Wednesday 07 March 2018
I wrote this blog post in August 2016, and have decided I’m ready to share it now, so here goes…
Have you ever told yourself - “today I'm going to be really good? I'll eat even less than what I have been. That way I'll be sure to lose weight.” But it comes to 3pm, and you’re starving and struggling to find energy to get through the rest of the day? There have been numerous times when I’ve done this, and I get home, tell myself – “I'll just eat this to keep me going until dinner” - and it leads to another piece, and another piece. Ironically, you end up eating far more food than you would have throughout the day…the complete opposite of what you set out to do.... Why? Because you’re under-nourishing your body. After a day of depriving yourself of food, you get a taste of something, and your brain goes, "oh hello food, I've missed you." You’re so hungry you don't listen to your body, and you don't give yourself time to recognise that you actually have enough in your body to maintain your energy levels.
The cycle doesn't stop there, feelings of guilt take over, you feel like you've failed, you've let your will power slip and you beat yourself up for having no self-control. Sometimes it's even so bad, that you let it ruin your entire day, and make the goal to be even more strict tomorrow. You might even start weighing yourself every day, and base your food in-take on the number you saw that morning. You can probably imagine what happens next, and what kind of behavioural patterns emerge.
After hitting a plateau with weight loss, yet still determined to lose more, I signed up for a summer weight loss challenge. Like many people, I wanted to look good in my togs and wanted to be held accountable for my actions. We had a set plan to follow, measurements down to specific grams, we had to record everything that went in our mouths, and hand in a food diary at the end of each week. If something was off track - we were punished with additional physical exercise. Over the five week period, if we were good, we were rewarded with one “cheat” meal. When I was granted permission to indulge, I didn't want to because it felt wrong. But, it was okay and I could justify it, because I was losing weight and I was finally, for the first time in my life, starting to feel quite content with my body and how I looked.
One night I sat swiping through the photographs on my phone. I saw some very unhealthy patterns; between the baking snaps, fun with friends and family, and special occasions, my phone was filled with pictures of myself, but not the fun duck face pouting selfies many girls would have. Instead, pictures of my stomach, pictures standing on the scales, pictures of my side profile and collages comparing progress. I tracked from now to 2013, and that was the trend right throughout. Every single photograph I looked at, my reaction was - "I looked fat", or "I looked skinny." Absolutely nothing about how fun, or special, that particular moment in time was. Amongst these pictures of my body, I found pictures of food. It was clear that I had become obsessed with my weight loss journey.
But, this is an okay way to live right? To answer this simply, no, no it isn’t. And I learnt the hard way; because just a few months after, my health took a turn for the worse, and I was diagnosed with PCOS. I started binge eating, gained a lot of weight and lost my drive. Everything became so much harder than it should have. I started experiencing feelings of depression, social anxiety and was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I’d like to point out here, that at this point I was in denial, I would not have sought help myself, and had no motivation to make any changes…but I am very lucky to have a supportive partner and family, who saw that I was struggling, and dragged me along to some health professionals. There is no way I would have gone to the appointments on my own accord either. At each, I was brought to tears just talking about my journey, and felt like a completely different person.
To show you the extent of how real this was, and the types of feelings I was experiencing - here’s something I wrote and sent to my mum one day:
“I don't know what normal feels like. I can't remember the last time I had a pain free day. I can't remember the last time I ate food without over thinking it, and I can't remember the last time I appreciated my body and what it does for me. Because to be honest...I hate it. I hate that I try tirelessly to listen to it. I try to rebalance my hormones, to eliminate toxins, to stop eating inflammatory foods, follow a FODMAP approach, not drink coffee, to rely on taking supplements like magnesium and zinc. My life is ruled by what I put in my mouth. I think I'm trying too hard, and know these behaviours and thoughts are unhealthy, so I stop....I remove the restrictions and eat the foods I enjoy, a creamy flat white, Greek yoghurt, dark chocolate (food that many people wouldn't think twice about consuming). And it gets worse, the pains get stronger, more frequent and harder to ignore. And as I continue to eat the food my body doesn't agree with I can't snap out of it, I can't listen to my body telling me that it's doing more harm than good, why can’t I do it? I'm not one to give up. But I've held on to hope for a long time. Now it feels different, I don't feel like I can make a new plan, I don't feel like I can go back to the drawing board and look for answers. I want to....I just feel like I can't, maybe I don't think I'm worth it. How many years can one person dedicate to trying to feel somewhat normal? What's sadder? For a while I thought I was content with all the weight I'd gained. But I was fooling myself. I'm not.”
To progress and move forward I:
- Saw a psychologist (who specialised in eating disorders) on a regular basis, and worked to do all of the exercises and tasks she gave me. We established that feelings aren’t facts, worked to desensitise myself from food, and challenged my inner critique – questioning if I’d say what I was telling myself to my best friend. We banned the use of the word fat (I could instead say, “I'm bigger than I want to be and that’s okay”), explored body dysmorphia, and talked about how people wouldn't de-friend me for gaining weight.
- Purchased new clothes that didn’t feel tight, and I avoided mirrors, or things that would set me off (I was unbelievably fragile).
- Tried to exercise on a regular basis (although with a lower back injury this was very hard and led to even more negative feelings).
- Called Ben, or my mum, whenever I wanted to binge eat.
- Stopped taking the drugs I’d been given by various specialists.
- Turned down the use of anti-depressants.
- Let Ben plan all of my food (this way I didn’t have to spend time stressing about what I was going to eat).
Now, this didn’t fix things…but, it was a start. Between then and now I’ve fallen down MANY times, and needed picking back up even more. I got re-caught up in the hype of wanting to get skinny, quickly - trying Isagenix (which is something I would never suggest or recommend to anyone). The worst thing about these falls was that I felt so out of control and the smallest thing would upset me. I found the constant talk of weight loss on Facebook to be in my face, and I felt like I was living a lie through Embracing It. People would have conversations about their diet, and it just infuriated me (why is the world so obsessed with weight loss, and weight being treated as a sole measure of health). As I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere, I got completely overwhelmed by the whole situation, and started having panic attacks. I cannot thank my partner, and family enough, for sticking by my side through these dark times. They’re truly what kept me going. I was so scared that they would be judging me for my thoughts, and get disappointed in my inability to snap out of things. But, they kept reminding me that it was just a rough patch. This is also what stopped me from telling even my closest friends – I wish I’d told them sooner, as they were incredible too.
Throughout my mission to get over ED (what I named my eating disorder), I started to get really bad stomach cramps, and pain every time I ate. I knew that in order to reduce these pains and severe reactions to food, I needed to put more focus on what I was eating (without forcing restrictions, that were going to elevate my eating disorder).
A few months on, things were getting better, but I was still experiencing symptoms of bloating, discomfort, headaches, fatigue, no sleep, dizziness and changes in appetite. On top of this, I couldn’t sit still, and didn’t know how to relax (even if I tried I’d just get up and do house work to keep busy). I kept re-injuring my lower back (it had been over a year since the initial injury, and x-rays indicated that nothing was structurally wrong). My chiropractor and physio knew everything that was going on in my life, and were both certain that external stresses were what was hindering my recovery. My chiropractor also believed that I had leaky gut syndrome (which I had thought myself, but wasn’t in the right head space to go about completely changing what I was eating, I needed my comfort coffee). I knew that I needed to do something about my health, I just felt like I had run out of options and struggled to come to terms with the fact that after 10 years of trying various things, I was still having no luck. I knew it was going to take an approach that catered in various factors and started to go bigger picture, I:
- Started following a leaky gut diet (which Ben and myself developed).
- Got someone to prepare my food (thanks Hala at PaleoMe).
- Got a new job.
- Attended a Body Love NZ retreat.
- Stopped studying (I didn’t need any additional pressure and haven’t stopped studying since leaving uni).
- Saw a Naturopath.
- Did a series of colon cleanses and coffee enemas.
Now, these things made a HUGE difference. The Naturopath (Mel Forrest) took a completely different approach, and started searching for underlying factors – rather than treating my current symptoms (which is something I have always done). By listening to discuss my health story, sharing the many procedures I’d had, and diets I’d followed, all yielding minimal benefits; she was determined something was going on at a cellular level. That something was adrenal fatigue, and an imbalance of metals in the body, specifically - excess copper. She came to this conclusion through extensive study over my history, and various tests, including urine samples and analysis of my blood. From here, I took a series of supplements to re-boot my system, and got a hand scan analysis to get specifics on what the imbalance of metals looked like.
Skip this paragraph if you get grossed out easily…my colonics at Sunflower Therapies were an intense, and eye opening experience. It took five cleanses over a two week period to clear things out, each time passing large stones (a big build-up of faeces) that were causing blockages in my intestines. It was also noted that a strong yellow colour was being flushed from my body – the therapist said this was a sign of toxins leaving the body. The day after my first cleanse I couldn’t even function, and spent the day in bed with a killer migraine.
An experience which helped me shift my mind-set, was attending a retreat run by Body Love NZ. This retreat forced me to face some demons!! On the first night at this three day retreat we participated in a goal setting session. One activity involved selecting words which resonated with us from a large sheet…out of the 100 plus on the page I selected - hope, acceptance and understanding. These words sum my current situation in a nutshell.
- Hope, because I am hopeful that I will get to a point where I am content.
- Acceptance, because I need to accept that I can’t change things.
- Understanding, because I want to understand what is going on with my body, and everything that’s happening is going to make me a stronger and happier person.
Before attending this retreat, I was at a point where, due to injury and negative thoughts, I was struggling to be passionate about the things I once loved (CrossFit, baking, running, yoga), and had started giving all of my time to other people, doing whatever I could to make them happy (because I didn't know how to make myself happy). But, after some soul searching and goal setting, which involved imagining my ideal life ten years from now, I was reminded of what I want, and what I am capable of achieving (this involved growing Embracing It to be my own, raising awareness around these kind of health complexities, and mentoring people through tough situations. That, and to be a blog mum).
After leaving this retreat, I wrote my ten year vision (a short story of what a day in my life would look life), printed it on a big piece of paper and framed it. Whenever I’m feeling upset or lost, I look at this and remind myself of what I’m working towards. I’m surprised by how powerful it is, and the funny thing - in this vision there is nothing noted about how I look, or the size of the clothes I’m wearing.
Many bloggers, and health professionals, remind us that the number on the scale does not define us. Yet for so many of us, it does. And it will continue to – I want to break, and help others break that cycle. I am NOT going to be the girl that dies, and has “Emma Golebiowski, lived an unhappy life, but only wore size 10”, as the tagline at my funeral.
I'm starting (emphasis on starting) to accept that due to health implications, and my genetic make-up, I will never be the super lean person with abs that I want to be. But, I've also realised that that my size doesn’t determine what I do with my life, or the memories I create. I'm done wasting my time wishing I looked different. I want to focus on feeling good, being happy and enjoying food for what it is.
If you take anything from this, please understand that change doesn't just happen overnight, and that talking about these things is okay, and encouraged. In situations like this, you need to try focus on where you are at now, and feeling the best you can, or being as strong as you can at that point in time.
A final shout out to my incredible fiancé Ben, who stood by my side, literally picked me up off the floor, wiped my tears, and remained positive for me when I couldn’t. This guy continues to believe in me when I don’t believe in myself, and I’m so lucky to have him (love you Ben).
I’m not asking for sympathy, or comments on how I currently look - just keeping my promises as a blogger, and hoping to help people along the way. I had to work to understand that I wasn’t going to achieve anything if I kept living in the past, and know this is only another small part of my health journey. I don’t expect everyone to understand these feelings, and have developed a whole new respect for people who battle depression and anxiety (because as hard as you try, you just can’t control these things).
As I sit and read back on this today, I can see how far I’ve come, and it feels pretty damn good. The crazy part, if I hadn’t conquered these challenges, I probably wouldn’t have Riley asleep in my arms.