From illness to wellness, in the costume of fitness
This is close to terrifying. But being able to write it down marks a milestone somehow.
Before I start. Note that this is a post about my own experiences - based on my emotions and thoughts - during more or less 8 years of my life. I’m not giving medical advices and I’m not writing a guide on how anyone else should behave or feel. Nor am I stating that the journey below is the right or best way to recover from eating disorders, anxiety or any kind of compulsive exercising. My intention is to tell my story, in the hopes of helping others and to work for a better understanding for why the way we talk about food and eating is so important. This is for everyone who suffered, or suffers, and for everyone who knows someone who were or are suffering. For everyone who ever felt the slightest anxiety linked to food.
As a soon to be 27-year-old the last years of my life has consisted of studies, travels, self discovering, work, more travels, happenings, parties, dates, quality time with family and friends, even more studies and the start of my dream carrier. So many wonderful, happy, and exciting moments which I look back at with a warm feeling in my whole body. But, underneath all those happy things there are also quite a lot of not so happy things. For more or less 8 years, I suffered from different types of eating disorders and anxiety. With the belief that I knew what was going to make me happier I was imprisoned by physical ideals, false truths and the hunt for something that was going to make me feel better and more appreciated. That was not what happened. Even if I didn’t want to accept it back then I realised that when you set up one such goal you will only find yourself hunting for more once you get there. Your desire is changing shape and the hunt for something new, something more, something better which will make you feel more continues.
A comment from a coach. An article in a magazine. Triggering, although friendly, comments from people around me. The feeling of having full control over myself. Lack of knowledge and incapability to gather thoughts and emotions in a way that would help me. The reasons why someone ends up suffering from an eating disorder are different for all who suffers, and it can happen anyone. There is no failure involved, and it’s nothing that can ever be dismissed as “you have yourself to blame”. Food and exercising became my (and many others with me) “tools” to get rid of all the anxiety that took hold of me. Extremely unpleasant feelings and anxious thinking that I didn’t know how to handle, even less how to talk about. Even though I had a loving, supportive and understanding family and many dear friends who were there. I was afraid to talk to anyone since that person would most likely try to stop me. Not according to my plan.
I’ve always been an active person in good shape, eating healthy food. But when food and exercising got a new purpose, lots of things changed.
In the middle of high school I started judging every part of my body quietly in the mirror. Decreased portion sizes, more rules, more exercising and in some periods even self-starvation became a part of my every day life. I was great at avoiding contexts where food was served. I was great at hiding and smuggling away food, and great at coming up with excuses not to eat. Panic when I was put in a situation in which I understood it would be hard to get away. Panic when someone offered me yoghurt with a higher fat percent than what I wanted. Panic when someone offered a chilli or soup and it was hard to define what was in it. Panic when I couldn’t go for a run.
The pain from an empty stomach when I went to bed was proof for a “good day”. The whole body screamed for food, but my mind was strong enough to say no. My favourite feeling was knowing I (as in my mind) was strong, in charge. That was what would take me even further. To become that person I wanted to be and look like.
Exactly what I wanted is hard to remember today, since most things from that time is a bit blurry. My body was running low and the energy that was left was all put on keeping up a wall so that no one would understand what was going on. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, but my intention wasn’t to be healthy at this point. I wanted to stun the anxiety by controlling myself as I thought that would help me be a better and happier and more successful me.
Then came a time when the very strict way of eating became not as strict, but instead the anxiety made me get rid of the food consumed very quickly as soon as I felt I had lost the control. Then came a time when visible muscles became priority, the already high amount of workouts became even higher and I understood that the food needed to stay in my body. I thought I was recovering from my eating disorders, but I was heading straight ahead in to another. I was reading more fitness blogs, followed more fitness accounts on Instagram and was listening to more fitness podcasts then ever before. I was eating a lot, but extremely strict and what I - and many others - would think of as “healthy”. I was working out A LOT, we’re talking excessive amounts. Eating extremely strict and working out a lot is a combination often termed as “good” or “successful”, from an outside perspective. From a society perspective. From a social media perspective. Not rarely that life seems to be admirable. For me it wasn’t, because my intentions weren’t only about feeling well. I didn’t listen to my body but instead exposed myself to extreme stress.
This was a time when worried, but friendly, comments from my family and friends sounded like nagging and misunderstanding in my ears. My body was to be honest strong, but my mind was like a volcano. Every day and every moment was carefully planned out, to maximise everything that could possibly be maximised. I became an expert on how to wrap everyone around my finger, to make sure my schedule was followed. Maybe everyone was following nicely because it was easier that way, or because most people doesn’t care if they have lunch at 12 or 12.30 pm. For me it was well planned and very important. Once again food and exercising became a way to take full control over myself. And this time to reach what I believed was “optimal health”, and the “optimal me”.
Dealing with my mind
I loved (and still love!) my workouts. Loved the routines, the actual workouts, the community at the gym and the endorphins after an intense workout. I really liked the body which I worked so hard to trim. At the same time the feeling of knowing that I was always on the verge of what the body could cope with was triggering in an almost manic way. I was also triggered by results, comments and achievements. Those triggers are not very helpful when you want to reach both mental and physical health, at least they weren’t for me.
In many ways I felt very good, I think. I was happy and strong and felt comfortable. That’s how I remember it anyway. Sometimes I even wonder if it really was that bad. And those wonders scare me. Because deep inside I know it wasn’t all good, still there is a part of me trying to accept.
I would lie if I wrote that I wake up strong every day. Every now and then I’ve found myself right back there with the anxiety again, and I’m sick of it. My judging inner voice still gets to me sometimes. I believe most of us might have a judging voice which sometimes gets to us, making us feel discomfort. Often when we are the most vulnerable. What the voices “say” is probably different for different people, but what they have in common is that they are nothing but thoughts. And they have nothing to do with reality. The sooner we learn to handle those thoughts, learn and dare to talk about them, the better we’ll feel. I guess it’s a human feature having unpleasant thoughts and emotions sometimes, it doesn’t make you a strange or sad person.
The great thing is that we can actually learn how to note - not believe - our emotions and thoughts, and to take care of them when they appear.
It is difficult to define the transitions between my different periods during those years when my relationship to food and exercising has been unhealthy. When I look back everything is pretty much one anxious road. During all this time I have also experienced many amazing moments when I’ve felt happy and free from any unpleasant thoughts. When I haven’t had to deal with unpleasant emotions. There have been several long periods when I've done just what I wanted, stood against emotions and thoughts pushing in the wrong direction and landed in what makes both my body and mind feeling well. But still too many periods when I haven’t.
Food and exercising = happiness to me
I’ve always loved food and cooking. When I was younger that was all it was, but then all the things above happened. To see food from a nutrition and pleasure point of view, instead of a way of controlling myself, has been world changing to me. And it has opened up a healthy lifestyle that I’ve dreamed of, made me so sure of what I want to work with and determined to create a place where I can share these thoughts. Therefore I'm very thankful you are here!
A couple of years ago I came to a place where I had an incredible opportunity to do just what I wanted, to work with food and creativity in so many different ways. In even more ways that I thought could ever be possible. Long days filled with exciting adventures meant there wasn’t as much time left as before for working out since the days were occupied by a new job (internship to be correct). I took the chance to start the career I was dreaming of. I guess you could say I switched one love for another. A love that was kind to me, filled me with joy and that made me realise what well-being really is - to me.
For 8 years I was a person who carefully planned every day and meal, were constantly overthinking and dwelling everything that did not go exactly as planned, lived my life according to rules and controlled everything and everyone around me. Today I am calm, I love being spontaneous, I listen to my gut feeling and can actually let annoying things - or things I cannot affect - go. I have a better relationship with myself and have a different thought on what well-being is. And, I’m probably a much more fun and easy person to be around with and hang out with. I’ve become a person who usually feels good, but sometimes feels sad. Who loves herself, but sometimes is doubting. Who has good contact with her emotions and thoughts, but sometimes lets them take over. I’m being human doing what makes me feel good.
To wrap it up
The psyche is fascinating and incredibly strong, it can completely take hold of us us when we let the mind go the wrong way - but also help us get stronger, happier and more at ease when used properly. All the hours I spent running without passion, thinking about whether I was going to eat something or not, coming up with excuses, avoiding certain events, thinking about how it would feel if did this or that (as in eating something “wrong”), feeling anxiety because I missed a workout and dwelling over how something would be If I would have done it differently etc, will not come back. But all those hours have made me realise how I don’t want to live my life. And it has given me quite a lot of experience which I can use to hopefully help others who are there. So someone can spare at least one of those hours and do something nice instead.
How we talk about food
The way we talk about food - which tonality that is used in social media, in companies and among friends - is very personal as I’ve struggled with just that part. And it’s also one of my main trademarks. I want to talk about food in an inspiring, helpful and positive way. Not letting rules or judgments anywhere near.
I'm not at all affected to the same extent as before - but I know there are thousands of others out there who are. I cook, eat and inspire others to eat more plant based, nutritious, fun, exciting and anti-inflammatory food. That’s it. Let’s talk about all the good things, the positive things you want to tell the world.
Food is pleasure and nutrition - let's all work and support each other to make it reality.