For a good twelve years of my life, I was obsessively consumed with food.
I had this unhealthy relationship with my body and my eating. I simultaneously loathed myself and desperately desired to be skinnier, while also compulsively binging until I couldn’t move.
For months I would restrict. I’d eat some fruit for breakfast, green peppers and ranch dressing for lunch, and a few bites of whatever was in my fridge for dinner. I was also hooked on diet pills and exercised until I worked off every single calorie I had eaten (which was not much).
And then, because no one could ever sustain a diet of 800 calories (if that!), I ended up binging. I’d find myself in this compulsive frenzy, stuffing my face with bowls of ice cream, cookies slathered in icing, leftover brownies, and candy.
This was followed by fits of depression, a deep loathing of my body, and promises to start again on Monday.
I lost and gained the same sixty pounds over and over and over again. It was an exhausting and miserable way to live.
When I began getting help, I thought I would never get to the end.
My recovery consisted of lots of tears, endless pages of journaling, voraciously reading through self-help books, a mentor who guided me through the process (and kept me afloat when I wanted to give up), yoga, meditation, and lots of lessons learned along the way.
It took years to get to the place I am today: where I don’t think about what I’m eating 24/7, I’m not consumed with being a size two, and I can relax into a life filled with freedom and ease.
But every hardship, struggle, and tear was worth the fight, because I’m a different person now. I’m the authentic, happier version of that girl I used to be. My life is full, my heart is happy (most of the time). And the lessons I learned on my journey still impact how I live today:
Here are the top lessons I learned from overcoming disordered eating:
1. Comparing yourself to others only sets you back.
When you gauge your own progress, your own body, and your own successes against others, it leaves you in an endless game that you’ll never be able to win. Trying to keep up with other people leaves you hopeless and discouraged. Others’ lives are depicted through snapshots; you never get the whole picture.
Your journey is about focusing on your own milestones and progress. You can never compare your insides, struggles, and hardships with someone else’s, because you never know what is going on deep within them.
There is a depth to everyone that we aren’t aware of. Each of us has our own battles, struggles, and insecurities. Focusing only on you frees up the energy it takes to create deeper healing.
2. Your relationship to food mirrors your relationship to your life.
Your relationship to food reflects your relationship to everything in your life: your family, your friends, yourself, and your mental/emotional state. What you are doing with your body/food is a projection of what you are doing in your mind/spirit.
Exploring your relationship with food takes you deeper into your relationship with everything else in your life.
The need for control and certainty is reflected in rigid, inflexible food rules. Fear of loneliness and emptiness is seen in eating for comfort and escape. Hurrying through life, always wanting to be in the next place and achieve the next goal, is reflected in rushing through meals. When we are aware of these connections, we can begin to change.
When we change our relationship to food, we change the way we live. When we abuse our body, we abuse ourselves. And when we respect and honor our body, we respect and honor ourselves.
3. You will never be done.
Dealing with food issues isn’t something you can just ignore, put aside, or avoid. Healing disordered eating means dealing with it every day, multiple times a day, for the rest of your life.
This is actually good news! You will constantly be refining what works for you, what foods give you energy, how emotions contribute to eating, what way of eating fits into your lifestyle, and what truly serves you.
When you fall back into old habits, when you find yourself wanting to overeat and restrict, you’ll know it’s a signal to go deeper (see #2).
4. Perfectionism derails progress.
Striving to be a perfect eater, have the perfect body, and be a perfect person is stifling and exhausting. When you’re yearning to achieve this unattainable goal, it only sets you up for failure.
We need to soften our expectations, relax into our imperfect selves, and realize that no one is meant to be perfect in any area of life. In a “perfect” world, everything is stagnant. There is no growth and no evolution. It is only through mistakes, trail and error, and experimentation that we learn and grow.
When you allow yourself to make mistakes—whether it’s messing up your food plan, getting into a fight with a family member, or realizing your work isn’t satisfying—this is how you learn, incorporate feedback, and chart a new course.
5. You are really, truly good enough—just as you are.
I always thought that I had to lose more weight, be thinner, and have a flatter stomach in order to be accepted by others, and that I needed their acceptance to be happy. But the irony is that when you truly believe you are innately acceptable, just as you are, your healing begins to deepen and you’re able to nurture a happiness that isn’t dependent on what other people think.
6. Disordered eating is your soul desperately crying out for help.
Our biggest obstacles often turn into our biggest lessons. A screwed up relationship with food forces you to go deeper into yourself to really heal. It gently nudges you to explore the depths within you that you didn’t know were there, to heal all limiting beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and habits, and uncover who you really are.
This journey is an act of pure, unfiltered courage. It exposes you raw and leaves you vulnerable. And as you realize this truth, you realize this is a gift. This is a chance to go deeper, live more honestly, and be more authentic. And isn’t that what living really is all about?