I started my first diet when I was 13. The low fat diet I followed was super easy. All you had to do was keep your fat down to 20 grams a day. You could eat cookies and processed junk, as long as the food was low-fat. And guess what? It worked. I lost 10 pounds over the summer, but that is about all I did that summer. I was too hungry and tired to do anything else… I really couldn’t function, and guess what else happened? I gained all the weight back the next year.
That was just the start
I dieted on and off for more than a decade. Sound familiar? By the end of university, everyday was full of famine and feast. I’d get up early and do long workouts, scrape by on minimal food, in an attempt to lose weight, and then end up ravenous at the end of the day.
Eventually, I was trapped in the starve/binge cycle. I would restrict my food all day and then find myself at my freezer stuffing low-fat ice cream sandwiches in my mouth until the box was empty. After a binge, I always felt guilty. I told myself “I would start the diet tomorrow.” But, the more I starved the more I binged. I went to counseling which helped immensely, but I still wanted to know what foods to eat for my unique body. So, I started reading a lot about nutrition and started getting a little crazy in the kitchen.
More years passed…
I got extreme again when I started exercising to excess and not eating enough. Fortunately, this time around I could recognize the up and down pattern of starving and bingeing after having worked with my counselor years before, but I still wasn’t sure how to stop the cycle… And then, I realized after one horrific binge, where I was left laying on the floor of my apartment belly stuffed, that what I actually needed to do was to feed myself.
I needed to feed myself physically, with lots of good, nourishing real foods. And, I needed to feed myself emotionally, with things that were nurturing rather than punishing (at this time in my life it was all work and no play).
This was the turning point
I ditched deprivation and paralyzing perfectionism.
At first I was skeptical of this approach. I thought if I stop dieting I would gain weight uncontrollably. I thought I would end up the size of a whale. That is how fearful I was of food. But, I made sure I was well nourished throughout the day eating whole foods and exercising daily. Gradually my diet was totally different. Instead of being full of processed diet foods, it was chocked full of nutritious and most importantly delicious foods that I was excited to eat.
I ended up loosing 20+ pounds (and have kept it off for years) eating more food than ever. We are talking about eating clean and green (and other brightly colored) whole foods. I became fitter than I ever was, and something else really special happened when I let go of perfectionism. I could finally see my body for the beautiful home it was. I could finally appreciate everything it could do for me, I started being able to trust it again– trust my hunger, trust my fullness, trust the need for rest and the desire to move.
I could appreciate and be thankful for the ability to run my pace– not anybody else’s. At the time I was training for my first marathon and I felt very blessed to be running and found my performance constantly improved when I was running for the love of it rather than chastising myself for not being better, stronger, or faster.
What I realized from my struggle with dieting and body hate was that the preoccupation was really a way for me to avoid moving forward with my life. It prevented me from putting myself out there and dating (no-one can date if they have fat on their belly or thighs, right?). It prevented me from growing in my career because I didn’t feel like I looked the part.
What’s more I couldn’t fully enjoy my successes. It wasn’t enough to have graduated college with honors, and be going to graduate school at a great university, without the body to match what’s the point? I felt like I would only truly be a success, if I was thinner, or prettier, or maybe just a little taller.
I was not only experiencing a kind of poverty of the body via restriction and rigid dieting, but poverty of the mind and soul. This kind of thinking didn’t leave a lot of room for soulful feeling, for letting love in and out, for shinning inner radiance outward, or for full expression. And, I wanted more of all of that.
Fast-forward a few years
I went on to study health coaching, first just from a nutritional perspective learning about nutrition, and simple, but powerful lifestyle modifications. When I was ready, I dove deeper into eating psychology, and the mental, emotional, and spiritual ways health and our relationship to food and our body is mirrored in and a mirror of our lives.
I also studied transformational coaching at the Mastery level. Of all the things I learned, transformational coaching was the great unifier, allowing me to help clients move forward from a place of love, empowerment, appreciation, and full-expression, rather than deprivation, punishment, and struggle (or as I like to call it the old school model of dieting).
Does this mean I never eat dark chocolate (heck no… I have 76% Swiss in my cupboard right now), enjoy a glass of wine, or look with a sneer when someone reaches for the bread basket. Nope! Enjoying food is part of life. It can help keep you balanced. My approach is not about deprivation, because deprivation wastes your time and it doesn’t work. My approach is about finding foods that serve your body.
Instead of checking out while we binge, self-medicating with food, eating behind our own backs in secrecy, or dieting our life away, we can tune in while we eat, understand what foods serve our body and which don’t and enjoy and celebrate foods that work. Rather than let healthy eating or rigid dieting be an end unto itself, we can eat to feed our ambitions. What wants to be fueled in your life?