Throughout this blog I’ve talked a lot about how I’ve changed my thought patterns and lifestyle from one of restricted eating and body image issues to living holistically, balanced and free.
I often refer to how I was then and now but I’ve never really touched the steps I took to actually go about my journey.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I went about these changes, how I dealt with weight gain and how I deal with trying to live a balanced life that is so far from the restrictive one I used to lead. So I’ve decided to do a few posts about the steps I took to go about making changes (part I) and how I’ve dealt with such challenges since, and continue to deal with on an almost daily basis (part II).
For about 6 years I restricted myself from a magnitude of food groups, adequate nutrition, the freedom to eat a meal out, and forced myself through excessive exercise. Guilt, shame and self-reproach were normal feelings in my everyday life and I felt a sense of achievement that I didn’t have my period for a these 6 years because that meant I was lean. I placed all of my self-worth on my body image and only believed that I was lovable and attractive if I had abs or looked like a fitness model.
These problems existed long before competitions, and at an even greater intensity to be entirely honest, but after my third bikini competition I finally came
to terms with the fact that I knew I had a longstanding problem that needed to be addressed if I wanted to live a long, healthy and happy life and I knew that probably wouldn’t be able to shake by myself. I thought I was happy but knew something was missing. My sense of achievement of each day was solely based on how well I smashed my workout was and how compliant I had been with my diet (always 100%) and I had this poignant inability to feel empathy, love or compassion. I decided that this wasn’t how I wanted to continue living.
Even after admitting that I needed help, I resisted taking action for a long time; maybe due to pride or my stubbornness that I believed I could fix myself. I’ve studied 5 years of psychology and attained masters degree in health psychology where I’ve learned about eating disorders and their treatment, so a little part of me felt a bit like a fraud if I went to see a psychologist. Shouldn’t I have the tools in my toolbox to practice on myself?
Saying that back now seems ridiculous but this is seriously what went through my head. Eventually, I sought help from a professional because I came to terms with the fact that a professional and objective point of view wouldn’t hurt.
So here’s the steps I took to get to go about change:
- As cliché as this sounds, the first step I took was to take a step. Find someone you’re comfortable talking to about it. It might be someone who’s been through something similar or who is completely removed from the situation but they need to be nonjudgmental because to the average person, some of these problems you face will be menial. Talking about how you’re scared to eat one meal that isn’t accounted for in your macros or missing one cardio session and being petrified you will put on weight, to most people will result in them laughing in you face and telling you to get a grip and to come to them when you have ‘real’ problems. Not everyone knows how significant these troubles are and the sort of impact they have on your mental health so I cannot stress enough, talk to someone who is compassionate and treats your problems seriously.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in that I have an incredible relationship with my mum and sister and it was their final push, which made me finally enlist the help of professionals. They pushed for me to see an endocrinologist and I’m so glad I did because if I hadn’t investigated the impact malnutrition & over exercise was having on my body, I’m not too sure I would have been motivated to change. It was also their concerns that influenced me to see a psychologist prior to moving to Melbourne. I enlisted help from a psychologist who specialized in eating disorders however, they are expensive so I’m fully aware this isn’t an option for everyone. If it is though, I highly recomm
- I kept a food & exercise diary and ‘checking’ journal. Not the standard sort of food diary that you keep for losing weight, but one that required information on your thoughts and feelings, places you eat and with who, similar to the one below. Writing down the habits I had obtained over the past six years was a lot harder than I had anticipated. Generally, I lived my days without having to think about what I was eating or how I was feeling because they just became so ingrained in me that it didn’t require any thought.
These exercises stimulated me to become more mindful and intentional with my life, thoughts and actions. It was hard to come to terms with some of the thoughts that crossed my mind but forcing myself to become aware of these habits and natural tendencies was extremely eye-opening.
I found this exercise really beneficial for a number of reasons:
- It made me realize that I didn’t need to even think about the food I had eaten or the times I had eaten. In fact, I could have filled out my whole week’s worth of meals on Monday because I ate the same thing, day in and day out at exactly the same time. I had zero variety in my diet or routines despite not following a prescribed nutrition plan anymore
- I often felt fat or really negative about myself 20-30 minutes after a meal, even if all I had eaten was vegetables and chicken.
- My thoughts were still obscenely destructive and criticizing around food and the way I felt about my body, even though I had started to positively change these for the past 5-6 months.
- I often ate when I wasn’t hungry and was purely eating out of habit because it when I was ‘supposed to’. Scheduled meals had become so normal that I didn’t even need hunger signals to cue me to eat, all I needed was a clock and a tuppaware container.
I also kept a ‘checking’ diary – a record of all of the times I ‘checked’ myself.
Keeping a firm record of these particular behaviours really brought to the forefront of my mind how prevalent my body image was in my head. This diary exemplified that pretty much every minute of every day I was thinking about my body in some way. Checking my body, analyzing my body and degrading my body every single chance I got. Walking past a parked car, do my arms look fat today, walking towards a glass door do my legs look fat, every opportunity I had infront of a mirror lift my top and analyse my stomach from every angle possible. I was absolutely ashamed that this had become such a problem and I was so incredibly obsessed with myself.
I also realized that the ‘fat’ feeling I got throughout the day was particularly prevalent about 20-30 minutes after eating, coinciding with my food journal. I eventually interpreted that I wasn’t feeling fat, but I was feeling full. I had lived for so long in a state of hunger that the feeling of ‘full’ or satiation was foreign to me and I had become so out of tune with my body that I let my mind dictate how I felt instead of listening to my body.
Keeping these diaries was a big part in the catalyst to change in me. They made me become more in tune with how I felt around food and the habits or rules I had become so habituated to.
- I slowly began to implement more variety in my meals. And I mean slowly. Because I had temporarily moved back home, my mum offered to make my dinners to help with bringing about more variety. So, I started eating whatever she made for dinner and I wasn’t allowed to protest or ask for anything different. No weighing, no macros counted, no rules adhered to. I’m quite mortified to admit that this may or may not have lead to tears one night. I felt like shit, hadn’t trained, wasn’t allowed to weigh my food and my plate had wholemeal pasta on it. Definitely a low point.
At first it was hard to adjust to the change and letting go of control but after a while it became so enjoyable to eat different tastes and food that I otherwise wouldn’t have had it was like I had been given a new set of tastebuds. After about 2 weeks of different meals at dinner I started to integrate variety into my afternoon snack and once a week incorporated a type of food I deemed ‘bad’ into this meal.
- I stopped weighing my foods and started to force myself to eat foods that weren’t on my list. White rice, chocolate, scones. Although they were few and far between and still a rarity, I ate them and didn’t die.
- I weighed myself weekly. This one seems counterproductive and I would advise to use with caution, depending on your state of mind and obsession with the scale. The reasoning behind this was a bit of an experiment and to really prove myself something. You see, our bodies are amazing & we really need to give them more credit. They have natural set points for our ideal weight and size, as determined by our bodies genetics, not society and they will fight aggressively to keep you at this weight. It almost takes an intentional effort to gain or lose a considerable amount of fat so missing one day at the gym or eating a few meals off are clinically proven to have little effect, on the average person. I weighed myself weekly once I started to introduce more variety in my diet and cut back on the excessive exercise to prove to myself that I wouldn’t suddenly blow up and gain 10kgs. At first I was extremely scared to do this but came to learn that it’s actually a standard part of treatment in most eating disorder patients. And I proved myself right. Even after eating chocolate (as another experiment), having small variations in my food, not precisely weighing food and limiting training to 4x a week, my weight stayed within 1-2kgs of my set point and hasn’t budged since.
- I unfollowed about 300 Instgram accounts that consistently infiltrated my newsfeed with women who compete, are ridiculously lean or who have what I consider to be unhealthy addictions with fitness – posting captions like “tired, hungry, miserable, hate my life but at least I have gym” – goals. Now, the majority of people I follow, focus on health, yoga, holistic practices and exude positivity or have absolutely nothing to do with fitness at all. I cannot tell you how refreshing this is. Do IT. It was also somewhat liberating, I felt strangely powerful, like I had so much control to cull negativity from my life.
- Lastly, I was open and honest with people (friends, family, followers) about what I was doing, why I was doing it and what I was going through. This was an extremely personal decision to make and wouldn’t be for everyone but I’m very open about this sort of thing and have always maintained a sense of transparency. Further, it limits the amount of comments people make when you reach for seconds or yes, I do want some dessert thank you because in the past, Stacie doing this would almost make the front headlines and cause more attention than necessary.
This journey hasn’t been easy and by no means has it been quick. I’ve been going through these steps, sometimes back and forth for the last 18 months. Sometimes, I need to go back to basics to get myself on track and other times I’m so happy and content with who I am and how I look that I laugh at myself for ever feeling otherwise..
It’s somewhat a never ending story but it’s a story I’m more than happy to continue writing…