By Amy Hastie
Physically, I may have looked “healthier” during those times, but in reality, I was still living a life full of rigid rules around what I could and couldn’t eat. It was exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and destroying me from the inside out.
I can vividly recall the first time I decided to restrict my food intake.
At 17, someone sat me down and told me that I should exercise more often and reconsider my food choices. I initially felt deflated, self-conscious and hurt, but those emotions soon turned into an overwhelming desire to change. I distinctly remember writing a letter to my best friend at school the very next day, excitedly boasting to her about this revelation regarding my lifestyle and how I was going to cut back on everything that I ate as part of a magical transformation. It was going to be amazing!
Looking back, it seems utterly frightening to me that I had been so determined and self-assured that I was doing the right thing, despite all of the potentially dangerous risks to my health. This particular teenage diet didn’t last longer than a week, but it instilled in me a lingering awareness of inadequacy in relation to the foods I chose to eat and how much I weighed. It’s like my eyes had been exposed to a horrific image that was etched in my mind and could never be erased.
A couple of years later…
When other things in my life seemed out of control, I made a few more attempts at diets. Again, nothing stuck until the year leading up to my 21st birthday when I fell, head first, down the dark and destructive hole of Anorexia. What followed was more than a decade of severe bouts of restriction, chronic dieting, and incredibly harmful physical behaviors.
There were months, sometimes years, within the past decade when I wasn’t being entirely controlled by Anorexia, but still being intensely dictated by diet culture. Physically, I may have looked “healthier” during those times, but in reality, I was still living a life full of rigid rules around what I could and couldn’t eat. It was exhausting, anxiety-inducing, and destroying me from the inside out.
I feel ashamed to admit this now, but up until recent times, I ate the same thing for dinner every week-night for about 10 years. Every single week-night. No deviations. No adjustments. No tweaks. The same. It was monotonous, a far from nourishing meal choice and a devastatingly obvious coping mechanism. Family and friends would often ask why my husband and I didn’t eat dinner together at home. I always used to brush it off by saying we had very different tastes. That wasn’t true at all as we actually shared many similar loves in food. However, the thought of deviating from my “safe” meal on a week-night scared me more than just about anything else in the world.
Then something finally changed for the better.
I had hit breaking point in the lead-up to our wedding. When it was all over, something began to shift in me, but in a good way this time. On my honeymoon, my husband and I ate a variety of exquisite food every day and every night. Part of me waited for a drastic change, something to go horribly wrong with my mind or body. Nothing did. In fact, with each delectable consumption, the better I seemed to feel mentally and physically. The only effect was the thrill of tuning into my hunger and honoring it fully.
During the honeymoon, I realized I was beginning to create an infinite distance from restriction. I was at a coffee shop, and I ordered a delicious beverage. The friendly young guy taking my order gave me a nod as he was writing it down and said, “Yeah! It’s Friday! Why not, right??”. I think I nodded in agreement with the well-meaning gentlemen at the time, but as I walked away, I found myself marveling at my progress. I had, without thought or hesitation, just ordered the drink I wanted, having no reason to choose it above its scrumptious taste. I hadn’t selected it because it was the week-end or even considered it to be a treat in the first place. I just had it because I felt like it. It may sound simple, but this kind of mental progress is huge for anyone who has endured what I have.
Decisions like what to order had not always been that natural. Menus were overwhelming, regardless of whether it was a day of “clean eating” or one where treats were “allowed”. While my friends and family would look at a menu in excitement (or simple indifference), Anorexia would sit with me and meticulously calculate the meal that would do the least “damage”. It was a consistently agonizing process, and one I certainly do not miss. After that day in the coffee shop, I started to perceive menus as lists filled with infinite possibilities of satisfaction, not rule books.
I told myself that when we returned from our trip, I would continue this new-found lifestyle … and I did. It was like that indignant feeling I had when I first decided to diet at 17, except this time, I took a stance on always eating exactly what I wanted. I vowed to never restrict again because this new way of eating (of living!) was far too liberating to give up on. I began reintroducing beloved old favorites or tasting entirely new ingredients. Foods I had once banned for making me feel “out of control” were no longer scary because they weren’t “off limits” anymore. I had legalized them indefinitely. It was all so wonderful and invigorating.
As I continue this intuitive eating journey, the next challenge is learning to cook...
Despite being 33 years old, I am well and truly back to basics, teaching myself how to prepare all kinds of new and gratifying meals. It’s certainly not easy, (I have already inadvertently created some minor kitchen fails!), but it is the power of choice over restriction that pushes me to persist with my culinary ventures.
The most life-changing aspect of my recovery has been the new-found belief that I am not only worthy of all foods today, but tomorrow and every day of my life. After so long, I have learned to listen to what my body instinctively wants, just like I used to as a little kid. Now, there are no “treats”, no “cheat days” no “naughty foods”. Anything and everything is quite literally on the table, and I am loving every single minute of it.