There have been three times in my life as far back as I can remember where I’ve developed, seemingly out of the blue, issues with food and weight. Looking back and trying to determine if there was a common factor on all of them, I noticed that these were usually times of uncertainty; times where big changes were taking place in my life and I was petrified for lack of a better word of the outcome of these and of what the future held for me.
The first time was when I graduated high school and started my college education. I remember how scared I was of the change itself and how terrified I was of making a mistake in choosing the right career path. I started binge eating and really didn’t even know what to make of it. As I eased into my college life, the bingeing slowly started to stop until food was no longer an issue for me.
The second time was when I got married and moved from Mexico to the United States 17 years ago, and gained a whopping 45 lbs. Some weight gain was to be expected as there was going to be a massive change in the way I ate, but 45 lbs. seemed a bit excessive. I remember how uneasy I felt at the time. As you may have already noticed by now, I don’t react very well to big life changes. And so, what I did again, was eat. A lot. To the point where my rib cage hurt, and I felt physically ill. My emotional state suffered an even bigger blow than the physical one; I would feel guilty, ashamed and trapped in a vicious and self-destructive cycle because I would then go and try to drown these uncomfortable feelings with even more comfort food. As my new marital status in a new country started to sink in, my need to overeat went away and I was once again felt relaxed around food and eating. But I didn’t really do any work to examine why this had happened yet again.
The third time, I was getting divorced. Needless to say, this was another huge life event that was going to bring about several fundamental changes into what had become my “comfortable” and “under control” life. Again, I started having binge-eating episodes that would leave me even more devastated than before, because this time I was dealing with very deep self-esteem issues, and as you can guess, this was not at all helpful. Also, this time around I had two beautiful kids to look after, and I always worry about setting a good example for them. I was hiding all kinds of junk food and would have my secret binge eating sessions when they were asleep.
Throughout these trying times, I noticed that I felt like I was somehow broken and desperately wanted to get “fixed”. I was convinced that something had to happen in order for me to get cured from my overeating issues and I didn’t even know what to look for. I harshly berated myself for not having that much wanted self-control and for not having the will power to stop bingeing. Of course, I tried every single diet and quick fix available to me and was always on the lookout for the new and promising diet fad, thinking this was a self-discipline problem. I would successfully follow a strict diet plan for a few weeks, and then I would crash back to bingeing, even worse than before because by now I was feeling deprived and still had that emotional void that had to be filled somehow.
What makes it all worse is the modern visual culture and how we are constantly being bombarded with photoshopped and airbrushed images of bodies, complexions and physiques that are not real and don’t apply to the vast majority of the population. This has not changed a whole lot, as I can remember from my teenage years how perfect all the models in the magazines looked. What has changed however, is the accessibility that we have to these images of perfection nowadays and the emergence of the internet and social media expose us to this type of visuals more than ever before.
Attached to these visuals of perfect physiques are all of the techniques and ways to achieve that ideal weight or perfect body. From diet plans, to exercise to medications, there is a huge market for these products. The weight loss industry nowadays is worth 66 billion, and they don’t like leaving anyone behind when it comes to clientele. I was a teenager in the nineties and vividly remember how dietary fat was demonized in those times. Nobody was really talking about sugar or carbs. This is not the case at all nowadays; in fact, dietary fat is glorified and praised and things like avocados and nuts have never been more popular. I am not a nutritionist or dietitian, and yet I know these things because I have always been a health and well-being fanatic. And so I research these fields and try to learn what is out there. And I don’t remember of a single time when I encountered a program that also addressed the body mind connection and that provided healing on a level that went beyond the physical one. I also noticed that this diet culture attaches moral values to certain foods or lifestyles. For example, you are “super good” if you eat kale and drink Kombucha, and you are “super bad” if you eat Cheetos and drink diet Coke. You are “super good” if you are a size zero and “super bad” if you are anything above a size 8. When did our food choices and our bodies start giving us such good or bad reps? It certainly beats me. Diet culture also wants us to believe that we can always loose a few extra pounds and that our true health relies merely on how we look, as opposed to how we feel; physically, mentally and emotionally.
My soul-searching quest began over a decade ago, somewhat parallel to the third time this challenge presented itself. I started to do a lot of soul searching and healing work on a different and deeper level; I became a Reiki Master and became certified to lead “Heal Your Life” workshops based on the philosophy of Louise Hay. I obtained my Herbalist certification after completing an Integrative Herbology course that combined Ayurveda with western herbology and I also did an online course called “Transform your Relationship with Food” from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and this last one tied everything together for me. Through this pioneering work, I obtained a more holistic view of myself that I had never considered before and I finally understood how deep the mind body spirit connection really is and how certain symptoms sometimes show up in our lives to teach us something.
I have learned that there is much more than just facts and numbers on a scale when it comes to nutrition and when it comes to true NOURISHMENT. I truly believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and as so, we have emotions, feelings, thoughts and ideas and all of that has to be taken into consideration when addressing any type of issue.
In my individual case, food and my bad relationship with it at those times, was there to teach me to be more open, less rigid and to feel more comfortable during those “uncomfortable” times of uncertainty. It taught me how to feel my feelings instead of just numbing myself to them or cancelling them out with food and issues around it; it taught me to live a life where I am present and mindful, as opposed to just running on autopilot and going through the motions unaware of what is really going on. It taught me to flow and accept the cycles in my life, even if this means going through some of them with some extra weight; maybe, on an energetic level I needed that extra weight to “cushion” the fall; it has taught me to truly let go of attachment and learn to flow more easily, because in the end, nothing is permanent, not even the good times; it has taught me that nothing and no one is perfect and therefore I can be more compassionate towards myself and others. Self-love and acceptance have a new meaning for me and I now honor my body and my journey in ways that I never did before.
Am I “fixed” or “cured”? you might ask. The answer is no. Because there was nothing that needed to be cured or fixed to begin with. In my desperate attempt to make heads or tails of what was happening in my life, I disordered my eating habits to symbolically cope with the intense fear that I had to uncertainty. I was creating nutritional deficiencies by bingeing on all the wrong foods that I thought would give me comfort at the time and was left starved for real nutrition. I was not listening to the wealth of intelligence that is my own body and was ignoring all of its cues. I was making food and my own body the enemies and ignored the fact that I just needed to be mindful of what was happening to me: I needed to feel my feelings; mourn the loss of a relationship and cry over it, dwell in my own sadness and uncertainty and let the paralyzing fear run through my entire body, and just be there for every single feeling and emotion that was going through me.
So, no. I am not cured or fixed. I am an ever evolving being whose learning curve is in constant motion. And the more I live and experience and let go of trying to control everything, the more I learn and the more I get to enjoy this journey that we are all in. Nothing is perfect, life is chaotic and messy and we are always changing and evolving, and that is ok.