My Journey to Healthy Eating
I’m allergic to peanuts. I can’t stand the texture of mushrooms. I have equal parts salty and sweet teeth. I think raisins and onions are the perfect combination in a salad. I could eat raw cashews for days. I give kale, apples, and cake 5 stars each.
For most of my life, my rapport with these foods (and many others) has been a little… complicated. Since 2011 I’ve been on my healing journey from binge eating disorder.
So, for me, a healthy relationship with food is just as important as the nutritional value of the food itself.
My healthy eating is not the same as your healthy eating.
Normal for you – might not work for me. Normal for me – might just make you raise an eyebrow or two. We’ll all be a whole lot better off when we stop searching for something that doesn’t exist.
When it comes to healthy eating – there is no norm.
I’ve Tried It All
From calorie counting to carb cutting to the annihilation of entire food groups – I’ve tried it all.
Before I began bingeing, I had a period of 6 months of intense restriction. I used to carry a little notebook with me… everywhere I went. I meticulously wrote down each and every teeny tiny calorie right down to a stick of gum.
I never stopped doing addition in my head. Which is hilarious – because I hate math. And yet I made myself keep track of numbers from my first bite in the morning to my very last at night… every single day.
I had never been so exhausted in my entire life. Keeping track of my food intake felt like a full time job – no pay, no benefits, no vacation days.
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During this time, I was also obsessed with pre-packaged food. I wanted to physically see the number of calories and grams of fat spelled out for me right there on the label. If I could see it – I could believe it!
I had no idea what I was doing to my body – and at the time, only one thing mattered: I wanted to be thin. And at that time in my life I was still under the hilarious impression that skinny equaled healthy. That’s what our society had taught me, and I took that idea and ran four miles a day with it.
In the end, I wasn’t healthy… at all.
And then life hit me in the face with two curve balls right in a row. I didn’t even get a chance to take a swing at the pitches. I was heartbroken and out of energy. That’s when I finally gave myself permission to eat an Oreo® after so many miserable, restricted months.
Then, I didn’t stop eating for two years straight.
Even after beginning my recovery, I went through a period of calorie counting as soon as I started to feel like my weight was wavering. Keeping track gave me this false sense of being in control.
In hindsight, it was my “Log of Judgment” which I used to gauge how much I should punish myself for consuming an extra calorie than I had the day before.
Yesterday, I got by on 1300… today I’m up to 1550. How did I let that happen? I’ve FAILED…
First of all, we will never know (exactly) how many calories we consume in a day. It is literally impossible. So, right there – we know that “strategy” just doesn’t cut it – especially for us neurotic, gotta-know-every-last-detail Type A’s out there.
The jig’s up – perfection doesn’t exist, especially when it comes to counting calories.
Second of all, some days our bodies are just hungrier than others. We can’t ignore our hunger pangs on Wednesday because our bodies asked for less food on Tuesday.
Our stomachs will let us know what they need. Healthy eating starts with listening to our bodies. But that’s easier said than done when we’ve spent so long trying to adhere to cultural norms, compete with our peers, and follow the advice of “experts” even when they steer us down dangerous, short-term, weight loss paths.
6 Diets That Simply Didn’t Work for Me3
Here are a few of the diet fads and social pressures I’ve tangoed with… and finally left behind. Now, I dance alone to my own beat.
1 Not eating any carbs
This has always resulted in one thing for me– a complete lack of energy and a bitchy attitude. Our bodies need carbs. No, we don’t all require the same amount and yes, some of us need to steer clear of gluten or corn. But carbohydrates, in some form or another, are important. THE END.
2 Liquid-only cleansing
The night before I was supposed to start one of these, I literally lost my mind. The idea of not being able to chew for days on end triggered me and shook me to my core. I don’t knock cleanses for those who find them healing and helpful, but for me, this strategy was harmful. I was about a second away from a binge until I scrapped the whole idea and continued to eat in a way that is healthy for me.
3 Always choosing pre-packaged snacks and meals over whole foods
Like I mentioned before, I thought that labels could point me in a safe direction. I wanted to know exactly what and how much I was eating. Bagged, canned, and frozen food shouldn’t be dismissed altogether. They’re convenient and they can be yummy. (Except for canned spinach… I can’t even go there.)
But my body works a whole lot better when I add fresh, whole, natural foods into my day. (Take a peek at how a daily helping of kale put my digestive tract back on track.)
4 Trying to “food match” my company
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a restaurant with friends, coworkers, or family members… and I’ve based my order off of what every one else was eating instead of what I was in the mood for. I still “price match” my company if I’m not paying…. (ha!), but when it comes to what I’m eating, I get what I want – not what I think they think I should be eating.
5 Waiting for the weekend
Not eating all week so that I can “splurge” or “cheat” on the weekends used to set me up for a binge every single time… without fail.
6 Emotionally eating and bingeing on “healthy” food
One of my favorite misconceptions that drove my eating habits for a period of time is that if the food was high quality, I could eat high quantity. I told myself that I could eat as MUCH healthy, organic, natural, GMO-free, good-for-me food as I wanted. It’s guilt free! Pile up the portions!
But as my Dad taught me from a very young age, too much of anything is unhealthy… no matter how impressive the nutritional content might be. Portion sizes, our feeling toward the food, and the reason why we’re eating still matter regardless of the which food we’re using to cope.
Emotionally eating raw carrots or bingeing on organic, dairy-free, soy-free ice cream still “counts.” There’s still a question brewing inside of you that food, or the act of eating, can’t answer.
Healthy Eating: 6 Practices That Work For Me
With the help of Green Mountain, I’ve adopted quite a few strategies that have become part of my daily healthy eating behaviors.
I want to reiterate that for me, how I eat and why I’m eating are just as important in my recovery as what I’m actually eating. For me, healthy eating includes:
1 Eating what I’m in the mood for
You know those moments when you’re in the mood for one very specific thing but you don’t think you “should” or “can” have it? So you eat 12 other “healthier” things first?
But the craving remains and you end up one of two ways – miserable or finally allowing yourself to enjoy the one thing you wanted all along. These days, I just eat what I want right out of the gate. That’s one thing – instead of 13.
2 Erasing “good” and “bad” labels
Yes, some foods benefit our skin, stomachs, memory, energy levels, etc. more than others. But WE are the ones who label them good or bad… I stopped thinking of my sweet treats and salty snacks as bad. They’re just things I like… and I can eat whatever I want. The freedom to make these decisions made me a believer in Green Mountain’s non-diet mentality and lifestyle.
3 Sitting down at a table
In my last apartment, I had two options when it came to eating dinner – my couch or my bed. I associated my entire apartment with the act of eating, which was triggering for me. No matter where I was – I was thinking about food. Now that I’ve moved and actually have a dining room table (hallelujah!), I do my very best to keep food out of the bedroom and dinner on the table.
4 Putting in a little extra effort while preparing my food
When I take the time to cook and prep my meals, I feel a little pride. I find that I’m more likely to take eat slowly, taste, and savor… because I put so much damn work into it! Plus, having my lunches and dinners planned for the week alleviates the anxiety of trying to figure out what to eat on the spot.
5 No more multi-tasking
My days are full and my nights are busy, but I finally had to put away the paper, put down the pen, and turn off the computer while I’m eating… I used to be so busy doing three other things at once that I would miss my meals entirely. I’d look down and POOF – it was gone. I hadn’t gotten to enjoy my food and I didn’t feel satisfied because I hadn’t been present. Mindful eating makes all the difference.
6 Packing a lunch that I really look forward to
I’ve concocted a specific salad that I’ve been eating four times a week for lunch at work. I am literally in love with my recipe and every day when lunchtime rolls around… I get excited. I so enjoy having this to look forward to. If eating lunch feels like a chore or if you are bored to hell with your food choices – experiment next weekend. Mix it up a little!
Hungry, Healthy, & Happy
Well, after taking that trip down memory lane… I’m spent! Sometimes I forget just how long this journey has been. But every time I write an installment of The Binge Eating Diaries, I realize how far it’s taken me.
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On that note – as you try on different techniques for size, remember that what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you. Your normal way of eating is specific to your wants and your body’s needs.
But our journeys do have one thing in common at the very least – we’re all trying to navigate our ways to the corner of hungry, healthy, and happy. How we get there… is up to us.
Until next time,
We can help. There’s a special place and program for women who binge and emotionally overeat