The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)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:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4.  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.
  5. 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.

LEIGH 3 monthsThe 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:

  1. 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!!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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…

“Are you willing to do the work?”

I’m feeling pretty proud of myself at the moment having designed and launched my first commercial website…  Still tweaking things here and there, but it’s an amazing feeling to be able to put my ideas, thoughts and services around recovery coaching into the market place.  Of course it’s also a little scary and I have to admit quite humbling.  Building a business from scratch is an altogether new experience for me.  There are so many factors to consider, so many things to organise and then of course there’s the constant thoughts around actually helping people grow and progress once they have chosen recovery.

I’ve spent some time networking in the industry and have met some very interesting people.  And I had a very special opportunity this morning and was invited to sit in on a group recovery coaching session.  Since coaching takes place in a safe and secure place, I am not going to discuss the actual happenings of the session.  What it did bring home to me was how I have come over the years.  The raw pain and emotional vulnerability that I saw and felt this morning were a real reminder of how blessed I am to have my sobriety and a firm handle on my continuing recovery.  Of course there are still days when I am not all poised and together, but those are days when I’m dealing with deep personal issues that I am fully aware of and am constantly striving to balance.  The hardest thing in recovery really is accepting that there are elements of one’s self that require honest inspection and hard work, especially if we are going to move from where we are to where we want to be.

Observing someone reach this point of realisation this morning, understanding that they cannot ask for the love of others until they love themselves and coming to this place surrounded by a caring, nurturing group, really was a wonderful process to behold.  I have never had any doubt as to the strength of the coaching model in recovery, but it is a beautiful thing to see in motion.  From slumped shoulders at the beginning to a man standing proud in front of a mirror with his head held high, affirming that he was what he needed to be, was indeed a professional and personal privilege.  For me this morning affirmed that although the path I have chosen to walk may be a tough choice in South Africa, where recovery coaching is still in its infancy, it is indeed the right one.

Giving people the personal power to answer their own questions while holding their truth in a safe space is one of the fundamental tenants of coaching.  All coaches are unique in their approach and have developed tools for assisting their clients’ development and growth, but the underlying idea is that we are helping people move from where they are to where they want to be.  These shifts can be in any of the five areas of recovery capital; physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual.  Whether an individual is seeking to get well, reduce anxiety, find inner peace, rebuild broken relationships or reconnect with their spiritual self, it is possible through the use of any number of approaches.  The main thing is, “Are you willing to do the work?”  Nothing in life that comes easily ever really sticks around for too long and I honestly believe that if my sobriety had simply dropped into my lap, if I hadn’t done the work, and if I didn’t continue to do it, I would not honour my recovery as much as I do every day…and even more so on a day like today.

After all, life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time,

Sober Something


What is Recovery Coaching?

Since returning to South Africa a couple of months ago I have made my focus the development of my Recovery & Life Coaching business (Recovery Coaching SA).  It’s an exciting adventure to build a dream and be able to start a vision from scratch.  I’m constantly being presented with new and amazing opportunities as I continue along this road of personal and professional discovery.  A couple of days ago I completed my first magazine article which will be appearing in a new South African publication, “Addict”, in August.  I’m constantly meeting new people who are passionately dedicated to aiding the recovery of those battling with the disease of addiction.  It’s a wonderful experience to see how many people are truly dedicated to trying to assist people and work with them to empower individuals.

I am a passionate advocate of the Recovery Coaching model as a path towards sustained sobriety.  It’s about working in an accountable partnership with the person in recovery to develop a personalised recovery plan.  By focusing on long-term goals and developing short-term action plans to get there, they are encouraged to follow their own truth on the road to recovery.  Recovery coaching is not about telling, advising or leading.  It’s about creating a safe space where we can find the answers to our questions and then follow our own authentic road map to recovery.

And each plan will vary according to who it is developed by.  As a Recovery Coach it is my job to support the choices that a client makes for their own recovery, after all we are the experts on ourselves.  By helping identify and overcome internal and external obstacles blocking their path, challenging faulty thinking and assisting the development of new and productive thought and behaviour patterns, the client is supported in their recovery process.  It’s not an easy process, but if it is addressed in a forward-focused, solution-orientated way, we are personally empowered to strive for long-term wellness and balance.  By building recovery capital in various areas of life, those in recovery strive for a richer, more balanced and holistic life.  It’s an ever-changing, unmapped adventure, shifting and developing as we progress through the various stages of recovery.

What may only seem like a distant possibility in early recovery may seem evermore achievable when one moves into middle-stage recovery.  And when in late- or maintenance-stage this ideal may be assimilated into the person’s daily life, with focus having shifted to new goals or aspirations.  The aim of Recovery Coaching is long-term, sustained sobriety, but it does take into account that relapse is a reality in the process.  Being aware that this can happen, clients are asked to identify personal triggers, internal and external obstacles and bring these elements into their conscious awareness, as a means to being more prepared and better-equipped to deal with them, and thereby minimise the effects that they will have on a potential relapse situation. Hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness (H.A.L.T) are also important issues that should be addressed through the coaching process, because they too are potential relapse triggers that should be avoided (or minimised) as mush as possible.

But if relapse does occur, and let’s face it the stats are not at good, then there is a plan in place to deal with this as effectively as possible.  One that can help us move on, refocus on our long-term goals and get back on the road!  It doesn’t advocate any fundamental weakness on the part of the person for relapsing, it doesn’t mean that the person isn’t committed to their recovery, it simply accepts that addiction is an ongoing battle and that compounding on the guilt and shame that already exists does not help get over the relapse event.  We are human and if we stumble in every day life there is every chance that we are going to trip a couple of times in recovery, but rather than plummeting back into active addiction, choose to move forward from this point and not spend endless hours lamenting the mistake.

Recovery coaching is all about moving forward, focusing on what we want to achieve and where we are going. Rather than spending time rehashing the past over and over again, caught up in the stories of our active addiction, it’s about taking strides to where we want to be.  In my mind it’s far more productive and empowering to look towards the outcome we are trying to achieve than constantly talking about where we went wrong and how terrible life was.  Having made the decision to take control of our lives, there is far more to be gained by putting one foot in front of the other, with our eyes fixed on the horizon.  The past cannot be undone, we cannot shake off this disease we have, but we can own our truth and become the navigators of our lives.

Because progress in recovery, no matter how slow and small, is still far better than any form of addiction.  There may be times when the going is tough and you are filled with self-doubt, but learning to deal with our inner obstacles and build on our personal visions, will take us ever closer to where we want to be.  And life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ~ Maria Robinson

Keep focused on your ending and what you want the story of you life to be.

‘Til next time

Sober Something