When last we left off, I was a now-sophomore in college, a few months after a gallbladder removal, and continuing with digestive problems severe enough to interrupt my social life. Essentially, my approach was to pretend it wasn't happening and take enough OTC medication to make things livable.
Two more years of that cycle on rinse and repeat, and we can fast forward to this fall, when I started graduate school and got within a year of my wedding. I've talked on here before about how I have no intentions of losing weight for my wedding, but in January of this year I got caught up in the New Year's resolution talk and made plans to start exercising more and "watching what I ate." Then, on January 20, I got hit by a truck. Literally. My precious and tiny Honda Fit was rear-ended by a semi on the highway, totaling my car and leaving me with a concussion and neck muscle injury. My physical therapist recommended that I not exercise until given the medical clearance to do so, leaving me in a PANIC about fitting into the dress I bought a year earlier. So, BAM. Calorie counting. Daily weighing. Restricting. Bingeing. Repeat.
It was NOT a good place to be mentally, and certainly not a good place to be physically since my bingeing was NOT agreeing with my digestion. Cue all the problems. It wasn't until my friend Kait brought up her concern about my preoccupation with food that I realized I needed to make some changes. I'd already been seeing the counseling center at my graduate school campus so that I could better care for my mental health post-car accident, so my counselor and I also started working through some food chats as well (note: I highly recommend counseling for any person, ever. I'm facing an upcoming move, a wedding, and a whole lot of busy-ness, and it really helped clarify my feelings and allow me to act to improve my life. Even without all the crazy of this season of life, I would recommend it). I'd say my truly defining moment in this experience was literally throwing my scale in the garbage can (not even the kitchen one; the big one that's stored outside), and deleting all my fitness apps off my phone.
BUT, I don't know that eliminating negativity was enough. I also had to cultivate more positivity in my life, so instead of focusing on what I could subtract, instead I searched for things to add. Here's some resources I've been loving in the past few months:
- The Real Life RD
- Imma Eat That
- Inspird Nutrition
- Gimme Some Oven (not a nutrition blog, but her recipes are so refreshingly normal that I love reading!)
Another extremely helpful thing I did was actually an idea straight out of the Dietitians Unplugged podcast. In order to start my intuitive eating journey, it was important that I give myself full food freedom - but being rather type A (yes, I'll admit it), I was afraid to relinquish any kind of control. In episode 11, "Tips for Living a Non Diet Life", Glenys and Aaron talk a way to start ditching diet rules and breaking your emotional connections from food, and it was so counterintuitive but I'm glad I took the leap. What they recommended trying was to pick a food that you feel like you "can't be around"; that you lose control around and feel like once you start eating, you'll never stop. I chose ice cream. OnceSo, your food is picked, you stock yourself up on it. Like, more than you could possibly eat. Ever. If you feel like you could eat 2 packages of Oreos, buy 5 for your cabinet. Then, you act on every craving. Every time I wanted ice cream, I ate it. I went out for ice cream, I kept it in the freezer, I ate it for breakfast and snacks and dessert late at night. I can talk more about the feelings this invoked in a later post (holla if you're interested), but the end result was this: I was emotionally neutral towards ice cream after about 1-2 weeks. I wasn't really aware if I had any in the freezer, and when I went home to my parents' I didn't check their supply either. I still like ice cream and still get cravings, but I've found I not only enjoy it more after this exercise, but I actually order smaller sizes now because I don't feel the compulsion to eat and eat when I have the opportunity. Side note: if you complete this exercise and you like to order big ice creams, you do you! I care way more about how you feel around food than what the food is or how much you had!
Note: I was 100% an "opportunistic eater" i.e., I wanted whatever food was available to me and once I started I felt like I should keep eating because it was there. This approach may not work for you, and I strongly encourage you to find an intuitive eating/HAES dietitian to work with on your nutrition journey.
So, where am I today? I'd like to describe it as "Food freedom based on a foundation of gentle nutrition." Obviously, with my nutrition background, I know different ways that food can nourish your body. From the last few months, I learned different ways that food can nourish your soul (also: we really need to start teaching this in schools). Now, I try to combine them by working in a huge variety of foods for meals, double-checking with myself to see what items from all the food groups sound good, and trying to create a pretty varied plate. BUT, if I'm not feeling a certain food or something else sounds way better, I roll with it. I had a random 2-week aversion to vegetables (all of them), so I didn't really eat any during that time. If I craved a smoothie, I added spinach like I always do since I can't taste it, but other than that I let it go. I also say yes to my friends' dinner invitations (if I say no, it's a scheduling or budget problem, not a calorie problem), and I've stopped browsing menus before I get there.
Once huge difference I've noticed is in the way I feel when I'm at work (I work at a kids' cooking camp). I've had this job for 3 summers now, and the first and second summers, I told myself I wouldn't eat any of the kids' food and then of course ended up overeating it. Now, I eat what I want and feel much less insane at work, which is good for my attention span because I need my wits about me when I'm helping 24 5-year-olds learn how to use a piping bag. I've also picked up a second job as a cupcake baker for the summer which is the best because A) I have mad frosting skills now and B) free cupcakes. I don't feel overwhelmed by being around all the cake and I usually split my freebie cupcake (one per shift, thankyouverymuch) with a friend but sometimes I eat it all and that's cool too.
One last thing I want to hit on is that I'm sharing my story because I love to read the stories of others. I understand that not one story is indicative of how anyone's relationship with food should be, mine included. I also would love to hear about your story, so leave me a comment here or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's chat!