Many years ago, I struggled with disordered eating habits. For a period of about three years, I had daily battles with my mind, food, and personal issues.
I debated for a while as to whether or not I would share this with the world in such detail, but I have been receiving more and more emails from women who have, and are, battling the same disordered eating patterns that dominated my own life for a few years.
It’s my hope and intention to provide some insight into a form of disordered eating I experienced, and maybe even help some people who struggle with similar issues. But, please, keep in mind that what helped me conquer my problems with food may not be the best solution for you.
A Little Background Information
When I first started working with clients over eight years ago, I supplied them with basic nutrition information. Most people asked me about counting calories, weighing food, nutrient timing, and meticulously tracking macronutrients. During that time early in my career I had zero issues with food and my body image, and I never over-thought what or when I ate. Naturally I was surprised at how obsessive and controlling many people were about how, what, and when they ate.
I just wanted people to focus on eating real food the majority of the time – meats, veggies, fruits, etc – and enjoy things like ice cream and pizza once or twice a week.
At that same time, I was blissfully unaware of how many calories were in common foods, mostly because I just didn’t care. I was amazed that so many women could immediately recall how many calories were in a hamburger, slice of pizza, a quarter cup of peanuts, or a chicken breast; it was as if they had a calorie catalog in their brain.
Then over a period of a few months, I started to look closely at labels and tracked how many calories I consumed along with grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. This first started out of curiosity, but quickly turned into a compulsive habit.
In addition to counting calories, I also adopted other nutrition “rules” as well, such as eating 5-6 small meals each day, measuring and/or weighing everything and eating only “clean” foods. The stress from taking so much time out of my day to think about and prepare food, and the lack of flexibility, caught up to me. On the weekends I would reason that, “I was good all week long, so I deserve a cheat day.” On those self rewarded cheat days, I would eat anything and everything I wanted, only to feel horrible both mentally and physically afterwards.
I Completely Lost Control
The disordered eating habits didn’t escalate overnight; about a year into the disordered eating was when my problems with food, lack of control, personal troubles, and self hatred peaked. And that’s the period I’m going to focus on during this article. It’s this time, the time when I truly had no control over when or how much I ate, that I will reveal in detail.
When the disordered eating was at its worst, all I thought about, from the moment I awoke in the morning to when I fell asleep at night, was food and my lack of control with what I put in my mouth; this is no exaggeration. Every thought revolved around food or negative self talk about how much of a failure I was for having no control over inanimate objects.
No longer could I rigidly follow my old eating patterns – 5-6 small meals, counting calories, eating clean, weighing food and keeping my daily intake at a certain level. I completely lost control and couldn’t stop eating compulsively; and I battled daily only to fail over and over again.
Once I put food into my mouth, I lost all control and would just keep on eating. My “full” sensor was completely out of whack and I was a seemingly bottomless pit.
Jars of peanut butter. Boxes of cereal. Loaves of bread. I ate in massive quantities throughout the day.
And because I had no control over food, I tried to take control elsewhere via self induced vomiting. I tried on dozens of occasions to make myself puke, but it never worked. I started to drink “weight loss teas,” but they were just glorified diuretics. I would attempt to count every calorie I ate on days where I was “good” and didn’t binge and tried to keep my total intake below 1100 calories (these days rarely happened).
As a result of binge eating on a very frequent basis, I got up to a soft and pudgy 140 pounds. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for a girl who was used to weighing 115 pounds, it was a lot.
To make the situation worse, I developed gastrointestinal issues as a result from severely overeating on a recurrent (practically daily) basis. Things got so bad I had to get a HIDA scan (hepatobiliary scintigraphy – fancy way of saying scanning the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts, and small intestine via nuclear medicine that uses a radioactive chemical to highlight the organs).
The scan results revealed some glaring issues (including bile leaking into my stomach) that were causing me a lot of stomach pain and upset, and I was prescribed some pills for a couple of months.
(Note – once I got control over my issues with food and disordered eating habits, it took a couple of years to heal the damage that was done from all of the overeating).
Bring on the Cardio
Because I was unable to self induce vomiting or control how much I ate, I figured I would do the next best thing – burn as many calories as possible through exercise. I would spend hours each and every week on the elliptical machine, bike, treadmill, and stair stepper. Yes, I was a “cardio queen”. I would try daily to “undo the damage” I had done from overeating.
I meticulously kept track in my training journal how many calories I burned with my cardio marathon sessions (little did I know at the time that the cardio machines greatly overestimate how many calories are truly burned).
I would lift weights at least four days each week, and I performed at least one full hour of cardio each day. At one point I was even running sprints a few times each week as well.
It was Personal
There were also larger personal problems I was battling at the same time as the disordered eating, but I won’t talk about those here. In fact, the two issues (personal problems + disordered eating) went hand in hand.
In retrospect I realize it was the personal issues that added fuel to my disordered eating fire – I would try to comfort myself from my daily personal problems and self heal by eating food. The only time I didn’t feel pain, sadness, or remorse was when I was eating. As long as I was chewing something, I was “okay”.
Bottom line, I was a huge mess (emotionally, mentally, and physically) and my body was over-stressed. Not only was I severely emotionally stressed, but I was working out for hours every day of the week and overloading my system with tons of food.
It was no wonder that I also battled severe fatigue along with depression, gastrointestinal issues, and disordered eating on a daily basis.
The Repair Process
I sought help from several counselors, but to no avail; things kept getting worse with both my disordered eating and my personal life. I started to question everything at one point – who I was, what I was doing, what purpose I served in life. I completely lost sight of things I was once certain of and no longer recognized myself; I was a totally different person.
But it was time to defeat my disordered eating patterns and break free from binge eating.
Long story short, things in my personal life reached a tipping point, and I knew I had some tough decisions to make and that I had to finally take control of my life – personally and with food. In the end, I made drastic life changes.
Some of the changes included giving up my training business that I was building, making a huge personal decision, and moving to a different city.
I knew that such radical changes needed to be made; I needed to “start over” and create a new beginning for myself.
It was actually these personal life changing decisions that initiated the healing process for my disordered eating habits. Once I started to rebuild my foundation, re-discover who I was and who I wanted to be, the roles in life I wanted to fulfill, and the future I wanted to create, that is when I finally took control of my problems with food too.
However, I desperately needed to adjust my relationship with food, and so, over a period of years, I developed and tweaked some nutritional guidelines I follow for overall health and performance. I also had to relearn what it meant to feel hunger (I completely lost this natural feeling for a few years) and start from scratch to improve my relationship with food. As time has progressed, I’ve simplified my guidelines more and more.
Some people scoff at my nutrition recommendations as being “overly simplistic”, but they are very effective and were initially developed out of sheer necessity. Plus, who said something must be complicated to produce results? That hasn’t been the case for me or my clients over the recent years.
I always start out with the simplest and easiest nutrition guidelines possible, and only make tweaks when absolutely necessary. Why do something complicated first when something much simpler could be all you need to achieve the desired results? This is what I call Sane and Simple Nutrition.
How Things are Going Today
First, I encourage you to read How to (Once and for All) Break Free from OCD Eating Habits, Regain Your Sanity, and Eat to Build a Better Body, Simply. That article reveals some important information.
Bottom line – I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and living a life I wouldn’t change for anything. I’m surrounded by people I love, and who love me for who I am. I have a “job” that allows me to help people and that brings me joy each and every day. I no longer question who I am or the person I want to be; I know without a doubt. And, let’s not forget, I’m now a self-proclaimed Beautiful Badass as well. I’m always striving to become the most awesome and strongest version of myself.
I’m grateful for those “dark years” and wouldn’t change them if I had the opportunity. Those trials I endured and the resulting changes I made caused me to grow up and taught me very valuable lessons I couldn’t have learned elsewhere.
My relationship with food has improved dramatically over the years, but I don’t expect to ever return to the mindset I had pre-disordered eating days. It’s something I have to be careful with because I don’t think I’ll ever be entirely “cured”. Those who have had similar experiences can probably relate to this statement. However, I’m making whatever changes I can to continue to improve my mindset and further my progress as much as possible.
It’s because of my battle with disordered eating that I developed my current nutritional guidelines that I use with myself and my clients – they’re simple and as stress free as possible, but also effective. You can find them in Sane and Simple Nutrition.
If I have to put in a great deal of thought or effort into my daily nutrition, bad things happen and I risk tail spinning back into disordered eating habits. That’s why I abstain from counting calories, weighing food, eating a certain number of meals each day at set times, and other strict rules that require much thought or effort. (Note – I am not claiming that people who do those things have disordered eating habits or will develop them; I’m simply saying that such acts lead me back into bad habits. Some of those methods could even help some people who struggle with various disordered eating habits. No one is the same and one method will not work for everyone).
It’s my sincerest hope that, if you too struggle with disordered eating habits, that you’ve received a glimmer of hope from this article. You’re not alone, and no one is totally exempt from the potential of developing disordered eating patterns.
It’s a challenging battle, but it CAN be won . . .
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