When’s the last time you felt guilty for eating something?
If your answer is “never,” I’m super proud of you. You clearly have your shit together, and I say that as a compliment. Since you don’t need this post, feel free to head over to my Etsy shop and buy lots and lots of gorgeous scarves for Christmas presents ;)
If your answer is more like “...last night...and don’t even talk to me about Thanksgiving because I’m freaking out,” this post is for you. Oh, and you are totally normal, so stop beating yourself up over beating yourself up!
I’m about to open up on a topic I’ve never really shared before, because to be honest I’ve still been working through it until recently. I’m usually an open book when it comes to my life and struggles on social media, but I’m also a follower of the Brene Brown school of vulnerability and sharing. (Her rule is that if you’re still in the middle of processing a story or personal issue, you shouldn’t openly share it with the world until you’re on the other side and can handle any potentially critical or judgemental feedback without taking it personally.)
Here’s the truth: Ever since high school I’ve struggled with a borderline negative emotional relationship with food.
I wouldn’t call it an actual eating disorder, just a mild obsession constantly in the back of my mind, especially at parties and social events.
It stems from my perfectionism and need to be in control, and is related to my issues with body image and self worth (which is another can of chickpeas I’ll save for a later post).
It feels like a constant awareness of what I’m eating and what I “should” eat, and feeling regretful or guilty when I can’t control my cravings or give into my emotions and eat mindlessly to fill the void left by low energy, or to numb my social anxiety at parties and events.
My personality is geared towards constant improvement and structure (INFJ-T) so I LOVE following nutrition and workout plans, and I’ve followed various “rules” over the years, like no carbs after 3pm, no bread, no processed food, no red meat (that one was the quickest to go!), drink only on the weekends, have a treat meal only once a week, etc etc. But whenever I broke a rule, I’d feel guilty and beat myself up, or feel compelled to “burn off the calories” with an extra workout or run.
Over the past couple months I’ve only noticed that my food relationship has finally started to improve. I eat whatever I want and rarely feel guilty when I do overindulge (hello, life!), and I finally view my workouts as ways to boost my energy and confidence instead of burn calories. I’m learning how to trust my body. This summer I stopped caring about tracking my food and started focusing on lifting weights and eating for strength and performance. Best. Decision. Ever.
And so I’m finally ready to come out of the closet and talk about emotional eating, because I KNOW this is an issue that almost all women struggle with at some point in their lives.
Plus the holidays are approaching, aka the most triggering season of the year for anyone who struggles with their food relationship, so if this is something you also struggle with I want you to know you're not alone.
For the past two years I’ve been posting on my health and fitness Instagram as part of the Tone It Up community, where it’s normal to share pictures of all your meals for the day, both as accountability and also to inspire other women to eat healthier too.
Something I’ve been noticing lately is how LITTLE some of the women I follow eat. Or how they’ll beat themselves up for eating “too much” or “slipping up” and then feel compelled to punish themselves with a restrictive detox or slim down.
I don’t usually post all my meals anymore, but i decided to take pictures of everything I ate on Tuesday just to see what a typical day really looks like for me. I eat a ton of food, relatively. It’s almost all healthy, but if I’m hungry I’m going to eat! I got a really big positive response to my “What I Eat in a Day” post, which made me realize how many other women are living trapped by these dumb rules, calorie restriction, and food shaming.
Where I’ve come from
In college I lost 20 pounds by running every day and cutting my calories by swapping processed food for lower calorie alternatives (mmm Lean Pockets), and for several years I was always paranoid about gaining the weight back. I was compulsively addicted to the scale and extra mindful of the food I put into my mouth, because I thought if I started to slip up or eat too much, BOOM I would be “fat” again.
Then I went through my quarter life crisis phase, which included several cross country moves, periods of unemployment mixed with temporary jobs, moving to Chicago (the first time I’ve lived in a big city), getting married. Needless to say, I was dealing with a LOT of anxiety and emotional overload, but I didn’t have the perspective to cut myself any slack.
I ended up joining the Tone It Up community in 2013 because although i knew how to eat healthy, I still wasn’t happy and knew I finally needed to do something about it.
The TIU meal plan taught me the importance of self love and eating REAL food, I met a lot of great friends, and still love the positivity and support of the community, but the nutrition plan wasn’t really clicking for me and I still knew I had inner issues to work on. That led to signing up as a Beachbody coach, as a way to hold myself accountable and do something for ME, as well as motivate and inspire other women by sharing my journey.
(Sidenote: This is why I laugh when someone wants to be a coach but uses excuses like “But I’m not at my own “after” yet! I’m still working on my journey...how will I be able to be a successful coach or inspire other people??” Oh honey. We teach what we most need to learn. You are most inspiring when you ARE in the middle of your own battles and can show other women “look, I’m here, I’m not perfect, but this is where I want to go and I’m not giving up.” And physical transformations are the tip of the iceberg.)
I tried the 21 Day Fix and it gave me a foundation of how to recognize proper portions of food and BALANCE so I could finally learn how to trust myself around food, and eat for energy instead of weight loss. I loved the structure, but eventually I did have to learn how to trust everything I learned and release the system in favor of more intuitive eating (although I definitely use the container system as a guide to make sure I'm getting the right balance of macro-nutrients!).
Since then my passion with discovering my best self and helping other women believe in themselves too has morphed into a full time career and my life purpose. Although I’ve been coaching other women to reach their own life and health goals for the past two years, I’m just now FINALLY feeling like I’m getting control of my own relationship with food and my body. This is one of my favorite parts of being part of the Beachbody community, you’re literally walking your journey alongside other people who are going through the exact same thing. You’re never alone.
Where am I now?
I've stopped tracking calories or portions but I'm eating to fuel my body, I'm doing more strength training than cardio, and I'm stronger than I've ever been.
I’m making my own food rules.
I eat healthy most of the time, because healthy food makes me feel good.
I love sugar, but it makes my tummy feel like crap so I avoid it when I can.
I’m letting go of perfectionism.
I don’t feel guilty if I over-do it at a party or wedding, but I’m over-doing it less and less as I learn how to manage my social anxiety and energy.
As an introvert, I’m learning how to take care of myself without resorting to food to fill the void when my energy is shot, or numb myself when I’m overwhelmed.
I take the latest fads and diets and plans with a grain of salt.
I believe in bio-individuality, which means that there's no one perfect way of eating. Since we’re all different, we’re all going to have different dietary needs and intolerances, so we have to be really careful with how we emotionally attach ourselves to messages and fad diets.
I don’t say no to the bread basket, because eating bread 3x/day in Holland this summer reminded me that bread is in my genes, and my body can handle it. Plus it makes me super happy.
I no longer compare my food choices to other girls I see on social media, or feel bad about myself if I eat more than them or don't workout as much.
I don’t need accountability to keep myself motivated, because I’m motivated from within.
I know that I do best under a “moderation” approach instead of all or nothing, so I listen to my body and allow myself treats and wine throughout the week instead of binging on the weekends.
How to Overcome Food Guilt
1. You need to give yourself patience, forgiveness, and time, and grace.
It has taken TWO YEARS of working on myself to get to this place where "healthy" is just my new normal instead of a wagon I keep falling off of.
I say this because if you’re also struggling with deep internal battles, it’s easy to beat yourself up for not seeing a “transformation” or visible changes, because we live in a society where instant gratification is expected.
2. Experiment with different ways of eating to figure out what feels best for YOUR body, but make it a science experiment, not a shame and guilt ridden deprivation battle!
3. Trust your body -- she's more resilient than you know. Your brain will try to make rules because it loves structure...but listen to how you FEEL.
We think of food, calories, weight, and fitness as external things we have to control, but really it all comes down to where you are on the inside.
4. Ask yourself: what are you dealing with internally? What’s the root cause of your eating issues? What are your triggers? Stream of consciousness journaling is a great way to siphon through the mental chatter and get to the root of your feelings, and so I include guided journal prompts in all my challenges.
(For me, it all comes down to things like feeling like I’m never good enough, the need to constantly improve myself, a lack of self-worth and self-trust, perfectionism, and having to seek validation from other people or from following a plan. My triggers are feeling low on energy or being in over-stimulating social environments.)
5. Find support! I wouldn’t have been able to get to this place alone. It’s easy for us to hide our “issues” or feel ashamed, but by sharing our struggles we heal ourselves and give other women permission to heal as well.
I’m here because of my coaching team, Inspire Joy, who show me everyday that I’m not alone. I’m here because of all my beautiful clients, who give me motivation to keep showing up because I’m not in this for myself anymore, I’m in it for them.
Email me if you just need someone to listen!
Start with the inside, and the outside changes will happen as a side effect. Throw your damn scale in the trash and start listening to your body.
I’m here because I made the decision to be happier and live up to my own potential. I show up everyday to treat my mind, body, AND spirit with as much love as I can.
I’m still learning.
I’m learning the more and more I learn to trust myself, the more those internal issues are fading away, and it trickles upward to an increased confidence and body image.
Give yourself the gift of grace, forgiveness, and patience, and remember that there’s no deadline to a healthy life, so don’t put pressure on your goals and dreams. Just keep showing up every day, do your best, forget the rest. You are already good enough.
Disclaimer: I'm not a trained medical professional. All advice and views I share are my own personal opinion. If you feel like you struggle with an eating disorder, please reach out and seek help! You're worth it, and you deserve it.