Health & Peace: The Long Road

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I wrote this long before I switched to a vegan lifestyle.  The overall message and lessons learned definitely still ring true, but I no longer eat the animal foods mentioned below.  For more on why I went vegan, click here!

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This is my health story.  It’s much more than just a weight-loss narrative- it’s the tale of how I became a stronger, happier, more confident, all-around healthy woman.  The things I talk about here are only based on my experience, and I will never say that my way is the right way or the only way.  It is simply what worked for me.  I also want to point out that I do not believe that all people who are overweight have emotional problems or issues they need to deal with.  It was true in my case, but I know there are many reasons why people struggle with weight, and emotional issues are just one possible cause.  I hope you will find this story to be inspiring!

I was always a pretty happy kid.

My mom was a single mom for a couple of years after I was born, and then she married my stepdad.  They had five children together, for a grand family member total of eight.  Being the oldest of six kids was tough but also wonderful, and I’m pretty close to each of my sibs to this day.  I know that being the only kid with a different dad had an effect on me, whether I care to admit it or not.  I definitely do not blame my parents for my problems, but I do think that this particular circumstance, paired with the fact that my real father wanted nothing to do with me, was the main reason why I grew up one of the most insecure, nervous, worrisome, shy teens on the face of the planet.

Hello, 1992!  Contrary to what you may be thinking, my dress and that HAIR (!) were actually the least of my worries.

I didn’t know how to handle my emotions and negative feelings, and I always loved to eat.  Food was how I coped.  I didn’t really see it then, but I know that’s what was going on now.  Hindsight is usually 20/20, right?

Age 17.

(And yes, that IS a pack of Marlboros in my hand.  Now I can’t believe I ever smoked at all!)

Age 18.

I remember as a teen barely eating anything at all during the day, and then eating everything in sight at night.  I loved carbs, especially sweet stuff- bowls of cereal piled high with sugar, toaster pastries, chocolate, ice cream- you name it, I ate it.  It was a binge/starve cycle that kept me a steady 20 pounds or so over my ideal weight for most of my childhood and teen years.  When I was 19, I started reading Shape and Fitness magazines.  I started counting calories.  I joined a gym.  And I lost weight- probably 20 or 30 pounds over six month’s time through diet and exercise.  I felt great!  The compliments I received from people made me feel good about myself, and my confidence began to build.  Shopping for clothes became fun for once!  My steady boyfriend at the time thought I looked amazing.  Life was good.

Except then it wasn’t.  Over time, I started tightening up the calorie counting.  I increased the amount of exercise that I was doing.  I would obsessively measure every morsel that went into my mouth, and I was constantly calculating my intake.  I stopped salting my food, stopped eating dessert altogether, and passed up parties and dinners out because what was being served did not fit within my meal plan.  I would go to bed at 9pm each night so that I could wake up at 5am before work/school and put myself through grueling, high-intensity workouts.  I was missing out on life.  I was always freezing cold, my hair began to thin, and my skin was painfully dry.  My weight on the scale continued to go down, but I rationalized that it was the result of my “healthy lifestyle” and would plateau on its own with time.  I couldn’t keep losing weight forever, could I?  My stepdad had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and my weight loss and the severity of my eating disorder seemed to accelerate as his sickness progressed.  As a classic Type A personality, I know that when life feels out of control, I tend to tighten up the things that I can control.  Again, I didn’t see this then, but it is crystal clear to me now!

This is my driver’s license picture from 2000 or 2001, around age 21.  Maybe I filled in my eyebrows like that to distract from the sadness in my eyes?  (I kid.)  This picture hurts my heart and brings back some painful memories.  I wish I could give this girl a hug.  And maybe a hamburger…

I remember the day when I got on the scale and it told me that I weighed 103 pounds.  I am 5’5″.  Then one day it said 99 pounds.  98.  95.  90.  During this time, I was attending community college full-time, and was enrolled in a nutrition class.  My professor, who could tell that I had an eating disorder, offered to take my body fat measurements.  The calipers showed that I was at 5.5%.  I remember crying to my teacher uncontrollably, telling her that I was scared.  At this point, for the first time, I admitted that I needed help.  My nutrition professor referred me to a nutrition therapist who was a friend of hers, and I began outpatient treatment almost immediately.

Me at my lowest weight (here with my stepdad).

The therapist introduced me to Geneen Roth’s work, and I remember being incredibly horrified at the thought of eating whatever I wanted.  I had never eaten based on my own hunger and fullness.  It occurred to me then that I had spent my entire childhood ignoring my natural cues- that intuitive wisdom that we all have- and instead muffled that intuition by stuffing it down with food.  And then, with this eating disorder, I was again ignoring my internal wisdom by not eating enough.  From age 19 until about 22, I ate by the clock, every meal a carefully measured portion of “allowed” food, without regard to the fact that my body was SCREAMING(!) for nourishment and a break from exercise.  I was sick, and I had to get better- I wanted to get better, I just did not know how.  I had a very hard time gaining weight, and the therapist eventually threatened to have me hospitalized.  If I didn’t make upward progress on the scale, it would be necessary, she’d said.  This is also around the time that my stepdad passed away, and my longtime boyfriend and I broke up.  My stepdad’s death shook our family to the core, and though my boyfriend remained a good friend who offered support through this rough time, our break-up was hard on both of us.  He could no longer stand by and watch me disappear, and it was obvious that I wasn’t happy.  We had to go our separate ways, and so we did.

I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden something snapped inside me.  I started bingeing again, and I could not be stopped.  I must have binged on junk for six months straight.  I think of it like this: I spent four years depriving myself, getting little to no enjoyment from food, and eating way less than my body needed.  My body and my mind wanted all the things that I had not allowed it to have for so long, and they wanted them nowAll at once.  I know many people with eating disorders can gradually gain weight and learn how to eat “normally” again, but I’ve always been a person of extremes.  I literally spent six months eating chocolate bars and Pop-tarts and pastries and cake, again without regard to whether or not I was hungry or full.  There was some MUST EAT IT NOW beast inside of me that was impossible to appease.  I also went from over-exercising maniac to couch-bound sloth whose only form of exercise was lifting either more food to my mouth or the remote to change the channel.  As a result, I went from 88 pounds to 205 pounds in about six months.  I cringe when I think about what that must have done to my body, inside and out.  This was by far the darkest, most depressing time of my whole life.

The need to binge eventually wore off, as I’d hoped it would.  I was 23.  I was still very depressed and struggling inside, only now I was 80 pounds overweight.  Still not able to fully wrap my head around intuitive eating, I started dieting.  Atkins was a big one that I tried, with little success.  I remember eating just the cheese and toppings off a slice of pizza, and gorging on those chalky, waxy Atkins bars.  The thought makes me sick to my stomach!  A friend introduced me to Body For LIFE, and I followed that program off and on for a couple of years.  I lost weight, and it got me back into exercising in a more moderate, sensible way, but I was still struggling.  If you’re familiar with Body For LIFE, you know that it allows for one cheat day each week.  Not surprisingly, cheat day became BINGE DAY for me, and I’d literally spend the entire day eating junk from the minute I woke up until 12 midnight (when the day ended).  It was not a healthy way to live, and I was still ignoring what my body was trying to tell me.  I believe we all have that little voice inside of us that tells us what we truly need, but if we ignore it for years and years, it becomes more and more difficult to hear.  Eventually, my weight settled at around 165 lbs.

I got pregnant in 2005 with my first baby, and I exercised through the whole pregnancy and gained about 35 pounds.  I breastfed for the first year and was back on Body For LIFE nutrition almost immediately, and reached my pre-baby weight of 165 within six weeks of delivery.  I wanted to be in better shape and lose another 40 pounds, but the stress of a new baby, problems in my marriage, and moving away from my family to another state for the first time ever made that difficult.  I still struggled with binge eating and restricting, and I didn’t know what to do about it.  I loosely (and miserably) followed Body For LIFE for a year after the birth of my son, and my weight dropped another ten or so pounds.

A Body For LIFE “after” picture, taken in late 2006.

In early 2007 I discovered Precision Nutrition, and that dropped my weight down to 139.  It is a program very similar to Body For LIFE, only with a bit more flexibility and better-tasting recipes.  After six months or so, I just couldn’t do it anymore.  In late 2007, at 139 pounds, I could not keep eating and exercising the way I had been.  I wanted to set a good example for my son, and I knew that I had to overcome my disordered way of eating and thinking to fully be able to do that.  I still struggled with binge eating, and I was ready to trade that in for a more normal, balanced, consistent way of eating- even if it meant gaining a little weight back.  I had to free myself from this life-consuming burden that weight-loss had become.  I had to remember that my weight did not define who I was as a person.  I was missing out on life and I didn’t want to do that anymore.

I stopped counting calories and had a life-changing moment in late 2007.  Here is a blog entry from October 15, 2007.  It is a list of my observations and thoughts after finally swearing off dieting altogether- I promised myself that I would never, EVER diet again.  Period.

Observations

I’m in my second week of non-dieting and here are a few things I have noticed:

  • my pants are tighter and while this is uncomfortable, I’m ok with it. I rationalize that this is the result of, oh my, eating carbs again. I’m sure I’ve gained a few pounds but I’m avoiding the scale and my stress level is actually at an all-time low. I knew that dieting stressed me out, but I had no idea how much. A certain sense of urgency is gone because I am no longer revolving my life and everything that I do around meal timing and planning and food combining. I’m not a slave to any of it anymore.
  • the feeling of hunger made me panic at first. Now I’m excited to get hungry because it means that I get to choose whatever I want to eat… and the possibilities are endless! This can be a little overwhelming and scary, though. After YEARS of being told what and when to eat, sometimes I feel lost in a sea of choice and I get cranky if I get too hungry. I’m learning to go with the flow and am trying my best to tune in to what my body really wants and what will satisfy me at that moment. It really does change from day to day and hour to hour. I’m finding the balance between being practical (i.e. bringing snacks to work in anticipation of hunger) but not feeling as though I HAVE to eat any specific thing at any specific time. I get hungry pretty regularly, but I’m trying hard not to eat by the clock (as I have been doing for YEARS) and am doing my best to let my hunger be my guide.
  •  I jiggle a bit more when I’m doing my cardio (which sucks, I cannot lie) but I have more energy than ever to workout, and now it’s about health and FEELING good instead of losing weight. Because I’m no longer trying to lose weight, I had to shift my focus in that respect. It’s hard to workout when there isn’t some immediate goal or instant gratification (smaller clothes, feeling “skinny”), but I feel ten times better when I workout from an energy standpoint and I’m able to lift more/jump higher when I’m running on all 8 (well-fed) cylinders.
  •  it’s tough to silence my inner nutrition Nazi… if I want a bowl of cereal with soy milk for breakfast, the first thing that pops into my head is oh, all those carbs! where’s the protein? you’re going to get sooooooooo fat! but then I tell that voice to suck it, pour a bowl and enjoy my meal. I’m paying very close attention to how different foods make me feel and I can already tell that eventually this will begin to guide my decisions on what to eat. Yes, an afternoon donut might seem like a tasty snack but it’s not really worth it if you’re in a carb coma thirty minutes later and hungry yet again. 
  •  I do not function or feel well on a carb-only meal. I need protein.
  • Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating is what I’m currently reading. I’ve read it before but I was nowhere near ready to actually “break free” until now. Overcoming Overeating is next on my list. I didn’t think that Breaking Free would really apply to me, but thirty pages in and I swear she wrote the book just for me. 
  • Eating what you want is scary after years of dieting. Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I miss the convenience of knowing what and when I’ll eat. A few times this past week I thought fuck this, I’m going back to dieting but I know what will happen if I do. I’ll start out strong and after about 2 days you’d find me holding an ice cream truck hostage. I can’t go back, and I won’t. 
  • Surprisingly, most of the time I don’t want to eat crap. For dinner I had a big salad with spinach, red pepper, tomato, a little cheddar cheese, some fajita-seasoned chicken that I cooked over the weekend, some organic jalapeno-laced refried black beans and light ranch dressing. It was absolutely delicious. I crave mostly healthy foods and spreading unmeasured almond butter on a whole wheat english muffin in the morning is most liberating. Having some cream in my coffee is heaven. Knowing that if I get hungry I can eat is the very best feeling. It’s true: when you know you can have whatever you want whenever you are hungry, you don’t need to eat it all now. It’s a very strange feeling to eat something most would deem “bad” (ice cream, cookies, pie) and not feel an ounce of guilt, and to know that I don’t have to starve myself the next meal or the next day. It’s a very strange and wonderful feeling indeed.
  • I’m starting to look to kitchen goddesses like Rachael Ray (don’t laugh, hear me out, I know she’s as annoying as a mosquito flying around your ear when you’re trying to sleep) and Nigella Lawson (who is just plain delicious, yum) for inspiration. Real, curvy women who love life and good food. For lunch today I had a panini from Whole Foods: turkey, brie, mixed greens and fig chutney on focaccia bread. Divine. For the last several months I have eaten my bland mini-meals dreaming of the next one, counting down the minutes until I “get to” have another helping of cottage cheese and carrot sticks or a scoop of whey protein mixed with water (talk about gourmet!). You’re damn skippy that after that panini today I didn’t think about food much until I was actually hungry again. It’s nice to think about things other than food. I knew I was preoccupied with food before, but I never really realized how much until now. With all the energy and brain power I put into meal planning and calorie counting throughout the years I swear I could have developed a cure for cancer or cloned my dog using some twine and a cheap lighter. What a waste. 
  •  Non-dieting, to me anyway, does not mean eat whatever you want whenever you want it… it means eat whatever you want when you are hungry. I have overeaten a few times since swearing off dieting, but that’s to be expected from time to time. I’m confident that soon I’ll recognize my perfect fullness/satisfaction point and stop eating accordingly. For the first time in my life I am able to wrap up food I can’t finish and save it for later… I’m no longer a member of the clean-your-plate club.
  • I have a little money set aside for a well-deserved shopping spree. I vow to only buy clothes that look good, fit well and make me feel like a million bucks. No sulking over the size, no poking and prodding at my ample thighs… confidence, baby, that’s where it’s at. I am no longer going to put off shopping until I lose ten pounds, or whatever. I’d rather look hot in a size 8 or 10 or even a 12 (!!!) and be able to eat dessert than look miserable and ho-hum at a size 6 or 4 while I resent everyone around me for eating fucking dessert. My gawd, why couldn’t I have come to my senses over this ages ago? It’s my mission to change the world and the way women live their lives. Not everyone is as batshit crazy as I am, but I’m sure I’m not the only fruitloop in the box, am I right? Ladies? Put some full-fat ranch on your salad. Have that slice of cheesecake. Then go for a walk and kiss your loved ones and dance around your house in your underwear. Life is good.
  •  This is going to be a long process but I can already tell that it’s going to be SO FREAKING WORTH IT. I don’t want to be skinny. I just want to be happy. Happy and healthy. My smile is already a million times wider and brighter than before. My mood is much more pleasant. I like myself better when I’m not dieting. I suspect everyone else does, too. Who knew that you could love life and have cellulite?

In 2008 we moved back home with my family, which was a good first step in my self-acceptance quest.  Having their support helped me tremendously.  Problems in my marriage worsened, and I struggled to find work in Texas.  I kept to my word and practiced intuitive eating as best I knew how.  I felt like I had to learn how to eat all over again, and 2008 was a trial-and-error year.  I discovered my food preferences; I, who always pimped breakfast as the can’t-miss most important meal of the day, realized that I wasn’t usually hungry most mornings.  If that was the case, I simply didn’t eat breakfast- REBEL!  It amazes me how basic and common sense this sounds, and I’m sure many of you are thinking that.  If you are?  I’m so very, very glad.  Eating disorders are a fucking bitch.  But I’m betting that if you’ve made it this far, you can relate to some part of my story.

It took a lot of letting go and working through some strange, unpleasant feelings in order to finally be able to truly stop fixating on the size of my ass and my obsession with dieting.  I also had a lot more time- I had spent an absurd amount of energy and years of my life planning “allowed” meals and measuring out portions and calculating macronutrient ratios, and when I decided that I wasn’t going to do that anymore, I felt lost.  Now what?  When I was finally able to let go, I started to feel like myself again- like the self that was there all along, I just didn’t know how to let her shine through.  I had a new zest for life, more pep in my step, and I could focus on other, more important things- like family and friends and my career and finding a hobby that I enjoyed and counting my many, many blessings.  And guess what?  People didn’t notice that I was putting on weight; instead they commented on how I suddenly seemed so much more relaxed and happy and outgoing and fun.  It was as though one million pounds had been lifted right off my chest, and I was finally free.

I gained 20 pounds once I finally gave up dieting for good, which kept my weight at right around 155-160.  I rediscovered my love of cooking actual meals using real, full-fat foods.  In May 2008 I became pregnant with my youngest tot, O.  My love of food only intensified, and I tried to be as good to myself as possible by eating what I wanted while making healthy choices for the baby.  I tried to stay active, but didn’t do any planned workouts, and gained about 40 pounds.  Once the baby was born, I knew that my marriage was over, but it took awhile for that fact to come to fruition.  I did a lot of growing up in 2009, and made the conscious decision to take the very best care of myself that I possibly could- in the spiritual sense, as well as physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.  I knew how I wanted my life to be and I took small steps in that direction.  I adhered to my no-dieting policy and instead continued to explore new recipes and cooking styles and cuisines- Food Network became my 24/7 postpartum companion, and I fell even more in love with Giada de Laurentiis and Rachael Ray.  I breastfed for 11 months, and worked out regularly and consistently (I tried to do something every day, and in the first few months after O was born I was a diehard devotee of Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred).  Exercising this time was different.  It wasn’t about burning calories or working off a slice of cheesecake; instead, I paid attention to what my body could do, how I felt when it moved, and how it changed with dedication to daily exercise.  I could do a set of military-style “MAN” push-ups for the first time ever.  Workouts became fun and purposeful- I had energy to keep up with my kids, I looked and felt much better in my clothes, I had a healthy appetite and enjoyed cooking for myself, and I had a much more optimistic outlook on life.  At the hardest point in my adult life- the demise of my marriage and subsequent life upheaval- eating well and exercising regularly were my saving grace.  It helped me to make it through, and it became habit.  And so my healthy lifestyle was born.  I haven’t looked back since.

February 2010, at my 30th birthday party- one year and one day after O was born.

It took about six months of consistent workouts and eating well for me to lose the baby weight, plus another 25 or 30 pounds.  My weight today is somewhere between 120-130; I feel my very best at 125 pounds.  When I say eating well, I mean just that- not too much, not too little- not eating because it’s time or because it’s Bob’s birthday and everyone’s having cake, but because I’m hungry and my body says it wants a fresh plate of homemade spaghetti with big, juicy, basil-infused meatballs, or maybe I haven’t eaten all day and I’m really just not that hungry, so I’ll have something light like a salad or yogurt.  It’s trying your best to tune into that intuitive wisdom that your body has and listening to it when it says it wants a cheeseburger with extra cheese, or a big slice of fresh watermelon.  It’s knowing when you’ve had enough and putting down the fork accordingly.  I absolutely overeat every now and again, but I try not to and I definitely don’t overeat much more often than I do overeat.  And when I do overdo it?  I do NOT beat myself up.  It happens.  Food is good.  And I get right back on track (without dieting!) and pay extra close attention to my body’s signals for the next meal.  This listening also applies to working out- pushing yourself but knowing when to back off.  It definitely takes time and it takes getting to know yourself, but damn, it’s possible.  And trying to find that balance is absolutely worth it!  How incredible is it that when I stopped following other people’s rules and quit dieting and started being good to myself and focusing on health and eating and exercising my way, the weight came off with ease!?  When I started having fun and enjoying myself and focusing on health and happiness and on making my dream life become my real life, there was no reason to struggle anymore.  I became healthy on the inside, and it eventually started to show on the outside.

Here are some pics of me today:

Ha!

I don’t want to make it sound like finding peace and balance with eating and exercise has been easy.  It took a good year of trial-and-error to find what would work for me, not to mention the 27 years of dieting and starving and bingeing before that!  Here is an excerpt from a blog entry dated December 23, 2007 (about two months after I stopped dieting for good):

The non-diet thing was great at first, then I obsessed over not dieting, which led me to binge a few times, which led me to feel like a failure at yet another food and body related distraction, and then… well, I don’t know what happened. I just sort of stopped caring and snapped out of it. I work out. That hasn’t changed. Weights for an hour twice a week, cardio as many times as I can fit it in, yoga if I need to chill. Sometimes I eat very healthy, sometimes I don’t. It all depends on WHAT I FEEL LIKE. I continue to buy clothes that fit well, look good and make me feel good. I have learned to L-O-V-E my ass. Really and truly. I cherish that junk in my trunk. Of course there are still things I dislike (tricep jiggle, cellulite, saddlebags, the years later post-baby ab pooch that just won’t quit), but I no longer hate any part of my body. That HATE is gone.

So, the mistake I made in the beginning was expecting to be “cured” after a month. Because if you’ve been doing the emotional eating thing all your life, or the diet/binge/diet/binge thing, you can’t realistically expect that 2 books and a few weeks will break the cycle. It takes effort. You won’t be perfect. You will slip and fall. But you need to fall. You make real progress when you fall and DON’T try to fix things with another diet. You make progress when you overeat at dinner one night and let it go. When you wake up the next morning and eat a bowl of Cheerios when you get hungry because that’s what you want to eat, not egg whites and oatmeal because that’s what you THINK you should eat. It takes awhile for all that pressure to subside. It’s almost easier to just keep dieting than it is to face the first few weeks of non-dieting. It’s easier to continue the cycle of losing weight and then gaining it back (on a diet, off a diet, on a diet, off a diet) because it’s so familiar, it’s all you know. But I am telling you that once you get over that hurdle, once you let all your perfect body expectations go and focus on health and how you feel and what you truly enjoy (what you enjoy food-wise, exercise-wise, life-wise!), when you focus on what feels good, it’s absolutely worth it. Getting your life back is worth it. Even if you have to start from scratch.

It definitely was not easy, and getting to where I am now took finding some middle ground.  I had to discover what would work for me, which ended up being a balance of eating what I want and eating for good health, and also acknowledging the fact that I do want to look fit and trim.  I know that I need to eat well and exercise in order to look like I eat well and exercise, and I’m ok with that.  When I think about the lifestyle habits that have allowed me to get to my current weight and maintain it, here are a few key points that come to mind:

  • I don’t eat processed junk.  I just don’t really like it.  When I finally stopped dieting, I had to stop eating what I thought I should be eating and learn my true food preferences.  Turns out, I prefer whole, real foods, not only taste-wise, but because they make me feel awesome.  I turn my nose up at donuts and Doritos all the time because they don’t satisfy me and they don’t sit well in my stomach.  The same goes for low- and no-fat “diet” foods.  A slice of fat-free cheese, to me, is processed junk.  You might as well eat some melted plastic.  Our bodies weren’t meant to digest those kinds of things.  The food you eat should be delicious, and should make you feel amazing.  I spent years dieting and only dreaming of cramming donuts and chips and candy into my mouth at all hours of the day, and when I finally gave myself permission to eat anything, I discovered that I don’t really like that stuff very much.  There are a million other things I’d rather be eating.
  • I eat when I am hungry, and stop when I am satisfied (not stuffed!).  This one took some work, and I tackled it in steps.  When I finally stopped dieting for good, I focused on eating when I was hungry.  Once I’d mastered that, I paid extra attention to my fullness level.  I feel best if I stop eating when I’m about 80-85% full.  Of course I still overeat at times, but I feel best if I leave a little room in my stomach, and I think that not stuffing myself is one reason why I can eat rich, high-fat foods on a regular basis and still maintain my weight.  I can eat anything anytime I’m hungry, so there really isn’t any reason to eat it all right this minute.  A good example of someone who practices this style of eating is Giada de Laurentiis.  She cooks with real, fresh ingredients, gets excited about food, savors and enjoys a reasonable portion of it, and then moves on.  Her, Nigella Lawson and Rachael Ray were very inspiring to me when I first stopped dieting (and they still are!).  They are curvy, gorgeous, healthy women who cook amazing meals and have a contagious passion for good health, good food, and living life to the fullest.
  • I know the basics of nutrition.  Though I don’t count calories or fat grams or any of that (and haven’t since 2007), I do read labels.  I am nutritionally aware.  I like to know what I’m eating!  I try to buy food in it’s most natural form as often as possible, and I avoid anything with an ingredients list full of words I don’t recognize.  Understanding how protein, carbohydrate and fats work in your body also allows you to put together more satisfying meals and snacks.  For example, I know that eating an omelet with cheese and veggies is going to make me feel better and keep me from getting hungry much longer than a handful of chips or a piece of toast.
  • I balance my intake over time.  This relates to knowing about basic nutrition.  Pancakes for breakfast?  I’ll have something light and protein-heavy for lunch (like maybe a salad with grilled salmon and feta cheese).  Big plate of pasta with cream sauce for dinner?  I balance that by having fruit and yogurt for breakfast.  Balancing your meals means that you get to have some of everything- not too much of any one thing- and you aren’t overdoing it.  I have dessert every single night because I looooove sweets, especially chocolate, and I’ve been known to drink red wine on a near-nightly basis, but I’m also known to have veggie-heavy egg white omelets for breakfast and salads the size of my head for lunch.  I balance my favorite rich foods with lighter ones that I know help me to feel and look my best.  My body doesn’t want cheesecake for every meal of the day, but it doesn’t want salad all the time, either.
  • I bust my ass.  I work out hard.  I know that exercising has numerous benefits, and I love the way I feel after a workout.  I worked hard to get fit and I’m going to stay fit.  I visualized myself as someone who is fit and healthy, I started doing the things that a fit and healthy person would do, and I became a fit and healthy person.  I stay motivated in my workouts by changing them up every 4-6 weeks and always challenging myself in some new way.  You’ll be much more inclined to stick to a workout routine if you have more motivation than “I have to work out so I can wear my skinny jeans”.  That gets old real quick and sucks the enjoyment right out of what could be an otherwise fun workout.
  • I only eat foods that I LOVE!  Don’t absolutely love it?  Don’t eat it!  Your body doesn’t want or need the extra calories.  I’d MUCH rather savor the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that is sitting in my freezer at home after a long day than eat some stale leftover birthday cake mid-afternoon in the break room just because everyone else is having some.  Only eat what you love when you are hungry, and pay attention to it!  I try my absolute hardest to make eating an event that is worth my undivided attention.  I set the table for dinner.  I sit and focus on my meals and snacks and try to avoid mindless munching at all costs.
  • I cook for myself.  Cooking for myself nearly every night means that I get to know my food.  I’m mindful when I buy ingredients and I try to think about where the food came from, how it was grown, and how it got to my kitchen.  I treat food as something to be savored and something to be thankful for.  I use real, full-fat, fresh ingredients- none of this fat-free (taste-free!) nonsense.  This also means that I’m less likely to mindlessly overeat.  If I invest time and energy into cooking something, I’m more likely to pay attention while I’m eating it and will be much more satisfied on a smaller portion.  Oh, this reminds me- I rarely have seconds.  I dish up my servings according to how hungry I feel, and once I’ve finished my portion I don’t usually go back for seconds.  Cook, eat and enjoy the hell out of it, and then move on with your life.
  • Remember that being thin doesn’t mean you’ll be happy!  My weight struggles had little to do with actual food and everything to do with emotional pain and things that needed to be dealt with on a very personal level.  My extra weight (or lack of healthy weight) is symbolic of something that was missing in my life, I just didn’t know any other way to deal with it before.  Now, if I notice that I want to eat when I’m not hungry or I feel myself tightening up and thinking that I should be eating less, I take it as a sign that something is going on with me and I need to get to the bottom of it.  I am finally able to recognize that without judging myself and can work through my issues, rather than stuff them down with food or become obsessive about eating enough protein.

I didn’t weigh myself much in 2009, because I wanted to just let my body do it’s thing without focusing on any numbers.  While I was losing weight, I chose to focus on how I felt and how my clothes fit.  When I did finally start weighing myself regularly, and saw that my body naturally settled at around 125 pounds, I thought long and hard about how I was going to maintain that weight without becoming obsessive about it.  Here is the one thing that works for me:

  • I weigh myself regularly.  I know that I feel my best at 125 pounds, but I know that weight fluctuates five pounds or so in either direction due to a number of factors (time of day, time of month, etc.).  If my weight starts creeping toward 130, I know I need to drink less wine, eat a little less dessert, and kick a little more ass during my workouts.  If the scale reads closer to 120, I mentally note that I have a little wiggle room for an extra glass of red or a pumpkin spice latte with whip, and I can ease up a bit on my workouts.  Honestly, I have found weight maintenance to be pretty easy.  As long as I am aware of my eating patterns and regularly check in with myself, either on the scale or by how my clothes are fitting, and make small, effortless adjustments to my eating, my weight stays consistent.  When I say small, effortless adjustments, I mean it: like having one glass of wine instead of two for a few nights, or having one scoop of ice cream for dessert instead of half a pint.  Little things like that make a difference, and it’s usually enough to get the scale back to where I want it to be in a matter of days.

Finally, here are the resources that really helped mentally prep me to finally stop dieting for good.  Some of these I stumbled on more recently, and others I’ve been reading or following for years, but all of them have helped me tremendously on this long road to health and peace:

I find inspiration from the blogs listed above on a daily basis.  My journey is definitely a unique one, but I think that many people can relate to it on some level.  This is one of the main reasons why I decided to work towards a degree in Health Studies and become a Certified Health Education Specialist.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on body image issues, emotional eating, weight-loss struggles, and anything else you’d like to share.  I invite you to continue to follow me on my journey, because it certainly isn’t over.  I’m always learning, growing, changing, and discovering new things about myself, fitness, food, and life.  As always, thanks for reading.  :)

***

UPDATE: The journey continues!  In June 2011 I began transitioning to a vegan diet.  Click here to find out why:)

25 responses »

  1. I knew you’d battled eating disorders, but had no idea it was for that long. I’m so glad that you’re in such a happy place now.

    x

    P.S. I’m linking to this in tomorrow’s post.

  2. Thanks for following me from blog to blog, K. :) You’ve done quite a lifestyle overhaul as well and it shows, only you found your happy place long before me. We pretty much just plain kick ass. ;)

  3. What a tough story, but a beautiful ending Sara. So glad I came from Kek’s blog to read it.

    I never got that low, but other then that can relate to your story. I’m going to have a look at your links that have helped you as although I have come so far myself, I’m not quite there yet.

    • Kristy, thanks for reading! It’s something I’ve been wanting to share for awhile now, and this break from school gave me the time I needed to do it. Let me know what you think of the links! I’m trying to save the world from dieting! :)

    • Charlotte, I’m so glad that you could relate to my post. I suspected that many people would be able to on some level. Thanks for reading! :D

  4. Hi Sara, another one who followed the link from Kek and can definitely relate (to parts). I am reading Geneen Roth at the moment, Women Food and God.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. I had nooo idea you had this new blog! This is a fab post and thanks for doing it! My journey has been very similar. It’s quite fun to feel daily that I’m ‘breaking the rules’ (i.e. white wine and cream sauce on my fish at dinner) and yet I don’t gain weight and I feel great. Yoga after a glass of wine also makes me feel deliciously dangerous. You are awesome.

    • Sara, I figured more women would be able to relate than not! I’m glad you found me over here… I definitely plan on doing posts relating to this one in the future! I think YOU should blog about yoga on wine! xo

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  7. Hi Sara,

    My story is similar, only I’m now stuck in a binging-without-purging phase after “beating” anorexia. It was great to read your story, and to know that other people have gone through what I’m going through.

    Have you any tips on how to “get binge-free”? I mean how you got through the first few days, if you can remember. I’m so full of resolutions at night and first thing in the morning, then some little thing stresses me out and, if I’m on my own, that’s it…..all plans go out the window!!

    Thanks for sharing your story

    • Hi Hellie! I’m going to turn my response into a post, so stay tuned! I really hope that I am able to give you some direction. If anything, at least I can say that I do know the exact place you’re at now and there is hope! Lots of it. Thanks for reading!

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  14. Thank you for sharing such a courageous story! I can relate to so many of the feelings you wrote about. I also struggled with binging even after I stopped restricting my intake. Thankfully, like you, my body eventually got tired of it and finally learned to trust me. I’m so honoured that you enjoy my blog…I also love many of the blogs you listed too.

    • I am quite familiar with your story as I follow your blog religiously, though I assure you that I am not a stalker. ;) I think it’s important that we share our stories so that other women that are struggling can find hope and courage and take comfort in the fact that they are most certainly *not* alone. You are such an inspiration to me!

      (Aside, I can’t wait to order your cookbook! So very excited. I make at least one of your recipes every week!) XO

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  16. Hi…

    So, I’m 17, and have been definatly struggling with my body for awhile now. I always seemed to have muffin top, and i longed to look like my friends that never seemed like they did.

    I would tell people the size of my pants, and they would say that its just because in tall that I’m that size. it wasn’t really but thats not the point.

    At my highschool, I take martial arts as P.E. Two years ago my teacher told us to stay active over the summer, like he does every year. That year i just decided to take him up on his offer. I jogged every day, and drastically decreased my intake of food. I no longer had a period (which i now know is a bad thing) and looked like a skinny lifeless blob. you could see my ribs through my shirt, i was always hunched over, and never ate. i dreamed of going to college so that my parents wouldn’t bother me about my weight and i could “really start working out”. if you poked me i would probably fall over.
    i wasn’t my normal happy, exuberant self, and everyone around me knew it. I just brushed them off though.

    This summer, i knew i wanted to be healthy and fit. not look like a sad model for a major fashion show. i started eating things that were more organic, and would keep me full longer. I worked out but not as much.

    I felt good!

    Then i had this “great thought” what about, counting calories, OR i could just eat this much of this food, and mentally hate how much people are eating around me, ill be skinnier than them so what does it matter then? Now i realize that that too was wrong!

    After making my food more often, i thought “DEEP DISH PIZZA!”, and in my quest to make vegetarian ( my step mom is vegetarian) i found your recipe and started to poke around your site. i read this “before and after” that you wrote and thought, ” was i going to be that binge eater? was i going to ever do things THAT drastic?” and the truth is, yeah i was probably unknowingly heading in that direction.

    Through all of this rambling i wanted to thank you for writing down your life story, and saving me from being possibly unhappy for years of my life! i think that i will start intuitively eating :)
    and accept my body more :) i want to achieve happiness, and because i read this, i think I’m started on the right path :)

    • Hiya! First of all, thank you for making me tear up and ruin my mascara. ;) What you’ve said here is *exactly* why I took the time to write about my experiences with weight and body image and disordered eating. I wasted years of my life fixating on the size of my thighs and missing out on life, and if I can prevent another soul from doing the same, putting myself out there like that will have been well worth it.

      Even though I’m at what I consider to be my ideal healthy weight now, I still have days where I am down on myself and wonder if I should eat less dessert. I’ve retrained my brain to quickly respond with, “Are you crazy? Pass me a cookie!” and I always remember that having a “perfect” body solves nothing. Kind of like when people win the lottery, their problems don’t go away. Being a size 4 or whatever means NOTHING and changes nothing- life happens to everyone, regardless of shape and size and diet and lifestyle.

      For me, the answer lies in being good to yourself. Move your body because it feels good and you love it. Be mindful of your food and listen to what your body is telling you. It will speak if you let it! Sure I have cellulite and a little extra in the trunk, but my body is amazing! It can run and jump and bend and twist and turn and dance around the living room, it created two amazing little guys- and it deserves to be treated with nothing but respect.

      Well now I’m just rambling. YOU’RE WELCOME. Thank you for leaving this comment because it absolutely made my day. Keep in touch, yeah? XO

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