Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience. Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year. And even the 12s are getting a little big!?
Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will! Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part. Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.
One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:
- The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
- The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
- The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
- I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
- I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!
Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS! I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results. No erring! No mistakes! No excuses! If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT. So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I must have been doing something wrong.
Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses. I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!” These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!
My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through. And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons. The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option! Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating. So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.
Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body. Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties). The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness. I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional. But then the urge would strike!
This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week. I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it. How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips. And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by. But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle. I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control. And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.
This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life. As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously. I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions. The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative. Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.
Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body. I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym. Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door! Not that there was anyone to see me doing it. It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.
The challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management. Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it. Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change. And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward. I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes. But what I did get right is that I started to get honest! I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food. Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.
In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen. I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different. Something that I hadn’t tried before… And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.
And after 12 months what I have learned is this:
- An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable. Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
- The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
- That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
- I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
- And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself. That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!
My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…