Whatever with Heather - Mindset, Parenting & Personal Growth

6. Eating Disorders and Body Image [My Journey]

August 08, 2023 Heather Evans Season 1 Episode 6
Whatever with Heather - Mindset, Parenting & Personal Growth
6. Eating Disorders and Body Image [My Journey]
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever stared at your reflection, wishing for a thinner, more acceptable body? That has been my struggle for a decade and in this conversation, I take you through the journey. From battling eating disorders in high school, navigating body image issues through college, marriage, divorce, and motherhood, to my ongoing struggle with binge eating and restrictive diets, I bare it all. 

My relationship with food was always an all-or-nothing game; until it wasn't. I share my pivotal moment when I realized that I could channel my energy towards rebuilding this relationship, instead of swinging between extremes. With the help of a renewed mindset, I slowly started understanding my body and its needs. Let me tell you about my journey from self-criticism to self-love, and how cinnamon rolls played a crucial part in it.

Now, I stand at a place where I am proud of my body and what it can do. Instead of fighting against it, I am learning to trust it. My war with food and my body has transformed into a peaceful coexistence. Join me as I narrate my story of healing, transformation, and self-acceptance, and hopefully help you start your own journey towards the same.

Speaker 1:

Hey y'all, welcome back to another episode of Whatever with Heather. Today I'm going to get personal and dig into a hard topic, but also a topic that a lot of women relate to. In working with women, I have found that this tends to be a major struggle for most, if not all, women, and that is the topic of our relationship with food and our relationship with our bodies. So, to start this podcast, today, I'll share my story of when my body image issues began, when my eating disorders began, as well as when and how I began to shift and recover from the toxic body image beliefs I had about myself and the unhealthy relationship I had with food. I hope that by sharing my story, that you may see yourself or relate to some of the things that I share, and that it may help you and serve you in you unpacking and healing and understanding, maybe, why you feel the way you feel about your body and or about food, and ways that you can begin to work on moving forward into a much more sustainable and beautiful way of living. Our bodies are the way in which we move about the world, and so when we are at war with our bodies and the way they look and we are in constant war on what to feed or not feed them, and we are in constant battle with ourselves to be better, do better, be more or be less, or whatever it is. It is really hard for us to have personal growth because all of our energy is being spent at war with ourselves. And if you think of a country at war or a civilization at war, when you are at war, all of your resources, all of the community, all of the country's resources go into that war, and those that aren't even directly in the war suffer. And so, as we work on our relationship with our bodies and our relationship with food, we create healing within ourselves, we create space to use our energy for things that actually matter to us in a deep, fulfilling way, and we create a better environment for our significant other, our children. We create the space for them to witness the way we relate to our body and to food. So, in order for us to like uncover where and how and what to do about this relationship, if it is not what we are wanting, we need to rewind back to where it started, and so, for me, I can remember the first time that I knew I was fat. Now, up until this point, I hadn't really paid attention to my body. I hadn't ever really, like looked at it in a mirror with like I just had never really inspected what I looked like compared to other people. But this would have been middle school and I was at the pool and some punk boy, elementary school age, came up to me and told me that I was fat like his sister. Now, as a middle school aged girl, probably about 12 years old, I took what this boy said as fact, because who would say something like that if it wasn't true? And thus began my belief that I was fat, and not even a belief, but a knowing that I was fat and therefore not pretty, not attractive, not valuable, all of the things that we take being fat to mean about us. And then, after that, no one saying I was beautiful or not fat or enough or any of these things could break through the belief that I had taken on as true that I was fat. The only things that I would take on were the beliefs that confirmed that I was fat. I never searched for truth anywhere else. Instead, I only sought to confirm what I knew to be true, and that was that I was fat. In looking at your belief of your body and the belief that you are not good enough or too fat or to whatever. Have you ever sought to confirm that the opposite is true, that maybe you are beautiful and maybe your body is beautiful as it is? Oftentimes, we seek to confirm the beliefs we hold as fact as true. It is hard for us to hold two opposing truths in our brain, and so whatever we believe is true, we will seek to confirm that belief. Whether or not it is true does not matter to us. What matters is that we uphold the truth that we believe to be true and we create safety in our lives by proving to ourselves that the things that we believe about ourselves and the world are actually the facts of ourselves and the world. We can see how this is damaging when you take it on your body. And if your body is fat, which you equate to being unworthy or not good enough or not pretty, and you're seeking to confirm that belief because you believe it to be fact, that means you never allow space for the other belief to be true. So if we take me back then, what did I start doing? Now? This is when dieting began for me. I started eating less food good food, salads. I'd bring salads to school. I'd bring. I was much more particular about what lunches I would bring to school or what I would get from the cafeteria, and I began to pay attention to my body, like what it looked like in clothes, and I started to compare myself to other people. And then we move on to high school. This continued. I continued to compare myself to other people. I continued to restrict the food I was eating. I continued to work out. I would go to the gym before school to work out, never from loving my body, but from the fear of that. I was fat and I did not want to get fatter, and so I would go to the gym even before school. We're talking like five or six in the morning. I would drive 20, 30 minutes to the gym that was the closest gym at the time and I would work out, not because I was some fitness guru, but because of the fear that I would become fatter than I already was, because I already knew I was fat. So I just didn't want to become fatter and I also would have liked to become thinner, and so that would possibly help that purpose for me as well. I didn't have guys falling all over me. In high school I felt pretty rejected by the male population as a whole. Lots of guy friends I had, you know, short boyfriend relationships that never lasted very long and then that was it. I felt like the reason that the guys didn't show interest in me was because of my body. My body was fat because of the belief that I collected when I was 12 and took on as my own truth and then continued to confirm that it was true. Then I moved into college and college is where it all went very downhill for me. In college I began to play games with my food where I would eat less calories than the day before. My goal was below a thousand calories a day and I would try to get lower and lower. And I would work out every morning and do my studying while I was walking on the treadmill or riding like the recumbent bike in the gym, and that is what I did. This is also where I began purging, or making myself throw up, and this is also where I would have binge eating and exercise to combat the binge eating. That would be called exercise bulimia. I pretty much did it all. I would starve myself, I would binge in purge, and I would binge and exercise. At this point I was stressed and overwhelmed with the expectations that I was supposed to find someone to marry. I was raised Mormon, and so marriage was huge, and also as a young Mormon girl, you are taught to maintain a standard of beauty. You are taught to be well groomed and, beyond that, make sure you're attractive to some degree. For me, since being married was huge and I equated marriage with being attractive, in order for me to get married, I needed to attract a mate, and in order to do that, I needed to have a certain body. So I was driving myself to have whatever body I would need in order to be married. So not only did I have the belief that I picked up when I was in middle school, I also had marriage, and the drive to be married as soon as possible is a huge driving factor in ramping up my body hatred, body evaluation, eating disorders into a full blown eating disorder. It was in college that I actually did go to a doctor and was diagnosed with eating disorders NOS, meaning eating disorder not otherwise specified and that means it's not specific, it's not anorexia, it's not bulimia, it's not exercise bulimia, it's just a combo. So I had this disordered relationship with food. At that point I was put on anti-anxiety or antidepressants or both, I cannot remember but I quickly went off of those because they just didn't work with my body. This cycle went on forever. I would wake up every day and dread that I have to eat, and every night I would go to bed and evaluate if I had been good or bad that day, based on the food I consumed or did not consume or the exercise I did or did not do. And at this point in my life I did not miss a day of exercising. Ever, ever, ever, ever. I would be on the cardio machines for 30 minutes every day. I would do three miles a day and then I would also lift weights. I would restrict my calories, I would restrict sugar, and all of this in the attempt to prove myself as being worthy and enough and someone that someone would be attracted to. I looked at my body and hated it. I weighed myself multiple times a day. I did all the diets you could think of, tried all the game plans for losing weight worked out at the crack of dawn, missed out on social events, didn't go to social events because I knew there would be food, and I knew I wouldn't be able to control myself, and so that would put me into a binge cycle. At this point I had stopped purging and so it literally had come down to I either starve myself or if I end up binging, then I have to exercise it off, and so that became my reality. At some point I finally was like enough is enough and I told myself I could no longer restrict and no longer purge, and that is when I probably gained 15 pounds, 15 to 20 pounds in a month, which was really hard and that was devastating for me. That was my attempt at gaining control of my eating disorder. Obviously, it was not control, because I was just in a binge cycle with like I wouldn't even let myself work out. So I even took away and I did enjoy working out. I didn't work out and felt like I was punishing myself, even though I was working out to avoid getting fat. I also loved working out. So at that point in my life I punished myself in a different way, where basically, I would binge and then not be able to purge in any way, and I was not allowed to starve myself and I was not allowed to work out the food I had just binged. That was a hard time in my life because I was trying to get control by having no control, and I think we do this a lot in our lives. We are the all in, all out mindset. So I had been like all in on my eating disorders and I would wake up every day and just dread having to eat that day, dread whether I'd be good or bad, to the point where I nothing was off limits and I could do whatever I needed to do, whatever I wanted to do At that point. It was shortly after that that I got married and at that point I had kind of like gone back into restricting and working out. So just restricting and working out and restricting and working out. I wouldn't say it was anorexia to the degree I had that in college where I was restricting that low, but I was, you know, 1200, 1300 calories a day, still weighing myself daily, multiple times a day and working out and letting the scale dictate my worth for the day. If I was in a good way, then I'd have a good day, and if I was in a bad way it was a bad day. It just was. So for my wedding I looked pretty good, and then, two weeks into that marriage, my husband at the time told me he didn't love me and did not find me attractive anymore, which is pretty devastating when you're a Mormon girl who worked really hard to get married and saved yourself for marriage, and then two weeks later you're told that you do not hold value. So then, mind you, I did stay married for two and a half years, but it was two months after I got married that I got pregnant, because I was like this would solve all my problems. Like some some 20 year old I was, I was 20 at the time and I got pregnant, and it was at that time I realized I could not restrict because I cared more about my baby being healthy. And so at that point I began to eat like a more regular human and not restrict to 1000 or 1200 calories, but instead eat more. And after I had her, I went back to my old ways of having dieting cycles and non dieting cycles, and I would work out or not work out, because having a new baby made working out much more difficult. The time and space you used to have you no longer have, and so at that point, my body never really went back to what I deemed as my good enough body. Now, that didn't mean I love my body, but it was like, well, this is where I'm at and I can't seem. Nothing seems to make me smaller, because if you look back at the times I was anorexic and working out and had eating disorders, I never looked different. All of that struggle and angst, and I was still in the same body. No amount of hating myself ever gave me the body that I deemed worthy, because the funny thing about self hatred is that if you try to hate yourself enough to be better than when you're better, you still hate yourself. It is not a solution to any sort of problem to hate yourself or to shame yourself into being someone else, because then, when you become that someone else, self hatred still runs the show. And so no amount of way I could have lost and no shape of my body that I could have ever created would have ever been good enough, because I still held the core belief that I was fat and not beautiful and all of these things that I had slowly collected throughout my life as the truth of what my body looked like and who I was. Nothing could shake that, because the alternative belief that maybe my body was just fine and maybe I was beautiful was not a belief I was willing to hold or believe to be true. So instead I did everything I could to believe the fact that I was fat and therefore not beautiful, not enough, not attractive. I wanted that belief to be protected. I needed that belief to be true because it was a fact to me, so that marriage that I had ends in divorce. Two weeks after I signed divorce papers I find out I'm pregnant with my second kid. So I am divorced and have a baby. I'm a single mom of a toddler and a baby move back to Texas, still figuring out the body stuff, still restricting Like diet Coke was a meal for me, still trying to work out while I'm a single mom of two kids. You get the picture if you have kids, you know Like kind of trying to work out but like I'm tired and so like I just don't eat because that's the only solution and I'm just trying to make it work. And this has been my life for you know, a decade at this point, 10 years of like not eating so that I could look a certain way but then never really looked the way I wanted to look because I hated myself. You know, like this cycle, if you know, you know, and that's where I was at Then. Then I meet Brian. He loves me, we get married, we have our son and when I was pregnant with him I let loose and I that was my hardest pregnancy I looked nine months pregnant when I was four months in, and that's just the facts. That's like an actual fact If I look back at pictures. And so for the rest of the pregnancy, like I did a good job of kind of looking back what I would call intuitive eating, where I was eat when I was hungry, but I wasn't like going crazy because I knew that I was not on a good route. I was just in a binge, binge, binge cycle. So I was still in an eating disorder, but in a binge, and so I let off the gas a little and let myself just eat when I was hungry and not try to restrict. And if I'm truthful, I probably did restrict a little, but then also I was pregnant so I did not want to restrict a ton and so I had him and then at the end of that, obviously because I gained so much weight with him I don't, I couldn't even tell you the number. Then I was just left in this body. That was like the heaviest body I had ever been in and I wouldn't really even like look at my body in the mirror. I just couldn't even deal with it. Because now I'm a mom of three kids and I'm just living my life. My husband is so kind to me, he loves me, he doesn't treat me like my body is repulsive, and so he just loves me completely and fully, and so I didn't really try to grapple with what my body looked like at that point. I was just in full on mom survival mode, had like a six year old, a four year old and a baby right around there, or five, five, three and a baby, and if you've been in that, you know. And then at some point you're like, okay, you gotta get it together. Like my clothes don't fit, I need to figure this out, and at this time the only way I knew to figure it out was to restrict to diet, to hate my body. It was at this time that I found CrossFit and I did a six week challenge with the CrossFit I was at and this is what began to change my life, because in CrossFit if you're familiar I'm sure you are. It is okay for women to take up space, to like have muscles, to like be stronger, to be thicker. And this was weird to me because that's not the world I grew up in of like the Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson right, those were like our role models, just like washboard abs, like no tummy pooch at all, and so that's what I had aspired to be my whole life. And then now I'm seeing, like other women that are like fine, gaining weight and through that CrossFit challenge I do end up losing weight and getting back to a much healthier me. And there was no restriction of food. I just there were foods that I like had to cut out, like sugar and flour and like all these things. But I really wanted to win this CrossFit challenge because in order for my husband and I to afford to CrossFit, I needed to win the challenge because if you won you got a discount on your membership. And so my husband cooked all my food and I was eating really well, and I was eating quite a bit at this point. But one thing I had to do is track my food every day and tell them exactly what I ate, to make sure that I was following the quote unquote rules and the rules weren't a limit of calories. This is the first time that I was looking out like what I was eating and the quality of what I was eating, and I was weighing myself every day. And the days where I did not eat as much my weight stayed the same, and the days where I ate more I would actually lose weight. Those days we're talking like 0.2 pounds right A day or whatever, which was a nice, healthy weight loss. And my mind was blown because my whole life I had been restricting to lose weight. But on this challenge I was literally like the days I didn't eat enough, I would maintain or gain weight, and the days I ate more I would lose weight, which was a huge table flip for me, like what is happening, like I need to eat more. And in this challenge I started to know what it felt like to not be hungry, if you know. You know Because for a decade makes me emotional. For a decade I had been starving or so full that I felt nothing but disgust and frustration with myself, and it was a cycle of so full that I, like my body, was uncomfortable to be in, or so hungry for years and years and to know what it feels like to be fed, and not to the point where you're sick, and also not just fed because of calories. And trying to just stay in a calorie range was huge for me. And at this point I was still looking at and evaluating my body, but it really shifted like, oh, it's okay if I take up space. Oh, it's okay if my muscles grow. Oh, if I eat food, my body will respond. And yes, at this point I was still motivated by the scale. For sure, I also did like if we're being factual I was not in a healthy body. I had just had my third baby and that was my biggest like weight gain and I wasn't comfortable. My joints hurt. I can't even remember what my body looked like at that point because I never looked at it, but I even remember, after I started CrossFit, that I could walk up the stairs and my knees didn't hurt. I hadn't realized my knees hurt until they stopped hurting. And so now it no longer became this like game of how little can I eat to make the scale move. It became like what can I do to just feel good? Now my eating disorder story does not stop there, because in CrossFit there are also really slender women that have really good muscles and so I would not really eat. Well, I would still kind of like binge here and there. But during that CrossFit challenge is when I really honed in. And then after that I just did CrossFit where there wasn't a nutritional component anymore and I kind of fell into some old ways of well, maybe I'll just not eat this for a while, or all just. And I could see this like these pieces of my life coming back into play, this looking at the calories and trying to get those low, or this like binging cycle. And these started coming back into play again, the low calories and the binging. And these started being back in my life, not in the extreme way they had been before, but in the way of I should do better, I should eat less, I should all of these shoulds. And I was just like I'm just not all or nothing type of person, because when I did the CrossFit challenge I had to eat a certain way and so I've just got to be all in or or nothing. And in the CrossFit challenge I couldn't like have sweets, that was just it. So it was six weeks of no sweets and I was like that's just what I've got to go back to. And then I had to have surgeries for my varicose veins. My legs had hurt me for years because of my veins. Yes, they were ugly, but that was the least of my worries. They were super painful. I couldn't walk through a store super long without my legs cramping and I had to get varicose vein surgery. And I got, I think, six different surgeries and for each surgery you could not work out for a certain number of weeks. And I remember the beginning of this surgery, like all of the surgeries that I was like okay, all I'm allowed to do is walk and do yoga. And during the same time of these surgeries I started my yoga teacher training. So I would have to wear my compression tight on the one leg that I had surgery on to the yoga teacher training and they would alternate what leg they were doing just to let the legs recover. And all I was allowed to do was yoga and walk. And I remember telling the guy that would do the surgeries I was like I guess, so this means like no Twinkies then every night. He didn't think that was very funny, but he grew to like. He grew to like me throughout all of our time together and we realized in that moment that I was like, oh, I can't just exercise when I go into like a binge cycle, that's. That's interesting. And that was the first time in my life where I like physically could not. So for these surgeries, since I couldn't work out, I knew I had to be like all in on my diet, which meant like no sugar, nothing, like I needed to be really really strict with my food, which didn't feel good for me because that felt like an eating disorder to me. Like I did not want to be in that mindset, but I still was there. So I tried to be pretty strict with myself in the beginning of these surgeries, because I knew I couldn't just work out if I binged, and so I pretty much was like as strict as I could be. And then one day this is the thing that changed everything for me I made cinnamon rolls with my daughters I'm sure my son was there, but he was probably just being a toddler running around, and I believe this was 2019. It might have been 2018. I cannot remember for sure and we made these cinnamon rolls and I was like I can't have one, because I know I can't just have one. And then I thought how silly that I would rather use my self control to have none than learn how to have a healthy relationship with food and be able to have one for over a decade. At this point we're probably talking almost got 20 years for 20 years. At this point That'd be correct. I started when I was 12, 20 years to be 32. Yeah, so almost at this point. For 20 years I had used my self control and my self discipline and my motivation to either be all in or all out. It was either I had self control or I had none, and that is how I viewed my relationship with food. And in that moment of the cinnamon roll phenomenon for my life is that I realized for the rest of my life I can either spend it in a battle of all in or all out, or I can take the energy that it would take me to be all in or all out and use it to rebuild my relationship with food. And I realized in that moment that I could and wanted to have a cinnamon roll. So I ate the cinnamon roll and I told myself if you want more, you can have more. As much as you want, you can have as many cinnamon rolls as you want, because you're never gonna be on a diet again. So for the rest of your life you can have as many cinnamon rolls as you want. And for the rest of your life you can have as much ice cream as you want. And guess what? If it's not in your house, you can go to the store and drive and buy it, because you're an adult. And if you want chocolate cake and you wanna eat a whole chocolate cake, you can eat a whole chocolate cake. Whatever you want you can have for the rest of your life. And this is what I told myself. So if you don't want a cinnamon roll right now because you really don't want one, then guess what. You can have one tomorrow. And if the whole family eats them all, then guess what. You can go buy or make more if you really want one tomorrow. And in doing this, I gave myself permission to eat. I gave myself permission to not restrict for the sake of restricting, but rather to learn how to know when I truly wanted something and when I was eating something because I was so scared I wouldn't have it again when I was in a state of restriction. We've lived our lives in this constant state of feast and famine. Our body and our mind and our souls knows the famine is coming and we honestly cannot help but consume all, even if it makes us sick, because we know that at some point we will be starving again. This becomes a cycle of almost every woman. I know where we have feasted and then we are guilty and feel guilty for the feast, and so then we go to a state of famine where we are hungry, and then we go to a state of feasting again so that we don't have to starve, and then we hate ourselves for the cycle and in that moment I realized I could continue to be at war with myself and use all of my mental energy to restrict, or I could choose to use the same mental energy to rebuild my relationship with food, to rebuild the way I looked at my body. Crossfit had started to rebuild the relationship with my body and CrossFit was the catalyst for me to not want a body type that was not attainable for my body without extreme, extreme sacrifice. I also had to become real about the sacrifices I was willing to make for the body I wanted to have, and I realized the sacrifices I would have to make of not eating cinnamon rolls with my daughters for the rest of my life in order to have some ideal vision of a body that I had for myself was not worth the cost to me. It wasn't worth the cost of being the mom and the role model who couldn't show their children how to eat a cinnamon roll and still love their bodies. It wasn't worth the cost of me eating five cinnamon rolls and acting like that made me feel good, because we all know five cinnamon rolls tastes good, but it does not feel good in your body. It just doesn't feel good to have five cinnamon rolls of bread and sugar in your stomach. So how could I show my daughters a healthy relationship with food if I didn't ever model that? And a healthy relationship with food is not all in or all out. It is not eat all the things or eat none of the things. A healthy relationship with food is we make cinnamon rolls. I can have as much as I want, and I want to have one right now and maybe I want to have another one later this evening and knowing that it's fine. And so then, for the next multiple years, I spent my time not restricting at all, but rather relearning how to feel in my body, what foods served my body, what foods served my soul because we know that there are foods that are like, so good for the soul. How to understand when I wanted to eat and when I didn't. How sometimes I'm full on a piece of pizza and sometimes I want for and need for. What a mind-blowing concept that I could relearn what being fed felt like and instead, and then using my energy instead of being at war or instead of using it to fight my body, using it to really understand what do I want? How hungry am I? What would satisfy me right now? There are times where my family eats sweets and I don't eat a sweet, and there are times where they're not eating a sweet and I am eating a sweet. I am worried about what I need, what I want, and feeding my body and not starving. Now, for me, this has meant a few things. One, there are times where I will cut out sugar for a few days, but that is all I can do, because when I get into a restriction type mindset, it is not somewhere that my mind can be very long without it becoming a really toxic, negative place. As far as working out goes, I work out because working out makes my body feel good. I like how my body shifts and changes and becomes stronger. I like how proud I feel when I work out and it is literally an antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for me. But I no longer work out every day of the week as far as my viewpoint of my body. When I notice myself starting to get negative about my body, I will look in the mirror in my underwear and I will jump up and down and watch it all jiggle and I will say kind things to myself. I think it is normal. Now, is it healthy? No, but I think it is normal for us to become self-critical. I don't think we're broken when we do, but calling yourself out and noticing it, that is something we can do, and remember what we believe to be fact and what we seek to confirm becomes true for us, whether or not it's true. And so part of my rewiring my thoughts about my body has to do with literally telling myself what feels like lies. So when I'm ultra critical of my body, standing in the mirror, I'll even do yoga poses and say kind things you are so strong, you are so beautiful, yeah, your belly jiggles and it looks so good. I'll literally say things like that, because what we repeat becomes our truth and no amount of hating my body ever gave me a body I loved. We think we will be motivated by self-hate that if we just shame, blame and guilt ourselves enough, maybe, just maybe, we'll be motivated to do and be better, whatever better is, whatever we've defined that as. But I can tell you, 20 years of doing that and now I don't even know four, five years, I mean it's been a journey right Of working on my relationship with my body and food from a place of loving myself first has made all the difference. My body now weighs more than it ever did when I most hated it and I truly can say that most days I am proud of my body. I am proud of what it can do. I am proud of the way it lets me know when I need to move more because it will start to ache. Proud of the way it lets me know when I need to rest because it is aching from working out. I am proud of my mind and my brain's ability to decipher what my body needs. I am proud of my ability to know when I want and need more food and when I don't want or need more food. This is about rebuilding your trust with yourself. It takes way less mental strength for me and way less energy for me to just do what feels good, versus me trying to force what I think I should be doing how I think I should be better. I'm not quite sure how to wrap this up in a beautiful little bow, but that's it for today and thank you for listening. See y'all next time. Bye.

Women's Body Image and Food Struggle
Body Image and Eating Disorder Struggles
Changing My Relationship With Food
Rebuilding Relationship With Food and Body