Food is such an emotional issue for me that it’s scary to put this into writing for the first time, especially since I rarely talk about it. But lately I’ve been doing a ton of research on food and our bodies and it feels like my journey to this point has been breathing down my neck. Every time I see a video or read an article by someone about their body image or their food journey, it makes me feel a little bit better about what I consider to be one of the messiest parts of my life. So if I can make even one person feel like that, vulnerability is worth it.
As a kid, I hated vegetables and would refuse to eat them no matter what my bewildered parents tried. I grew up on PopTarts, sugary cereal, pasta, pizza, cheeseburgers, chips, and fast food until I turned ten. Right around the start of middle school (and puberty, shout out to mother nature), my poor eating habits began to catch up with me. The pounds started to pile on, my face went crazy with breakouts, and my generally cheerful disposition tanked.
The more I tried to control what I ate, the more out of control I felt. My parents banned me from eating pasta more than once a week and only let me have dessert three times a week. I know now that they were only concerned for my health and had nothing but good intentions, but these new restrictions led me to start sneaking food in secret. I hid ziploc bags full of chocolate chips in my sock drawer. I made packs of instant pudding in my room and waited until everyone was asleep to bring down the bowl and whisk to clean. At one low point, I had a box of jumbo candy bars I was supposed to sell to fundraise for choir, and I ate the entire box. I had to go to my dad, crying and ashamed because I didn’t have the $64 to pay for what I’d eaten over the course of only a few days. Real fun times.
This binging period lasted about four years.
Then, sophomore year of high school, I joined the field hockey team (mainly because it didn’t have tryouts and I was woefully short on extracurriculars). The training sessions we did were intense, usually lasted 3-4 hours, and were done in the hot August sun. When I came home, I’d be too tired and sore to worry about eating. My weight dropped rapidly over the next couple years and with this weight loss came a whole new slew of eating issues. I was obsessed with being thin.
I started tracking everything I ate in food diaries or calorie trackers. To this day, I refuse to count calories because of my behavior in high school. I would become determined to “beat” my calorie count by eating less and less each day. The lower that number was, the more I felt like I was winning. My app would send me alerts like “hi you are not getting sufficient calories in your diet” and I would SMILE, of all things. It was twisted. All I cared about was that I kept losing weight.
Recently, I went back and looked at those logs from my junior year of high school and it is scary to see where my mind was. I let myself eat half a cup of cereal or an apple for breakfast, a protein bar for lunch, and some small amount of what was for dinner. That’s it. Sometimes, I would have even less. I started blacking out when I would stand up too fast and became light-headed during field hockey practice. When I almost passed out during sprinting drills, my coach suggested that I had an iron imbalance. I started taking iron supplement pills for a while after that, but iron wasn’t my problem.
Of course, this type of eating is unsustainable. Senior year, I quit field hockey (because despite the amazing exercise I hated it with a deep, burning passion). And with more time on my hands, I began noticing how hungry I was. I still tried to eat as little as possible, but occasionally I would lose control in a big way; one week, I would eat my “normal” diet and the next week I would eat 105 Samoas in six days. It was a yo-yo of eating too little and eating too much and my weight fluctuated the same way. In freshman year of college, I was so scared of gaining the “freshman 15” that I leaned toward too little again and started getting hypoglycemic episodes that would leave me laying in bed for two hours eating crackers until I felt okay to walk. I was nauseous for months. It wasn’t pretty, but at least I hadn’t gained those terrifying extra pounds, right?
SO wrong. Over the past eight months or so my mindset toward food has shifted radically. I’m nowhere near perfect and still struggle with that yo-yo pattern sometimes, but I no longer see food as something I have to conquer. The thing is, I LOVE food. I love taking the bus up to my family and trying amazing, hidden restaurants in Chicago. I love cooking and baking and the way food tastes. My desire not to eat wasn’t so much about hating food as it was about hating myself, which is something I’m currently working very hard to change. Now, when I exercise it’s not because I hate the cellulite in my thighs (at least, most days it’s not for that reason), but because I love my body and I want to see it become healthy and strong. Now, when I eat I try to listen to my body and make intuitive choices that are generally more healthy than unhealthy (and I’m always trying to sneak vegetables into my meals).
I also began educating myself on the food industry, what being healthy actually means for our bodies, and ways to be healthy without being obsessive about it. As far as documentaries go, I really recommend “Fed Up” because it completely changed the way I read food labels, especially when it comes to limiting my processed sugar intake. I won’t try any fad diets because I believe black-and-white restrictions can’t be sustained forever, but I did go pescatarian for a month this year and I discovered I don’t actually hate vegetables. In fact, zucchini, sweet potatoes, radishes, and artichoke hearts are delicious! I’m cooking with healthy ingredients and finding ways to make them taste even better. I’m exercising four to five times a week, even if it’s just running a mile around the block. But, if I want pizza one night then I’m going to eat pizza, without any guilt. Life is short! Pizza is good!
Food is not the enemy. Being skinny won’t solve all your problems or make you instantly confident–that comes from loving yourself, no matter what size you are, and knowing that you are a bad bitch that can do anything. There are so many more important things in this world than your weight on a scale, like being kind and generous and a good person. I’ve been on both ends of the unhealthy eating spectrum and I’m still working on finding that happy middle ground, but I’m so much closer to it. Finding balance is not impossible, I promise.
This is a really neat video about detoxing from sugar for five days, in case you aren’t feeling a full documentary right now. And if any of you have any resources on food and nutrition education (any interesting articles, documentaries, whatever) please leave them in the comments! Always looking to learn more: