Picture this: I’m at work and I just ordered a burger, fries, and an ice cold Dr Pepper. Definitely not the most nutritious meal I have ever ordered in my life, but I am one thousand percent excited to devour the meal! I get all situated to take my first bite when I hear my coworker say, “Whoa, Kat, you’re having THAT for dinner?”
Usually I chuckle and come back with a comment like, “Yup, new year, new me! Hahahahahahaha.” Instances like this make me think, “Why are people so taken back when they see a nutrition major eating unhealthy food? Why is it such an audacious act? Why do people look at me and think I’m not allowed to eat these “forbidden” foods?” I AM HUMAN TOO AND I LOVE ME A GOOD BURGER AND FRIES!!!!
My Unhealthy Relationship With Food and Myself
I bring up this topic because I used to think the same way as my coworkers. I used to write down everything I ate in a day and I would circle the areas I viewed as unhealthy or needed improvement. I always got so frustrated with myself for not sticking to my healthy eating plan, and I constantly told myself, “Okay I’ll start on Monday, or on the first of the month.”
During my high school years, I would eat an entire package of Oreos and then feel sick as a dog afterwards. I was caught up in a vicious cycle of giving into temptations and cravings and then feeling relentless guilt afterwards, causing me to eat more and feel even worse. Why can’t I be strong enough? Why do I always give in? I would be so much happier if I was just skinner and had thinner legs. These were my thoughts, as a young high schooler, and they persisted throughout my first few years of college.
Then one day, I moved out of my parents’ home and began living with roommates. I had very little money, and every week posed the question of, do I buy food or do I pay for gas to get me to and from school? I dropped a lot of weight; I was eating one, maybe two “meals” a day and I was struggling mentally, physically, and emotionally. I was too prideful to tell anyone that I was struggling so I kept my thoughts to myself.
I liked how I looked at a lower weight and I enjoyed hearing people tell me that I looked thin, but I would look at myself in the mirror and I still found things wrong with me. I have big calves, I have acne, I have a gap in my teeth, I don’t have any muscle. All of these were true, and I was undeniably unhappy. I knew I needed to eat more and my boyfriend encouraged me to buy more groceries. He even offered to pay for my groceries but my pride didn’t let him. I was learning about eating disorders in school, and I convinced myself that I did not have one. I was only lying to myself.
One morning I woke up feeling absolutely awful. My head and stomach were hurting, I was tired, and I felt nauseous. All I wanted to do was lay in my bed and cry. I knew I was experiencing depression. I was unhappy with my health and I was sick of feeling sick. My boyfriend, so graciously said, “Kat, you need to eat more. I am here for you, whatever you need, but I am telling you now, you need to eat more.” I finally admitted to myself that I had an unhealthy relationship with food, and I needed to make changes if I didn’t want to feel this way anymore.
My Mental, Physical, and Emotional Change
The next day I looked through the grocery ads to find the best deals on food. I found cheap produce and meat at Sprouts Farmer’s Market and decided that I would start making my own food. I enjoyed making meals like the ones my mom used to make at home, and I began feeling so much better when I actually ate nutritious foods, not just a bowl of fruit loops and a quesadilla throughout the day.
Shortly thereafter, I moved in with new roommates and got a part time job. I began preparing meals that made me feel good, not guilty. When I did not have the time to cook, I bought fast food meals that were full of nutrients. I knew my body needed to recover after the months of trauma I had put it through.
I began to see changes in my body, weight gain being one of them, but I began to feel happier, livelier, and I felt freed from the bondage of food that I had before. My mindset changed from viewing food as good or bad, and began seeing it as fuel. Some foods offer better fuel than others, but all foods provide our bodies with fuel and energy.
I remember buying a spicy chicken sandwich from McDonald’s and for the first time, I did’t feel bad or guilty about it! I questioned myself, “Why don’t I feel guilty about eating this?”
I realized I had withheld food from my body for so long that it started to shut down. I thought starving myself would help me achieve the look I wanted, and although I did get thin by not eating, I was still so discontent with how I looked and felt. I felt lethargic and sluggish everyday. I had constant stomachaches and headaches. My acne had flared up, and I was sick, and in desperate need of help. Food saved me from that darkness and loneliness I was experiencing. It gave me life and energy to be the happy and healthy person I knew I wanted to be.
Now when people question why I’m eating “unhealthy” food, I answer them, “It’s because I have the freedom to eat whatever my body craves. Sometimes it’s a salad with grilled chicken, and sometimes it’s a juicy burger with fries and a Dr Pepper.”
Our bodies need food to survive. Getting healthy doesn’t mean depriving your body of foods it loves. It means fueling your body with foods that will help you feel and function the best. Food should be eaten and enjoyed, and I hope more and more people can come to the realization that there are no good and bad foods. Some just offer the body more nutrients.
Food is fuel, and if you are experiencing food guilt rather than food freedom, just know you are not alone. It took me hitting rock bottom to realize I was sick not only physically but also mentally. I finally experienced true freedom once I relied on food to heal my body.