“If I died today, the only thing people would remember me for would be my ability to eat clean and workout hard. That’s…it,” I said, staring at the ceiling on the hotel bed.
I had a pumpkin pie Pop-Tart in one hand and an apple in the other (accompanied by a jar of protein peanut butter lying nearby). I felt guilty for eating them both. I hadn’t eaten processed food or a piece of fruit in six months, and even though I had just finished my fitness competition, I couldn’t help myself for feeling shameful for both my post-show food choices.
I had shared my “treats” on my Facebook page only to receive a comment from a woman who was clearly worried about me and my perception on food. This sent me into a defensive spiral (“Who does she think she is?! I’m the competitor!”).
My mom and sister looked at each other, wondering what to say to comfort me. They were torn between wanting to congratulate me for getting on the stage to compete and wanting to warn me before taking this too far. They knew something wasn’t right here and my obsession was on the edge of disaster; with my post-show defensive nature they had to walk on eggshells.
I continued to stare at the ceiling, feeling the weight of my food choices on my palms.
Why was I obsessing over something so trivial?
Why was I sitting here crying about getting seventh place out of twenty? Isn’t that decent?
Why did it matter to me so much that I prove myself to these judges, who were, and always would be, complete strangers to me?
How did this competition completely take over my life? Is this all there is? What’s the point?
These questions circulated through my head as I tried to avoid the conclusion I was quickly drawing: something needed to change. I couldn’t continue to live my life like this or else I would die a lonely woman with increasingly low self-esteem.
After this initial realization, I went down an incredibly bumpy path, full of sharp twists and turns and bathroom floor breakdowns.
I had decided to let go of food rules, but for a while I didn’t fully understand what that meant.
I allowed myself to eat more “unhealthy” foods (like Pop-Tarts), but only if I counted my macros.
I followed Intuitive Eating, but only if I was eating just three meals a day.
I tried to eat more sugar, but only if it was the type of sugar that Ray Peat allowed.
I ate more calories, but only as long as I was rock climbing several times a week.
I ate as much food as I wanted in a sitting, but only if it was Paleo.
This is what my “orthorexia recovery” looked like for awhile because this is where I felt the most comfortable; I was doing nerve-racking things, but I still had some sort of semblance of control.
Until even this became a barrier.
I finally got to a point where every cell in my body was convinced that I would never be truly happy if I had any kind of food rules or body image woes lingering in my head. Instead of trying to shape my life around my food rules, I wanted to shape my food rules around my life (which meant, of course, no rules at all- hello parties, friendships and spontaneity).
After coming to this conclusion, I entered the body positivity world (also known as bopo) where I started to make my podcasts, food freedom videos, and even created a course all around recovering from food issues through scripture.
I read all the books, interviewed all the bopo activists, and started coaching clients 1:1 around their food issues.
This act of helping others is truly what changed my life for the better. It’s what shifted my way of thinking around food and my body permanently. The act of tapping into my ability to help others dealing with the same struggles I had was the greatest form of healing I could have ever experienced.
After living in this space for several years, I came to a stopping point last year. I realized that my heart was truly recovered and I no longer wanted to relive those disordered days over and over again in my business.
Though I still had (and have) such a heart for body image and food recovery, I wasn’t serving the world with my gifts by staying “stuck” in a space that I didn’t truly want to be in. The energy I was putting out was lackluster at best.
More so, I wanted to be an example for people who wanted to see what more there is to life beyond food and fitness. What does being recovered actually look like if one no longer wants to talk about it all day long? Can someone truly be done with food issues (and the ghost of food issues) for good, or will it always be a topic of conversation / a necessary reminder?
In August of 2016 I made the switch. I mentally, emotionally and physically left the bopo world, and while I still identify as being a body positive person and I am still more than happy to share my experiences on interviews, I no longer think about food recovery and body image.
In fact, leaving that space was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself because I no longer hold onto the old story of me being a fitness competitor with an eating disorder.
I’ve let it go, and it actually feels like a separate part of me.
Today, I can eat “healthy” multiple days in a row without second guessing if my healthy eating is actually my ED sneaking back up. I know it’s not.
I can work out and move my body without wondering if it’s because I’m scared to not look a particular way. I truly love my body and I’m not afraid of saying that.
If I eat healthy, it’s not out of fear or obsession. If I move my body, it’s not out of the desire to change what I look like.
This is possible for you too, trust me.
I believe that there is a trajectory many of us must take.
When we go from having an eating disorder, we have to go through many periods and phases in order to get to the ultimate destination of freedom we desire. My question to you is, are you staying stuck in a certain area because you are scared to move to the next?
You might be absorbing as much body positivity / food recovery knowledge as you can right now (podcasts, books, Instagram accounts), and you’re doing that because it’s truly helping you and it’s exactly where you need to be. If that’s the case, please, keep going!
If, on the other hand, you’re simply following these accounts and reading these books because you’re afraid to move on to the level of “truly recovered” (aka not reading about food recovery or talking about body image every day) then I invite you to look at that. You can still be body positive without talking or thinking about it every day.
If you don’t want to continue on that SAME path, and you’re ready to start diving into other things such as travel, dating, personal development work, joy, painting, singing, and gardening, and you think the sound of letting go of your “ED story” sounds like a relief, then maybe it’s time.
Like I said, bopo will always be there…right at your fingertips. You can return at any given moment, and absorb it all.
Personally, when I stopped looking and reading about food recovery and body image EVERY time I opened my phone or a book, I truly let that story go. It was such a release and a relief.
That might not be the case for everyone, so I invite you to stick to what you need. If you know that you need that in your life every day right now, and it keeps you accountable, please keep it up! I know many people who are in that space and it’s totally necessary.
But if it’s actually reminding you of your old past and keeping you stuck, maybe it’s time to release. No better time to do that than the Spring!
Please understand: I’m not saying I’m perfect and that I never have body image thoughts. I totally do. I just don’t stay in that space for longer than a few minutes or hours. I have such a rich life that I know nothing good can come out of moving backwards.
Where are you at in your journey? What stage are you in currently, and what’s next on the horizon?
Want more on body image and disordered eating recovery? Here are some places to start:
- Why I Decided to Give Up Bodybuilding and Pursue Real Health (video)
- Why “Clean Eating” Can Actually Destroy You
- 3 Reasons Why Weight Gain is Not the End of the World
- My Road to Recovery from Fitness Modeling
- Why Your Kitchen Spirituality is a Waste of Time
- How Cellulite Saved My Life