Monday, October 6, 2014

Listen To Your Body

I vividly remember the evening 20 years ago that greatly impacted my health and life for the better. 

The evening consisted of me quietly shoving as much food as I could into my mouth to prevent myself from passing out on the kitchen floor as my parents watched television about 10 feet away. 

I starved myself the previous 24 hours because I was afraid I would get fat if I ate a soft taco from Taco Bell. 

My eating disorder was predominant throughout my adolescent years.  I also sporadically avoided food during my high school and college years when stress emerged.

I remember wishing that I didn't have to eat and that my stomach would stop growling.  I had a very unhealthy relationship with food and I did not appreciate food as nourishment.  Instead, I viewed food as something that would make me fat. 

I chose fat-free foods.  I took the cheese off of pizza.  I ate salad with no dressing.  I never added butter to bread.  "Fat" was my enemy and I feared it greatly.

As an adult, I look back on those years and realize it was a combination of life events and emotions that lead me down the eating disorder path. 

Withholding food was unnatural, but comforting to me nonetheless.

I felt safe knowing I didn't have to eat 3 meals a day and depend on food like the rest of the world.   

I felt empowered because I had the ability to control what I put into my mouth and I didn't have to succumb to food like the rest of the world.

I felt like I had control over my life.

I was relieved when my friends believed my dishonest comments such as "I'm not hungry.  I just ate and I don't want any pizza."

My habit of withholding food developed into an unhealthy addiction.     

Eating disorders are similar to drug or alcohol addictions.  In fact, studies from the National Institute of Health suggest there are endogenous opioids, chemicals produced in the brain that play a role in the regulation of appetite, alcohol, and cocaine consumption.  (Full research article may be viewed at:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8748094)
  
I was addicted to the pleasurable feeling that resulted from avoiding food several times a day.

But the pleasurable feelings that resulted were short-term.   
 
For every gain of short-term pleasure I received by avoiding food, my physical body and health took a loss.   

Below is an illustration of the "Food Intake Scale", a visual concept that I developed to explain healthy and unhealthy eating.

                                        
Balanced Food Intake
                                                                   
  1. The right balance is called Excessive Food Consumption (unhealthy).
  2. The left balance is called Excessive Food Restriction (unhealthy). 
If  the left balance symbolizing excessive food restriction is weighed down, then significant weight loss will result. 

Alternately, if the right balance symbolizing excessive food consumption is weighed down, then significant weight gain will result.

Finally, if the scale is balanced, then food is not being consumed or restricted in excess and food intake is "balanced"(healthy).

After my wake-up call of nearly passing out on the kitchen floor, I realized that I was completely weighed down on the left side of the scale.  I yearned for the weight to be lifted so that I could be healthy and "balanced".

I knew I needed to go in the upward direction but I didn't know where to begin.  I was afraid to change even though I knew change was necessary for a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

To be honest, I was comfortable staying on the left side of the scale.  It was going to take a lot of effort on my part to lift myself to get to a "balanced" state.  I had to find the strength inside to start lifting. 

My first step, was to write down 3 meals and 1 snack for every day of the week.  My goal was to eat at least 1,000-1,200 calories daily.

Some days I reached my goal and other days I fell short. 

Over the days, weeks, and months I retrained my brain to focus on consuming food rather than avoiding it.  I became skillful at mindfully eating and I began to appreciate food as nourishment rather than something that would make me "fat."

I started to listen to my body and stopped ignoring it. 

When I became hungry, I ate.  When I became thirsty, I drank.  When my stomach was full, I stopped eating. 

I no longer felt lightheaded or had to hear my stomach growl everyday.  I started to gain weight and I saw my monthly period again.

Learning how to balance my food intake took practice, strength, hope, and courage.  The positive changes I made for my life and health led to a very rewarding experience.

Because I accepted the fact that I needed to find a balance with food, I embraced the changes that needed to take place.  As a result, I not only found myself having a healthy relationship with food, but also a healthy relationship with my body.

Today, I continue to travel down the "balanced food intake" pathway.  I choose to stay on this pathway because I will never forget how unhealthy I was in my mind, body, and spirit when I was weighed down on the "excessive food restriction" side of the scale.

Mindful eating is essential for living a healthy lifestyle.  I don't want to deprive my body of the energy, vitamins, and minerals it requires to optimally function. 

It is important to not ignore the messages our bodies convey to us.  Give your body the balanced nourishment it needs and desires and you may save your health and life too!


It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. ~Author unknown, commonly misattributed to Charles Darwin


 

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