My Journey Home from Dieting, Disordered Eating and Desperation

Home » Uncategorized » My Journey Home from Dieting, Disordered Eating and Desperation

I turn 30 this year and I am really excited about it. My twenties were years of great fun, being lucky enough to be carefree, travel, learn and have experiences and memories that I will forever treasure.

The shadow side of my twenties and actually long before that has been my preoccupation with my body and how it looks. I hit puberty at 11 and was not prepared for the changes it would have on my body. It marked the beginning of my journey of being dissatisfied with my body and wanting to lose weight.  It is hard to believe I have spent almost 20 years consumed in a love/hate relationship with my body, this body, the only body I have.

I joined a slimming club for the first time in my teens and became hooked on that feeling of being ‘down’ on the scales. I tried various diets and detoxes over the years and they worked and they failed. I gained the college pounds and lost them to anxiety. I gained the Sydney stone and lost it to bootcamp. At times I was being ‘good’ and more times I was ‘bad’. The scale went up and it went down and no matter what the scale said I was never happy. (This is what happens when you hang your happiness on a number!)

ShootingScale

Disordered eating became a theme in my life in my twenties. I don’t remember my first binge but it was the first of many. A binge was always followed by strict restriction and purging through over-exercising.  I laugh now when I think about things that I have done while feeling out of control and powerless to food but at the time it was no joke.  It turns out bingeing is a natural reaction to dieting. It’s well known that some athletes in their off season are likely to ‘binge’ on certain food. After a period of restriction, your survival brain is telling you to eat. This can become a habit and not to mention all the emotional reasons why we eat.

In a moment of desperation after another failed ‘healthy eating plan’, I rejoined the slimming club again. Three days later I had my head stuck in the bread bin eating so much I could hardly breathe. I rang my sister in tears and she told me she was banning me from ever joining a slimming club again!

ice cream

And so the journey of finding my way home began. There was no one big light bulb moment for me or a big transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly but it was around this time that I started my search for a better way. I am an intelligent woman who is more than capable of achieving things so why the hell was this so hard for me? A friend gave me Susie Orbach’s book ‘On Eating’ which introduced the idea to me first that I could actually trust myself around food.  This was so radical for me at the time because I had been following some sort of ‘plan’ for so long. I found Geneen Roth’s work and started to wonder if I could eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full and get curious about what I was really hungry for?

 Geneen asks in one of her books, when you get to the end of your life do you want ‘She was thin’ to be written on your tombstone? I laughed and began to realise how ridiculous it all was. I ditched the diets and the deprivation and I started to remember that I am enough. I stopped weighing myself. Opening up to others about my struggles brought great healing. It is easy to isolate because we are afraid of being vulnerable but suffering alone is not the answer. I was relieved to know I wasn’t the only one who has thrown something tempting in the bin for fear I would eat it only to go rooting for it later on! I was lucky to have a sister understanding and open enough to share her journey with me. There was a great sense of sisterhood making a pact together never to join a weight loss programme again and we laughed together often about our own ‘insanities’ and also the insanity and disempowerment of the weight loss industry. We still find humour when we need it most.

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I found yoga. I went from an exerciser who wanted to find the class or technique that would burn a trillion calories in 15 minutes to moving just for the love of it. For the feel good factor rather than punishment. I started to move away from the external appearance to experiencing what it felt like actually being in my body. I explored the other aspects of yoga outside of the physical movement. A part of yoga philosophy is ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence-not only physical violence to others but violence against ourselves with our words. I realised I spoke to myself in a way that I would never speak to a friend or let a friend speak to me.

My story may seem extreme to you or it might not seem extreme at all. Regardless of whether you have ever binged or purged the chances are that you have experienced a feeling of not being enough at some stage. Thin enough, beautiful enough, good enough etc. We are being sold the ‘beauty myth’ on a daily basis and the cost to ourselves is high. Weight loss is just one part of the beauty myth but it alone is a billion dollar industry. I still laugh today at my father suggesting I pay him the tenner each week and he would do the weigh in for the slimming club and I’d rather not think about how much money I have spent on such things that haven’t really served me in the long run.

I can feel what Brene Brown calls a vulnerability hangover coming on as I think about sharing this post. This is very much my personal journey but I believe it matters because I know I am not the only one. I know because I’ve seen and heard from family, friends, clients, students about their experiences. I have read books and books and could write the self-help aisle. I have taught workshops in secondary schools and the things some girls have shared honestly scare me.

It matters because when we are worrying about the size of our thighs or our less than perfect skin we have less time for our relationships, our children, our work and our community. Whatever it is that juices you up in life I promise you will have more time and energy for it once you explore your internalised beliefs about beauty and break through associated negative thought patterns. When I think of all the time and energy that this has consumed for me. The phone calls to my sister telling her everything I ate that day… I mean could there be anything more boring?!

Regret doesn’t feature much in my life simply because I can’t do a thing about the past. But once you know you can’t unknow and therefore, the conversation starts to change…

If you would like to learn more about dismantling the beauty myth and starting a new conversation please join me for our next workshop ‘A Journey Home for Women’ on 13th April. Find it on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/112263782503022/ 

Comments

  1. Aislinn connolly on March 18, 2016 at 7:11 pm said:

    A really great and powerful read. Thanks for sharing and well done. Defo can relate and yes sisters are the best!

  2. Ann Joyce on March 19, 2016 at 12:31 pm said:

    Well done Gillian – an amazing open account of youbodyweiyour body image struggles. I am (very shortly) double your age and have gone through the exact same journey.

  3. Rachel Seoighe on March 19, 2016 at 3:31 pm said:

    Hi Gillian, thanks for sharing this post – it’s personal, beautiful and helpful. I am going to order the ‘On Eating’ book right now, and maybe Roth’s book too! I wish we could have shared more about this as teenagers, it would have helped us both. These complicated eating issues have the potential to destroy us and limit our happiness and creativity in so many ways, as you say – just the emotional labour and time we put into thinking about food, eating and not eating. I’m getting there also, trying to be more reflective and attuned to patterns in my relationship with food, which is deeply messed up! Thanks again love xx

    • admin on March 19, 2016 at 4:32 pm said:

      Rachel dearest, I’m glad you found it helpful. There is freedom is just putting it out there and then moving forward to a more fulfilling relationship with food/body and of course life! I wish too we would have shared more as teens, it is why I am so passionate about sharing in schools now because so much still remains unsaid in this area. Anyway it’s never too late-here is to building sisterhood everywhere xx

  4. Samantha on March 19, 2016 at 8:52 pm said:

    What a lovely writer. What a lovely woman. Wishing you peace, healthy, and joy. Much metta, Samantha

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