I have always been enthusiastic about food, beginning at least when I was a teenager. It made me happy. I was a picky eater as a kid, but I slowly started to create some interesting habits around food over time. Looking back, it was the start of an emotional dependency. I turned to food for happiness, pleasure, relaxation, self-soothing. Because I was an athlete, everyone figured I worked out so much that I needed a lot of fuel — and left it at that. Our memories of food can tell us a lot about that relationship. I remember getting a tub (not a cup or a cone, a tub) of ice cream from Baskin Robins with my dad after my basketball games, and a tub of sprinkles to go with it. It felt like the ultimate reward. I also remember having a pretty consistent and intense appetite. I regularly ate significantly more than everyone around me, which included adults and also my over 6-foot tall teammates. Across my high school and college sports career, I was acknowledged for being the shortest one on the team who ate the most. I didn’t really know how to explain it or respond to it, so I just laughed it off. It didn’t become an issue until I stopped playing sports and needed to find some sort of balance.
Looking back, I would turn to food after a stressful day (during which I probably missed a meal or two) and then slowly and peacefully I’d disappear into the eating experience, into the pleasure of it. That feeling took me away from all the other things going on and my attention was captivated by the taste, the texture, the salty or sweet or crunchy.. and ultimately, the escape. I wouldn’t want to stop. My brain would light up and I would sink into the couch, finally feeling some respite. I used to hide this secret relationship, I would dive in only behind closed doors because I was ashamed. Now that I’ve done the work around nutrition science and eating psychology, I don’t blame myself for developing that kind of relationship with food. Not one bit, in fact. I fully understand the root of what was driving my behaviors, and there’s no more shame here for that young girl and her desire to self-soothe, only lots of heartfelt compassion and love. Those were the things she needed the most.
As I built out my toolkit with a variety of ways to support myself that were not food, the drive to overeat slowly went away.
Try this: Think about your very first memory of food…
What comes up?
A couple of additional memories come to mind for me. For one, having to sit at the kitchen table alone in the dark until I finished my plate. I really didn’t like apple sauce back then, it was a texture thing. I also recall regularly sitting too close to the television screen, crushing a tub of “Piknik potato sticks” with salt all over my hands. Then there was the time in elementary school when I went to the movies with a friend and her mom, and I asked for two candy bars, she called my dad.
I didn’t know it then, but food was becoming my crutch. It wasn’t about nourishment or understanding if my body was hungry or asking for certain foods, it was about a mental escape. I was too young to realize that I desperately needed comfort and support to process the trauma I was carrying from when I was younger. So, I carried on with food, and it helped me feel less discomfort. That was the best option I had in terms of a coping strategy at that time.
This carried on for years, and fortunately, I was able to turn it all around. I had to deep-dive into my inner personal world, getting to know my emotions, my body, my needs. It was all so foreign to me! I was carrying the trauma of having a very loving mother, who was suffering from depression and a troubled relationship with alcohol. I had to become responsible for myself and to understand how to handle an unstable, volatile situation before I was remotely prepared to do that.
I recognize that I needed an escape, and I am actually glad that I made one for myself at the time. I’m also grateful I was able to recognize when it was no longer serving me, and lovingly let it go. I have since replaced it with the right tools and habits!
The work I did on my relationship with food and body allowed me to discover my greater path to healing and finally experience true freedom.
Now I get to help others do the same!
Read more about my story here.