more macros and percentages, calculating calories and ratios. All the while never really making any progress in changing my body composition; I wasn't looking like the girls in the magazines!!!
Things got worse over the years as I tired to combine all of the different diets and theories into one. It was a mish mash of conflicting philosophies that left me totally overwhelmed all the while still trying to stay true to my own deeply entrenched beliefs that listening to my body was the key to it all. Gradually, over time, I learned to stop listening and just keep doing....and trying....and doing....and trying.
It all came to a head after I competed in my first figure competition. I followed my “healthy” competition diet as instructed and calories and carbs dwindled from week to week. Once the show was over, all of the weight came back within a few months and my obsession with figuring out “my diet” came back in earnest and worse than ever. Things started getting out of control. I became depressed and angry, overwhelmed and anxious; not a good situation for a stay at home mom with two toddlers!
Food and diet thoughts were controlling my every thought and my life.
But all in secret.
At some point in time, I had read about, studied and/or tried just about everything on this list in some form or another, be it structured and planned or on the fly.
How many of these things have you tried or at least heard of......Calorie counting - Low carb - Atkins Diet - South Beach Diet - Mediterranean Diet - Low Fat - Moderate Carb - Carb Cycling – Ketosis - Paleo/Primal - Intermittent Fasting - Glycemic Index – raw foods diet.....
Do these things work? Sure, just about anything works. In the short term. But at what expense. I totally lost control.
- I labelled foods as good and bad, especially carbs.
- I feared having to make choices..
- I would plan my “cheat” meals around social events or special occasions just so I could indulge.
- I was very careful to plan out my meals and adhere strictly to my written plan but God forbid what would happen if I strayed!!?!??!
Oh the guilt.
I would cheat all the time. But I would hide to do it. I have eaten countless containers of frozen butter cream icing. Cups of chocolate chips. Candy and ice cream by the boat load. But usually a little at a time. A taste here and spoonful there. Middle of the night. During the kids bath time. While they were in a time out. In my office. While putting out the garbage. Anywhere I could be unseen – like that somehow lessened the shame.
Awareness Creates Change
Then there came a day, not unlike many others, where I had spent hours online looking at meal plans and diet information, still trying to battle the post competition rebound and when my time came to eat, I put an apple back in the fridge.
I couldn't eat an apple because it had too many carbs.
That was my turning point. I knew in my heart of hearts that is was just not what life is about!
That this is NOT healthy living.
I struggled with this on and off for a couple of years really, but ultimately, I had to make the choice to stop thinking and analyzing. I had to choose what kind of example I wanted to be for my children.
I had to decide what was more important to me – the look or the health. And in the end, being healthy and choosing to eat well and to train my body to be strong and function at its best, is the one and only answer.
The greatest changes came when I really started to focus on what I was eating and how it made me feel. I stopped looking at foods as good and bad and starting recognizing what they did for my body. Food became more about function and fuel. This helped me to detach myself emotionally from the food and I was gradually able to regain control over my thoughts.
I started to eat less processed items and focus more on whole foods. I noticed that I would tend to eat less of them because I felt more satisfied, but I ate until I was full and never counted anything. My skin improved as did my PMS symptoms and moods, and so did my irritable bowel syndrome.
I felt incredible!
Finally, after three years, I felt like I had come to a place of health and balance once again. I was still planning my meals and I had some rules with my planning, but I was a bit more relaxed. I felt that I could once again compete and this time do it my way; healthy and balanced. This was something that I really needed to prove to myself.
My Last Competition
I did follow through with my goal. I did compete again last fall (Nov. 2011). And I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed my prep for the show. I did my own diet and followed a training plan that I felt was reasonable and did not take any time away from my family or other commitments. This was meant to be an “extra” in my life.
All the while, in the back of my mind, I was also mentally preparing myself for the “post show blues”. There is always a little stress or anxiety about the weight coming back (which so much of it always does – the water if nothing else). And in the last few weeks I had added a little additional work and made some final changes to my diet, so those things would cease and life would return to normal. Normal food, normal training.
But as prepared as I was for the weight to come back I was not prepared for the old patterns of thinking about food to come back. I thought I had it licked!!! But the minute the show was over, after having enjoyed the process so much, I immediately started to think about next year. I started thinking about my “off season”; bulking up and adding muscle and upping my carbs and upping my protein....it all started to come back like a flash flood of information and numbers.
Where Am I Now?
Last week, after a conversation with another competitor who has been struggling with her own rebound issues, I made a firm and final decision that I am done with competing.
It is not healthy for me. For me.
(more on this can be found in my blog entry here)
Dieting down for a show and thinking of life in “on and off seasons”, is not a life that I want to live, always striving to achieve and maintain a certain look. It was starting to become too easy to fall back into that trap and to lose focus on the real true goal – healthy balance.
For me it is a trigger to revert back to unhealthy habits.
That is a risk that I am no longer willing to take.
So, the question remains...how about now?
Well, as you might have read in the blog about Mindful Eating and my Lenten Challenge....
- I am working on becoming even more in tune with my body and my hunger cures.
- I am learning to eat based on physical hunger and not the clock. (This is hard for someone who always ate at set times!)
- I am focusing more and more on how certain foods make me feel – which is why I have removed wheat from my diet and I feel 1000 times better than ever!
- I am not keeping my traditional food log during lent; not the way that I used to anyway. Now I am recording my emotional reactions to food and hunger – uncovering triggers and habits that I didn't recognize before!
- I do enjoy food in social settings. I have ice cream with my kids almost weekly or a small piece of cake at a birthday party.
Ironically, being able to relax and enjoy food has made the desire to “cheat” and eat “bad” foods almost disappear! Knowing that the food will always be there and I can really have it when I want to, takes out the impulse factor. It makes me think about whether I actually want to eat it in the moment. If I do want it, then I have it, if I am not hungry and decide that I don't want to eat it, then I don't.
No pressure, no self hatred and no abuse.
I still think that planning is good and for people just beginning a journey into a healthy lifestyle, I believe that keeping a food journal is the single most powerful tool in creating more awareness of where you are starting from and in learning to make healthier choices.
But for me, at this point, making good food choices isn't so much an issue as learning to recognize true physical hunger vs. emotional eating and eating for pleasure.
My basic philosophy......
- I do not count anything (except my water intake).
- I eat as many fruits and vegetables as I want.
- I make sure to get a good amount of protein and healthy fats.
- I eat when I am hungry. I do not eat just because food is there.
- I aim to drink up to a gallon of water a day.
- I consider how food makes me feel physically and what it will or will not do for my body and performance before I eat it.
- If I do eat something ”less than healthy” I am sure to savour and enjoy enough to satisfy me without feeling any guilt.
This is where I am at and what I am doing. If it means that I will never be on the cover of a fitness magazine then I am finally okay with that; because I am making healthy choices for the right reasons.
And I know it was never about the food.
It was always, and will always be about control.
I refuse to let food control me any more.