How I transformed my relationship with food & my body
As long as I can remember I have had a love hate relationship with food and my body.
I remember at 8yrs old on Christmas Day, refusing to come downstairs to join my family because I felt so repulsive and fat. I couldn’t bear to show myself. Unfortunately that wasn’t the last time I wouldn’t leave the house because I was so repulsed by my weight and appearance.
Of course it was a completely distorted perception of myself. I wasn’t ever particularly overweight; I just never ever seemed matched up to the picture in my mind that represented ‘beauty’ and ‘loveable’.
The trouble was I loved eating. Food for me was my main source of comfort. I would sneak chocolate bars into my bedroom at 10 and eat them quickly before anyone noticed, almost immediately satiated by the comfort, the sweetness and the fullness in my belly. Followed very quickly with enormous feelings of fear and my head berating me that I was disgusting and had to start getting thinner the next day.
In my twenties, a few years into my recovery for my eating disorders and drug and alcohol addiction, I found an old diary of mine from when I was 12. You find things like then when you start this spiritual journey of healing and growth. Like the universe wants you to remember and know the truth of how things were.
In my diary, every single extract was something like this:
“Dear God, please please please let me be skinny. Let me stick to my diet today and not eat more food. Please please let me be skinny and beautiful so that I can be happy”.
When I found this diary my heart sank and broke for myself. I was 12 years old and should never have been thinking such heartbreaking things. I should have been out playing, feeling free, feeling safe without a care in the world.
By the time I was 13, after a very tragic and painful experience which is not necessary to go into here, I discovered bulimia and I distinctly remember feeling like I had discovered the most amazing thing ever. Something that worked. Something that gave me a way to deal with my painful feelings. Not dissimilar to the first time I had my first bottle of wine at 11.
I had found ‘the thing’ that made me feel whole again. Something that was going to help me get through this thing called life.
The next 7 years of my life were spent lost in a world of addiction, starving, being bulimic and binging. Each day vowing that I was going to be ‘good’ and within an hour I was eating something I wasn’t ‘allowed’ then hating myself, giving up on myself and binging on anything I could find. Then spending the rest of my day throwing up.
Bulimia for me was like a savior. It was like being able to not only purge my body of excess food but also able to purge my body of so many uncomfortable and painful feelings I couldn’t bare to feel. Anger, sadness, shame, self-hatred and such terror.
Every single day of my life was like ground-hog day. A constant micro managing of what I was or wasn’t allowed to eat. Getting on the scales, checking that magic hated number, and then trying as best I could to consume the least amount of calories into my body as I could. Only to then drastically fail, binge and end up with my head down the toilet. Followed by rushing to the gym and spending 2-3 hours burning off as much as I could.
Internally I was in a living hell.
It all changed one morning when I was 20 and I hit my rock bottom.
I was drastically undernourished, all the blood vessels in my cheeks had burst from excess bulimia and I couldn’t go even 5min without bursting into tears. The thought of living my life like this for another 40 years was like torture. (I think it’s important to say I was also heavily addicted to drugs, alcohol and treating my body and myself like no woman should ever ever have to treat themselves).
I was either not going to make it or I was going to get help and change. Thankfully I chose the latter.
My first years in recovery were spent in a twelve-step group that gave me enormous support. I could go there daily, sometimes twice a day and share my feelings, hear others speak and hear stories of others just like mine. It was simple, I just had to get through each day without being bulimic or dieting. I would call someone to anytime I had the urge to ‘use’. Essentially it worked at first. Being able to talk about my feelings with a safe open and supportive group was an enormous relief and gave me a tool to use and not just run to the food every time.
But after 5 years of this something in me was telling me it wasn’t quite working and not quite for me anymore. I was being told I HAD to eat three meals a day and nothing in between otherwise I would binge. I was told I HAD to never eat sugar otherwise my body would immediately become possessed and I would binge. I was told I HAD a disease that I would never be completely free of.
I just couldn’t believe it. Something deeper within me believed I could trust my own body. That I could one day eat like a completely normal healthy person. And that I could be completely free of this.
Thank goodness I was right. And thank goodness I listened to myself.
I left that program and spent the next 5 years (15years as it still continues) in the most intimate one I’d ever be in. The relationship with myself and listening to my own body.
I made a promise to myself that I was ready to completely let go of everything I had ever known about food, my body and controlling. I made a promise to myself that I would now 100% commit to listening to my own body and building trust with it once again. I promised my body that it was now allowed to eat whatever it wanted, when it was hungry and I would never control again.
It was probably one of the most important promises I have ever made in my life.
Over those first 5 years I was on the most incredible journey of learning how to listen. Learning how to wait and listen for my hunger. Learning how to listen to what my body actually wanted to eat and learning how to listen to that signal my body ALWAYS gave (I just had never heard it) of when it had had enough.
I wish I could say my binging stopped immediately. It didn’t. During this process I still found myself surrounded by plastic bags full of food binging alone in my flat until my stomach hurt. But I tried to be loving and compassionate with myself, I told myself I was changing a habit of a lifetime. I told myself I knew I did it because I was scared and that I still loved myself. I then waited till I was genuinely hungry again (Sometimes could be 14hours later as I’d binged so heavily) and then I could have whatever I wanted.
It was messy. It was back and forth. But I was willing to keep trusting the process because I knew the other alternatives weren’t working. What was happening was I was building trust with myself again after over a decade of self-abandonment.
I was building love and compassion for myself again, after a lifetime of self-hatred. I was starting to believe in myself again and it felt really really good.
Somewhere along the line, and I can honestly say I don’t’ know when it was, my binging stopped. Just stopped! And I have never binged since and it has been over 15 years later.
I had come to a point that the trust, the self-love, the self-compassion was stronger than anything else. I had found other tools to take care of my painful feelings and I had created a loving safe relationship with myself and my body that I didn’t need to run away from.
And so binging, bulimia and my battle with food was no longer necessary or needed.
I suppose it makes perfect sense. If I was in a relationship with someone who constantly berated me, judged me, was mean to me and controlled me…… I would do whatever I could to run away from them too!
One of the biggest learning’s was that actually everything I had done with food was me trying to cope with life. These horrible behaviors that I despised in me had actually been my survival tools for a long time. When I realized this I saw that they had actually gotten me through some very very hard times in my life and I even thanked them for getting me through. They HAD served me in some way.
But I no longer needed them anymore. I had found other ways to get through.
Love, trust, support, compassion, self-care.
I share my story with you because it is important that you know I was once there. I have left out much – all my drug addiction and alcohol addiction. All the times I gave my body away to men without really wanting to. All the times I hurt myself in other ways. But those are all for other articles.
I share this with you because I want you to know the most important thing you’ll ever hear.
That you CAN trust your own body more than anything else on this earth.
That the relationship with your own body and learning how to listen to it, love it, hear it, feel the feelings in it, are the most important things in that relationship. And that if you can nurture this relationship like any important relationship then one day you too can feel completely free within yourself.
I am now approaching my 40’s. I don’t even think about binging, dieting, being bulimic or starving myself. I don’t punish myself with exercise or berate myself for not being thin enough. All that energy I used focusing on the food and hating myself I have been able to now use to build a beautiful life.
I am now married, I am a mother, and I have built a business doing what I love. Life still keeps happening and sometimes it has been very difficult. I have lost jobs, dreams, I have lost two babies, I have lost my stepfather and several friends.
But throughout it all I never once binged or went back to the food. I didn’t need to because I trusted myself and life and the people around me more.
I hope this has been helpful to you. And I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Buddha:
“You as much as anyone else in this entire universe deserves your love and care. And only this will set you free”
I love you all.