Editor’s Note: After receiving the lovely email below from Nesha, a participant in a recent Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Retreat, we asked her to share her story. She agreed, saying, “What you’re doing is important and valuable. I want to validate this process! It is truth.”
Just wanted you to know your program has changed my life. Just wanted to give you a note to let you know the work you are doing is powerful and true. I think you are a phenomenal human being. Don’t ever stop. Miss you and everyone from the retreat. -Nesha
I was a very anxious child – that was just my nature. I didn’t know how to calm myself but I needed peace, so I used food. I was just six when I came home from a dance class and one of my older sister’s friends said with repulsion, “She has a belly!” I ran to my room, hid behind my bed, and cried. From that point on I was conscious of my body. I did all kinds of things to hide it. One time when I was 10 or 11, I was backstage and felt embarrassed about how I looked in the dance costume so I pretended I was sick and couldn’t perform.
It was the perfect storm: I was anxious and very body conscious. Although I was eating for emotional reasons, the food obsession didn’t come until I started restricting.
At 13, I started dieting and putting a lot of restrictions on myself. By high school, I was consumed by food, but I didn’t eat it. I looked forward to food section in the Wednesday paper so I could look at the picture and read the recipe.” My body image was really distorted; I felt fat even at a size 5.
I became very caught up in my achievements as a way of controlling things. On the outside, I appeared to have everything. I was thin and popular and got a lot of attention. I was a dancer, a singer, the senior class president, and I got an academic scholarship. I looked calm and happy, but on the inside, it was craziness.
I didn’t let people get too close to me so no one would know what was really going on inside. I was the person everyone liked but I wasn’t close to anyone. I wasn’t doing anything to nurture relationships. I tried to go out to breakfast with my friends but I’d only order a Diet Coke. That seemed to make everyone uncomfortable so I just stopped going. My world was controlled by food and it didn’t leave room for anything else.
I wouldn’t eat anything. My parents were aware of it but they never mentioned it. I knew I had an eating disorder; I even wrote a paper on it during my freshman year in college. I wish someone had talked to me about it, even though of course I would have had a meltdown. I have wonderful parents but I think they just didn’t know what to do. I felt so alone; I was in so much pain.
In college, I remained ambitious and driven. I had a 4.0 and was a member of the top dance company, but I still had weird food behaviors. I never ate anything I deemed bad but I’d binge on healthy foods like carrots.
I met my husband when I was 19 during my sophomore year. I really didn’t want to be distracted at that point because I felt that I had so much to accomplish. But he was my saving grace because the relationship forced me to be really seen by somebody. Up to that point, my issues with food had become such a part of me that they felt normal. Having him in my life shed a light on the craziness because someone else was being affected too.
After I got married, I cycled between restricting for a couple of months, and overeating for a couple of months. My husband eats instinctively; he eats healthy but food has no control over him. I had three children, so of course my body changed. I had a small successful dance studio. I was so busy.
My husband tells me that I hide my beauty but I didn’t want to be validated for my appearance. It had been my identity—based on a number on the scale or my size. I’d always felt small when I looked at beautiful women in magazines. I was afraid that if I was at my best, others might feel small too and I didn’t want people to feel that way. If someone complimented me, I wanted to go eat. It was very confusing.
I didn’t seek help for my eating disorder until seven years ago. I just found ways to cope with my eating issues so my eating disorder was relatively better. However I was still overeating and restricting, like the pendulum described in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating.
My life became more challenging. My husband’s business was growing and my studio doubled in size. I experienced high levels of stress as the dance studio grew. The studio got a lot of notoriety, including media attention, and the criticism that naturally comes with that. I am a very private person and very sensitive to others feelings. All of my coping strategies fell apart because I hadn’t dealt with the core thoughts that were driving my issues with food. I ate to relieve stress but I felt horrible afterward.
I stayed calm and kind on the outside but I became full of anxiety. I developed horrible insomnia and didn’t sleep well for two years. I didn’t have time to exercise or take care of myself. As a result, I put on some weight—about fifteen to twenty pounds—but there was actually something liberating about it. Although I knew I needed to make life changes so I could take better care of my physical body, I also discovered that I was still okay; being heavier wasn’t the big scary thing I thought it would be. I still loved my family and was loved; I could make a difference in the world and feel valued as a human being. Being a little heavier actually helped me stop putting so much of my sense of identity on my size. I don’t know if it makes sense, but I think that gaining weight was ultimately part of my healing.
I had worked with a trainer before my life fell apart. But the exercise was focused on how I looked. I was so tired of stressing about my weight and that I should look a certain way. There was something broken in me and that is what needed to be fixed. I didn’t need another diet or weight loss program. I saw a therapist for three sessions who diagnosed me with anxiety. I did a lot of self-work to figure out where the anxiety was coming from. I know a lot of it stemmed from my perfectionism.
I found books on mindfulness that really helped me stay in the moment. One of them mentioned mindful eating and that’s how I stumbled on to www.AmIHungry.com. I saw that you were having an Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Retreat in just two weeks but something told me I just had to be there. I signed-up even though I hadn’t even read the book yet!
The retreat was a beautiful, life-changing experience. It was amazing to connect with people who have had the same human experience and that I wasn’t really crazy.
When I got home, things got hard because of stress at work. I think things sometimes have to get worse before they get better. It is a process but if you are not willing to do the work, things will go back to what is familiar. I’ve been tempted but I won’t allow myself to go back. I don’t have to work so hard at it now, but I did at first. It was so worth it! I feel like me now.
You have to get to the root causes. If you can’t let go of it, you will be controlled by it. Other key take-aways:
- I am allowing myself to be vulnerable. I no longer feel that I have to be perfect and it is so much easier!
- I love the concept that the goal is to have a big life. My goal used to be perfection (in eating and exercise) but life is messy. I am finally experiencing the highs and the lows of life. I am able to make a connection with others.
- There is a peace that you can have even when there is a storm going on around you.
- I am learning what makes me happy, not what the world tells us should make us happy.
- I love the pendulum analogy. Everybody overeats sometimes so that takes the negative emotion out of it.
- I journal, read, then process, and free write.
- I had to search for an exercise class. I found a wonderful teacher who doesn’t make it about a flat stomach, but about being strong.
- I am not weighing myself anymore. If you have a healthy relationship with food and you are taking care of yourself, your body will find its natural, healthy weight.
- I am more rational about food.
- I always used to overeat at family events but I didn’t this time. I started to get a refill then I realized I was satisfied.
- I am feeling good, and eating healthy, and I can eat what I want.
Bottom line: If you don’t do this work, nothing else will make a difference. You have to make a decision about whether you are going to allow food to control you or live your life.