A Dietitian’s Honest Tale of Disordered Eating, Autoimmune Issues, and Food Freedom
What comes to your mind when you think about food? I bet if I asked that question to 10 different people, I would get 10 different answers. For me, I think of feeling satisfied, energized, and the many good memories that I have with friends and family where we all enjoy a hearty meal together. However, a few years ago that question would have caused a spike in my heart rate because truth be told, food was a source of major internal struggle and anxiety for me for a long time. Maybe you can relate!
It all started with a diagnosis. As a 10-year old, being diagnosed with celiac disease helped me understand the effect food could have on my body, and how changing what I ate and sticking to a strict gluten free diet for life would allow my gut to heal. At the same time, I was training as a high-level gymnast, which only spurred on my natural tendency to be a perfectionist. It took a couple more years before I made the decision to quit the sport I loved because I knew I couldn’t sustain that level of activity for much longer with how my body was barely holding up. Autoimmune disease, even in a well-controlled state, plus high intensity training don’t make for a great combination in an adolescent body!
What transpired next is common for many “retired” athletes to go through. When I quit gymnastics, my body changed quite a bit. It very suddenly changed from a compact, well-conditioned “machine” if you will, to that of a normal pre-teen starting puberty. As I entered my high school years and played other sports, I noticed there were times where I just felt completely out of control with food. I was eating what I thought was too much, and I noticed I was gaining weight and losing the level of muscle tone I always had as a kid.
This sparked an intense desire to learn all I could about food so that I could feel my best and perform well! My solution was to restrict and count calories, but those good intentions spiralled into obsession once I realized how well I could control the way my body looked by sticking to the numbers in my head. At least, I thought I had it under control. I ended up going on a restricting/binging/purging (with exercise) rampage and only allowing myself to eat certain foods that I deemed were the best for me. I would severely restrict my sodium, fat, and sugar intake, only to then binge on salty, fatty, and sugary foods because I had deprived myself so much. One of the biggest consequences from this season was that, not only did I ultimately become overweight after being underweight for so long, but some of the foods I would binge on were contaminated with gluten. This set off an inflammatory reaction in my gut that I am still working on healing to this day. I never sought professional help, mostly due to pride and shame, and for fear of being given a “label” or needing to go to therapy. If I had, after all these years of studying nutrition, I believe I would have been diagnosed with “Eating Disorder Not Specified.”
During all of this, my faith was the anchor that eventually got me through, in addition to learning about proper nutrition and intuitive eating. I can now say that by the grace of God I experience a peaceful relationship with food and I have found freedom from it all! That being said, as I look back on that painful and growing time, if I reached out to a professional and received the help I needed, I believe it might have allowed me to work through things in a healthier way and save me from some of the struggle. Accountability would have also made a huge difference.
Why do I share all this with you? First of all, because this story is too common, and I hope we can change that. I also want you to know that I understand. I understand how difficult it can be to have to completely change your eating habits and how tricky gut health and inflammation can be. I understand not liking what you see in the mirror and not knowing how to change it in a healthy way. I understand weight struggles. I also understand the how burdensome an unhealthy relationship with food can be!
I did things the hard way. Instead of seeking help from a professional, I decided to go through five years of school and clinical rotations, mostly because I loved learning about it and wanted to help others live healthy lives, but also partly so that I could help myself. This ended up working out well, and has given me the opportunity to be passionate about what I do and help people who might be going through a similar experience! My desire is to help you not struggle as much as I did and restore a healthy relationship with food, regardless of your health circumstances! Food should be fun, even in the face of a Crohn’s diagnosis or an eating disorder.
Contrary to what many believe, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are not the food police! I can at least speak for the ones I know. We are NOT about shame. We are about freedom! Most of us have had our own struggles with food in one way or another, and have chosen a career path where we can empathize and compassionately help others through their nutrition journey! Our desire is to help people live a life where food is put in its proper place – to heal, fuel, and bring people together – and takes up just the right portion of our thoughts and time! And hopefully, you can answer the question “what comes to your mind when you think about food?” in a more positive way!