If you’re struggling with fatigue, constant weight gain or an inability to lose weight, anxiety, breakouts, hormonal imbalances, self-doubt, issues or fears about food, or just know that something is off in your life, then I encourage you to read my story of healing. I hope it empowers you with the knowledge that the life you dream of full of energy, glowing skin, stable weight, and joy is in your grasp if you take the first step to make a change.
Where it all Began
Some of my earliest memories as a child are of the severe eczema I suffered on my scalp and hands. I remember being 7 or 8 years old and sitting down every night while my mother massaged this tar-based “medicine” onto my head in the hopes that it would control the eczema. I remember pulling my sweaters down over my hands because I was embarrassed that people would see how cracked and bloody they were. And I remember being on puffers. Looking back at my symptoms it’s pretty obvious to me that I was suffering from food allergies, likely to dairy or wheat.
As I got older, I seemed to outgrow these symptoms and entered middle school mostly eczema- and puffer-free. I was a fairly active kid all through my youth playing soccer, basketball, and hockey and participating in swimming, horseback riding, and skiing. When I got to grade 8 I started to become overwhelmed with body image issues and thus began my 12 year struggle with disordered eating habits and self-loathing tendencies. I distinctly remember living off nothing but chocolate milk for several days when I was 13. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to figure out that that isn’t a diet that promotes health, now does it?
Yo-yoing Up and Down
Though thankfully I was never hospitalized for my issues surrounding food, I would go through phases where I would be exercising 2+ hours a day and eating around 1000-1200 calories of Conventional Wisdom (CW) proscribed “health” foods, such as whole grains, low fat dairy, and meat alternatives. I remember being 15 and losing about 20 pounds and being thrilled with all the positive comments I received. Clearly, however, these kinds of eating habits and lifestyle were unsustainable in the long term and so began my cycle of extreme “health and fitness” binges and followed by inevitable weight gain. This cycle continued all throughout university and at my heaviest in 3rd year I clocked in at 162 lbs. at a height of 5’4. While not morbidly overweight, I was puffy, bloated, inflamed, my skin was garbage, and I had zero energy. I also began to drink and smoke a whole lot when I got to university, and it was definitely in no small part caused by, and contributing to, how horrible I felt almost all the time.
Suffering Silently: Anxiety Rears its Ugly Head
However, what was even worse than the weight I gained was that I suffered from extreme anxiety for many years. I would often go through phases where I would be so anxious that I would sit up at night curled in a ball on my bed, afraid to go to sleep, but not knowing why. At one point I started to believe I was actually losing touch with reality and began to question whether my friends were even real, or existed solely in my head. It was pretty intense stuff and not what a 20 year old wants to be feeling during what should be the prime of her life.
Perhaps my most unhealthy cycle began the summer after I finished my undergrad and before I started my MA. It was at this time that I discovered purging via laxatives and realized that I could eat whatever I wanted and have it leave my body as soon as I woke up the next day, ensuring, in my mind, that I would never gain any weight and that I was “in control” of my body.
My anxieties continued to plague me, though not quite as severe as before, and the self-loathing I had for my body surreptitiously continued to grow. I hated my binge sessions during which I was able to put away two large bags of chips, a family size bag of M & Ms, pizza, fancy cheeses, and other sweets all in one sitting. I would then be so overcome with guilt and anger at my lack of control that I would drive to a twenty-four hour pharmacy to pick up my laxatives and thus the cycle would start anew.
At its height, I would sometimes repeat this cycle every day of the week to ensure I stayed a “healthy” weight. As you may be able to imagine my weight would fluctuate dramatically for my small frame and I never felt truly comfortable in my own skin. I felt like my body was something I had to fight against in order to look the way I wanted. It wouldn’t occur to me until much later that the only way to achieve a healthy weight is to patiently, and with the utmost kindness, work with my body.
This pattern continued for three miserable years as my depression and anxieties grew once again. It always surprised me that I was able to keep this a secret from virtually everyone in my life, and to be honest there are still very few people who know the extent of what I was doing to my body.
Throughout my MA program I would fall into weeks of depression where I would sometimes only leave my bed for a couple of hours a day, plaster on a smile, and go teach some first years about grammar. At one point I remember getting so upset about something completely trivial that I literally collapsed on the floor in tears, too physically and emotionally exhausted to pick myself up.
On the surface I could make excuses and say I was busy working and because I was always able to put a smile on my face when I did muster up the energy to leave my house, none of my friends suspected the fatigue and anxiety I was living with on a daily basis. However, several professional relationships were destroyed due to my inability to complete work on time and I would sometimes go off the radar at school for weeks or months afraid to open the emails asking me where I was. Then, as quickly as these depressive episodes would come on, they would taper off and disappear for a little while. The binging and purging cycle, however, was my constant companion.
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
Early on during my MA program in the fall of 2009, a fellow student introduced me to the Paleo diet and I had dabbled on several occasions with the premise, rarely lasting more than a week. Looking back now, I see that during those “experiments” I was binge and purge free the whole time, but of course some event like a concert or party would come up and down the rabbit hole I would go, falling back to my habits of late-night pizzas, chips, cookies, and bag upon bag of M & Ms.
Fast-forward to September 2011 and I had just successfully defended my thesis and moved to a new city. I wasn’t quite at my heaviest weight, but I was hovering somewhere between 150-155. I moved in with my sister who has celiac disease and I decided to try cutting gluten out of my diet once and for all so that I wouldn’t contaminate anything in our house. I was still eating quite a bit of processed foods, but I was becoming more aware of the relationship between the food I ate and how my body felt.
In October of that year I started reading tons of nutrition books, pretty much everything I could get my hands on! Books about the Paleo Diet, books about the relationship between the gut and psychology, books about calories and nutrient dense foods, basically if it was an alternative to the Conventional Dietary Wisdom I had struggled with for years then I was all over it. At this point, everything in my life began to make so much sense! The eczema from which I had suffered as a child, the constant illnesses, the fatigue, bloating, and weight gain could all be linked to what I was putting in my body.
Over the next couple of weeks I cleaned out the cupboards and started living a whole foods, high fat lifestyle in earnest. And after a few weeks a funny thing happened. I was no longer biting my nails or pulling out my eyelashes, which were my telltale signs of anxiousness. I was calmer, happier, and most notably I hadn’t binged or purged in weeks. My skin was clearing up, especially on my back where I had suffered from severe acne since I was a teenager. And I had slimmed down. Not in a dramatic transformation kind of way, but in a way that felt healthy and right. I also wasn’t constantly hungry or craving food that I knew was bad for me. I could eat a big healthy breakfast and go hours without even thinking of food. It was so freeing I couldn’t believe it! I had spent so many years trapped in the flawed Canada Food Guide concept of “healthy” eating, which had never worked for me in any capacity, that I was shocked when food really did seem to be a huge contributing factor to many of my physical and psychological issues.
Fighting Back with Food
I was so struck by the power food has to heal the body that I completely changed my plan of applying for a PhD in English Lit and applied to holistic and culinary nutrition programs (I’m now a Program Coach at my Alma Mater, The Academy of Culinary Nutrition so that I can help spread the good food love) so that I could learn to develop recipes and teach cooking classes. In so doing, I hope to share my passion and knowledge of the healing power of food with anyone who remains trapped in the same cycle of self-abuse from which I have been lucky enough to escape. This past December(2016) it has been 5 years since I had my last binge and purge session and every single day I continue to feel better, brighter, happier, and healthier. My moods, energy, and hunger are all stable and I can stop focusing on trying to trick my body into being healthy and just get on with living!
My journey is ongoing and requires me to continue incorporating new and important healing modalities into my life and practice. Some of the crucial aspects of my continued healing include a focus on gentleness, patience, mindfulness, and self-love, -acceptance, -care, & -compassion. Without this foundation, nothing else is ever going to stick because if you don’t feel like you are worth putting in the effort for, then any attempt at healing is unfortunately doomed to failure.
There is also no way I could be where I am today without my supportive and loving community which include The Academy of Culinary Nutrition, One Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga for Youth, and of course all my incredible friends, family, and clients. Having a community of people who have your back when times are tough and when you want to give up is another crucial aspect to healing. Not to mention having a social support network is highly linked to increased longevity 😉
Finally I make sure that I NEVER stop learning. Whether that is through my education as a certified yoga teacher, continued education courses such as The Advanced Clinical Focus: Neurology & Mental Health program I recently completed, or by continuing my role as a program coach with The Academy of Culinary Nutrition. By keeping up-to-date on the best holistic healing information out there I ensure not only that I can continue to care for myself, but that I can also support you as you make these incredible changes.
My goal now is to spread the good food word to any and all of those people who are fed up with CWs nonsense approach to health and wellness. Discovering the connection between food and how our bodies work and our minds think was life changing and set me on a path of self-discovery and self-love. I’ve finally figured out what it takes to be happy, healthy, and successful and I want to share what I’ve learned with all of you. So what are you waiting for? A vibrant, glowing, healthier you is just around the corner!
If you’re struggling with sticking to your healthy living commitments make sure you download my FREE Stop Self-Sabotage Workbook by clicking here. It’s got the inside scoop on what you need to know to build a solid foundation for health.