I wish I could tell you there was one big event in my life that happened, that made me double my weight, and then with some miraculous epiphany I lost all of it, and I am here to tell you, you can do it, too. Well that is not my story at all.
I have touched upon disordered eating and gaining weight in college before on my “About me” page. Today I want to tell you my whole food story. I believe we give life situations meaning, weaving these into stories that then make up our whole existence. From the way we think about money, to the meaning we give family, the life we live at work, the way we feel happiness, and also the way we are around food. Everyone of us has a unique food story, which shapes the way we behave around food, the way we eat, crave, binge, restrict, and feel.
When working one on one with clients, I like to dig into these food stories. Without understanding the story you have been telling yourself around food, you will never truly get freedom with food, and ultimately freedom for your body. Meaning, if you don’t confront the past, you will never truly move on. When we look at all diets on the market, we never talk about the story we told ourselves around food. It’s just about eat this, don’t eat that, you will be skinny and happy… until you gain weight again. It’s an endless cycle of re-enforcing how bad you should feel about yourself.
What do I mean with food story? Well, let me tell you mine.
I grew up in a loving family. In a safe and protected environment. My parents never talked about food in a bad, restricting way, they didn’t diet (well at least not in front of me). They didn’t tell me “you can’t have this because it has too much sugar”. My mother was on the forefront of the whole foods movement. She cooked us whole grains in the 80s when it was definitely not trendy. We had wild rice and barley, and everything she baked was whole grain. I always felt like the odd one with the weird lunchbox.
I never thought about how I looked until I was 10 years old. We had just moved to Taiwan, and I was starting to dance a lot, about 2 hours every afternoon. Because my sister and I were blond and exotic looking to Chinese, we were asked to model for children’s clothing lines. It was just fun jumping around, until one of the stylists came to me, and started poking at my collarbones. “Can’t you pull them in?” I didn’t even know what she meant, shrugged it off, and let it go. And yet, when I think of this moment, it was the first time I thought, “what’s wrong with me?”
After that I started to realize how many comments people would make to my mom about how skinny I was. I was this super awkward, super lanky child. My nose and ears looked huge compared to the rest of me. And yet I never thought about it. I was eating when I was hungry, I moved a lot, and I was a happy child.
I developed late, and because I was still eating home cooked meals (plus a lot of Lucky Charms for breakfast!), and dancing for hours and hours, I didn’t really feel like I was changing much. Even though my butt definitely had started to fill in to the typical family butt, my mother never made me feel bad about it. When we were shopping for jeans, and none of them fit me properly, she would just tell me to go try another pair that looked better.
And even when she went on a diet - as far as I can remember some kind of low carb, high protein diet - she didn’t make a huge deal out of it. I was 13. And it was the first time I got interested in why she was doing this. I had never heard of this concept “diet”, and wanted to know all about it. What I took away from it was “if you are not happy with the way you look, you go on a diet, and it will make it all better.” Seriously, I thought it was like some kind of magic wand.
Well, let’s fast forward when I went to college. I was 19, and moved half way across the world to Germany. It was the first time I was away from home, home cooked meals, and some level of supervision in my life. I felt ready to take on the world, but really deep down I was still a total mama’s girl, and frightened of being all alone. Well let me tell you how I dealt with that. I ate. A lot. I ate my loneliness away. I would just go to the supermarket, and buy everything and anything that looked delicious to me. I would make late night runs to the gas station for extra chocolate bars (the only place open after 6pm in Germany at that time). I would wake up in the middle of the night, feel scared and alone, and head on over to the fridge to see what looked delicious to shove in my mouth at 2am. I started drinking alcohol at parties (totally legal in Germany btw!). And Saturday morning at 8am as soon as the bakery at my corner opened, I was there to grab the freshest croissants and rolls.
Here is the biggest irony: I was studying nutrition! In my last year of high school I had heard about the job of nutritionists, and thought it sounded very interesting. I liked teaching people (I was teaching dance at the time), and I loved everything science related. So I thought this was a great fit for me to sit through the next 4 years of college. In class I was learning all about the chemical structures of carbs, fats, and proteins, and what journeys they took through the body. At home I was struggling with putting on a lot of weight (around 15kg/ 33lbs). I started to feel like a hypocrite. Here I was on the journey to becoming a person, who was supposed to help other people with their food struggles, and I couldn’t get a handle on my own weight.
I needed to do something. I found my answer with exercise. After all, I ate what I wanted before, but always moved a lot. So that should work for me now, too! I started dancing and doing Pilates and Yoga again. When those didn’t work, I knew it had to be something more drastic. I joined a gym. I started running every morning before classes. I absolutely despised it. But every time my foot hit the ground, I thought about the weight just falling off me. I would hit the pool in the afternoon for an hour of laps, followed by late afternoon classes. In the evenings I slaved away at 2 group fitness classes back to back, then hit the elliptical machine for 45 minutes, and finished with a whooping 90 minutes of weight machines. Yes, that was 6+ hours of exercise every day! Still, the weight just kept creeping up.
There was no way physically or time wise that I could add any more hours of exercise to my day, so I decided I needed to change what I ate. According to the calorie equation, if I just kept exercising the way I was, and stopped eating, I should be disappearing within 2 months. So that was what I did. I would go all day not eating, drinking green tea for the caffeine to keep my metabolism running high (because I just hated coffee!), and I would exercise like a maniac. Of course, restriction has never helped anyone, and it didn’t help me either. I ended up binge eating late at night, every night in complete secret. Pizza, pasta, chocolate, whatever I could find stuffed away in the pantry. One night I even broke open the bag of chocolate chips, and started stuffing those in my mouth, sitting on the floor of my dark kitchen. I looked around and was mortified. I felt so ashamed of the way I was eating, of my body, the rolls and streaks, and I just wanted to cut pieces of thighs and hips off to make myself look the way I wanted. I got obsessed with looking at skinny people and analyzing their plates. “How can she be eating this bag of chips and stay so skinny” was the question I asked myself all the time. If I just sat next to the bag I would gain another few pounds! To the outside world everything looked fine. I was smiling, and sitting there stabbing my limb salad with my fork. On the inside I was demonizing that salad, and wondering how much more I would weigh in the morning. I was obsessed with weighing myself multiple times throughout the day, seeing how my weight changed with every food I ate and after every exercise I did.
This story continues until the last year of college. I was going through cycles of dieting - any diet under the sun was good enough for me! Low fat, no dairy, no carbs, cabbage soup diet, the toothpaste diet (= brush your teeth, you won’t want to eat. Guess what, you can brush your teeth again!). In my last year, I took a class called nutrition psychology. It was absolutely fascinating to me, how I knew everything I knew about food, and yet I was not able to lose the weight. It must be my mind, I decided. So I was expecting big things from this class. And while a lot of it was very “voodoo” and not accepted by mainstream nutrition yet, I finally had a name for what I was going through: “binge eating disorder”. We had learnt so much about bulimia and anorexia, and I could never really identify with either of them. Binge eating disorder was finally my “problem”.
Binge eating =
recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food
a feeling of loss of control - you just can’t stop eating!
experiencing shame and guilt afterwards
there is no inappropriate compensatory behavior like vomiting with bulimia
But now what? I went to see doctors and told them about my self diagnosis. They just told me I needed to stop eating. Seriously, I was told this on multiple occasions. I couldn’t find any therapists or coaches that had worked with this before. It was such a new term, no one knew what to do with it. So I decided I need to take my healing into my own hands.
I would love to tell you that I found the formula within months, healed myself, and have helped millions of people since then. Well, I would say it took a good 5 years until I finally found a winning combination of self love, body acceptance, nourishing food attitude, and caring exercise practice. There is so much I have learnt, and still continue to learn, and that is what I share with you on the blog here. Nothing is meant to make you feel bad about how you eat, but these are just tips and tricks to helping you deal with your food story.
You may not identify with my drastic binge eating food story, and that is ok. Maybe your journey is about how there was never enough food around when you were young? Maybe food was a joyful occasion of getting the family together, and you still feel that way about food? Maybe you were told from a young age you need to diet or be thinner? Maybe you were bullied in school for how you looked? Whatever your food story is, it is the right story, because it is yours. It is your starting point to unraveling how to overcome any anxiety, bingeing, dieting, or other thoughts you have around food. Food was the demon for me at some point. I was filled with anxiety as soon as I would have to sit down to eat. And I hated any social occasions that involved food in the worry that I would slip up, and people would find out. I can tell you there is no secret magic wand that will just make you better. But I can tell you there is a way to get better. And it all starts with your food story. Understanding this will help you on your way of recovery. And I will be here every step of the way with you, whenever you need me!