My journey to Intuitive Eating
Everyone has a story of how they got to where they are, and mine is a riveting tale of mystery, heartbreak, and redemption. Ok, it's not that dramatic, but it does tell a tale of finding my way to peace after years of struggle and despair. Every detail played a part to get me where I am today, and I wouldn't change a thing.
All my adult life, I've been very interested in natural health. I can remember being riveted by Andrew Weil's books in my early 20s, and spent hours pouring over them desperately trying to glean some information that would solve my problems with food. I loved the way he was so down-to-earth about his advice--nothing was written in stone. He always advised moderation and a loving, gentle approach to health care. He spoke about enjoyable exercise and finding satisfaction in food. He was the first health professional that taught me about the importance of having a good attitude about your food and nurturing all aspects of your health including emotional and spiritual. And he was so relatable, with his big beard and not-thin body.
I do remember wondering why he stayed so "heavy" if he ate as healthfully as he purported to. Of course, I believed whole-heartedly that in order to be healthy, you had to be thin. Therefore, my attempts at improved health always focused on weight-loss (I'm sure many of you can relate...).
Since I was a child, it seemed like the whole world was obsessed with my weight.
There was a lot of disordered eating and weight-obsession in my family, and those messages were reinforced repeatedly throughout my life. I got it from peers and the media and everywhere--it was not ok to be a little bit chubby. I remember when I was about 10, and fighting with my best friend, and her go-to insult was that I was "the fattest person in the whole world." When I see pictures of myself from this time, I look really normal. Really, sadly, normal.
My parents started taking me to Weight Watchers when I was about 11. I began to develop the pattern that would come to dominate my life for the next 20 years: make a grand plan (usually something like "get skinny" or "lose 20 pounds by June"), pray to God for help, have no idea what to do or eat in order to succeed at plan, fall off wagon and eat uncontrollably, hate myself and vow to start over as soon as possible.
If you've never experienced this particular brand of hell, let me assure you that it is absolutely exhausting. Not only do you become drained from the repeated failures, but it completely undermines your self-confidence in every other aspect of your life. I said these exact words to my therapist a couple years ago: "I am the type of person who never accomplishes anything. I never finish anything I start. I'm never successful." You don't have to look very far to see why I believed this about myself.
So for my entire adult life, I swung between super-restriction and complete no-holds-barred bingeing with absolutely no regard for health or feeling good or caring for myself. I look back on those times and just see pure self-punishment. (I also know now that the restriction totally set me up for bingeing by creating psychological deprivation and physical starvation--but we can talk more about that later.)
I finally got "motivated" in my early 30s and lost a lot of weight on a commercial diet plan. I was as close to my idea of "skinny" as I had ever been as an adult. Suddenly, I was hugely popular. Coworkers who had never spoken to me were seeking me out and barraging me with embarrassing comments and questions. People wanted to know my secret and my jean size and the number of pounds I'd lost. And don't forget all the random guys at the gas station--they were suddenly very interested, too.
I really felt like I had succeeded, but couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling that something wasn't right.
I was supposed to be happy now, right? All your problems are supposed to go away when you lose weight. Only...I was still miserable. And now I was miserable and everyone was watching, so...no pressure there. Why didn't I feel great? Why didn't I like all the attention? Why was I so freaking hungry all. the. time.?
First of all, I was getting all this attention for something incredibly superficial, which did not align with my values. Secondly, nothing in my life changed, except 1) I could buy a wider variety of clothes, 2) all these people that I didn't like and didn't want to talk to wouldn't leave me alone, and 3) I literally felt like I could never eat a normal meal again or I would instantly balloon back up. I felt like I was teetering on the razor edge of success or failure, and one wrong move would send me careening back into the oblivion of obesity and self-loathing.
We all know how the story ends, right? Because at least 95% of people who lose weight through dieting gain it all back. So, chances are, you've been there, too.
I spent the next several years struggling to understand why I couldn't get my motivation back. I told myself that I'd lost my "diet mojo." This time I didn't even have any mini-successes...it was just day after day of feeling like the world's biggest failure and wondering why I couldn't get my shit together.
Several years ago, I was looking for a more fulfilling career and decided to become a health coach. I was so excited to finally start doing something I was passionate about and actually interested in. I wanted to learn all about nutrition and how people could improve their health through food. And I did. Unfortunately, the subtext of health coaching is, "...but of course you have to lose some weight first."
So here I was about to embark on a career to help people get healthy and lose weight, and I was still struggling with food and my own weight.
This dissonance completely paralyzed me, and I did nothing with my new training. Cue continued self-loathing, confusion, and daily despair...
So I was outside vacuuming out my car one summer afternoon with the radio blaring. And I heard this radio commercial with a tennis champion talking about how she struggled with a deep dark secret throughout her tennis career: binge eating disorder. It was as if all the dots suddenly got connected in my head--I had an eating disorder! Thank goodness!
As if in a trance, I went directly to my computer, googled something about binge eating disorder, called and made an appointment at the place closest to me, and started my journey to recovery. It has been the most exciting, satisfying, enjoyable experiences of my life...no kidding!
It was as if someone handed me keys to the universe and said, "Here...now you understand everything." And I really did. I finally felt free.
I learned how I got to where I was, and that it wasn't my fault, and that the cards were stacked against me from the very beginning, and how darn lucky I was to find an amazing therapist, and that I'm actually an successful, intelligent person who can accomplish anything she wants. I can go back over each chapter in my story and understand exactly what happened, why I was so miserable, and what the solution would have been (had I known what I know now).
I returned to the business of health coaching with a fresh perspective.
Having a complete understanding of the actual determinants of health and how little effect weight has on health has allowed me to develop a business around helping women find the same peace with food that I now enjoy. I help women clarify their goals, and take tangible steps toward attaining them.