I remember when I first went to see a nutritionist after having lost all the weight. I was seeking support for the next phase of my journey: maintenance.
At that point in my life I felt sort of like I had trekked to the summit of Everest but had no knowledge of how to descend the mountain and return to life on the land. It was frightening to think that after all of the work I put into shedding half of myself, I might not be able to stay there for long.
After all, I had heard over and over, “Losing it is easy, keeping it off is the hard part.” And while I agree to a large extent, I also feel like that notion undermines the greatness of the impetus to change. It minimizes the journey. I just remember feeling afraid. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life on a diet.
So my first visit was an attempt to learn the meaning of the word “balance.” To learn to stop losing and start living in my current weight. The most interesting thing she said to me was “Many people can think of at least one time in their lives when they felt at ease with food, or at least that they had an appropriate relationship with it. They probably didn’t have to think too hard about what they’d eat and how it would fuel them, they just had a trust in themselves and their hunger/fullness cues. Children are excellent examples of having a natural food intuition. They eat when they are hungry and generally stop when they are full. But you have never had what one can consider a “normal” relationship with food. For you, it seems the earliest memories still involve overeating or eating for some other reason than hunger. So then I cannot tell you to return to a place of trust with food, a state of normal eating. You have to learn that now at 21.” What a fascinating and excellent point she made. I had a lot to learn about myself.
With her help I was able to learn to trust myself. I realized that in order to live a fulfilling life in all aspects, food had to be a friend, not an enemy. When I first admitted to myself that food had been my love affair/dependency for the majority of my life, I was angry. I felt that I had to get away from it, to not let it be the focus of my mind. But as I’ve heard someone say before, “Food addiction isn’t like addiction to alcohol or drugs where you can just remove it from your life. With food, you need it to live. You have to have it everyday.” This statement only brings to light the fact that the only way through food addiction is by making peace with it. Food is just food. Chocolate cake isn’t “bad,” carrots aren’t “good,” and Bavarian cream donuts didn’t make me morbidly obese. I was the one who abused the food and gave it character. So I learned to view food as a neutral entity, not positive or negative. And my eating Bavarian cream donuts, similarly, was not positive or negative. (Though I’d dare to say it was one hell of a positive). By shifting the emphasis from my emotional bondage with food to a focus on building a new and healthy relationship with it, I was able to start over. I regained an understanding that eating, while enjoyable, was not the end all be all to my happiness. Social gatherings involving food had less to do with the buffet and more to do with the social part. Vacations were times to enjoy new environments, make memories with people I love, and yes, to taste fun and new cuisine. I rediscovered the other parts of my life that had been overshadowed by the menu.
But what I truly understood in rebuilding this relationship with food in a peaceful way was that I didn’t miss the food, I missed the amount. My nutritionist at the time encouraged me to bring the foods that I used to enjoy before losing weight back into my life. My old friends. While losing, I didn’t eat many cupcakes or candy bars, foods that I love. I was so set on my goal that I had avoided them. I began eating a cupcake a day. And after I had tried all the delicious varieties known to man (or bakeries), I began eating candy bars. Snickers (which surprisingly does satisfy), Reese’s, Milky Way, Butterfinger, and Kit Kat. Dear friends of mine. When those got old (c’mon they never got old), I switched to donuts. But soon enough, I realized Dunkin Donuts doesn’t carry Vanilla Kreme Filled in all of their locations, so with a sad heart I abandoned the donut phase. The point of this daily dessert was proving to myself that I wasn’t a monster around food. I would not eat with abandon anymore. I could have the foods I loved and not abuse them, and I didn’t have to live a life without them. And after a while of this healthy reintroduction to food, I felt safer about how I used it to nourish me. I still loved food but now I respected it. I respected myself. I discovered new foods and a whole world of nutrition, cooking, and enjoyment. New fruits and vegetables, eating a rainbow, the beauty of food presentation, books filled with recipes for nutritious, flavorful food. It was an exhilarating time.
I came to realize that in dieting, I thought I missed the foods themselves, when in reality I missed the quantity. I missed the abundance and the overeating. That’s when I knew I was using food to fill a void. I didn’t just want the taste of a warm brownie sundae, I wanted it to make me so full that I became numb and couldn’t think about anything but my distressed belly. I suppose whatever emotion I was feeling inside I wanted to stuff away. And truth be told, I never once felt any better in doing this. One hour later, the emotion was still there and food had not cured it. In learning that I missed the “over” part of overeating, I felt sort of free. It’s impossible to ignore the emotions when you don’t numb them anymore with massive quantities of food. Instead, I sat with the emotion. I let it be. That’s where the healing starts.