How I Healed My Relationship to Food + Exercise

September 6, 2023

It was May 2020 and my mental health was at an all time low. I was 3 months into tracking macros in an effort to lose the weight that had started to settle on my belly and hips after spending 2019 working full time while getting my doctorate. I felt like my metabolism was broken […]

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It was May 2020 and my mental health was at an all time low. I was 3 months into tracking macros in an effort to lose the weight that had started to settle on my belly and hips after spending 2019 working full time while getting my doctorate. I felt like my metabolism was broken (and it was, but I didn’t know that yet). The calorie restriction was working to lose a few pounds but I knew it was completely unsustainable. I felt neurotic, food-obsessed, and sad, and it had nothing to do with the pandemic.

I remember having this moment of self awareness where I said to myself, “Omg I think I’ve developed an eating disorder”. I had watched friends and clients deal with disordered eating for years and always felt grateful (and subtly superior) that I didn’t have those issues (hahaha). I wasn’t underweight, I wasn’t trying to starve myself, but I couldn’t deny that I had a dysfunctional relationship to eating. 

It is not normal to think about food all day long.

It is not normal to feel anxious about what you’re going to eat.

It is not normal to be trying to find ways to eradicate your appetite.

The amount of mental space my weight and food took up was absolutely insane—and realizing how common this is among women breaks my heart. 

My unhealthy relationship with food didn’t come out of nowhere. For years, I effortlessly ate “clean” and maintained an ideal body according to conventional beauty standards. Chronic gut issues led me to a series of restrictive diets for health reasons— candida diets, SIBO diets, FODMAPs diets, veganism, low histamine diets and food sensitivity tests that made me feel like I couldn’t safely eat all kinds of normally healthy foods. The years of food rules (for seemingly good reasons) insidiously morphed into food fear and rigidity in the way I related to eating. 

In 2019, I hired a binge-eating coach after finding myself overeating at night to the point of feeling sick and obsessing about food all day long. 

For most of 2019 I felt food-addicted, and sugar-addicted, and like the harder I tried to regain some sense of control, the more out-of-control I felt around food. 

I would spend therapy sessions sobbing about how much I hated the weight I’d gained and how vulnerable and unattractive I felt. The identification with thinness as a metric for my value and desirability was so deep. 

The macro-counting in 2020 was my last ditch effort to regain control and make my body behave. It epically backfired.

I finally hit my breaking point right as I came across Caroline Dooner’s Book, “The F*ck it diet” where she talks about how dieting damages your metabolism and creates food obsession. She explained a healing process very common in eating disorder recovery— re-feeding. Essentially, removing all food rules and eating without restriction. 

I felt visceral terror at this suggestion. In addition to being horrified at the prospect of gaining more weight,  my mind could give many well-researched reasons why this would be terrible for my health. Yet, I couldn’t deny that it was the only thing I hadn’t tried. It was a glimmer of hope that there was a pathway to freedom. 

I committed to doing it for 3 months to start. First, I donated my scale (and haven’t owned one since). For 3 months, I ate as much dessert as I wanted. I had cake for breakfast, slathered everything in butter, and bought junk food for the first time in years. Foods I had previously deemed unsafe to have around due to binge potential (ice cream, nut butter, cookies) filled my shelves. At first, I was still buying the organic and healthier versions of everything, but realized I needed to get past my fear of chemicals too. Not because they’re healthy, but because the orthorexia/way in which I had moralized food was harmful. I bought sour patch kids, I ate gas station chips. 

After the first 3 weeks, my sugar cravings started to subside. I was still eating dessert foods daily but not at every meal. After about 6 weeks, I realized I wasn’t bingeing at all. I naturally began wanting more protein, vegetables, and less junk food. It took nearly 2 months of caloric abundance before my famine response shut off and my hunger cues started to stabilize. For some people this takes longer (depending on how long you’ve been restrictive). 

What I didn’t expect was how much anxiety came up around exercise. As soon as I removed restrictions on eating, I felt this compulsion to exercise to compensate for what I knew was a major uptick in calories. But, that would have defeated the intention of healing my metabolism and nervous system. Trading one obsession for another is not healing. 

I committed to listening to my body. If I felt tired, I rested. If I wanted to move my body, I did. My mind had a lot of loud opinions about this on a regular basis, and some days resting felt harder than just giving in and exercising so I could assuage the guilt. 

I continued a restriction-free way of eating (meaning I ate anytime I was hungry, as much as I wanted, of whatever my body was craving) for another 12 months. I also continued intuitively exercising—meaning no pre-determined routine. Sometimes it was steak and salad, sometimes it was chocolate and popcorn. I went weeks without sweating from exertion. I gained weight. At my heaviest, I weighed 30lbs more than my average weight prior to this. 

There were numerous ego deaths along the way— buying all new pants and surrendering to donating the old ones (letting go of ever being a size 26 jeans again). Wearing a swimsuit in public at this weight. Going on first dates and feeling incredibly self-conscious. Stretch marks for the first time ever. My face in photos. Seeing myself in videos and not recognizing myself. Hiking with that much extra weight. Seeing cellulite on my belly and my calves. 

I felt inferior to my thin friends, and jealous of my friends who were still counting calories, or avoiding carbs, or exercising daily to maintain more conventionally ideal bodies. I wished I could go back to how I used to be many times.

And, I knew I couldn’t. I did not have the will to feed my neurosis anymore in this way. I was utterly burnt out on diet culture. Once the loving parent inside of me woke up to what was happening, they would not allow the wounded behavior with food and exercise to continue.

I watched how women were friendlier to me and there wasn’t the same kind of competitive cattiness I often used to experience. I watched how I become more invisible to a certain type of man. 

Amidst many moments of, “I hate this” and feeling awkward and ugly, I found a deeper layer of love and self acceptance. There is true liberation in facing your fears. My nervous system unwound on a fundamental level through this process. I was relaxed around meals. I stopped thinking about food. I softened not just physically, but into the safety that comes from being genuinely well-fed and well-rested. A softening that only comes from no longer being at war with your body every day. 

My hair thickened up and my nails grew crazy fast. I loved the way my butt jiggled and my fuller breasts felt. I even made peace with the rolls on my belly. This is not to say there weren’t days where I felt self-conscious, fantasized about starting a new diet or tracking macros, or missed the illusion of security I felt in my previously smaller body. Those days STILL happen.

The difference is that now I don’t act on those impulses. I notice them and I tune in with the wiser part of me that knows my value, worth, desirability or lovability is not determined by my body size. 

Slowly in 2022 some of the weight started to come off. Without any effort, I lost about 15 lbs (which I only know because of a single doctor’s appointment a couple months ago when I felt secure enough to look at a number on the scale) over the course of 18 months. My metabolism healed. 

I now want to eat primarily nourishing, high-quality food and I do. And, if I’m some place where that’s not an option, I do not get anxious that I must consume some pesticides, or seed oils, or high fructose corn syrup. If I have a craving for sugar, I eat something sweet. It’s not a thing.

I still have more fat on my body than my mind’s image of what “ideal” would look like. And it’s worth it.

I only think about food when I’m hungry. I enjoy meals, relaxed. I do not overtly or subtly calculate calories or macros or worry about portion sizes. I almost never overeat to the point of discomfort. I naturally eat until I am satiated, and my hunger and satiety cues work the way they’re supposed to. I don’t plan workouts in response to what I eat.

Perhaps my favorite shift happened when I realized that I’ve been in a transactional relationship with my body my whole life. When it acts and looks the way I want, I’m loving to it, and when it doesn’t, I try to change it until it conforms to what I want. What might it be like to offer unconditional kindness to your body regardless of what symptoms you’re experiencing or how it looks?

I can tell you, it will profoundly change you. You’ll save a lot of money on “healing”, because you’ll actually heal.

My digestion has dramatically improved. I don’t worry about gaining weight if I don’t exercise for a week or enjoy a rich meal at a restaurant. I don’t feel cold anymore and my hands and feet are warm most of the time these days. I can keep any kind of food in the house I want with no risk of bingeing. I don’t plan diets in preparation for vacations or events. I don’t read books on food or diets anymore. My periods are painless and healthy. My blood work is optimal. I have fun eating out with friends and lovers. I’m having the best sex of my life. I’m not waiting to do or wear a single thing “when I lose weight”. Nude hot springs? Bring it on. Photoshoot? Let’s do it. New lingerie? Yes, please. Flat stomach absolutely not required.

Freedom baby, it’s priceless.


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