Like many women, I've had what you could call a complicated relationship with food. When I was a child, I had big, black emotional hole that I kept trying to stuff full of food, especially sweets, crisps and Angel Delight. (Angel Delight, for people not from the UK, was a sort of instant pudding mix that came in every disgusting chemically-induced flavour and colour known to man. There were at least 3,000 E-numbers in every serving.)
The only thing that stopped me getting really fat was the fact that I was exercising three hours a day, on average: I was on the school netball team; the school tennis team; the school rounders team. And if that wasn't enough, my Victorian-style school excelled in torturing its students with various forms of enforced exercise. Top of the list of my traumatic gym experiences include being forced to run 5 miles around the whole neighbourhood in a pair of dark blue PE knickers; and having to swim a mile in the school pool.
Point being, the huge amounts of exercise I was doing, voluntarily or otherwise, was off-setting the huge amounts of junk food I was eating. But then, my family moved country when I was 14, and the icecream addiction came with me, but the tennis didn't.
Within a very short time, I ballooned up in weight.
My food was making me fat
It took me two years to come out of denial and to start trying to get on top of my unhealthy eating habits. Once the penny dropped that the food I was eating really was making me fat, I entered the first of my fanatical food stages.
I went vegetarian, and also cut out every source of fat I could (this was back in the fat-free 90s). Diet yogurts became my staple, together with whole wheat pitas, tuna and fruit and veg. I also started biking a couple of hours a day, and playing basketball every chance I got.
I got really skinny.
But somewhere deep down inside, I knew it wasn't so healthy. Now, I think I was probably an exercise bulimic, as every time I felt 'fat', I'd get on my bike and do a 30km ride.
But then? I had no idea that I hadn't solved my food issues, I'd just re-packaged them. I got to university, and thus started my addiction to bagels, baked goods and step aerobics. Mmmmmm, cinnamon buns. Mmmmmmm, hot bagels with cream cheese. I could eat six in one go, and yet again, I was trying to compensate for my bad eating habits by spending hours at the gym.
When I started doing the 'grapevine' on the pavement when I was waiting for a bus, I knew it was getting out of hand. I also got really anaemic, so after 7 years of being vegetarian, I started eating meat again.
The first time I probably got even close to eating normally was after I got married. I started eating fruit and veg more regularly, but without going crazy, and cut out most of the junk.
That lasted a few years, until I hit the Candida diet stage. I'd been feeling really awful for months until I finally went to a natural healer who diagnosed Candida, and told me I had to cut out all yeast, sugar, potatoes and milk products for a month, to give my system a chance to recover.
I did it - and initially, I felt great! I felt so good, that I seriously started considering going sugar-free for good. Just one problem: I'd completely lost the ability to socialize around food. People stopped inviting us for meals, because my weird diet was so restrictive that oat biscuits and carrot sticks were about the only they could offer me.
So I came back to a more 'normal' diet, but switched over to whole wheat, brown sugar and olive oil.
Surely now, I'd fixed my food issues?
Apparently not. When I hit 36, I crashed physically, and the dietician I spoke to told me that I had to start eating a whole bunch more lettuce, and green things. That sparked off my green smoothie stage, where I blenderized everything that moved.
But it still wasn't enough.
Last year, I crashed again, and this time the naturopath I went to put me on a strict macrobiotic diet of cooked veg, cooked grains, no sugar and lots of soy. Once again, the first month I felt great!
But then, I started developing some really bizarre itching and swelling. I had no idea what was going on. But then I read an article about soy allergies, and realized the industrial amounts of miso and shoyu that I was sticking on my cooked kohlrabi was making me ill.
Emotions matter more than food
At that point, I finally got the message: food was important, but it wasn't the only thing that was going to make or break my health. My emotional state and happiness were probably even more important than eating my sprouted spelt bread and drinking my kale shakes.
That revelation completely transformed the way I thought about food. It got me off the 'fanatical food' track, and it got me started down the path of putting far more emphasis on connecting to God, and keeping my emotions healthy.
I still eat brown rice, and I still drink chocolate avocado smoothies. But I also eat my crisps and roast chicken guilt-free, because I finally got that being fanatical about food doesn't automatically equate to good health.
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