I have held on to a lot of shame and guilt, for many years as I struggled in silence, fighting food and obsessing over my body, but have worked consistently to let go of these feelings and replace them with love and compassion. Sharing my story is another step to shedding the layers of shame, because as much as I have felt isolated in my struggle, I know that I am not alone. The more I am open and honest, in sharing my story, the more I will heal.
Throughout my 8-year struggle, I felt like a fraud, because I worked as a fitness professional, passionate about health and nutrition, leading and motivating hundreds of clients for years, but wasn’t necessarily practicing what I was preaching. I felt ashamed that I was Figure Pro, representing a natural, dedicated athlete, but behind closed doors I was suffering. I became frustrated with myself, because even though I knew these behaviors weren’t serving me, I still continued to engage. I felt completely out of control and my mind and body were at war constantly. I became desperate to find a way out of the vicious cycle.
This past year, I have been on an incredible healing journey, as I have developed a more loving relationship with food and my body and have become more spiritually connected and in-tune with my intuition, and soul’s desires. As I open-up and share my story, I am finding a sense of purpose and passion for helping other’s who are struggling in silence, as I did for many years.
There is a broad spectrum when it comes to overeating. We’ve all done it. Most people would relate to late nights in college binge drinking and eating calzones and wings at 3 a.m., or stuffing your face on Thanksgiving and having to unbutton your pants to make room for Grandma’s apple pie. Then, there is emotional eating; eating comfort foods to numb or stuff down feelings. Like reaching for some ice cream after an argument with your spouse. This isn’t necessarily a problem, unless you do it consistently and feel out of control. It can become a concern if you begin to binge eat, which is the uncontrollable urge to eat large quantities of food in a short amount of time, which can be diagnosed as an eating disorder. This is a huge problem, if it is affecting the quality of your life. If you are eating to the point where you’re physically sick, can’t function the next day, begin to isolate yourself and feel shame, guilt and sadness, it may be time to seek help.
Binge eating, which may be caused initially by yo-yo dieting, restricting calories, or trying to manipulate your body in some form, can become a serious habit over time. This is what happened to me. It began with dieting on and off to achieve a certain physique. I would diet hard for 3-4 months, prepping myself for fitness competitions, then once the competition was over, I found myself gorging on enormous amounts of food, uncontrollably. Of course, this would be the reaction to deprivation – my body was screaming to be fed, after weeks of being at a caloric deficit. The more I engaged in these binge eating episodes, the more I tried to manipulate my diet and over-exercise. It became a vicious cycle. I became very depressed during this time, isolating myself, and meticulously planning my diet and exercise plan for the week, to make up for the number of calories I had eaten in my last binge.
I finally came to a point where I knew I needed to get this behavior under control, because it was affecting every aspect of my life. For me, the first thing I had to do was to stop restricting my diet. My body was obviously screaming to be fed, hence why my binge urges were so intense. But even after I stopped dieting and was eating adequately, why were the urges still present? I didn’t understand why at first, until I started researching neural pathways in the brain and how habits are created. Your brain is simply software and it’s been programmed to follow the habits that you’ve repeated over and over.
Most habits are a good thing, like brushing your teeth and driving a car. These habits are hard wired in the brain, so you consciously don’t even have to think about them. Well, unfortunately the same goes for bad habits that you develop over time and the longer you engage in these habits, the more they are programmed in your brain and the harder it is to stop engaging. The bad habits can eventually become serious addictions, like abusing food, drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. and as much as we know these habits aren’t serving us, we still act out on them subconsciously, like we are in a state of trance, almost as if someone else is taking over our mind and body. This was the scariest part for me. As much as I knew better, it was as if I had zero control in the moment. Willpower cannot overpower the subconscious mind.
Well, how then, can we rewire our brains to overcome these habits, instead of fighting tooth and nail to willpower through, only to end up on this vicious cycle of fighting yourself and giving in?! I was determined to find a way.
It all started with awareness of my problem, and coming from a place of compassion and love. After fighting hard to resist, I finally began letting go of the guilt and shame I had for these conditioned behaviors. I stopped beating myself up if I messed up the day before and stopped over-exercising to compensate. If you’re coming from a place where you want to change, because you hate your body, or you feel like you’re broken and there’s something wrong with you, you will never change. If you mess up, stop the negative self-talk, and thinking “I’m never going to overcome this”. You are already stronger, just by being aware and putting in the effort to make the change, regardless of how many times you screw up. Get right back up. Don’t give up. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Start to believe wholeheartedly that you can overcome this.
I found the book early in my recovery, ‘Brain Over Binge’ by Kathryn Hansen, which was extremely helpful. She says you must not give any power to the urges.
As you feel self-sabotaging thoughts come up (an urge to eat out your cabinets), don’t give it any power, don’t fight with it.
Just let it come and go, by simply dismissing it.
Then move on to do something else, distract yourself and just let that urge pass.
This seems very hard to do when the urges are intense, or emotions are at an all-time high, but if you can dismiss it, and let time pass without acting out on it, the urge will go away. I found this helpful in overcoming my urges, but it was not by any means easy. It wasn’t that simple to just pay no mind to the urge and dismiss it. Some days, I had to literally jump in my car and drive as far away as possible from my refrigerator, call a friend and do whatever I could to distract myself until the urge went away. But when it did, and I finally felt a sense of calm in my body again without the presence of the urge, I felt a feeling of empowerment and an excitement that I made the right choice for myself. I WON. I beat it. I was in CONTROL! I can actually do this!
This simple approach worked for me many times, but I knew I needed to dig a little bit deeper to fully heal. In order to reprogram my brain, I needed to create a state of change in my usual habitual patterns. The less I acted out on the urges to binge, the more I would recondition my brain to no longer act out on this behavior. I began creating new habits for myself.
When I was stressed, I would do breathwork or meditate.
When I was bored, I would go for a walk or do some light yoga stretches.
When I was tired, I would take a nap, or cozy up with some hot tea and a good book.
When I was lonely, I’d call a friend to chat or go shoot some hoops outside with my Son.
I made conscious choices that would better serve me, instead of choosing food. I chose to truly FEEL my feelings through mindfulness and journaling, instead of numbing.
The more I stopped acting out on self-sabotaging behaviors, the thoughts and urges became less frequent. I was building a new pathway in my brain. Every time I made a better choice for myself, I felt empowered and proud that I was in CONTROL.
Being a perfectionist and an organized person who needs a schedule with a consistent routine and structure, I knew I also had to loosen the strings a little more, in order to fully recover. If my routine is thrown off for example, it’s easy for anxiety to creep in, and the easier for me to fall back into self-sabotaging behaviors. I needed to let go of the rules I set for myself.
Letting go of food rules, was the first thing I had to re-evaluate. I was an all-or-nothing person. So, if I didn’t plan to have a piece of chocolate and randomly ate one, it could throw off my whole day. “That piece of chocolate wasn’t in my plan. I just fucked up my diet, so I mine as well eat the whole bag of chocolate…ohh and some cereal, ice cream and all the other foods I restrict myself from while I’m at it”.
I needed to change this mindset, because it was not serving me and leading me down a destructive path. I didn’t feel comfortable with intuitive eating at first, like if you want the chocolate in the moment, eat the chocolate. It wasn’t that easy for me, and if you’ve struggled with disordered eating, you understand this. So, I began to slowly incorporate more treats into my week, but planned them out, so I was more comfortable. The more I allowed myself the freedom to eat these foods, the more I realized, okay, I had ice cream and some French fries this week, and it didn’t kill me. I didn’t blow up and I didn’t freak out. I can do this. The more freedom I gave myself, the easier it was to intuitively eat, without always having a plan. I started to become more comfortable around food and moving further and further away from food rules.
My daily meditation and visualization practices have also become incredibly crucial in my healing journey. I vision myself as a healthy, strong, spiritual, sexy woman, free of self-sabotage. I remind myself that it is my birth right to feel good, vibrant, and energetic every day! Just by taking the time to connect with my soul-self and tapping into the deepest parts of me, I am so much more aware throughout the day. I am not only nourishing my body, but my soul too.
To re-cap, here’s what I think has been the most crucial steps I took in my healing journey:
Letting go of shame and stop beating myself up: Letting go of the shame and guilt is a huge step in recovery. You can’t truly heal, if you are in a constant state of shame. Instead, try to come from a place of compassion even if you feel you “screwed up”. We all struggle, even if we have the best intentions. Replace shame with love, and remind yourself you are doing the best you can. The more you do this, the stronger you will become.
Let go of control and rules: Let go of control, perfectionism, and rules you’ve set for yourself. These rules are no longer serving you. Aiming for perfection is setting you up for failure, because it is unattainable. Although control makes you feel like you are safe and protecting yourself, it is actually the very thing that is holding you back from truly living, free from self-sabotage. The more you can ease up, the more you can live from a more intuitive place.
Be Mindful/Meditate: When I do feel some triggering thoughts or anxiety come up, I try to really listen in on what my body is telling me. I pause. I ask myself questions like, “Why are you feeling anxious and what do you truly need right now?” Although it might be hard at first to figure out what it is you want at a conscious level, when subconsciously your mind is telling you to numb in front of the TV with a bag of chips, the more you pause and tap-in, the easier it will be to understand your body’s true intention. Practicing meditation daily has allowed me to become better and better. At first, it can be uncomfortable to just sit there with your thoughts, trying to breath and let them come and go, but with dedication, you will see a huge shift in your life. I did. I am so much more intuitively aware and spiritually connected. I have been able to manage my anxiety and have become in-tune with my body and soul’s calling.
Celebrate your wins: The more you practice mindfulness and listening in to your body’s intuitive cues, the stronger your faith will become in overcoming your bad habits for good. With each struggle, you will develop a new level of awareness. The more awareness and knowledge you have, the easier it will be to make a better decision for yourself. With each triumph, you will become stronger. Celebrate that! Get excited! You are taking your life back. You are in control! Recovery is possible.
*If you are interested in learning more about my FREE confidential Support Group #makingmymiracle, please reach out to me, whether you struggle with binge eating, emotional eating, body dysmorphia, or food/body obsession, recovery is possible. You don’t have to struggle alone.