I’ve been thinking about writing on the topic of emotional eating for a long time, but resisted because it brings up difficult memories. But I feel strongly that my story is an important one to tell, a story that reveals how so often our relationship with food directly reflects our level of self-worth.
When I was very young, my mom was a great cook. She knew how to can, pickle, preserve, bake and roast. There was little processed food in our house and mom made it a point to create wholesome, nourishing meals for my family.
I was an athletic kid and my parents put me into gymnastics when I was 6. With my mom’s healthy cooking and 25+ hours a week practicing a sport I loved, I was a wiry spitfire, too lanky to be a great gymnast but dedicated, disciplined and determined. I made friends, did well in school, and improved everyday.
I was 10 when my parents’ marriage began to fall apart. A thick cloud of tension moved into the corners of my home. My 11-year old brother responded with explosions of emotional torment, episodes my father angrily tried to squelch and my mother tried to manage. I witnessed these messy altercations silently, the girl in the corner, losing control.
I chose to become the perfect child, pretending nothing was wrong in my effort to make everyone happy. I thought that through emotional denial and sparkling acts of achievement, I could bring the love back into our house, and maybe get a sliver of attention myself.
My father moved out a year later. No matter how desperately I had fought to keep the waters calm, I couldn’t control the perfect storm my life had become.
I spent the next couple of years in a haze of numbness, continuing to do my duty as the over-achieving auto-child. But with my dad gone and my mother back at work, no one seemed to care about me or my interests or my achievements. I, too, began to care less and less about the things I loved, and instead turned to the company of food every afternoon, bingeing on daily doses of solitude.
My growing apathy made for a somewhat non-eventful departure from gymnastics at the age of 13, and without the level of activity to which I was accustomed, I gained almost 20 pounds. Over the course of one summer, my athletic body grew foreign and fat. Adversarial.
Ashamed and desperate, I appealed to my mother for help. But she was in no position to attend to her adolescent daughter and her weight problem. My constant anchor had become a stressed, harried, heart broken single mother just trying to get by. In one last gasping attempt to regain control, I took matters into my own hands the only way I knew how. I stopped eating.
Thus began my struggle with anorexia nervosa. With my self-worth measured by my success at self-control, at my thinnest my 5’5” frame carried a mere 85 pounds. I felt a perverse pride when I could so exactingly control what I put into my mouth, and I held onto that pride like a vice around my gut.
After 2 years, I was able to dig myself out of my illness, wise enough at 15 to understand that my morbid experiment in self-hatred had to stop. I had to find a better way. I fought back, turned again to my love of fitness, and began walking the long journey toward regaining my health.
My story shaped me indelibly and propelled me to become a teacher. I have committed my life to building up my clients’ self-confidence through the empowering processes of exercise and healthy eating. I help those I work with “dig deep” and uncover the inner strength we all possess, but that might be buried under the emotional and physical baggage I, too, once carried.
It takes a long time to heal from the negative stories that shape our self-esteem. Grieving for that “girl in the corner” is the first step in recognizing that “she” is no longer you. Forgiving the people, places and events that damaged your self-esteem is the second step in releasing the anger holding you in a cycle of self-sabotage. Taking responsibility for who you want to be from this moment on is the most potent step in harnessing the potential of this one and only, precious life of yours.
Reach out and take it. You deserve it. You’re worth it.
Xoxoxo - Lara