A month or so ago I wrote a post about Balance and Fitness. This got me thinking about another, more emotionally charged topic about balanced eating. I’ve talked a bit about this before, but I used to have a dark relationship with food, even having a few years with an eating disorder. While my body recovered fairly easily (which was lucky for me), the mental part is something that has taken a lot longer and required some serious work. Let’s dig in…
Below is probably one of the best pictures from last summer- my cousin and I went out for a night on the town and I really wanted chicken fingers, but also vegetables. As you can see, I got exactly what I wanted (and was pretty thrilled).
Looking at this picture makes me think about balance. In one hand, a celery stick, in the other, a chicken finger. Just as in fitness, balance has become important in my approach to food as well. Not that I’m saying fried food is a part of a balanced meal, but it’s okay to eat a chicken finger once in awhile 🙂
Back in high school and college, my relationship with food was love/hate. Unfortunately, this seems to be a fairly common trend for men and women of all ages. Food isn’t always treated as fuel, medicine, nourishment, an act of self-love, life-sustenance- in fact we often need to teach ourselves this (in spite of the fact that, years ago, this was inherently known). Food has become, well…complicated, both in how we approach it and how it’s created.
In high school, I was a perfectionist in everything I did- classes, sports, etc. After a pretty grueling awkward phase that lasted from around 5th grade to my second year of high school, I developed some self-image issues (I often refer to it as “Ugly Duck Syndrome”) which manifested in both my general body/weight perception and and attractiveness in the face).
What does that have to do with food? As with my grades, I became obsessed with controlling the number on the scale. Since I played sports in high school I didn’t worry about working out as much, but did obsess over caloric intake. How little could I take in and still function? I ignored when my body told me it was hungry and made it wait until designated eating times.
In college, things took an even more harmful turn. The things I used to control so well (grades, sports, etc) were not as easily controlled. All those things I’d done in the past were to please others- not because of anything they said/did, but performing well seemed to equal approval- and all of a sudden, I had no idea who I was. This lead to a lot of emotional turmoil- depression, anxiety…which then lead to changing the way I saw food. Not to pass the blame, but I was also exposed to a lot of eating disorders at college, and started connecting some dots.
Being healthy was important- but in my head it was “I want to be healthy…only if being healthy looks like X, Y, and Z.” I didn’t really want to be healthy if it involved bigger hips, muscular thighs that make jeans hard, or the occasional hormonal bloat. I had a supportive group of friends, which made it difficult to skip meals without being obvious. This, coupled with a tendency toward self-loathing and harm lead to the next best thing- bulimia.
Food was a reward, exercise was punishment, and purging kept things in balance. It got bad enough that if I couldn’t get to a bathroom after a meal, I was noticeably twitchy and uncomfortable, like an addict in desperate need of a fix. I can still remember that feeling of irritation if someone else was in or came in the bathroom when I was ready to purge.
I never lost that much weight. In fact, I probably gained weight since my binges revolved around sweet food. But my insides were not doing well- I developed acid reflux to the point of being on prescription medication (binge drinking probably didn’t help matters much either).
Only when I started training for my first marathon, reading “It Starts with Food,” and then gearing up for a second marathon did my relationship with food really change. I no longer saw it as a reward or punishment, but as fuel for my body to function and perform. Admittedly, when I was training for the Sugarloaf Marathon in 2015 I teetered a bit too far into obsessing over what I ate to the point where it was basically a chore and not very fun.
Now, I approach food the same way I approach fitness. Most of the time, I eat very well and am mindful of getting the nutrition I need, when I need it (being pregnant has also made eating well a huge priority). I love my salads and I love my sweet food, but I have an 80/20 rule when it comes to that sort of thing.
After really taking the time to examine my diet, I’m more aware that junk food doesn’t make me feel good (mentally or physically), which makes it easier to avoid save for the occasional treat. I also value quality sweet food, meaning I’m less inclined to eat a Hostess cupcake but will hold out for something my Grandmother makes.
Ultimately, YOU are the judge of what feels best for your body, and I encourage you to put in the work to figure out what that is. Just because I (or someone in your life) swears by one diet doesn’t mean it’s going to work the same wonders for you. But, if you find yourself preoccupied with food, eating, meals, counting calories, burning off calories, or anything along those lines…definitely take the time to figure out what’s up. Have you just gotten too caught up in a training cycle and need to back off a bit…or is it something deeper? I also highly encourage getting help from the right sources, too. Therapy is one great option for an unbiased opinion and help, especially if, like me, you find yourself getting defensive or closed off to help from people who care about you.