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Defining healthy, pt. 2

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.

46 thoughts on “Defining healthy, pt. 2 Leave a comment

  1. Amazing post and so brave. Thank you for sharing. As a former competitive figure skater I spent a long time with my body and weight being scrutinized. Being skinny meant being good. I always had muscular legs (still do) and I hated myself. I obsessed about food and fat. I exercised for hours to make up for it. Only wen I had an injury and couldn’t run and was gaining weight like crazy did it dawn on me that I was obsessed with food. Being so worries about what I couldn’t eat made me think of food all the time. Learning to relax and give myself a break hasn’t been easy but I am getting there. Three weeks ago a doctor told me I should try to lose some weight. I left and never went back. I was in tears and it took all my might not to slip back down that slippery slope again. Being in NYC is tricky because it is a culture of rail thin women. Bravo to you for pointing this out and sharing your journey. I think you are a beautiful and brave woman.

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    • That is so hard – and I’m glad you are in a better place! It’s such a hard thing to recognize and then move forward with. Having a doctor of all people say that could have made it even worse, and I’m sorry I had to deal with it bad hear that. Thank you so much for sharing here!

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  2. OMFG this is insanely awesome … and you know I can totally relate (and you gave me #allthefeels – my kids would be so proud of my mad hashtagging skillz).

    When I was first losing weight in 1989 I used to do ‘deconstructed meals’. That sounds really cool and culinary … but what it would often mean was that I would have a steak for dinner one night, a baked potato the next, and corn the third night. I would restrict like crazy … but my dinners more or less stabilized once I got to my plateau (when you are losing nearly 200 lbs you don’t really have a ‘goal’ other than ‘not being fat’ … or maybe ‘seeing your toes’).

    But until 2012 (yeah, 23 years) my breakfast and lunch were held hostage by my disordered eating. I would have minimal or no breakfast (yes, I would skip breakfast even when running a few miles a day), and have a minimal lunch – or have frozen yogurt INSTEAD of lunch – and that would allow me to have a nice robust dinner and stay thin.

    I credit my disordered thinking for my near crash in my first half marathon … I was so underfueled and over-exerted I should probably have been looked at medically that morning … but I was OK after that, and from there on out I have eaten 3 sensible meals each day. My wonderful wife is like a watchdog, and I have taken away my power by telling her all of my restriction tricks. (we all have them, right?).

    But for me one of the best things is what I do ‘when no one is looking’. I could always hide my restricting because I left for work before people were up (long commute back in Mass), and because I was ‘eating at my desk’. Now even when everyone is off and sleeping in, I will prepare myself a full breakfast – and even on a rest day like today I ate the same breakfast as yesterday! Yay me.

    But it is HARD … freaking hard. I think about food ALL THE TIME.

    I mean, for a month while we were in the middle of this huge sample run on the development project I’m on, I walked about 1 mile plus did 14 flights of stairs before 9AM … PLUS my morning run. Now that is over, I feel the activity difference …and my first thought is to change up my diet. Ugh, please stop!

    I know I will go to my grave with disordered food thinking …

    But I am happy with what I have learned and what I am eating – I eat better and cleaner than ever, and I find I don’t eat packaged and processed food … not because I am restricting, but because it doesn’t taste good to me anymore. Ice cream? I like it, but find that my thick dessert smoothie leaves me feeling less ‘blechy’ afterwards … so I will tend towards that.

    I am a work in progress, as are we all … I am happy with where I am, considering where I have been.

    Thank you again SO MUCH for sharing all of this, Laura. 🙂

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    • I so totally hear my own thoughts in your words here – and it’s scary! I thunk that we don’t fall into the “traditional” categories because we started overweight, but really, I think we were actually just reflecting extremes of the same behaviors. I’m so glad you’re in a more healthy, balanced place and I want to get there!

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    • I have never heard of deconstructed meals. There is so much we can obsess about in terms of food. Glad to hear you are in recovery and treating yourself better.

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      • I think we find ways to mentally be okay with eating less – and this is one flavor. Either way, it’s no fun! 🙂

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      • ‘Deconstructed’ in recipes involves taking normally combined things, taking them apart and then recombining them in a new and unique way.

        Deconstructed the way I used it doesn’t exist – it is just an unhealthy and disordered approach I took to eating things I liked while losing weight!

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  3. I echo the other comments–thank you for sharing this. You and I both (as well as many who are runners, and driven, motivated people, to boot) are perfectionists and, yes, to an extent control freaks. Sometimes this means all of the control, sometimes it means none of the control. I too have tended towards the low calorie, and if I am honest, I still have that tendency. But the difference is that if I do, it is because that is what I want. Or that is what is cleaner and therefore easier for me to digest. But I never lose sight of what I am doing, what I am contributing to–every time I doubt myself, I think of my goals, both fitness and for the future of my family, and that helps get me to shift my mind. And I have been lucky in my life not to beat myself up day to day–I over eat one day, it doesn’t effect my next. But if I under eat one day, you better believe I make up for it the next! haha.
    Major props to you for sharing this. You always have support all around you, and particularly with me. AND now you know where I live 😉

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    • You are a beautiful role model for living life, especially for dealing with Crohn’s Disease. I applaud it and your positive attitude inspires me!

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  4. Agreed with the ladies above for sharing this, love, and with your habit of not labeling any food. I’ve come a long way in my food habits, and while they aren’t perfect, food is food and fuel for my life. I’m lucky in the fact that I don’t have any allergies, so I can enjoy what I want, and I like leaving room in my life for a bit of everything 🙂

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    • I definitely think off-limit foods make things tough, but still, not an excuse! I’m glad you’ve come so far!

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  5. I totally feel you with the ban 6 days, binge the 7th, ban again cycle. And I feel like a lot of people have a skewed perception of food. Why is it so controlling!? Don’t you wish that there was a way to switch our brains around to think only positive things about ourselves and others?

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    • I so do! And I hate that I can let it consume what would otherwise be really good things! I just want to live and enjoy life!

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  6. Years ago (gosh, nearly 10 years ago now) I would restrict food like CRAZY during the week and then binge on weekends. I can relate to so much of what you wrote in your post. Up until about a year ago (maybe less) I was labeling food as “good” or “bad” and then I became focused on other things in my life and I stopped. And you know what happened? I didn’t die. I didn’t gain ten thousand pounds and I stopped beating myself up for eating fries.
    Food is just food. So so true.

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    • Thank you so much for your comments! Keeping perspective is so important and your words help me to think I can do it!

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  7. You know I have my own food history so you know how much I understand and sympathise with what you’ve written. I send you lots of love and encourage you to love yourself first and foremost, nothing else matters x x x

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  8. This post is amazing. I can relate to so much of it and until a few months ago I was still struggling too. I know you’ve inspired amber other young women by sharing this story, and I encourage you to keep doing so. Surprisingly, I found that sharing my story helped me in recovery as much as it helped others.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment – and sharing your story! I definitely will do some reading on your blog today too!

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  9. I had no idea and I truly appreciate you sharing this story. the problem with eating disorders or disordered eating is that most people are not diagnosed and they truly do come in all shapes and sizes. I love that food is food. I kind of look at it like I look like training…each individual run or meal is not going to effect you overall.

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    • You gave such a great attitude, and it’s one that I admire so much! Thank you fir your support and I need to develop an attitude towards food like that!

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  10. I hope you took a huge sigh of relief. I know I did. The hardest part of reading your blog was knowing there were still issues left unsaid but obviously not knowing for sure and uncertain what to do. EDs are not just about food. I encourage you to seek help from professionals if you feel you need it. I know it can be hard to ask for help, especially with the psych stigma. I always seem to be the Debbie downer, compared to to our other commenters, but I only mean well and worry, too. Keep well!

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    • I had to think overnight about how to respond to your comment because I KNOW you meant it with so much love and support. Unfortunately, it also echoed so many of the things I’ve heard over the years that it became a bit of a micoaggression for me even though it was probably unintended by you. EDs definitely aren’t just about food, for me they are about control, perfection, and how I deal with emotions and stress. I’ve sought medical help multiple times, and unfortunately haven’t also found any sort of help (which is not an excuse for anyone else not to seek medical attention or psychiatric help). I’m not sure why it hasn’t helped, but I can say that I’m sure part of it is personal and not a reflection on them. My dream is to be able to afford to go into “rehab” and do nothing but deal with this; have someone tell me what to eat, talk about what is causing it, and develop different strategies to cope. But I just realized today that I have to figure out how to deal with these things in the real world – there is no easy solution for all this, and with my prior experiences and reading, I’m not responsible for implementing those things in my life. I have the tools, I just haven’t been choosing to use them. I can’t push this off on anyone or anything else. I am such a huge supporter of the positive work of psychology and counseling, but it isn’t the solution for everyone. Same with groups like Overeater’s Anonymous and so many similar things. I have to find my own path to recovery.

      I think one of the the hardest things about seeing an ED in others is how to respond to it – especially knowing that being the person who “calls out” those behaviors in others can feel like they become the object of misplaced anger. I don’t have a solutions there, but I know for me, I already know what I should be doing, and so to have someone tell me what I should be doing can be a really negative experience, no matter how good the intentions were behind it. It still leaves me feeling, at the end of the day, like someone else feels like they know better than I do what is best for me, despite not being me and dealing with what I do on a daily basis.

      What’s worse then, is that is starts to feel like judgment, which is is the very last thing I need right now, and part of the reason I haven’t said anything before. Because to me, it says “I am better than you, and I know how you can become better (like me).” I think (hope) that you had no intention of coming across like that – and my instinct was just to say “thank you for your concern” but that’s the old me, who held anything inside and never wanted to make anyone else possibly be mad, or hurt, or sad. Instead, I needed to say for me that it wasn’t what I needed to hear, and hopefully for others to understand what to say and not to say to someone who is struggling with things like this.

      At the end of the day, I really do need positivity and support. I’ve already got the judgment and negativity covered.

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  11. You are so brave for sharing this! You are on your way to recovery, you are doing so much better than you used to, and I know you will keep moving forward.
    About labeling foods, yes, I definitely label… but I don’t see it as a negative thing. It’s good to be aware of what we are putting in our bodies, and there are definitely some unhealthy foods out there. To me this means eating them in moderation, and/or I try to find healthier versions of those foods. The difference between just labeling and labeling when you have an ED, is the power we give to those foods to control how we feel and our behavior towards food.

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  12. Really love this post! I totally understand how you have felt in the past. I have done so many cycles of healthy vs. non-healthy dieting. Since I started doing the vegan/vegetarian thing, I have so much confidence in food right now. 🙂

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  13. Amazing post. I’m glad you chose to share your struggles with us. Recovery is always a bumpy road but I wish you the best ❤ And regarding one of your comment responses, I wholeheartedly agree with your statement "there is no easy solution for all this." EDs are never open and shut cases and sometimes it's hard for people around you to understand. I've had people get mad at me because they think I'm just being a bitch by refusing to eat certain things and it's a daily struggle

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    • Thank you so much for your comment – and I know what you are saying. It’s really hard sometimes for me to not do one of two things – either just be quiet, and take the “advice” people give me who have no idea what I am going through and say thank you (which is normally what I do, and so bad for me because I just keep holding more and more negativity inside me) or to just want to go off on them and say things like “you don’t know me” which is so Jerry Springer and also not appropriate. I wish it was easy and I could just go to therapy or take a pill and it’d all be okay and I’d eat like I think everyone else does (read: “normal”). Instead, this is something I’m going to have to face and deal with every single day. I hope that one day it becomes easier, but that day isn’t today or tomorrow. Thank you for your support and comment – and I wish you the best as well!

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      • I’ve had the suggestion of taking the happy pill many times or “just eat it.” We really should be able to go “you don’t know me!” because they don’t. Since it’s not appropriate for them to comment on our bodies/how we’re doing then it should be appropriate for a candid answer

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      • I think you are right – we get to respond how we want to when people make inappropriate comments.

        And for the love of God, I wish there was a real happy pill, because I’d take it in a second. =)

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  14. This was a beautiful post, and I think it’s important to talk about this heavy stuff! We put so much emphasis on being skinny, and it is by no means a sign that a person is healthy or happy. I also struggled with food issues on and off for a long time, and it was when I focused on cooking and enjoying my food that my weight stabilized in a healthy place.

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    • Thank you so much – I agree, it is so important to talk about it, and I think it’s been really hard for me to say some of the things I’ve said in these posts (and especially in response to some comments) because it goes against everything I’ve been trying to be for years. I love that cooking and food has helped you work towards a healthier place, and I hope that through these conversations and my life, I can find that place and balance for me too.

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  15. This is a great post and I applaud you for bringing attention to such an important issue. Food can only have the amount of power over us that we let it. Simple to say, of course, but harder in practice. I’ve had a lot of times in my life where I’ve been more focused on defining myself and my life by how “healthy” I’m eating. It’s not worth it; life is too short. And jellybeans are awesome 🙂

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    • They are! And delicious. I think you are so right – I’ve really given food so much power, and I think while it isn’t simple to do it, I do have to learn about how to take that power away and find other ways to deal with how I’m feeling without just trying to blunt it all out. Life is too short, and I don’t want to waste it feeling like this!

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  16. I love these “heavy” posts because you continue to hit the nail on the head for me. I have the same habit with my “banned” foods, and I have recognized for years that my giving them up is not because I don’t like them or because they are necessarily bad for me, but that because I have absolutely no control when I eat them. People ask me all the time “what are you going to give up next” or “you don’t eat that either”? Well, it is not really a true choice for me because I know myself, and I can chow through an entire bag of potato chips, box of macaroni and cheese, bag of candy, box of cheez-its in one sitting…and then go back for more. Not. Healthy. But at least I recognize it in myself. Control is not my middle name, lol. Thanks for bring this type of eating disorder out in the open. Because that is what it is.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment and support – I’m sorry that you understand what I am talking about, it is no fun! I have to think that we will overcome!

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  17. Dearest Laura, you are so brave to be so open with something that was so difficult to deal with. When we post something online, we have to worry that it becomes part of our permanent record. I guess that’s why people are inclined to only post good stuff but you exposed your issues and that shows your strength. Kudos. So many people have bad relationships with food. In fact, it seems there are so many of us who have an obsession or avoidance issue so thanks for starting this absolutely necessary conversation, and even for those who don’t weigh in, for those who read and see themselves in your words and realize that there is another way, the better life that you are living now. All the best to you.

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    • Thank you so much – and it definitely is scary, but I’m hopeful that by talking about it, it’ll help me and others!

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  18. Really good on you for standing up loud and proud and sharing this. I admire your bravery and honesty and you probably have no idea how many of us reading can connect to your story. I’m so glad you are on the road to happiness and finding it in your own skin. XO

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  19. It took me a little while to comment on this because I really wanted to give it the response it deserves. First of all, you are amazing for being able to open up about this and your posts are always so well-written. Reading about this topic has gotten me thinking more about it. I mentioned on Michael’s post yesterday that I shy away from blogging about this stuff, but I love that reading about it challenges me to think about it and discuss in comments. You bring up such an important point, that we give food so much power. Its like when we restrict, we make it something we want more.
    I can’t say I have ever had an eating disorder but I can surely relate to many of the feelings that you have discussed. I know that when I am stressed I sometimes turn to food for comfort, and there was a time when I would feel way too guilty about that. I have found things that work for me, such as focusing on trying to get natural/nutritious food in as much as possible, and not worry too much when I eat “junk” food. Following this plan seems to work because I end up enjoying what I am eating.
    I know that there was a time when I started to try to eat “healthy” (right out of college I wanted to lose a few pounds, so I started exercising and eating better) but I was eating diet food. I had stomach aches all the time and never felt satisfied. But I would count calories and would be happy to keep them in the 1200-1400 range.
    It makes me cringe to think about that now- mostly because I have learned so much since than and I have learned how much better it feels to eat more real food. I can’t say I never catch myself thinking about how many calories I have had that day. I know it is pointless because I am running a ton and need the fuel, but it was once a habit and traces of it are still there. One thing I have been able to move past is weight. I never weigh myself anymore and can truly say I don’t care about that number, but it took me a long time to get there.
    I hope that nothing I shared triggered or offended you in any way. I just want you to know that even though I haven’t been through what you have, that I can relate and I can only imagine how challenging it can be! You are so brave for sharing this and you have SO many supporters! Keep eating #allthejellybeans if that what makes you happy:)

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your story – and no triggers at all. I wanted to make sure I was in a healthy enough place before I talked about it because I want to to be a safe place to discuss them. I think there is still a lot of secrecy that surrounds them and their symptoms, and it is so important to discuss them. One thing that I think is so hard about it, especially in my case, was that it started as such a positive thing – to lose weight and get healthy, but it reached a point where it wasn’t any more. It’s a hard line and I hope most people don’t cross it, but I think so do. It sound like you may have gotten close but were able to reign it back, and I think that is so positive and amazing! Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

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