This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness week. While I have never had an eating disorder, I can say my relationship with food has not always been great. For one I am a picky eater. I didn’t eat sandwiches, soup, cheese (unless on pizza) and many other foods that most kids would eat. I can tell you my first experience with weight loss related to food was when I went to sleep over camp for the first (and last) time back when I was 10 years old. My favorite meal is breakfast so breakfast wasn’t a problem, but the remainder of the day I nibbled on things and then after dinner I would always be hungry because I didn’t like the choices and just ate an apple and would buy some m &m’s to munch on. I lost 10 lbs that week. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I just didn’t like the food.
Luckily, I am less of a picky eater now and trying to explore different food options more and more. Looking back though, I was never athletic in school except for that one time I joined the swim team my sophomore year of high school. The swim team took over my life! I stuck with it for the entire season, 3 months. I felt like the slowest swimmer for most of the season and the two practices (6am and afterschool) a day were tough. Most days I also had to walk home after swim practice which was a mile walk. I knew that my body was not used to that much exercise as one sign was that I didn’t have my period for the entire three months. I honestly didn’t think much of it at that time because my period was never regular to begin with. I obviously wasn’t eating enough, but I didn’t know what to eat. My major problem! Picky eater and what do I eat? A bowl of cereal before morning practice and a cereal bar after practice would lead me feeling quite hungry by lunch. I had been packing my own lunch since age 10 and that meant random things like an apple, carrots, pretzels, oreos, goldfish. Snack type foods that probably didn’t really make a meal but somehow they tied me over. Well actually they barely tied me over, this is probably why I was always so hungry after school. After that swim season, I returned to my two outside school activities, tap dancing and piano lessons for the remainder of high school. Between walking to school and in between classes and gym time, I figured I walked 3-4 miles a day, which was good exercise.
Towards the end of my senior year of high school, I began to struggle with milk. Milk was always my drink of choice and the doctor thought maybe it was due to my stress levels with the AP exams. Basically each day, I would have 2 bowls of cereal with milk for breakfast, buy milk at lunch and drink a full glass of milk, maybe two, when I came home from school and then have ice cream for dessert every night. So I probably had 5-6 glasses of milk a day. Eventually my body didn’t like that anymore. For a while, I was in denial and I needed something on my cereal so I would put less milk and drink a glass of water with my bowl of cereal. I also didn’t want to give up ice cream so I would drink a giant glass of water with that. Eventually the stomach pains each day were too much. I knew I had to give up the ice cream for sure. Once I gave up ice cream and drank water instead of milk most of the time, I think I lost almost 10 lbs over a month or so. I really struggled with gaining that weight back. While I wouldn’t say I was ever overweight, I definitely wasn’t in shape so losing 5 pounds would have been ok. The amount of weight I was losing and not gaining back was a bit concerning to me. I never thought about how much fat was in ice cream and how I needed more food though, maybe healthy fats that at that time I didn’t know about.
Then college came and as a freshman living in a dorm I was on the meal plan. Sure there was more junk food available and I was a bit scared of that freshman 15 but I ended with the freshman -10…I actually got sick from eating the dining hall food after the first semester. I know my high carb sugary breakfast choices contributed to that. Things were not right since I went another 3 months without a period. I was probably my lightest weight since middle school. My hands started to get shaky and I got dizzy spells. I had many tests done during winter break of my freshman year. The only conclusion that came out of it was I became deficient in vitamin D and should take a multi vitamin. I also started to wear my glasses all the time. To this day I still wonder what the real problem was. I think I am due for another blood test to see where I am today, but that is another topic.
Back to the dining hall food…I can only eat so much fried food that looking at it day after day would make me lose my appetite. I simply didn’t want it. I craved salad and veggies all the time. I usually ate my salads without dressing though as I was picky about dressings. I felt like a rabbit sometimes with my huge bowl of lettuce. I loved the salad bar but lettuce, tomatoes and carrots are not enough for a whole meal, at least with my small sizes. The dining hall was only open at certain times and then it was up to me to have snacks on hand. I usually had peanut butter and crackers or granola bars, but I wouldn’t eat past 8pm. [Take note that I was pretty lame in college and put myself to bed by 9:30/10pm most nights. I love the mornings and can’t stand sleeping through them so not eating past 8pm was best for me because otherwise my stomach would keep me up at night.] I only allowed myself water past 8pm and it really did work to keep my stomach settled enough to sleep. Of course I would wake up starving but luckily I love breakfast. I just had to watch how many carbs I was eating, though I didn’t really do an excellent job of that either.
During my first semester of sophomore year at college, I was still sick of the dining hall food. I began to use the kitchen more with my friends or just simply have a can of baked beans or something other than dining hall food. All I wanted was to buy my own food. So I made a deal with my dad to trade what he would pay for my meal plan for the next 5 semesters to put it towards a car so I could go to the grocery store myself and buy my own food.
That Christmas I got a car. Some people thought I was crazy. Why would I ever give up the buffet of dining hall food!? I did it for my own health! I did it so I wouldn’t starve. I did it so that I would feel better. I would have ham, cheese and crackers for lunch or make myself a sandwich, because buying those items from the store was less than $1100 (the cost of a meal plan) in a semester. Yes, I still probably wasn’t eating enough, but at the same time, I did feel sooo much better. By this point I had met my boyfriend and he got me into drinking soy milk, something I never thought I would drink, but the lack of milk in my life was disappointing and I discovered that soy milk on cereal was pretty good. I would eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, pack a lunch or go to my room for lunch and then for dinner I would assemble a salad, or occasionally buy a burrito or hamburger on campus. Besides saving money, I was able to control what, when and how I ate. Even though sometimes this control leads to eating disorders, for me, it was the control of making healthier choices.
Junior year of college I started to weight lift with my boyfriend. I absolutely fell in love with it!! We started to make protein pancakes and find ways to incorporate more protein into our diets. I lived in an apartment off campus and he lived in an apartment on campus and we made food together. I made simple dishes that my mom used to make like chicken or pork chops with a side of veggies. For lunch I ate ham and provolone cheese sandwiches. [Note: I hated sandwiches most of my life until college when I started to make them]. This is when my relationship with food finally got better. My relationship with my body got better too as I started to build muscles and love my body.
My second semester of junior year I was abroad so my eating was not as great, but the Australia dining hall was WAY better than the American ones. There wasn’t a huge buffet to pig out on, instead there was a meat choice and vegetarian option that we chose as we went through the food line. There was also a salad bar. At this point I was more educated about how important food was for my body and if I did not like the meat option I would go vegetarian for the evening since I liked most of those options. For exercise, I enjoyed swimming a lot in the outdoor Olympic size pool and some Zumba classes and lots and lots of walking.
Senior year I think I was in the best shape of my life, multiple workouts a week, back into weight lifting and eating decently. I had the best roommates and sometimes we made meals together which was fun. My boyfriend and I continued to learn how to incorporate more protein in our diets especially on weight lifting days. I definitely saw a difference in my energy levels and my body! I still made cookies and scones all the time, but I was good at control and spreading them out over time. It’s all about balance!
Once I graduated college, I moved back home…like most grads do these days right? Somewhere in the time that I moved back home and started a job, I started to enjoy oatmeal for breakfast. I think I was influenced highly by bloggers, but that is alright. Before then I would never eat anything very mushy, but my mom would buy quick oats and I would just use those and some hot water stirred in until they were a good consistency for me. It was a great alternative to cereal since I couldn’t have regular milk. I did continue to use soy milk on cereal though. My lunches started as sandwiches and then turned to salads when I wanted to cut out more carbs. I felt so much better when I ate salads for lunch and went to the gym after work. I was going to the gym 5-6 times a week for weight lifting, zumba, yoga and swimming.
While I was living at home, I really got into reading food/healthy living blogs. Between blogs and workout books, I learned about how important protein is to keep you full especially with the amount of workouts I did. I began to try many new recipes involving almond butter and bananas. Two things I never enjoyed before. I was introduced to this amazing blog world that transformed my life and what I ate. I learned about different salads, quinoa, kale, Brussel sprouts, and recently tried beets. My mom made faces at my food. My sister called me a health freak whenever I was trying new recipes from a blog. Sharing the kitchen and fridge at home was not easy. I usually felt more at home at the gym, surrounded by people who enjoyed working out and eating healthy.
After getting laid off from my job in Feb 2014, I made arrangements and in April 2014, I made the move 800 miles from where I grew up to my own apartment. You know what made me happiest? Having my own kitchen and fridge! I thrived in the kitchen. I experimented with new to me foods and superfoods, trying to give myself more nutrients in my diet and more whole foods. Having my own space and kitchen was the key to my happiness. No one making faces at what I was eating, no one claiming to need all the kitchen space, just me and whatever I felt like making. Balancing the right whole foods with the amount of exercise is still a challenge for me, but it is constantly improving as I learn more about what my body needs each day.
If you would have told me I would be cooking bacon and eating oatmeal for breakfast or enjoying roasted brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes with my lunch these days, I would never have believed you. I have been taking more steps outside of my comfort zone lately, trying new foods and recipes to better my health and get more variety in my diet. It is important to remember that food is fuel and eating the right foods that work for you and your body is important, as well as eating enough food to really be your best self.
Thank you Amanda for hosting!
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