08/03/2014 11:52 am ET Updated Oct 03, 2014

There Are No 'Food Winners'

Hi, my name is Karen, and I'm a gluten-free, sugar-free, no processed food, no caffeine, vitamin-popping vegan.

I used to introduce myself in much this way whenever the topic of food came up. I wore what I didn't eat like a badge of honor. As a certified health coach, I felt like it was important to "walk the talk" and make sure that I was taking exceptional care of myself; but like every other thing in life, you can take even good things too far!

I have struggled with binge eating for many years. The situation became really out of control following my divorce. I was living alone for the first time in many years and there was no one there to "police" what I was eating.

I would frequently sit on my couch and down a pint of ice cream and an entire box of cookies while watching shows like The Biggest Loser. I never ate a proper dinner; I would just come home from work and pick at stuff in my fridge from the time I walked in the door until the time I went to bed -- I was miserable.

When I finally got the wake-up call I needed (a scare with my heart) I cleaned up my act and started eating clean, cutting out the junk, drinking nothing but water and herbal tea, and cutting down my portion sizes. I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. But at some point, the healthy eating became an obsession; basically, my new lifestyle was healthy -- until it wasn't.

I realize that I am an "all or nothing" person. When I do something, I am "all in" on it. I don't just cut out some junk food and up my water intake; I throw away everything in my kitchen and obsess about every single thing I put in my mouth.

But the interesting thing was not just the obsessive nature of my healthy eating, it was the way I bragged about it. I almost wanted people to bring up food so I could tell everyone how healthy I was because of all the things I didn't partake in. In trying to be a healthy role model for my family, my friends, and my clients, I was actually becoming unhealthy and frankly, probably annoying to those around me.

Somewhere along the way, I came to the realization that what you eat or don't eat is not a contest. There are no "food winners." No one gets a medal at the end of the day because they didn't eat any candy; no one gets a trophy because they walked away from a piece of cake; it just doesn't work that way.

Today, I'm still healthy and I still watch what I eat, but I'm so much happier than I've been in the past. I still follow a mostly vegan diet; not for health reasons, but for moral reasons (I can't imagine eating an animal).

But I've gone back to drinking my beloved cup of coffee in the morning (with raw coconut sugar) and I stop beating myself up when I have an occasional treat. I realized that if I ate a little chocolate, no one would really care! The "food police" would not break down my door and arrest me, and my clients wouldn't fire me because I had a cookie.

Eating healthy and taking care of myself is something that I do completely and 100 percent for me now; it's not about anyone else. Taking care of yourself is important, and what you eat is extremely important, just remember to eat well for yourself.

It's not a contest and it's not a competition, and there really are no "food winners." Do it for yourself; that's when the real winning happens.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.