My food and weight issues began very early. I was diagnosed with Childhood Obesity and Food Addiction at 18 months of age. Although my parents tried to remedy the situation as soon as they realised, for which I am grateful, the course of my life was changed and was affected forever.
When something is not familiar, people tend to reject it, and that’s what happened to me. Childhood Obesity was not very common when I was a child, and as a result I was stared at, taunted, and teased – both by children and adults.
School was filled with harsh life lessons. Kindergarten and my first year at school were the most difficult. I cried every day as I was severely bullied. The bullying caused me to suffer from low self-esteem, confidence, and body-image. I was a shy child and the bullying made me afraid to interact with peers, or other children I did not know, then I developed Social Anxiety.
It didn’t help that I was not blessed with coordination, musical or sporting ability. I was always picked last for most physical or sporting activities. This continued to feed my lack of self-esteem and confidence. The only thing that I was good at was academics, so I suppose, being a little nerd was the only thing that gave me confidence and boosted my esteem. Unlike many people, I was lucky as my bullying ceased, thanks to one very brave little girl named Rachael. She stood up to the bullies for me and helped me with increasing my self-esteem and confidence over time. She didn’t see my weight, she saw a vulnerable girl who needed help and she came to my rescue! She became both my warrior against the bullies and best friend.
By the end of primary school, I was in a normal weight range and had lots of friends. However, the effects of Childhood Obesity and bullying remained with me; and did so all the way into my adult life. I always saw myself larger than I was; I was constantly comparing myself to others, and I always felt as though I was not good enough in everything I did!
My poor parents tried so hard to help me find an activity that I both enjoyed and was good at – little athletics, swimming, tennis, ballet, jazz, basketball and the list goes on and on! Alas, my lack of coordination, musical and physical prowess left me still feeling as though I was just not good at anything! Finally, at the age of 16, I discovered something I both LOVED and excelled at: Latin Ballroom Dancing. My passion for it fuelled my drive all the way to state and national competitions and propelled a successful Amateur, Professional and teaching career.
At the age of 23, my life plummeted into a spiral of compounded grief. I had 3 major losses within 3 months and this threw my entire life into chaos!
Everything that was once steady ground under my feet was gone and all that was left with a constant landslide. Every step I took was on unsteady ground; not knowing when or if the next step would lead to another landslide. There was nothing to hang on to and darkness was encompassing me.
I had to find something that gave me some sense of steadiness and stability, something that I could hold on to and control even when my world was still in chaos. I finally found that the only certainty and control I could have was over food, sports training and exercise. In the beginning, it provided solid ground and balance for survival! As time went on, the desire to control intensified. What I was not aware of, at the time, was that I feared feeling and emotional pain and this unconscious fear became my driving force for more control – I was running away and trying to hide from my grief and loss. The drive spiralled me down into the psychological and physical tormenting web of Anorexia. I didn’t even know it! People were telling me that I was losing too much weight and they were worried about me but I was so disconnected from myself, reality and the world around me that I didn’t really hear them or even care. I had gone from 47kg to 41kg. It caused so many arguments between my parents and me. I feel so sorry for my parents for what I put them through and particularly my mum. They had just lost one daughter and they were watching their other daughter self-destruct in front of them. They were trying to deal with their own grief and loss and I was adding more stress, at a time when they didn’t need anymore. Every time they tried to talk to me about it, I threw back a torrent of anger and fury. Reflecting back, this makes me so sad that I did this to them, and mainly my mum, as she was the one who mainly broached the subject with me.
My turning point was after a friend hen’s party, when she was showing us the photos. During this time, I would refuse to get my photo taken. Looking through the photos, I caught a glimpse of someone in the background and was horrified to see how ghastly sick they looked. I kept staring and then I asked, ‘who is that?’ I wasn’t expecting the answer – she said, ‘that is you!’ I went into shock and disbelief. I had been so disconnected from myself and reality that this threw me, and I didn’t know how to process the situation – REALITY!
Again, I felt as though the ground was slipping out from under me. I could not believe what I looked like, or who I had become. Part of me wanted to not look like that or be that and yet the other parts of me DID NOT WANT to connect to reality. Reality meant opening up the flood gates to feeling and emotional pain. When I say parts of me, I mean parts – at any one time, I had a minimum of 3 different voices, and sometimes many more. This was NOT Schizophrenia or another mental health disorder. The multiple voices were the tormenting web of Anorexia. Everyone has conversations with themselves however, what determines if you hear or listen to the conversations include:
a) how aware of it you are, and
b) how much you are in conflict with yourself and/or a particular situation or decision.
To explain this concept, some people say they have a devil and angel – one that tries to lead them astray and one that keeps them on the straight and narrow. During this time, the voices were more in conflict than ever before. Each and every voice wanted a say; some were more aggressive, dominant and louder than others, and everyone wanted their own way. This was probably the most mentally exhausting time as the voices never let me rest. I made a deal! It took some time but I did start eating again. I found new processes and behaviours to appease most of the voices.
The problem with my recovery is that I never sought help for the Eating Disorder, only the grief. The compromise was Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder followed that. This is when I think my life became even more consumed by food, exercise, the scales, calories, body hatred, shame, Depression and more! My entire world, how I felt and what I did, was all determined by my food, the amount I exercised and that damn number on the scales!
By my late 20s I had tried countless:
To lose weight, find happiness and body perfection! Surprisingly, nothing truly worked! I was on the cycle of yo-yo dieting! A few months here, a few weeks there and then it became all too hard and exhausting. I couldn’t maintain the level of perfection, willpower, or self-control and would have a binge! Then the voices of self-abuse or the internal bullies would kick in. I would follow one of two paths:
This internal conflict and turmoil continued for years. One of the hardest things was that no one knew my ‘dirty little secret’ – I never discussed it with friends, family or my boyfriend.
I just felt like I was getting on top of my food and weight issues, and feeling normal when I protruded 2 discs in my back – and my life was thrown into chaos all over again. I could not exercise, perform, teach dance, and work – even sit and walk at times. This triggered Depression, and before I knew it I once again I turned to food to help me to cope with the pain, grief and loss, feelings of being alone and isolated. I went from a size 8 to a size 14, and my life again was controlled by food and weight!
Slowly, I began to get my life back on track and my reliance on food reduced. I did continue to yo-yo throughout my early 30s and my weight kept getting higher and higher each time.
At the age of 35, I hit one of my lowest point with tearing both of my Achilles tendons. Walking was hell! My stress, pain and Depression hit an all-time high and I turned to my old friend, food, to comfort me! I soon found myself, the heaviest and largest I had ever been. I was stuffing myself into a size 18. I don’t even know how much I really weighed because I got so depressed when I hit 82kg that I stopped weighing (for some that may not sound heavy but I am a tiny frame). I was now classified as Obese! My life had come full circle! I felt like an addict; I was completely and absolutely controlled, consumed, trapped and imprisoned by food. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, I didn’t realise it was Food Addiction. But I had completely isolated myself from everyone as I was so depressed, in so much pain and I was so ashamed of myself and my weight!
I was sitting in my lounge room one day, doing my typical bingeing process, when it was like a bolt of lightning hit me! The sudden flash came from nowhere, stopping me in my tracks, and I was brought to tears with both realisation and understanding! I finally had an answer! I WAS A FOOD ADDICT! This was the missing piece of the puzzle for me that underpinned by entire history with food, eating and weight. For the first time in my life, I knew things were going to be different and that I was going to stop this cycle for good. I had the light at the end of the tunnel and I could see it and feel it!
I began researching like a crazy woman! I got my hands on anything and everything related to:
The moment that I put together my entire food and weight timeline (Obesity, Food Addiction, Anorexia, Bulimia, BED, yo-yo dieting, Night-time Eating) with all of the aspects of addiction, was the moment my true recovery began.
I realised that it was just one factor that contributed and maintained my food and weight issues, it was the complete puzzle of:
I developed a program that integrated all of the factors, for myself, and I naturally started breaking my addiction and losing weight without effort. Within 6 months, I had lost 20kg and most of my Disordered Eating Behaviours and Food Addiction. It was the easiest thing I had ever done!
One of the most significant things that I did was to tear up and throw out the old ‘rule book’ that had kept me trapped for decades! I stopped listening to the negative messages that had been stated to me over and over again by my ‘bullying’ voices. I started questioning the messages and countering them with new messages that supported the journey I was on, the person I wanted to be and the life I wanted to live.
I completely changed the philosophies by which I lived my life! This was the most empowering gift I gave myself throughout the journey! For the first time, in my life, I had a positive relationship with food, my weight, my body, and myself. This enabled me to make informed choices for health and living life. I developed a true connection and relationship with myself that included:
This allowed me to continue to lose more weight and all of my Addiction and within 12 months I had lost 30kg.
I have maintained a stable weight since 2010 which is the first time in my life. I have not returned to Disordered Eating or Addiction, as I know how to manage it and make choices to support a life without these patterns. I now know what triggers my Addiction. I can have these things, if I want, but now I have a choice and I know what the potential consequences are. I still have moments of cravings, but it is easily controlled and dampened now, with healthy replacement foods. Identifying my foods, understanding Addiction, creating a healthy enjoyment for food (instead of fearing it or needing to have it), and feeling good about myself, have all enabled me to ‘restyle’ my life and be happy within myself.
I now combine my personal journey with professional knowledge, and the latest research, to help others conquer their issues. There is nothing better than finally breaking free of the roller coaster and finding enjoyment, happiness, confidence, and the ability to live life the way you really want to.