As I started discussing this topic in pre-marital counseling with my fiancé and counselor and became teary-eyed, it occurred to me that this is something that impacts me a little more than I ever allowed myself to acknowledge.
When you have a type A, perfectionist kind of personality, you often feel the need to have control… over everything. Unfortunately, that’s not always how life works. A lot of things are beyond our control. However, there are many things that we can control, and one of those things happens to be food.
Food is a huge part of my life. I’m a dietitian, a food blogger, and I also happen to be a chronically hungry person. (That last one is a dramatization… kinda.) I am constantly either: a) talking about food (whether that may be in my work life or my personal life), b) writing/blogging about food, c) taking pictures of food, d) looking at pictures of food, e) eating food, or f) THINKING about what I’m going to eat next (this one is 24/7, literally).
**I have talked about this in previous blog posts, but I’ll briefly review for those of you who may be new to Wellness For The Win.**
The need to have control, specifically over food intake, is often what leads to eating disorders. I have had a little too much control over my own food intake over the years, and I have even tried to control the way others eat, which is not okay. I have come to the realization that I can’t “fix” everyone; and not everyone wants or needs to be fixed. If people want my advice regarding food, they know they can ask me, but I can’t force my habits on anyone else. People have to want to adopt healthy habits.
I will continue to describe myself as having a “history of disordered eating”, because that’s exactly what it was. I will never say that I had anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or anything else, because I didn’t. I have never deprived myself of any meals. I’m way too hungry for that business, and I work out too often for my body to even try to function without food. Unfortunately, yes, I made myself throw up after eating a few times, but not to the extent of an eating disorder, and for the record, it’s something I haven’t done in a very long time.
However, food apparently still has this hold over me in some ways, which only occurred to me as my emotions took over when I started talking about it out loud. In general, I would honestly say that I have a very healthy relationship with food now. I eat when I want and I’m satisfied with the food I eat. But if I’m caught in a situation where only unhealthy food is available, I am overcome with anxiety. I usually have a protein bar (or five) in my purse, but sometimes it’s hard to be that girl that’s chomping on her RX Bar instead of eating hamburgers and hot dogs on white buns with Cheetos on the side like everyone else.
It was interesting timing that this conversation came up in counseling, because just the day before that, I made the spontaneous decision to stop tracking my food in My Fitness Pal, at least temporarily. This was only intended to be an experiment, if you will. I have tracked my food since high school, so at least a good seven years. Wow, that’s hard to believe. That’s a long time! It just became a habit. I got to the point where I never thought anything of it; it was just something that I did every day after every meal, every snack. I didn’t think of it as a burden and I never thought that it affected me. The reason I decided to try to stop was because I saw another dietitian’s post on Instagram about how she stopped counting calories long ago, deleted the MFP app from her phone, started listening to and loving her body more, and I felt inspired. She looked amazing, and I thought to myself, “Hmm, maybe I could do that too and still be happy with my body.”
Even after one day, I realized how much of a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t focused on approximately how many calories I had left, or how many I “should” have for dinner, or if I had room for a bedtime snack. MFP really didn’t dictate my eating choices before, but it definitely made me aware of where I was during the day in relation to my “goal”. I would always be close to staying within my calorie goal for the day, but it wasn’t the end of the world if I went over. I typically took (some) weekends off of tracking and sometimes missed a meal or snack here and there, so I did have some flexibility with it. At least it seemed like flexibility in my mind. But for the most part, it was my routine and something that I felt kept me “on track” every day, especially Monday through Friday when I felt I should make mostly healthy eating choices.
When I’m counseling clients I actually often recommend food tracking as a way to increase awareness of what we put in our bodies, and I still believe it is a great tool for that — especially for people who need to lose weight or improve their eating habits. However, for someone like me, who is 24 years old, weighs less than they did in high school, eats extremely healthy and works out hard every day, I don’t necessarily need to be aware of every single calorie that crosses my lips.
I decided that 2017 is going to be the year of challenging myself, and pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I have decided to challenge myself to “lose control” in this one very important area of my life, in an attempt to gain some freedom, self-love, and the ability to listen to and respect my body even more. To make eating decisions based on how I feel, not on numbers or “calories remaining”. Anything we can do to take pressure off of ourselves and cut ourselves some slack – we should absolutely do.
I am only about one week in and I will admit, I’m still tempted to track randomly out of habit, and I still wonder how many calories I’ve had throughout the day on occasion. But when I think about the fact that I don’t know, and realize that frankly, I don’t care, it’s a damn good feeling.
Right now I am so much happier with the way I’m eating and the way I’m pushing myself with my workouts than I have been in a very long time. And I know that if I continue to follow these healthy habits, and also allow myself to take breaks and be a human (i.e. eat a whole box of Kraft three cheese shells or go out for ice cream occasionally), that my happiness will just keep going up, and my stress levels will keep going down, which believe it or not, is actually the key to optimal health.
We absolutely have to love ourselves first, and that is what I fully intend to do from now on. It can be a daily struggle for a lot of us, but we just have to constantly remind ourselves that we are enough.
If you currently have an unhealthy relationship with food, or yourself, or know that there is something toxic that you are doing on a daily basis, I want to challenge you to remove that thing from your life, and you’ll be amazed at how you feel, even after just one day. Imagine how you’ll feel after 100 days, 365 days…
I’m just now starting on this journey free from food tracking, and so far, it feels so good. I’ll keep you all posted, and hope that my mind continues to believe that I am beautiful, and my body is happy and healthy when I exercise it and put good food in it, regardless of each little calorie consumed.
Love yourself, now and always. 💕
Shanna Stewart, RD LD