As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been thinking a little more about how we define “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods. I think it’s a personal decision, just like it’s a personal decision to decide if eating the “right” foods is going to be something that we worry about. We give food an awful lot of power when we define them as “healthy” or “unhealthy” or “good” or “bad.” And giving food that label is something I’m not willing to do any more.
This post contains information about my own struggle with an eating disorder. It may be triggering as I will disclose information about weight loss (and numbers). Please do not read this if you feel like it will trigger negative feelings or disordered eating.
There was a time when, compounded by millions of other things, I had a very unhealthy relationship with food. As I think many of you know, I once weighed 235 pounds, and through exercise and diet, I managed to lose over 130 pounds. You read that correctly. I once weighed 100 pounds. And while that may have been a healthy weight for someone else, it wasn’t healthy for me.
Not because of how much I weighed. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
It was because of how I behaved. How I felt. And how food consumed my life.
I avoided anything that was “high calorie.” This meant avocados, oil, meat, cheese, nuts, and more. Those were bad foods.
I counted my calories obsessively. Despite 90+ minutes of exercise every single day, I rarely went over 1500 calories. I obsessed about food. I woke up thinking about my breakfast (which was exactly 300 calories) and then made myself wait until I was starving and shaky and got light-headed when I stood up before I’d like myself slowly eat a 100-calorie pack. But never before 11 am, despite waking up at 4 or 5 am. And then I didn’t get to eat lunch until 2 pm. I stretched out each meal as long as I could so I could enjoy it. And I was always thinking about what and when I got to eat next.
This food obsession didn’t start overnight. At first, I lost weight just through exercise, but as I lost weight, I became obsessed. I almost didn’t realize how skinny I’d became until people started making comments. Which is, by the way, not helpful. Telling me I was too skinny didn’t make me think that I should suddenly start eating like they did. At the end of the day, I had no idea how to eat differently.
I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder. But as people told me I should be eating, I started eating some of these banned foods. But my problem now was that when I started eating these foods, I couldn’t stop. These foods were banned to me, so giving in just a little meant I gave in all the way. I had labeled these foods as “bad” or “unhealthy” and so once I ate a little, I might as well eat it all, right? And so I would.
I’m not saying this thought process should make sense to you. In fact, I hope it doesn’t. But in an attempt to regain control over food and because, subconsciously, I knew that I was dangerously close to an unsafe weight, I started allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted one day a week. And on that day, I ate all of the banned foods. Donuts, cake, cookies, meat, cheese, everything. And so I started gaining weight, like everyone said I needed to.
But gaining weight was scary, and I tried to shut down those “eat whatever I want days” AKA “cheat days” but now I found myself eating those foods one day or meal a week in an “out of control” fashion. I’d compensate for those calories by restricting like crazy the other days. This perpetuated a cycle where I would eat “healthy” for six days a week and get so hungry that I way overate again, and then I’d “have” to restrict again to compensate for all those calories I’d consumed when I overate. It was a vicious cycle, and in so many ways, worse than when I just restricted food. The feelings of a lack of control, disgust, and self-loathing after I ate the food I thought I shouldn’t were so much worse (to me) then being hangry all the time. But I continued to gain weight until my family’s consensus was that I was healthy. They were happy.
You see, I looked healthy (or how they thought I should look) but really, I was just as unhealthy as before. Maybe worse.
And I wish I could say that all of those feelings are gone. I’d love to think that one day I’ll wake up and just have what I perceive to be a healthy relationship with food that I think everyone else but me has – but I think that this is a daily struggle for me. Some days it’s easier than others, and I’m in a much better place than I was a year or even six months ago. But I’m not “recovered.”
And that’s why labeling food as good or bad is so dangerous for me. When I think a food is bad, but I want it anyway and, heaven forbid, eat it anyway, then I feel horrible guilt after. And this will happen whether I eat a little or a lot because I see that food as “bad” and therefore, if I eat it, I am bad (or fat, or ugly, or stupid, or negative fill-in-the-blank). But if I can feel that food is just food, not “good” or “bad,” it loses a little of it’s power over me and how I feel about myself. And if I don’t base my self-worth on what I did or did not eat, that is a very positive, pro-recovery thing for me.
Although I didn’t come right out and say it, taking away value judgment of food like labeling them healthy or unhealthy was about me taking that power away from food for me and for all of us. We should not base how we feel about ourselves because of what we ate.
We deserve so much more than that. I deserve so much more than that.
For me, not labeling food as good or bad is about choosing to feel good about myself, my choices, and my life.