Trigger warning: I'm going to be discussing unhealthy food relationships, eating disorders, and negative body image.
A Forever Struggle
I was well aware of my "fatness" by early middle school, and I was constantly thinking about how I could "fix" me - exercise, nutrition, etc. The thoughts of self-loathing followed me all the way through my schooling.
Adjusting to "Adult" Life
When I went off to college, I had more "freedom" with my money. I could spend some of that money on meal replacement shakes, pills, and diet plans. I was in a constant state of restricting and bingeing, and I blamed myself constantly for not being able to follow through on my diet.
I managed to lose 15 pounds my first semester, but I was miserable. I was in an abusive relationship. I hated my existence, and my mental health was literally at its lowest. Once I got out of that relationship, started spending more time with people that actually cared about me, I gained the weight back and felt guilty about it.
Once I was out of the dorms and living on my own, I watched my bingeing get worse. I knew I was out of control, so I tried more pills, more shakes, and forced myself to eat things I hated. Some days I would be so hungry I thought I would pass out. Other days I was so full that I wanted to puke. I would over-exert myself in exercise only to quickly burn out.
I watched a close friend of mine lose nearly half her body weight. I envied her for it. I knew she was barely eating, but it made me so angry that she could do it and I couldn't. I stopped hanging out with her because all I wanted to do was be like her. I couldn't be the friend she needed to help her through her journey - even during her recovery.
One summer I spent my mornings walking 4 miles, just to get my steps in. I wouldn't let myself eat until I'd worked, walked, and tanned.
I graduated college, still hating my body and struggling with diet culture.
Adjusting to Actual Adult Life
I moved in with my boyfriend. I had a gym membership, my job had me on my feet. I thought I was doing so good with my nutrition and exercise.
In fact, I lost enough weight for people to make comments. I felt incredible. I was on a high. My mental health was still tanking - I hated my job, even hated parts of my life... But at least I was skinnier...
How did I lose that weight? I was simply skipping breakfast, working through lunch (maybe eating some fruit and cheese), spending all day on my feet at work, then going to the gym, and finally going home to eat my first and only meal of the day.
When I finally landed a job related to my degree, I was ecstatic, but I sat at desk all day and had a dedicated hour for lunch. I tried to get out ahead of it and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a new program that included meal replacement shakes, pills, drink mixes - it had everything. For months I had nothing at lunch expect for those shakes. People at the office applauded my dedication. I hated it. I was hungry all the time, leading to more binge eating.
The weight came back plus some. I was so angry. I'd spent so much time, money, and energy for this diet program not to work. I gave up.
I gained more weight. I found out about a new program that had shakes, pills, and patches. I tried that. I lost a few pounds at the beginning and then plateaued. I kept going to the gym when I could. I walked a couple of times a week. I just couldn't move the needle any further. I gave up.
The weight came back plus some. I was even angrier this time around. I found another program - pills only. I hoped that with just pills I could stay consistent enough to see more improvements. I lost 10 pounds and plateaued. I gave up.
I managed to keep those 10 pounds off for a while. I cycled through different pills, shakes, supplements rather than investing in another program. I bought one, two, three different at-home exercise machines.
I gained the weight back and put on even more throughout the pandemic. My mental health spiraled. I started different treatment options. Got on some medications, started seeing a counselor.
I started improving in some aspects, but my body image just kept getting worse as I put on more and more weight. My parents and brother were going through their own weight loss successes, and I felt inadequate. I hated myself. I kept bingeing, 3... 4... 5 times a week - crazy binges that left be feeling sick and pathetic. At one point I even started researching weight loss surgeries. I was desperate.
I knew I needed help, but I didn't know where to get it.
Road to Recovery
On one of my deep dives on Google, I found Michelle Yates Nutrition. I was beyond nervous to speak with her, but after a really bad binge and purge session, I knew I had to reach out.
We had a introductory call, and while I was scared of the price tag, I was so desperate for something new, something sustainable, that I just went for it. I invested in myself.
Shelby vs. Diet Culture
Michelle's program focuses on intuitive eating. We started by working on my relationship with food. Chipping away at all the awful things diets, fads, culture had taught me, and replacing those thoughts with positivity. It wasn't easy.
All that yo-yo dieting had hurt my mental and physical health.
I realized I didn't even recognize hunger and fullness. I had to re-train my body to do something it was literally born knowing how to do. Once I could recognize hunger and fullness, I practiced honoring those feelings.
No foods were off limits. I broke my habits of always eating at certain times. I ate when I was hungry, and stopped when I was full.
We worked on self-care practices and self-image. I stopped stepping on the scale and started appreciating my body for what it could do.
After I felt like I understood my relationship food, and was actively working to heal it, we dug into nutrition.
Other programs I had tried told me there were no "good" or "bad" foods, but they still taught you to eat more of one food, and less of another.
Michelle refers to foods that taste good as "fun" foods, and sometimes fun foods have very little nutritional value, but that doesn't mean they don't have value at all. The focus was put on how the food made me feel.
It was really important for me to make peace with all foods. I had unknowingly developed a "fear" of some foods. Milk and cereal are two examples for me. While dieting, I had learned that cow milk is high in sugar, I started looking for alternatives (even though I liked cow milk and hated many of the alternatives). I tried so many different cereals, but I constantly felt like they were too high in sugar, so I had cut cereal out entirely. But I love cereal! It's such a nice treat sometimes.
As I continued with Michelle, we discussed the importance of variety, moderation, and balance.
To maximize satisfaction, you should have a variety of different foods in your diet. This includes ALL foods - ones with high and low nutritional value.
If we listen to our body's hunger and fulness cues, our bodies will allow us to eat with moderation - naturally. It may take re-training for some, but our bodies do know what's best for us.
Balance is still necessary to meet all of our body's needs. However, looking at this at a weekly basis (and not daily) is so much easier and less restrictive. Plus, if we understand how certain foods make us feel... we'll naturally make choices with more nutritional value. That doesn't mean we can't have ice cream on occasion though.
Moving my Body
Exercise has always been a struggle for me. I struggled in PE in school, I struggled motivating myself to move as a young adult, and I still struggle now. For a large portion of my life, it was just something I HAD to do.
Michelle lead me on a path to finding movement that I did enjoy. We took the focus off of burning calories and working so hard you sweat buckets and hurt the next day. It turned into focusing on things that feel good.
Exercise doesn't have to be biking for 5 miles, running on a treadmill, or lifting heavy weights. It can be what you want it to be.
I started playing with my dog more. He loves hide and seek. We go to the park and we walk. When the weather is nice (and I have someone to "spot" me) I'm going to break in my new roller skates. I bought a stability ball to sit on during work and do different stretches.
Our bodies can do so many different things that are way more fun than running.
The other big movement focus is avoiding prolonged periods of sitting. I sit at a desk 8-9 hours a day - getting up every 1-2 hours is so important to our health. Luckily, the dog makes it really easy to do that, and I find myself doing laundry or checking the mail or other simple tasks during the work day - just to break up my sitting time.
An Ongoing Journey
While today is actually my last day in the program with Michelle, the process is never-ending. I feel so much better than I did five months ago - it's completely unbelievable.
This program has been literally life-changing to me. To some, it may sound so simple, and some of it may seem obvious to you, but food dictated my life for way to long.
If you've read this far, and share some of my experiences, please know that you're not alone. There are so many people in this world that struggle with their relationship with food and their self-image. Just remember to take care of yourself, and if you need help, it's out there for you.
If you've read this far, and all of these ideas and concepts seem foreign to you. (For starters, thanks for reading.) More importantly, consider the fact that someone in your life might be going through this. Try to be mindful in what you say and do, as to not trigger or offend your loved ones if they're seemingly eating too much or too little. And please, never comment on someone's weight - whether you mean it as a compliment or not.
Finally, a shout out to anyone currently dieting, working on a lifestyle change, or anything of the sort. If you're content and feeling healthy - great! But if you're not happy, if you're struggling, or if you're hurting your body - please do yourself a favor and consider other options. Take care of yourself, and remember, there's help if you need it.
And just an important reminder:
All bodies are beautiful, including yours.
Michelle is a great resource, and I highly recommend her if any of the following questions are true for you.
Do thoughts about food control your life? Do you think of yourself as an “emotional eater?” Are you stuck on the diet/binge roller coaster? Do you have an eating disorder, or think you might?
About the Creator
Warning: I love messing with your favorite fairy tales.
I've loved writing most of my life. In college I made it my passion, but once I reached the "real" world, I stopped. I'm here to find my creativity and get back to my passion.