How I Healed My Relationship with Food + Lost 55 lbs in the Process
This post is based on my personal experiences. For more information please see my full Disclosures.
How I Ate Then
The relationship between my brain and my stomach used to be one of massive disconnect. My brain would insist on binge-eating and overindulging at every available opportunity. Then hours later, I would experience horrible digestive pain and a feeling of hopelessness. Instead of listening to my body’s cues, I would ignore them. My brain found a way to continuously justify and repeat the same behavior for years on end.
My fragile sense of happiness directly depended on what I ate and where I was on the blood sugar roller coaster. I continuously fell into spirals of desperation, depression, and rage.
These habits first started in middle school and they continued through high school, college, and beyond. I worked a stressful job for the government, and I went out to lunch with some of my favorite coworkers nearly every day for almost 7 years. All the laughter and fond lunch bus memories also came with the fact that we were continuously eating low-quality, genetically modified foods cooked in cheap oils. Sometimes I tried to choose the healthiest available option, but mostly I indulged on whatever sounded tastiest at the time. My emotions never went away, but I tried my hardest to mask them with consumption. Food became my distraction from how miserable I actually was.
- Fried chicken, waffles, & ice cream covered in syrup
- 1.5 million tacos, nachos, & infinite cheese
- Entire bags of popcorn
- Pints on pints on pints of ice cream and sorbet
- Entire blocks of cheese
- Probably 5 times the amount of sushi that a normal person would eat
- An entire bag of brown sugar by itself
- So many sour patch kids that my tongue went completely numb and I couldn’t taste anything for 2 days
No matter how full my stomach was, I just never felt the kind of fullness I was seeking.
I didn’t mind that I was getting bigger. I just bought larger, more comfy clothing. Sometimes the digestive pain was so bad that I vowed to stop eating this way, but inevitably that did not last. I justified my overeating in many ways. I chose to ignore the truth that the way I was eating was actually self-destructive. I was lifting weights regularly, so I told myself that I had to eat a lot to make sure I was getting enough protein. I loved my body at every weight, so I told myself that I was trying to see how big I could get before my love for my body changed.
April 2017 was a fateful month. It started off by taking a trip to Seattle for some nature and a fitness convention. I hiked my first 10 miles solo, and I felt so proud and capable. I also met some incredible women at the fitness convention. But I remember sitting in a circle of women talking about nutrition, and I realized that my attitude was so far gone from healthy. As stupid as it sounded out loud, I admitted that I really did not have a reason to care about what I ate. The other women were a little baffled, and I was too.
Things took a turn for the worse when I was a passenger in a car accident later that month. After that, I started having trouble lifting weights and staying physically active. I began having severe aches and pains, especially in my back and knees. The rest of the year was a struggle full of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
In early 2018 I reached my heaviest weight of 216 lbs. I still loved my body, but I was beyond annoyed with my severe and constant pain. I decided to start taking my health in a positive direction.
On the last day of May I was blessed with the opportunity of being discriminated against by the government and losing my job. I was finally free to focus on my health completely.
How I Eat Now
Our emotions and our eating habits are intimately connected. I knew this for years, but that didn’t stop me from using food as an emotional outlet. I had serious emotional work that needed to be done. Through mindfulness work—reading, writing, and meditating—I was able to heal most of my emotional wounds and transform my relationship with food in the process. This was a long process of digging deep, asking the tough questions, and fully feeling all the emotions that came up. It looked like lots of tears and lots of forgiveness.
My brain now sees food as medicine rather than an emotional outlet. I no longer eat to complete over-fullness like I used to. I developed new habits to help me manage any negative emotions that come up. Instead of immediately reaching for the pantry, I reach for my keyboard to write down my thoughts, I reach for my headphones to meditate, or I reach for my speaker to listen/sing/dance to some uplifting music.
I aim to eat foods that make my body and mind feel nourished rather than inflamed, and I’ve lost 55 pounds in the process.
Intentional grocery shopping. I mostly shop at Whole Foods and spend most of my time in the produce sections. My main goal is to actually use all the produce I buy before it goes bad. When I shop the aisles, I really examine the ingredient lists and don’t buy many products.
Organic. I strive to consume as many organic foods as possible. I avoid genetically modified foods. You can save money on organic products by complementing your grocery store trips with online shopping at Vitacost, iHerb, Thrive Market, or FreshDirect.
Know how you react to certain foods. I did a food intolerance test which helped me choose which foods to avoid. I mostly avoid wheat, gluten, dairy, and soy. I still enjoy tacos and nachos, just with better ingredients. I use organic shredded cheese and when I make them every few weeks.
Cooking. I usually make 2-3 meals during the week, and eat the leftovers in between. My cooking staples are lots of vegetables, grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, potatoes, and gluten-free whole grains like quinoa and rice. I like to use fruit as a dessert after meals. I mostly like to pressure cook the meal first and leave it to slow-cook until dinner. I also enjoy making sheet-pan meals in the oven. I use lots of fresh garlic in almost everything I make. My other favorite spices are turmeric, cumin, and cayenne. Check out my blog post where I share how to make incredible nutrient-dense stews. Healthy and delicious are not mutually exclusive!
Eat the rainbow! This is most important for nourishing your body and mind. I aim to eat the rainbow to get lots of wonderfully beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants. I do this by choosing many different colored fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. I regularly try new vegetables that I’ve never tried before and make up my own recipes.
Eat seasonal produce! I aim to eat what is currently in season. I use Michigan Farm to Family to have fresh meat and other goods from local farmers delivered straight to my door. I’m also a member of a local community supported agriculture (CSA) where I receive fresh organic and heirloom vegetables delivered every other week throughout the growing season of June-October. To find a CSA in your area, search Local Harvest.
Vegetables at the ready. I chop up extra vegetables, especially cucumbers and red peppers, so they are always available for snacking.
Clean water. I drink purified water instead of bottled water or tap water.
Limit low-quality oils. I avoid most oils when possible: sunflower, safflower, canola, soybean, corn, palm, peanut, cottonseed, vegetable, etc. Instead I cook with unrefined coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, or beef tallow.
Less sugar. I used to go on a sugar binge every day, but now I eat very little refined sugar. I never used to understand when people would say something tasted “too sweet,” because nothing was ever too sweet for me. Now I completely understand, as I prefer the sweetness of fruits to the sweetness of refined sugars. I keep a few organic and gluten free snacks in the house for when I want something really sweet. Those snacks last a lot longer because I don’t eat them as often or as much as before.
Less mindless consuming. I used to have a habit of double-consuming: mindlessly consuming snacks while I was consuming media, watching a TV show or movie at the same time. Double-consuming definitively felt like trying to fill an endless void, and it often lead to me overeating because it was easy to be ignorant about the quantity of snacks I was consuming. I don’t snack in front of the TV nearly as often as I used to. If I do, I make sure to only eat a small quantity of snacks rather than binge-eating an entire bag of something. Using a smaller bowl or plate helps.
Eat slowly. I aim to eat slowly rather than scarfing down a meals. I’ll admit this one is still a challenge for me! It helps if you have someone with whom you can continuously remind each other to slow down.
Hormone balancing. I no longer take hormonal birth control or steroidal allergy medications. The book Cooking for Hormone Balance is a great resource to learn more about balancing your hormones naturally.
No obsessive tracking. I don’t track calories or macros. I eyeball my portions and stop eating before I’m completely full. I’m not doing a fad-diet; the habit changes I’ve made are sustainable for long-term health. I lost 55 lbs and have maintained that weight loss for 2+ years.
I now have very mild PMS cravings. I no longer have an uncontrollable, ravishing desire to binge eat. I actually crave nourishing meals. I no longer have daily severe pain. I also experience far fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
What about out in the real world?
Cooking your own food is great as it gives you control over what you put in your body, but it is simply not realistic to eat like that 100% of the time. That’s okay! Let’s talk about navigating food situations in the real world.
Growing up, most of us were told to clean our plates. This demand was exaggerated especially when combined with money issues. As an adult I used to feel compelled to always finish my plate of food, especially at restaurants that serve huge portions. But what feels better: an upset stomach, or the minor feeling of completion you get by finishing your plate? I’ve learned that oftentimes you’ll get more value from not eating those last few bites just for the sake of clearing your plate.
“Free?!” If there were free sweets, I used to feel compelled to eat them. One huge shift for me was realizing that just because something is free or readily available does not mean that I’m obligated to consume it. You always have a choice, even if someone is trying to persuade you to eat something. Instead of impulsively consuming it, you’re allowed to take a second to think. Ask yourself:
- Have you eaten this before? If so, how much satisfaction did you get the last time you ate it? How did your stomach feel the last time you ate it?
- What was your initial reaction to seeing it: Hard pass? Meh? YES!?
When I choose to eat something sugary, I want it to be of the highest quality so I can experience more satisfaction than discomfort.
I’ve consumed enough desserts in my life that I can look at something and know how satisfying it will be. Sometimes it’s enough for me just to look at it and recall a memory of the taste. Other times it’s fine to split it with someone else or just have a bite. For example, fresh macarons and caramel brownies are a YES for me. Most conventional store-bought desserts are a hard pass. By all means, treat yourself on occasion! But you can choose to treat yourself well and not settle for less just because it’s available.
Unless a restaurant advertises otherwise, assume they use cheap hydrogenated oils, fake butters, or other low-quality, genetically modified ingredients. So, what can you do about it? The path of least resistance is to simply be aware of what you’re eating and consume it in moderation without dwelling on it. The path of some resistance is that you can ask what they use or what they have available in the kitchen. If you don’t like what they tell you, you can choose to take your business elsewhere. You can try to find restaurants that use high-quality ingredients and keep going there. These restaurants are the minority in most areas, but by voting with our dollars, hopefully some day they will be the majority.
I still love sushi, but I consume it less often and in smaller quantities. I used to have sushi quite often, but now I only go once every few months. I used to habitually order way too much sushi, but now I order less. I opt not to get the super overly sugary sweet Korean peach tea drink even though I used to order it every time I got sushi. I bought the “make it yourself” peach tea and started drinking it at home, and it lost that special desire that made me want to drink it just because I was there. Now when I go for sushi I don’t consume too much sugar, and it’s still a great experience.
I have so much more to share about healing, habits, movement, and lifestyle, but the main focus of this post is food. Stay tuned for future posts! For now I’ll leave you with a few takeaways:
- Get to know your body. Everyone’s body is different, so I encourage you to explore and figure out which foods agree with you and which ones don’t. Keep experimenting until you find the foods that your body—your brain and your gut—really want you to eat. Happy brain, happy stomach… Happy stomach, happy brain. When you eat processed foods, your body creates bad gut bacteria that make you crave more of those foods. When you eat more fruits and vegetables, your body creates beneficial gut bacteria that make you crave more of the good stuff. What you eat directly impacts how you feel. You get to choose! When in doubt, you can do a food intolerance test, or work with a doctor that practices functional medicine.
- Find your “why”. Today I am grateful for all the experiences that have led me to this point. Those painful wake-up calls helped push me along on this journey of healing. My hope for this post is that it can lovingly serve as a wake-up call to anyone who may need it. ❤
- Take it one step at a time. Every little bit of healthy intention counts, adds up, and multiplies in time. Try making one small change at a time, and don’t give up! Healthy habits breed more healthy habits.
It’s gonna feel so hard / Until you want the work more than the reward / Until you stop asking ‘Oh, what is it all for?’ —”Love Never” by Jimmy Eat World