I honestly can’t remember when I first read an article about “food freedom” nutritionists, but I vividly recall thinking to myself how much I wanted that to be my life. Of course, it was a very awkward, aching sort of desire. I wasn’t even sure that I (a super fat woman with PCOS and lipedema) could contemplate that sort of path.
Isn’t food freedom the sort of thing that chubby women get into after finally throwing in the towel? Or something that slim women do when they’ve never been more than a few pounds overweight? And if I actually decided to “eat like a normal person,” would that make me an even bigger failure?
For many months now, such questions have swirled around my head. Although I sometimes do write about food and body issues, many of these thoughts are things I’ve kept to myself. I haven’t been sure how to talk about it, not to mention, how to go all-in on the idea.
One thing is certain. Whatever I’ve been doing — this weird dance with restrictive diets that cycle on or off with demoralizing episodes of binge eating — it’s not working. As 2020 rolled around, I felt heavier and more unhealthy than ever before. Worse yet, all of my research on “the right diet for my body” only left me more conflicted.
So, it’s with a very heavy heart that I admit even the most “effective” diets I’ve ever followed (including those where I lost over 100 pounds in roughly eight months) were unsustainable for me.
Though not just unsustainable. They were harmful to my health. The most effective diets I’ve ever followed have been mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. The “easiest” one had me eating 1,200 calories of raw fruits and veggies every day. I also used the treadmill for two hours a day — no time off since it was “just walking” up an incline.
My feet blistered, my sleep sucked, and I couldn’t enjoy a dinner out with anyone. But I lost weight quickly and I got to (binge) eat all of the watermelons I wanted.
That raw vegan diet never got me to my goal weight. Actually, no diet ever did help get me to that goal. I tend to ditch my diets whenever I go through a significant life change — I quit the fruit diet when I got involved with the ex who would eventually become my daughter’s dad. I quit various iterations of a very low-calorie diet (VLCD) anytime I moved or entered a new serious relationship.
It’s not exactly that I thought eating under 800 calories was weird, but I did worry what my significant others might think about my food habits. And frankly, whether I lost 30 pounds, 80, or more than 100, every diet or weight loss plan reached a point where it simply felt too exhausting to continue.
Every time I ditched a diet, I did what plenty of other dieters do: I ate haphazardly, and with an enormous amount of shame or guilt. In hindsight, it’s not hard to see what was happening. Whenever I “gave up” on a diet, I still felt somewhat bound by its rules.
For me, that meant I was either “perfectly on plan” or “off the wagon,” with very little in between or so-called normal eating. Today, I realize I’ve spent decades feeling like shit for my very human habits, like eating a piece of cake on my birthday or consuming carbohydrates. Though the deeper my guilt, the more likely I was to wind up binge eating the food that made me feel so guilty in the first place.
My dysfunctional relationship with food has been the longest damn relationship in my life.
I’ve struggled with disordered eating for so long that I can’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t fixated on or simply nervous around food. My fears about food have controlled so much of my life and even informed my feelings about myself. After so many failed attempts at lasting weight loss, I felt like the complete failure. Like my whole life had this big fucking asterisk thrown on top of it just because I have issues with food.
So, of course, the whole concept of food freedom and intuitive eating interested me, but I didn’t have the confidence to believe any of that was “for me.” As a woman with PCOS and lipedema, I’ve been told my whole life that my fat is a moral failing and a clear lack of willpower.
Or, you know, I just “don’t want it bad enough.” If only I loved my body enough to quit failing so hard.
Maybe? I’m not the only woman who’s been told she can’t have her cake and eat it too. Plenty of so-called experts have explained that every time I overeat or binge, I need to tamp down or “budget” my eating.
Unfortunately, it’s been more than 30 years now. The whole budgeting mindset didn’t work then and it’s not working now.
Several months after I first read about food freedom nutritionists on social media, I decided to seek a few out and follow them on Instagram. After a few months of reading those updates, I finally got the courage to ask if they did one-on-one coaching.
I wound up being referred to another nutritionist whose whole deal is “diet culture rebel.” Going through her posts was incredibly strange because I don’t think it once occurred to me that a straight-sized woman could ever understand how I feel about food. Yet, there she was on Instagram, verbalizing all of the things I never even admitted were problematic. She even said the stuff I never knew how to explain.
For as long as I can remember,
I’ve felt so deeply ashamed of the fact that I wake up wondering if I’m going to “be good.” Every day.
My entire sense of self-worth has been wrapped up in my weight going up or down and my food choices being “good” or “bad.” It’s such a sad and dysfunctional way to get by.
Going through these “diet culture rebel” posts helped me see that all of my “weirdness” about food wasn’t so unheard of after all. Unhealthy? Uh, yeah. Maybe I’d underestimated just how much diet culture has impacted my life.
On a nervous whim, I set up a free call to learn more about Bonnie’s three-month one-on-one coaching program. At the end of the call, I made a rather out-of-character and split-minute decision to do the program. I paid for the first month right then and there — and that fee happens to be $25 more than my monthly rent. Various thoughts flickered through my head, like how much I hoped I wasn’t being an idiot and whether or not it was stupid to make such an expensive commitment in the middle of a pandemic. As a rule, I’m not the sort of person to throw money down on coaching at all.
A larger part of me, however, and hopefully the honest part, argued that this particular step was long overdue. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of money on weight loss programs, crazy diets, and all sorts of special foods (which were usually awful). None of those investments ever left me better off.
“I am not going to overthink this decision,”
I told myself. “Instead, I am going to embrace food freedom and see where it gets me.”
At that moment, I decided that some progress would be better than no progress at all.
Last week, I had my first one-on-one coaching session with Bonnie. Let me tell you — Zoom chats? They are not my favorite thing in the world, particularly when I’m feeling so self-conscious about my body and food choices.
As if my appearance makes me the poster child of “women who can’t get their shit together.”
I really had to fight back the urge to cancel or somehow get out of it, and I took the time to answer a pretty long questionnaire about my history with food. Filling in my answers was a time-consuming process (yuck), but it was such an eye-opening experience too.
Every time I muttered to myself about how exhausting it was to try to put my dysfunctional food like into words, it occurred to me that there needn’t be any wonder why I’m so damn tired. Coping with a lifetime of food guilt is exhausting.
To my surprise, though, I didn’t feel “othered” or ashamed when I talked with Bonnie about my food issues. I didn’t even feel annoyed that this small blonde woman couldn’t understand what it’s like to carry around hundreds of extra pounds of fat. Rather, speaking with her felt reassuring because she kept describing the unhealthy food habits and feelings I know so well, and she affirmed that these are unhealthy for everyone.
That’s not how conventional healthcare providers approach fat people. In my experience, nobody cares about your unhealthy food feelings until you’re deemed “too thin.” As long as you have the weight to lose, most doctors don’t give a damn how you drop the pounds — they only care that you do it.
This is the way you begin to see your body. Like something you’ve got to press into submission at any cost.
During that first session, Bonnie helped me identify positive affirmations to help replace my negative self-talk surrounding my body and food. She also helped me understand some of the ways dieting has harmed my health and overall ability to eat.
With her guidance, I agreed to pursue two small goals for the week. First, I’d eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day and try not to let more than 5 hours come between them. The point is to give my body consistency, and avoid binge eating due to restriction.
The other goal was simply to try to drink more water since I’ve been feeling like I don’t drink enough water lately, but I hadn’t been doing too much about it.
Since I’d already made the financial commitment, I figured I may as well try.
Lo and behold, I did try. No, it wasn’t perfect, but there were several wins anyway. I haven’t had a binge eating episode all week. I also haven’t felt especially guilty or anxious around food.
A few days ago, I took my daughter to Sonic (the drive-up restaurant), and I didn’t panic inside. I also didn’t feel compelled to eat, well, everything. Unlike my usual fast-food experiences, there wasn’t much anxiety about the decision to throw away the remaining cheese sticks or cinnamon bites once we finished eating. I felt done.
For somebody whose life often revolves around my food anxiety, it was a very big deal.
That’s not to say this week hasn’t also been exhausting — believe me, it’s actually been pretty tough. I’ve got one of those digestive systems that seriously feels every dietary change. Besides, embracing food freedom and intuitive eating over decades of shame-based diet rules doesn’t happen without a great deal of work. For as long as I can remember, I’ve used food and dieting to cope with my difficult feelings.
Now I’m trying to actually work through the discomfort.
This new path requires me to dismantle my old beliefs and replace them with healthier ones. But that isn’t easy… which partly explains why I haven’t done this earlier. Or, why I’m not trying to do it alone.
This first week, I had an interesting epiphany. When I look back at my life as a writer, a mother, and even a single woman, I can see how often I’ve been wrong about what I thought I wanted. I once thought that single motherhood was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Or that I’d lead a miserable life if I remained unattached and didn’t remarry.
However, once I finally pursued my own writing career, I began to discover that I was wrong — a lot. Time passed and I realized that I’m very happy with my singleness. Perhaps the life I thought I wanted wasn’t the life I needed after all.
I’m not sure why I felt my relationship with food should be any different, but apparently, I did. For years, I kept collecting “thinspiration,” researching various diets, and dreaming about finally reaching my “ideal body weight.” It didn’t matter what I learned about myself as a woman with lipedema, PCOS, or disordered eating.
I kept buying into the fantasy that weight loss was going to fix the most pressing problems in my life. Meanwhile, I kept ignoring the damage every failed diet did to me.
My life with endless food rules never gave me the boundaries I craved. On the contrary, those rules left me feeling so confused that I second-guessed every single food choice I made. Apples and bananas weren’t just fruit — they were “gateway carbs.” A salad was only virtuous if the calorie counts were exceptionally low. But worst of all?
No restriction was ever good enough.
Even an 800 calorie day of eating became a failure because it wasn’t even less. Why not eat 500 calories a day? Why eat at all?
See, as long as I inhabit a fat body, diet culture rules are there to shame me into submission. At the same time, there is no amount of submission that ever eases my anxiety around food.
Of course, virtually everybody who says they want to lose weight cites “health reasons.” I sure have. But even then, we don’t admit that the way diet rules control a person’s life is far from healthy.
The more I reflect on my food issues, the more I realize I don’t want to keep following this same path of restriction, guilt, and shame. I don’t want my life to revolve around food rules like “never drink your calories,” “avoid high carbs like fruit,” or “eat before a party just so you don’t (over)eat when you’re there.”
So far? Here’s what I’m learning about food freedom. Despite my fears that “eating whatever I want” will make me gain weight, this journey isn’t about mindlessly eating ice cream and cookies all day. It’s also not about “throwing in the towel.”
It’s about learning how to live in a world where food is such a big part of the way we connect, communicate, and celebrate. Food freedom is about establishing a healthier relationship with food that is free of negativity, morality, and any other judgment that only takes us further off-course.
Some folks joke that you don’t need a coach to give you permission to eat. But do you know what? I sort of do need that. I need a commonsense voice to help counteract the mixed messages and harmful “help” I’ve absorbed over the years.
All of this freedom is tough to grasp for anyone who’s spent much of their life tuned into diet culture and the food police. But it’s important if we want to quit the restrict-binge cycle and begin living in real freedom. Sure, I’m only at the beginning of my journey, but I believe in it as much as I believe in my writing career and positive parenting. It’s more than something I want to try. It feels like part of my calling.
My daughter is just six years old, and so far,
I’ve been very careful not to burden her with my food issues. I see how she eats in total food freedom and I don’t want to mess that up, so she’s never heard me talk about the constant, painful dialogue that happens in my head about my body or food.
It’s important to me that I go into the next six years of her life with much more peace in my skin.
Honestly? I know I’m going to need a lot of help to navigate these waters,
but I’m so glad to have taken this first step.
Source : Medium