My Real Diet Story - Part One
This is part one of two part series that summarizes my relationship with food as an effort to openly talk about my struggles and my continuing journey to love food and myself again. This is my real diet story as well as insight into my current choice to live a plant-based lifestyles without the labels, guilt and nourishing my body to the best of my ability.
Diet. What typically what comes to mind with this word is restriction. Withholding food in order to lose weight. But by definition, diet also means the kinds of foods a person habitually eats. It's shaped by our environment, family traditions, subconscious thoughts, and even our genes.
Today, I’m focusing on the latter and sharing my #realdietstory thanks to Renee of Will Frolic for Food, who shared her story back in September. Her initial vulnerability ignited numerous other bloggers and followers to opened up to share their personal diet stories and unique relationships with food. It has provided me with so much inspiration and relief. In addition, I have been even more inspired by Jessie of Faring Well, who opened up about her past struggles with disordered eating and how life events can start to draw on old ways of thinking.
After reading everyone’s personal story of their relationship with food, their body, and how it has affected their lifestyle and dietary habits, I began thinking about my relationship with food, my past, and how it has shaped me into the person I am today. I made a commitment at the beginning of the year to grow this space and pour all of me into it. I even declared in this post that I would be sharing my real diet story “soon”.
At first writing my story down felt therapeutic but then I got stuck. Darkness, doubt, insecurity washed over me and I stopped. After a few months of suppressing my story, Sophie of Wholehearted Eats happened to share her beautifully written story, and suddenly the words started to flow again. It was like her story was the key that unlocked the chains that were holding everything inside me back. Until now I’ve been hesitant to share my story due to the fear of criticism, of not having anyone care about my story, and of opening up to let others see the real me. But it now feels right to be to be 100% authentic. No hiding behind the screen, or making everything look picture perfect.
It’s time to be real. I’m breaking down the walls, unleashing what I’ve kept suppressed for so long. This is my #realdietstory.
My childhood way of eating would best be described as a typical "American diet" with a nutritionist-twist. My mom majored in nutrition and soon became a full-time stay-at-home mom. She cooked mostly from scratch. Think lots of pasta and meat sauce, creamy casseroles, and burgers on the grill. But there was also Pizza Hut pizza, pop-tarts, and kraft mac-and-cheese thrown into the mix. However, these less-nourishing options were always paired with carrot sticks, a glass of milk, or broccoli. It was a loving balance. A mix of salads and donut-dates, oatmeal and Lucky Charm, homemade meatballs and McDonald's Happy Meals. She did her best to make all food welcome but teach moderation and balance.
Looking back I can see how life events during this time played into shaping my relationship with food. My family moved when I was seven. Even though we were now closer to family, the change, switching schools multiple times, and the news of not being an only child anymore caused me to have continuous panic attacks and separation anxiety. By age 8 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety with my biggest symptom being feeling sick to my stomach. This feeling occurred so often to me that it became my biggest fear.
At this time my relationship with food was still the same and I didn't give foods much thought. However, I can now see this is where my unhealthy relationship wth food started to take root. In order to help with my anxiety, the counselor recommend numerous self-calming techniques, one of which was using cinnamon to help ease my stomach and help me relax. While this helped, it turned into me consuming an entire tin of cinnamon Altoids daily. I found comfort in these mints and completely relied on them to get me through a school day. In addition, it was suggested to try eliminating dairy with the thought that I was lactose-intolerant and it would alleviate any actual stomach aches I was having. While I loved the idea of being able to take lemonade to lunch, I now see that this restriction started shaping by subconscious thoughts, associating certain foods with feeling sick and labeling them off-limits.
I moved again when I was fourteen. It was another transition. I was making friends, slowly but surely. My grade school was small and the 7th grade girls already had their clicks. The cattiness was starting, and pointing out flaws during these pubescent years was not uncommon.
This is where it started. Who knew at 13 years old, the things that were said to me would trigger such a downward spiral years later. Facebook’s honesty box was all the rage. I couldn’t tell you the nice things people ever said, only that "thunder thighs”, “shave your mustache”, and “gorilla arms” will be imprinted in my memory forever. I begin realizing my weight and stared comparing myself to others girls my age.
I was extremely active playing competitive soccer 10 months out of the year and filling my down-time with swim team and soccer camps. I weight trained and condition outside of practice, so I had strong legs and a very muscular build compared to other girls my age. Due to my activity level and still growing, I could easily down a 12 oz smoothie packed with granola, and three pieces of toast doused in cinnamon and sugar after school and still be hungry for dinner. I never thought to much about what I should eat since I was essentially burning through the food so quickly.
High School + College
Then came high school. I became deeply committed to soccer, with 12+ hours a week devoted to practice, conditioning, and games, plus more time dedicated to weekend traveling for games and tournaments. I began paying more attention to how food affected my performance and made sure I was eating to fuel my activities. I was eating out more with friends and never thought twice about indulging in my daily fix of candy, ice cream, muffins or cookies, sometimes all of the above. It wasn't until my growth spurt started slowing and my intake of ultra-processed junk remained that I started feeling dissatisfied with myself.
Then I turned sixteen. With being able to drive came more house parties and in turn came alcohol. Despite my commitment to my sport the weekends I was in town, I was ready to live up. My friends and I would chug beers and pound down shots using soda as chasers. Drinking just get drunk almost every weekend. Binge drinking regularly mixed with nights of scarfing down pizza, fast-food tacos, and chips and cheese dip did not sit well with my waist-line. I vividly remember noticing my school uniform skirt getting tighter and declaring to my mom I needed to go on a diet.
And that's just what I did. First, I started cutting back on the soda, candy fried food. The typical junk foods. Then all of a sudden I became obsessed. I set a weight goal and limited myself to 1800 calories a day. I didn't pay too much attention to what I was eating as long as it fit into my day's goal. However, the sugar laden "diet" foods (read: anything thins, light, low-fat) made it a whole lot easier to stay within my goal. If it was the weekend, I'd plan in my alcohol and restrict my food. I was still training daily so my activity level reminded the same. I figured how much I could get by with eating while still being able to have the energy to perform. Once the pounds started coming off, I was elated. Plus, I was getting compliments which only escalated my obsession.
My relationship with foods became completely unhealthy. Food was no longer fuel but the thing that would make me fat. I kept my fat intake low and started avoiding meat. Sweets were out of the question. I reached my weight goal but like I said before, it became an obsession. There was always someone smaller and prettier I would seek out and idolize. Always comparing and never satisfied. My diet became my control and calorie counting my way of life.
Even after attending outpatient therapy for my eating disorder senior year of high school, this continued into the first part of college. I was eating enough to meet my needs and activity level but I still clung to my the number game inside my head. Calorie counting was a daily habit for everything I put into my mouth.
It wasn't until I transferred into the Nutrition and Dietetics major that my mindset started to slowly change. Learning about the body's chemistry and the function of nutrients on a cellular level allowed me to start feeling more comfortable around food and focus on the importance of getting an adequate amount of all the nutrients. Learning about different foods and their relationship to disease helped emphasize the importance of eating whole, unprocessed foods. The more knowledgeable I became on the health benefits of plants, the more I started to gravitate to a vegetarian diet.
I'd be lying if I said there was no eating disorder thinking playing a role in my dietary preferences at the time. Defining my diet as vegetarian gave me the ability cover up any disordered eating restrictions with a label. Because of my personality type, this also became an obsession and my vegetarian diet turned into a vegan diet, only because I was able to restrict more. I was convinced I was being the healthiest version of myself by eating a vegan diet.
Truthfully this was nowhere near healthy. Aside from unnecessary restriction, I wasn't feeling my best. I began to develop IBS symptoms and felt fatigued. I sought out doctors and started with toying around with the idea of possible sensitivities, all while ignoring that fact that my mindset and restrictions the underlying cause. However, I continued on like this out of routine, comfort, and fear of not having the restriction and vegan label to cling to.
Read more about my current lifestyle and relationship with food in Part Two.
You can read more on the #realdietstory, over on Renee’s post which includes the links to many others stories, but as always, feel free to share your own here.
(I've skipped over a lot of details about my eating disorder, treatment, and recovery journey but hope to share in a more specific post if that's something you all are interested in.)