Today I am going to share with you a special story that helps to explain why I love what I do as your trainer. If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder, or know someone who has, I hope you will read this and find hope. If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, please know I will be frankly sharing information that could be considered "triggering." But more importantly, please know it doesn't have to always be this way.
Rewind 16 years. It's early 2000. I was months from graduating high school. I had been admitted to U of M. I had a date for prom. For my seventeen-year-old self, life was pretty damn good. But something happened and to this day, I can't even fully explain why it happened.
For whatever reason, whether it was because I heard about the dreaded "freshman 15" you supposedly gain when you start college and was proactively fighting against, or I wanted to look good in my (pink!) prom dress, I don't know. But I can tell you that, by the time I was headed to Ann Arbor, I weighed less than 100 pounds, and by the time I came home for Christmas that December, I had lost nearly 30 pounds total, down to a mere 79 pounds. It was bad. Really bad. I had basically survived the first semester of college on a diet of Slim Fast bars, Cheerios, and salad with fat-free dressing. I looked terrible, although at the time I was so happy with myself. I never wanted to lose weight, and this I can tell you is the truth. I just feared gaining.
I was a slave to my scale (read this post to see why the scale isn't all bad when you actually need to lose weight). I was freezing all the time. My a** hurt like crazy sitting in class, devoid of any padding. I had chest pain (that part was kind of scary). But worst of all, I was sad. Really, really sad. I wanted to enjoy life like everyone else, I mean, I was at the college of my dreams (!!!) but all I could think about was when my next meal would be and how many calories I "had left." There was no room left in my brain to think about making new friends or enjoying life as a college student at one of the coolest schools around. It was no way to live, especially not for what should have been the prime of my life.
At the begging of my parents, I left U of M for the next semester and attended Oakland University to live at home, and started seeing a therapist, a pediatric physician who specialized in adolescent eating disorders, and a nutritionist. Mostly through the help of my dad and his gentle encouragement to eat, I was able to gain enough weight to at least not look like a corpse, although I was still excessively thin.
I stayed in this state of "good enough" for a long time - 12 years altogether. I could now function in society and not scare people at the grocery store. I no longer had chest pain and my butt didn't hurt quite as much. On the outside I looked relatively normal, albeit very thin. But on the inside, my mind was a prison. I literally could not go a full minute without thinking of food...what I was going to eat next, how many calories it would contain, how I would be able to go to an upcoming event (work meeting, family dinner, etc.) without having control of what would be served. It was horrible and I never thought for a minute that there could be an escape from this kind of mind trap. I was pretty sure that I was going to be 90 (God-willing) on my deathbed and thinking of how many calories were in that Jell-o and pudding served in the old-folks dining room.
Over the next few years, personal problems started mounting. I was lifting weights more as an outlet, which was great, but I was also finding solace in food, doing tons of baking, searching for the perfect "clean" brownie/cookie/pudding recipe. I spent tons of money buying protein powder and healthy-alternative flours and sugars. When I wasn't baking, I was constantly in search of the perfect meal plan. I spent hours and hours scouring the Internet, reading what the people with the best physiques ate, in what quantity, and at what times. I gained some more weight to put me into the "normal category," but I still hated my body.
Needless to say, this didn't leave a whole lot of time to nurture a strong marriage. Eventually, my marriage came to a head and it was done. I left and moved back to my "bachelorette pad." Unfortunately, through the stress of a divorce and all of my baking, I gained more than what I had wanted and felt like I had gone the other way. I wasn't overweight, but nothing fit and this made me even more upset (proof that excessive calories, even when from healthy foods, causes weight gain).
Fortunately, I also met a good, supportive person with a kind heart. I was still baking a lot, but I was also learning how to live life again. We started small - going out to dinner. I bought ice cream for the house and it was delicious! And it was funny, when I ate the things that sounded good, even if they were new and a little scary, I stopped craving all those stupid concoctions.
And slowly, the stress weight began to come off as I made up some new rules for my life:
1. There are no rules. Stop making foods "bad" or "good." There are foods with more sugar and fat in them, and foods with less. That's it. Food doesn't have morals, as much as society tries to tell us it does.
2. Stop all the baking nonsense. It was wasting tons of money and food. And it sure wasn't helping my physique unless you like that sausage casing in pants look. Stop buying wacko ingredients because you read about some doctor/guru/yahoo talking about it (for $$$ mind you!) like it will cure everything (seriously, do people really think coconut oil is going to cure them of all their ills, clean their teeth, and moisturize every inch of their body?)...this is the kind of thinking I was falling into. If you legitimately want to try something new, awesome. But do a real, scientific experiment: try ONE thing at a time, for a reasonable length of time, and do nothing else. See if anything changes/you like it/etc. This goes for supplements, too! Supplements are SUPPLEMENTS. They are NOT food! If your diet sucks, no supplement is going to rectify it.
3. Eat what sounds good. And eat the real stuff. If you want a cookie, make it a damn real cookie, not some protein-laden thing that sounds like a brick hitting the counter. (Revelation: real sweets are a hell of a lot tastier than fake ones and actually satisfy any cravings...just saying.)
4. Stop with all the rules about meal timing. I was obsessed. I was trying to orchestrate meal timing like it was Grand Central Station. Stop. Eat when you're friggin hungry. Stop when you're full. Eat normal meals, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Have a little dessert because it tastes good and keeps you sane. Enough.
5. Find things that interest you and keep you occupied. For me, this was school (I'm weird, I know). I decided that I would make an investment in myself and head back to school. It was great. I didn't have time to think about food; I was too darn busy reading and writing 24/7! And in the end, I did something I never thought I would do - I got a degree in kinesiology! One of my happiest moments was going to that graduation and actually being present - mentally present. I didn't give a crap where we were going to dinner after, or what would be served at the awards banquet. I cared that I was there with my professors, wearing that cap and gown, and getting my diploma.
If you are stuck in an eating rut, stop. Stop your triggers. Stop pinning recipes and cutting them out of magazines. Stop looking up different diets. If you decide on a way of eating, stick with it. I honestly gave up all of my elaborate cooking and am just getting back into it more now. It consumed so much of my life, I just had to let it go for a while. Was my eating not as stellar from, say, an antioxidant perspective? Sure, probably. But, my head was free to live. And that was far better medicine than any phytonutrient could provide.
Interestingly, I found these same habits apply whether you need to lose weight or gain weight. What I learned to be true was that the obsessive thoughts about food were there whether I was 20 pounds under my happy place or 20 pounds over. I was just giving food way too much room in my life. And this was a sign that something in my life was wrong, and I was using food as a way to control the uncontrollable and fill the unfillable.
Get out what is really making you sad - for me this was an over-controlling lifestyle - and get in what makes you happy. Let go and free your mind. Fill your time with things that make you busy, occupied, in the moment. It will certainly not happen overnight. And sometimes you have to make like Nike and "Just Do It." Your head may not be in the game, but if you act, your mind will follow. It took me a full year to come to the realization that I was slowly healing. I never thought this would be possible, but I remember the day I realized I had gone for a while without thinking about food...It was one of the happiest days of my life and the end of a thirteen year chapter I was happy to close.