In my last post, I opened the floor to you to ask some questions about body-image, weight, and eating topics that you wanted to explore. Firstly, thank you for having the courage to ask these questions because I know that is hard to do! Trust me, sometimes I get bashful before writing a post and want to crawl under my desk with a blanket over my head and hide.
Kinda like now.
But, I’ll be brave because you were brave. :)
I was a bit overwhelmed with how many questions I received, so I tried to pick out reoccurring themes and address the ones I felt that I could offer my experiences. What works for me may not work for you so please take what I say with a grain of salt and always see a professional before making any changes in your own life. Oh, and you might want to talk to your mom about that Tattoo you are planning. She brought you into this world and she can take you out!
Self-Love & Acceptance
How do you learn to start loving yourself, just as you are?
I’ve been asked this many times before and the question always leaves me feeling like I didn’t answer it properly. I think the reason why this question always tripped me up in the past is because I thought it implied that I just flipped a switch and instantly loved myself one day. And that was certainly not the case. It took me a long time to build a positive relationship with myself.
Because I had so many negative behaviours going on in my life (such as, negative self-talk, poor body image, disordered eating and exercise behaviours), I had to change those behaviours before I could ever learn to love myself. Only when I addressed those negative behaviours and started to eliminate them from my life, was I able to grow as a person and slowly but surely allow positive thoughts and behaviours to replace them. I do not think self-love can grow from a negative place. You have to create a positive place for it to flourish and was crucial for me to address those inner demons first. I did this through therapy initially, supplementing with things I learned in psychology courses.
Binge-Eating & Calorie Counting
How did you initially begin to deal with your issues of binge eating? Did you have to cut out certain foods from your diet for some time? If you ever slipped up, were you able to stay positive? And if so, how? Do you have advice from stopping binging and overeating permanently? How long did it take to feel as though you had control of yourself around food, and how did you resist the urge to binge?
How did you learn to not count calories even though you already knew the calorie content of most foods? Out of all the progress I’ve made in my own recovery, I still find calorie counting hard NOT to do. I’ve gotten much better at avoiding it, but sometimes I find myself counting up my day before I even realize it.
It sounds counterintuitive, but I was able to beat binge eating by letting go and not restricting myself. For so many years, I thought I could beat binge eating by being more rigid and controlled, but that only made the problem worse. I would often think, ‘Ugh I need more self-control!’, but more control was the last thing I needed.
I needed freedom. Binge eating, for me, was my body rebelling from too much restriction and control.
I used to try a ‘cheat day’ once a week to prevent binge eating. That just did not work for me. I realized that I can’t deprive myself all week and then expect to have a normal and controlled cheat day. My body would rebel against me and I would often end up bingeing, only to start the starve-binge cycle all over again on Monday. I remember the emotional highs and lows it caused me and it further reinforced the lack of balance in my life. Plus, I hate the notion that one is ‘cheating’ when eating certain foods. What works for me now, is to have a treat every single day that I look forward to. I’m not ‘cheating’, but simply enjoying decadent food in moderation.
How did I stop binges after failing so many times? I had to stop counting calories and restricting my intake. I counted calories for about 10 years of my life and I never thought I could stop the habit. It took me about 6-12 months before I fully stopped counting calories. I would try to start very small, such as not counting calories for a snack, rather than overwhelm myself and going cold turkey. I had to make baby steps because it was extremely hard to stop and I found myself doing it automatically.
I still struggled with binge eating for about 1 year after I stopped counting calories and restricting my intake. I was so frustrated about this. Here I was eating healthy portions, yet I was still bingeing! I felt like I was never going to be able to eat normally again and I relapsed into my old ways a few times, but thankfully I stuck with it.
It took me a long time to get back to a place where I could eat normally and not have old habits creep up. It was about 1 year before I was able to stop bingeing and eat more intuitively. My best advice is to stick with it, seek professional help, and be patient. Eventually, you will re-learn positive habits that will take the place of old ones. It just doesn’t always happen as quick as we hope, but the reward is so worth it.
Weight & The Scale
You seem to stay within the same weight range for the most part – How often do you weigh yourself? If not very often, how did you stop weighing yourself often and obsessing over the number? And how did you learn to not care about the number on the scale as much?
When I got serious about recovery, I decided to ditch the scale. I removed the scale from the bathroom and put it in storage so it wouldn’t tempt me. For the longest time, I was trying to get better while still weighing myself daily and I found it impossible. I wanted my recovery to focus on what was important to me- my health and well-being. After time, it was easier for me to give up because I realized that I didn’t NEED the scale! After all of these years letting the scale control my life, I realized that I could live a healthy life without a daily number. I can maintain my weight by paying attention to how my clothes fit me and how I’m feeling. Once in a blue moon curiosity gets the better of me and I will weigh myself, but it no longer changes my mood or how I feel about myself. It is just a number. I am also surprised to find that I am usually within the same 5 pound weight range. I’ve learned that the body does a wonderful job maintaining its weight when you treat it kindly.
What is your definition of a “happy weight” and how did you know that you had reached your happy weight for your body?
To me, a Happy Weight is a weight your body can maintain with relative ease. My happy weight is the weight that my body naturally settles at when I am eating healthy foods (of course with occasional indulgences too), not restricting my intake, and exercising moderately. My happy weight is the weight I can maintain without resorting to obsessive eating or exercise patterns. I was only able to find my happy weight when I stopped counting calories, listened to my body’s hunger signals, and exercised without obsession. Ever since I did this, my body has been about the same size (probably give or take 5 pounds) for a few years.
A Happy Weight doesn’t necessarily mean that you will instantly love the weight/size where your body is happiest. I struggled for a long time to accept my Happy Weight and realize that I wasn’t going to be a better person, more loved, etc. if I was 10 pounds lighter. If anything I would be unhappy and struggling to maintain my low weight like I used to. Over time, I have realized that I would rather be where my body wants to be, than fighting it the rest of my life.
Over-Indulging & Slip-Ups
I eat healthy at least 80% of the time, but my boyfriend likes to go out to eat at a restaurant about once a week or go out for some drinks. I’ll agree, but beat myself up over it the next day because I feel “fat”. When I weigh myself and I’m not where I’d like to be, it ruins my entire day. I love food and trying out new restaurants and want to be able to enjoy those things in life (in moderation) instead of beating myself up about them. How you cope now with times when you over-indulge a bit. I often beat myself up for eating “too much” and have trouble letting it go and being at peace with it.
How do you make up for a “bad day” (overeating-wise) without restricting food intake or overexercising?
I’d be interested in hearing about how you cope now with times when you over-indulge a bit. I often beat myself up for eating “too much” and have trouble letting it go and being at peace with it.
I think it is best to start your day off with positive behaviours that will quickly turn your mood around. If I over-indulge, I like to start the morning with a Green Monster and a sweaty workout. Shower, get ready, and put on my favourite outfit. After that, I am usually feeling back on track as the day goes by. A workout in the morning encourages me to eat healthy all day long and gives me a positive outlook for the entire day. Focus on positive actions you can feel good about (i.e., cook a healthy meal for dinner), rather than negative actions (i.e., I will skip my lunch today) to punish yourself.
Regarding overeating, it is human nature to overeat from time to time. I overeat sometimes and I try not to beat myself up about it. I may eat when I’m bored, sometimes I eat too much when celebrating with family or friends, or when I’m dealing with PMS cravings. It happens to the best of us! The difference now is that I don’t beat myself up and it doesn’t lead to a binge like it used to. It is what it is and I move forward. I have found that the more I dwell on something, the more difficult it is to get over.
Exercise & Balance
My question to you is how you’ve learned to find a healthy medium with your workouts that doesn’t throw your body out of whack, and also how you manage to stay focused on being all around healthy (as opposed to being thin) without letting yourself make extreme choices.
For me, a big turning point with exercise was finding a way to make it fun. I used to make myself do crazy long workouts at the gym and they always felt like a punishment more than something to enjoy. I used to workout to burn calories and that was about it. Once I stopped focusing on calories, I started to look for activities that I enjoyed the most. I fell in love with running and hiking and I was motivated by how my fitness improved and how I felt. It is important to find activities that you enjoy.
Trigger Foods & Baking
I was wondering if you had any trigger foods in relation to binge eating (foods that started the binge). I know that for myself, I simply cannot have anything super salty around or I’ll get a bit crazy with it (pretzels, chips, tortilla chips, etc.). When I bake, I immediately have to pack some of it up and put it in the freezer or take it to work.
I wouldn’t call any foods a ‘trigger’ for me anymore, but I do have a major sweet tooth! When I bake, I freeze baked goods and I also give them away so they don’t make up the majority of my diet. I typically always have a treat after dinner to end my day and I look forward to this indulgence. I’m often satisfied with a serving because I know I can have some the next day if I want to. By not making things forbidden or ‘off-limits’, they become less appealing to me.
I think when I reached my “happy weight” I self sabotage. I start to say “oh I can have some extra snacks, I deserve it” then at the sign of weight gain I go into the whole “you’re terrible for eating that, might as well just have more then” mind frame. I’d be interested to hear how people deal with that.
I think self-sabotage can happen for many reasons. For me, I used to get a strong urge to overeat when my weight was too low for my body’s preference. I would be terribly hungry, which would lead to overeating and often binges (some say this is a survival instinct). Once I found a weight that my body could maintain with relative ease, the urge to overeat was reduced greatly. Others might self-sabotage because they are uncomfortable or insecure at their new weight and their self-esteem and emotions have not caught up with their weight loss. In these cases, it might be a good idea to talk it through with a professional.
It was important for me to realize that a a slip-up didn’t need to be a catastrophe and it didn’t mean I was a failure. I still have occasions when I overeat, but I realize that it is just a bump in the road along my journey.
Negative Self Talk
How have you over come negative self-talk, in both regards to self image as well as other aspects of life?
I’m certainly not 100% free of negative self-talk, but I would say that I have reduced it by probably 75-80% over the past few years.
I feel like negative self-talk and negative behaviours feed off of each other. As long as I was treating my body poorly, the negative self-talk would increase in proportion to it. In return, the negative self-talk fueled the negative behaviours! It is a hard cycle to break out of.
A good strategy that I used (and still do from time to time!) is this:
List all of your negative thoughts on paper, cross them out, and write positive ones to replace them. Do it first thing in the morning and right before bed. I strongly suggest that you do this twice a day because when you write your list at night time, you can look and see what was worrying you in the morning. Often, you will realize that your negative thoughts had no basis whatsoever.
For more on dismissing negative thoughts, please see this post.
Eating On The Go
Do you ever crave convenience foods, especially if you are out and about/busy? I’d say cutting way down on these is one of the biggest changes for me over the past few years.
When you are away from your home either traveling or eating out, are you triggered to binge by certain foods, since it is often hard to find healthful nourishing vegan foods in the average restaurant. (for me especially, living in rural Alberta). I cook very clean meals at home and dont bring processed food in that will trigger me, but i really struggle with traveling, which i have to do a lot of for work.
I know that my options as a vegan are likely to be very minimal when out and about so I try to pack snacks when I will be out. I am much more prepared now than I used to be. I tend to pack fruit (like an apple with nut butter), Glo Bars, or trail mix when I go out for an extended period of time.
When I travel I try to do a few things to prepare. 1) I ask for a mini fridge in the room if there isn’t one. 2) I will often call ahead to the restaurant to let them know I need a vegan dish. 3) I pack as many healthy foods as I can in my suitcase, such as bars, fruit, crackers, trail mix, etc. 4) I look for a nearby grocery store, market, or convenience store and pick up some fruit and things like cereal or non-dairy milk if my hotel doesn’t provide them. My goal is not to eat exactly like I eat at home, but to just do my best with the resources I have.
Friends & Family
How did you friends and family react to your disordered eating, and when did they realize that you needed help?
My family knew I needed help long before I was able to admit it. They would often try to help me or persuade me to get help, but until I was ready and willing to admit I had a problem, nothing really got through to me. It is extremely difficult on loved ones who have to watch the person go through it.
Have you found help with behavioral therapy or through any other professional supporting you, or instead have strictly improved from the work done through your own self help?
While I was in university, I saw a behavioural therapist to seek help for my eating disorder. I was suffering from the binge-starve cycle and I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I gained about 25-30 pounds in my 1st year of university and I knew something had to change. While I was scared to be open with someone about my struggles, it was one of the best things I could have done for myself at the time. She gave me take home assignments that I could use to challenge my negative thoughts and behaviours.
I’m currently recovering from anorexia and I am realizing that I have trouble experiencing my emotions and managing them. Whenever something is wrong, I turn to my eating disorder…it’s like my crutch. I was wondering how you learned to experience all the ups and downs of life, while creating positive coping mechanisms, so that whenever you felt down, you wouldn’t turn to pictures of models, or doing other things ED-related things.
I totally used to use my ED as a way to avoid experiencing emotions. Anytime I felt the least bit uncomfortable, I would turn to my ED to numb the pain. When I recovered it was difficult because I had to actually face the ups and downs of life. I used to shut off all of my emotions and not talk about them. Talking to a therapist and also writing on this blog helped me tremendously. I learned, albeit very slowly, that talking about my struggles and problems was actually very healing and cathartic for me. The more open I was, the more healing that took place. It is important to find people you trust to talk to during this time because doing it alone is very isolating.
Food & Punishment
I think my biggest struggle is punishment. Any suggestions on how to not punish yourself for eating something that your mind thinks is “bad” – I think this also goes along with how to eat in moderation or understanding the consequences if you do decide to eat something that’s not healthy.
I think it helps not to think of foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. When I have a dessert or treat, I don’t say to myself that I am eating a ‘bad’ food, but just a food that I try to eat in moderation. Even though a food might not be superior nutrition-wise, I still recognize the value that it can have in my diet, such as pleasure, enjoyment, celebrations, etc.
How to Begin
Would you tell me how you started on your journey towards a better and real health? I have found myself on a path of self destruction for a long time. My mind knows better but old habits die hard. Where did you find the strength to overcome your negative thoughts and destructive patterns? How did you begin?
I was not able to change until I admitted that I was in trouble and I wanted to take steps to change my situation. I was sick of living my life the way I was and I felt like I was missing out on so many opportunities. Please see my Road to health series, for my story up to this point.
Did you ever have foods that were “off-limits” – as healthy as they may be (for example oils, nut butters, nuts, etc .. high in fat and calories.. but in a good way). Was it a struggle to re-incorporate these foods into your diet? If so – how were you finally okay with eating them… guilt-free?
Avocado, oils, nuts/seeds, and nut butters used to be off limits for me. I used to be terrified to eat these foods and I avoided them at all costs. When I took my focus off of calories and fat grams, it was much easier to introduce them into my diet because I wasn’t obsessing like I used to. I tried to focus on the wonderful nutritional benefits of these foods instead, like glowing skin and hair. I also saw a lot of bloggers eating these foods with their daily meals and that inspired me to use them too. Of course, I still try to be conscious of portion sizes, but I don’t obsess over it.
I’m recovering from a past of restrictive eating and obsession with calorie counting. My question for you is that is how you would react if you gained back some of the weight you lost without changing your eating. Would you count calories or cutback on intake? My fear is that I will gain back the weight I lost and no longer be able to accept myself.
How did you deal with the fear of gaining weight when you stopped restricting your diet?
How do you not beat yourself up over weight gain. How do you avoid being depressed and upset about it?
I gained about 10-15 pounds when I recovered and initially it was very hard on me to accept that my body needed to gain this weight to be healthy again. It was very hard not being able to fit into old clothes, so it helped if I gave them away instead of keeping them in my closet.
This is where my hobbies also helped me out a ton. I started to focus on building my life back up and filling it up with activities that I enjoyed like writing, photography, or running. I used these new hobbies to distract myself from constantly focusing on my weight. Over time, it became easier to accept my weight because I was not only out there enjoying my life, but I was visibly happy and energetic, much more so than I was when starving myself or bingeing. For me, the proof was in the pudding!
Mindless & Intuitive Eating
Sometimes after I eat a meal, even if it’s filling and nutritious, I find myself walking over to the pantry and continuing to eat, whether I’m hungry or not. They aren’t serious binges in my case, and more often than not it’s healthy food, usually dried fruit or something sweet, but I know it’s not necessary, even if it’s not that bad for me. How do I combat these urges? I’ve definitely tried to put thought into staying away from the pantry/fridge after meals, but for some reason, it’s really really difficult for me. Any suggestions or strategies to help me?
How do I learn how to eat intuitively?
This happens to me as well, especially in the Winter time when I am bored at night! I found that having a dessert or sweet treat at the end of my dinner was not only something to look forward to, but it was a way for me to signal that I was done eating for the day. I typically always crave something sweet after dinner. When I have my dessert at night, I feel satisfied and I start looking forward to breakfast the next day. I try to have large breakfasts and lunches and have my calories taper off throughout the day. This seems to help prevent mindless eating at night for me.
As for intuitive eating, there is no magic formula to learn how to eat intuitively. It takes time and patience to re-learn how to listen to hunger signals. I had to give up calorie counting because as long as I was counting calories and restricting my hunger, I would not be able to listen to my body’s true hunger signals. It was a lot of trial and error for me and it took at least a year or longer to feel comfortable assessing what my body is telling me. After 2-3 years, it now comes to me naturally and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pressure to Eat Healthy
Do you feel pressure to only showcase certain foods, i.e. natural, vegan, “healthy” in some capacity on your blog? Do you ever just want to feature a super nonhealthy dessert but fear reader backlash and outcry? Or you have no desire at this point in your eating journey to show things like that anyway?
I don’t feel pressure surrounding what I ‘should’ feature on the blog and I am very grateful that my readers have been accepting of all kinds of foods. The recipes I feature on the blog are foods, meals, and desserts that I actually eat and LOVE, so I don’t feel pressure to change one way or another. I eat what makes me feel good and I share that on my blog. I don’t think everything I post is healthy, nor should it be, but I feel like I have a good balance in my diet. Of course, what works for me, doesn’t necessarily work for everyone…we all have to eat in a way that makes us feel content! I’m just one woman who has found what works in my life and sharing it with the world.
Do you ever go a while without eating, but don’t end up feeling hungry when you normally would? When this happens to me, I don’t know whether to eat or not eat. I feel like I SHOULD eat, because I don’t like to skip meals, but I also feel like my body would tell me to eat if it really needed to. What causes hunger signals to go away? Do you have any tricks to keeping your appetite on a steady schedule? (I suppose this partially relates to being intuitive.)
I don’t think this has ever happened to me before! My appetite never seems to let me down. ;) Maybe others can comment on this below?
What is your biggest take-away message from your recovery?
Ok, ok…you got me, no one asked this question yesterday, but I like it so I’m going to pretend someone did!
One of the best lessons I have learned is that life doesn’t have to be a battle every day. It doesn’t have to be a struggle. Life is what we make it. We can choose to make it a battleground or we can do our best to beat that mindset and learn to be free. I have chosen to be free. Of course I still struggle like anyone else, but I don’t beat myself into the ground like I used to.
I learn from the past, or try to anyways, and I remind myself daily just how short life is. I work at this everyday and I’m excited for the journey instead of only thinking about the destination.
I used to say, ‘I’ll be happy when ________’
Now I say, ‘How can I be happy NOW.’