Talk to any good nutritionist, health coach, or weight loss expert and they will likely all tell you the same thing; your "food problem," has nothing to do with food. Throughout my years of struggling with an eating disorder, the same thoughts presented themselves over and over again:
"If I can just lose weight, my eating disorder will go away."
"If I could just find a diet that worked, my food would not be a problem."
It wasn't until recently, that I discovered why, even though I often came close, I could never, ever recover by just addressing my "food problem." Turns out, it wasn't even about my body image. It all came down to connection and support. The one thing that I believe created and healed my eating disorder.
Credit Caroline Winn
In order to understand my theory, I have to take you back to the very beginning; when Jenny Craig bars took over my lunchbox in sixth grade. As a chubby kid growing up, I was always happy, easygoing and surrounded by friends. That was until middle school, when that all changed. I started to become more aware of my body.
I wasn't quite as thin as my friends were. None of the "cool" boys liked me. I couldn't eat whatever I wanted like my sister. I couldn't shop in the popular stores like everyone else. During this time I started to disconnect a bit from my well-liked peers and started to discover the vast world of dieting.
During high school, after tons of failed diets, and attempts at weight loss, I finally started to figure things out. Weight fell off of me and I finally started to "get skinny" -- hooray! One would think this was all I needed to be social and have the life of my dreams, but boy was I wrong.
I spent hours planning my food every week. I started to track and count every calorie I consumed. I skipped nights out with friends in order to stay in and eat my allotted meal. I had the body I longed for and yet my personality never felt smaller. I was miserable. At that point, I had hardly any friends left.
My eating, food, and weight took over. I headed off to college, excited to make new friends, seeing as most of my connections and friendships from home were lost. But like clockwork, my fear of gaining weight again took over. I ate in the dining hall a total of 5 times my freshman year. The first fight I ever got in with my new group of friends was because they were worried that I never ate.
Finally I had friends and people who cared about me and here I was pushing them away because of my eating disorder.
Then I met Christina. This was the first time, I found someone who understood what I was going through. She understood the anxiety and stresses that food and my weight caused me. She saw me cry and agonize over my body and my eating disorder and, it actually felt pretty good to share it with her.
I truly believe this was where my story changed. This was when I realized I wasn't alone. Someone got me. Someone had been where I had been and wasn't any more. I felt a connection I had never had before.
Fast forward a couple years, as I struggled to recover from my eating disorder and not eating, I sprung in the other direction. Where I once had total control over my food, I now felt like I had none. I was hungry all the time and couldn't make it through a week on a diet. My weight started to rise and my body insecurities came flooding back. I felt so ashamed that I couldn't get it together. I didn't want anyone to know why I was struggling.
Suddenly I felt like the 11 year old me again; the girl who didn't want anyone to see me eating because I felt like I didn't deserve to. I was terrified to know what people thought of me, and convinced no one liked me.
I worked with therapists, coaches, and nutritionists, anyone who promised they could heal me. But nothing worked. Never good enough, never fit enough, never thin enough, I told myself over and over again. I buried myself in the only thing I knew more than anyone about: nutrition.
Credit Caroline Winn
After years of struggling with my nutrition business, I came across a new opportunity to grow my business. I was invited to a company where all I had to do was post on Facebook. Sounded great, but let's be real, my lack of confidence meant pictures and I did not get along. I decided I had to at least give the opportunity a shot (after turning it down several times) and begrudgingly started to post on Facebook.
A couple months passed and this same opportunity meant I had to take place in a Facebook "challenge group" of sorts. I loved supporting others, but being asked to post a workout picture still felt like a death sentence to me. No way it was going to be of me; I'd show them my sneakers. But then I started to get more and more support. People were complimenting me, supporting me. Did they actually like me?
As I got more comfortable, I started posting more and more. I even built up the courage to share a transformation picture on Facebook after I had lost some weight. To my surprise, no one was mean, no one hated me, I actually had a bunch of people tell me they could relate.
Relate to me?
Connect with me?
I continued posting in my challenge groups, continued to feel a part of something. I continued to share my story and I realized what I was lacking all these years. Human connection.
I am always going to be a work in progress but I think we all are. I am happy to say my eating disorder thoughts are almost gone. I am eating to fuel my body and not to lose weight and am starting to realize that if someone doesn't like me solely for the way I look, I probably don't want to be friends with them anyway
And guess what. That is my transformation. My transformation has nothing to do with the scale. My transformation has to do with connection. I am connected to myself now. I know how to connect and support others. And now I'm so excited to share my story with other people. To help other people connect and not feel so alone.
So next time you find yourself questioning whether people will understand you, people will like you, or people will support you, reach out... because chances are the person beside you is worrying about the exact same thing.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.