Eating disorders are never black and white, and I often challenge people to think about the disordered eating behaviors that come from restrictions and media. You can read all about my relationship with food in my book, Run My World: How I Empowered Myself Through Fitness, but here’s a different story on my lifelong experience with restriction.
As a child, I had bad allergies that were mostly environmental. When my parents tried to guide my first steps in the grass, I death gripped my parents’ hands and used my baby core muscles to hike those feet up and away from the ITCHY grass. I was also really susceptible to any virus or sickness that went around.
Maybe it was because I was the baby of the family or that my mom was paranoid about being an older mom, but I was tested for allergies when I was 5. Not only was I allergic to almost everything in my country home of rural Illinois, we found I was allergic to many foods and random things too. So not only did I have to endure the traumatizing stamping of needles into my back, I now also had to avoid the outdoors (including our dogs and horses), many household allergens, and several common foods.
I was already a picky eater, but now I had restrictions at school. In Pre-K, another classmate also had a peanut allergy so we were the kids eating bread and butter sandwiches while everyone else said, “WOWWW you can’t have PBJs?! How sad!”
It wasn’t that big of a deal. When my mom made spaghetti, she would make me a special sauce that didn’t have beef. I just wouldn’t eat strawberries anyway. And I was undergoing (still traumatizing) weekly allergy shots to help when I was a big kid, so it didn’t bother me much.
Many other kids often asked what would happen if I ate said allergen.
Uhhhhhhh. I actually didn’t know. But I didn’t want to find out?! If a doctor said it would make me sick, I wasn’t about to find out?!
(Remember, I was the beloved baby girl of eight children. I didn’t take risks. I could watch my siblings’ risk-taking and learn their lessons. If you know my family, you’ll understand!)
Five years later, I finished my allergy shots. My environmental allergies were only reduced, but I was promised I could eat the foods. I knew allergies could change every 7 years though, so I was warned to be wary of my teenage years.
Whatever, that was forever away. I could finally gorge myself on PEANUT BUTTER!!!
As promised, I was sick again in my late teens. I began more allergy shots and asthma treatments. We had to go all the way to St. Louis for a specialty doctor because no one could figure out why I was still sick all the freaking time.
This mindset skewed my perception of my health. My body felt unpredictable, and when I got more into health and fitness, hearing all of media’s messages made me wonder if I was allergic to more foods than I thought. With Orthorexia controlling more and more of my life, I started eating more paleo and restricting more foods.
Based on purely fitness content, I convinced myself I couldn’t have dairy or grains, which often includes *bad* foods. I was tested for lactose intolerance, but the doctors always said I should be able to enjoy dairy. My stomach was always in knots after dairy, so I thought they wrong, ignoring the fact that my anxiety and eating disorder was probably the cause of my stomach issues.
Even after reintroducing grains and legumes into my diet, I was still scared of dairy. If you stop eating ANY food for a long time, your body has more difficulty digesting new foods. Dairy is already a little difficult for any body to digest, so I continued to stay away.
It took me years to slowly reintroduce dairy to a point where I can now eat pizza or ice cream and not end up with diarrhea. See? No allergies. My intolerances were all imagined or self-inflicted.
Many people really do have allergies and intolerances, but we absolutely cannot base them off of others’ experiences. It took 22 years to finally realize why I was so sick for most of my life. Since I had reconstructive sinus surgery, I’ve barely been sick. My digestive system has never had any serious ailments. I’ve never had a gut that needed healing. I never needed to generalize foods based off of groups instead of ingredients and processes, labeling any of them good/bad/healthy/unhealthy. All this time, I could have been enjoying food and living a much more full life in the process.
If you’ve ever considered any diet, I strongly recommend you start with slowly eating more fresh, home-cooked meals. You’ll be more aware of exactly what you’re putting in your body before you become a drill sergeant to your food. Often, if we feel out of control in other areas of our life, we get excited over being able to control any area — like our food intake. Try intuitive cooking to have fun in the kitchen in a mindful way.
When we stop trying to control that one small part of our day, our energy is freed up to do so many other fulfilling things. See exhibit A, this super scientific representation of my thoughts with and without an eating disorder.
This year’s NEDA Week theme is “Come As You Are.” I want everyone to know I still don’t have it all figured out and never will, but I’m doing my best each and every day to rethink the constructs I’ve placed around my own health, nutrition, and fitness. Even though I’m trying to eat less meat for the environment, I’m also trying to bake more because I forgot how much I like to bake (and eat) desserts! I’m constantly trying to be a happier, more fulfilled person, and I’ve found so much growth through my support system, my therapist, and just listening to myself.
Wherever you are today, embrace it. No one is perfect, and we’re all struggling to find our own inner peace. I hope you remember how much more you are than your food and fitness, and I hope you know how valuable your ideas are to the world.