It all began in middle school. Things were fine. I was a happy kid, great friends, loving family, positive attitude… but for some reason, I wanted to be skinny. I wasn’t fat at all. I was pretty normal, but I wasn’t skinny. So I started skipping meals and restricting my calories, and checking out my growing shape in the mirror. But then I’d come home from school RAVENOUS and I would start inhaling all the foods I was trying to avoid…. granola bars, chocolates, cereal… anything I could get my hands on. And then I’d feel guilty, of course, and I ‘d promise myself I wouldn’t do it again. This unhealthy cycle continued until I was a sophomore in High School. The yo-yo dieting led me to gain weight. I was unhappy with how I looked and how I felt and most importantly I began to hate my relationship with food. At that point in my life I can’t even remember a day where I ate “normally”. I was either starving or stuffing myself.
The summer after 10th grade I decided it was time for a change. I was not getting healthy and I was certainly not getting happy. I realized that thinking of my weight as the “problem” was only going to cycle me deeper and deeper into disordered eating. I had to see the problem for what it really was- not my weight, not the food- the problem was my relationship with food.
At that point I moralized food. I labeled foods as “good” or “bad”. I thought I was having a good day if I barely ate… but once I did eat something( other than string cheese and bland crackers) I couldn’t seem to stop! To say I had the “All or Nothing” mindset is an understatement. I remember getting on my knees and crying- asking God why I had to struggle so deeply with food. Food is something we’re all faced with everyday and when you’re obsessed with it (or with not eating it) it can be hard to focus on anything else in life.
That summer HONESTLY changed my life. I left Rhode Island to work at a summer camp upstate New York with one goal- to quit dieting. I was 15 years old. I didn’t know what I was doing. No one in my family struggled with food the way I did. And none one of my friends seemed to either. I felt SO isolated.
One thing I did know- I was SO done with the voices in my head and the obsession I had with food. I just wanted to enjoy each day and I wanted to feel GOOD!
Here are 5 things I did that summer that helped me lose 10lbs and (FAR more importantly) change my relationship with food FOREVER:
- Quit dieting. Wayyyy easier said than done, but each morning I would tell myself, I’m done with dieting. I made a promise to myself that summer, that I would NEVER diet again. I was out. Adios! Goodbye. I stopped doing anything that made me feel restricted. I was in search of food freedom. I figured if I could learn to stop starving myself I could also learn to stop stuffing myself. Turns out I was right.
- Eat 3 meals a day. God really blessed me with that summer job. I was on staff with about 300 other people and we all ate together at the dining hall 3 times a day. I made some sweet friends and learned the importance of meal time. I was working HARD and meals were a time to relax, refuel and unwind with my friends. We’d go through a buffet line and fill our plates. While it wasn’t the healthiest food (it was camp foodafter all), it was fairly balanced. I created a little rule for myself- “No seconds.” I could have whatever I wanted, but it would have to fit on my plate. I slowly learned to eat enough, but not too much.
- Eat whatever you want (in moderation). I LOVE desserts. And part of quitting dieting meant that I would no longer deprive myself of them. At the dining hall we only got dessert a couple days per week, so I could either have something there (like a small piece of cheesecake, brownie, or cookie) or I could “save” my dessert and go to the local ice cream shack. Many evenings my friends and I would walk into town (about a mile away) and get an ice cream there!
- Forgive yourself. I remember the first few weeks after I quit dieting, I was doing so well. There may have been a couple days that I ate a little too much, but for the most part I felt like a different person. Then one night I somehow bought myself a big bag of Swedish fish at the penny candy counter. I ate way too many. I felt SO sick. I was incredibly disappointed that I binged… but instead of waking up the next day and restricting myself (like I used to do) I reminded myself that I had made a promise. I had quit dieting. So I got out of bed, threw on a sweat shirt and a smile, and I ate a balanced breakfast. I got on with my life. I didn’t let one mistake ruin all the progress I had already made. It happened again… and again… but these little mistakes seemed to happen less and less often.
- Really LIVE your life. I learned a LOT that summer. I learned HOW to eat. I overcame over/under eating, but most importantly I found food freedom. I learned how to quiet those voices in my head- the ones that were obsessed with food and dieting and weight… I learned that life is SO much more than that. I made friendships. I laughed (a lot). I spent a lot of time with Mitch (my then close friend, my now boyfriend!!). I made so many memories. I learned that Skittles taste better when you eat them with your friends, and popcorn is more fun when your tossing it into each other’s mouths. Ice cream is sweeter when it’s dripping down your arm on a hot summer’s night and you’re not worrying about it. And pizza is better when you eat it on the beach with people you care about (although it can get a little sandy!). The point is, LIFE includesfood, but life is not food. And really learning that has changed my life.
There you have it! The top 5 things that DRAMATICALLY changed my relationship with food. That summer set the foundation for how I eat today. Seven years later and I still believe those principles are KEY to getting (and staying!) healthy & HAPPY!!