Coming Back Home: Food, Fears, and Finding Yourself
March 5th, 2014
I’ve found what I want to do with my life. What I want to be when I grow up. I’ve always had an idea and I was headed in the right direction but the last couple months have been filled with a few lifestyle changes that have put me on the yellow brick road to personal happiness and fulfillment. What is my dream? Well since you asked…
I want to inspire and motivate people to live their best lives ever- focusing first and foremost on developing a healthy relationship with food. Food addiction, constant dieting, eating disorders, obesity, emotional eating, body image struggles… all of it. I’ve been there and while it still takes daily work to maintain, I have found the answers that I spent so many years looking for. And I want to share them. Through blogging, videos, books, public speaking, comedy, media, photos, the fashion industry, by interviewing others and hearing their stories, and through any other platform that helps build a connection and create positive change.
Over the last decade or so, I have suffered immensely in regards to my relationship with food. I still define the last 15 years by the different stages of food struggles I endured. I’m working on that. It has been my comfort, my therapist, my loving connection, and my greatest enemy.
I grew up on McDonalds and other fast foods, ultimately feeding my young brain and body with chemicals rather than the nutrients I needed to fully thrive. We were busy kids and my parents were doing their best to get my brothers and me all over town to our various sports and activities. Not many people were educated on what was going into those quick “meals”. My poor nutrition led me to gain weight which led me to feeling different and being bullied for being the “big girl”. Which led me to seek comfort… which I found in food. I’ll never forget the time when a car full of boys yelled out the window “Go back to the beach whale”. I felt ugly and undesirable which created extreme body image issues. Instead of focusing on what I could do with my innate talents like writing, performing, and inspiring people, I decided it was more important to prove people wrong. To show them I was more than a “whale”.
(My bedroom walls during high school- floor to ceiling photos of models)
My goals shifted from owning a zoo and having my own talk show, to being a model. The skinny, emaciated kind. After all, I had “such a pretty face”. I learned to diet and lost 45lbs doing Atkins in high school. And low and behold- I won homecoming queen. I made varsity cheerleading. Guys loved me. But when the weight started coming back on, I had to find other ways of staying skinny.
When I was sad or stressed or insecure or lonely, I binge ate thousands of extra calories a day. And then I threw them up. Seven, ten, twelve times a day. I had a special blue toothbrush hidden away for this very event. I wouldn’t weigh myself with even a bobby pin in my hair in fear that it would tip the scale unfavorably. Four root canals later I knew I had to shift my process. Enter drugs and alcohol.
I drove to dangerous neighborhoods to buy hard drugs that I had heard were appetite suppressants. I was desperate to keep the weight off and spent thousands of dollars on my new “hobby”. Something finally told me I was too valuable to go down that path and I managed to ditch the drugs. The illegal ones at least. I realize now that food can be more of a drug than the hard stuff. But each time I decided I was better than some disorder or temptation, I unknowingly moved on to something else.
Alcohol gave me an escape like binge eating did. It numbed me and for those drunken moments I didn’t have to feel so much. And when I was drunk and able to let go a little bit, I ate even more. I spent years and all of my energy caught in the diet/binge cycle- turning to food for love, affection, comfort. My life was defined by two things… the times I was in control, and the times I was out of it. Do you know how exhausting it is to think about food, calories, and your body image for every waking moment of your day? I have a feeling a lot of you do. I was robbing the world and most importantly myself of all the amazing things I had to offer.
I’d finally had enough. Enough weight watchers weigh-ins, enough writing my goal weight in my planner, enough shoveling food into my body unconsciously while no one was looking. Enough of not feeling like enough. That little voice in my head that told me I was better than all this popped up in the time of crisis like it had done a couple times before. And so I made a promise to myself.
I quit dieting once and for all. I didn’t talk about diets or negatively about my body and my friends weren’t allowed to either. I saw THIS BOOK on Oprah and I read it. It changed my life. Somebody was finally speaking my language. I wasn’t alone. I started sharing with close friends. Not only was I not alone, I was actually one of many. Why didn’t anybody talk about this?
Little by little I started loving myself and my body more and more. In the mornings I’d wake up and rather than thinking about losing weight and how flat my stomach looked, I was focusing on growing as a person, finding the things that made me happy, discovering new passions that had been buried under my weight consumed brain for so long. And when I finally found a bit of peace with my body, guess what happened? I became a model.
I was running an errand at Bank of America and was approached by an agency and asked if I had considered plus size modeling. I did some research to make sure they weren’t murderers and eventually signed with them. My career took off quickly and I added agencies in New York, London, and Germany to my roster. I was living my dream in a way that didn’t require me to hurt myself. Turns out that whole “be careful what you wish for” thing is legit.
During the last few years while I’ve been working as a full time model, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’m a little ashamed that it took the industry to tell me that I was “good enough” but for me that was what I needed. Modeling gave me the opportunity to travel, meet all sorts of interesting people, and to work on my confidence- but most importantly, it has awarded me a lifestyle that allows me the time, means, and financial freedom to chase my other passions.
And for a while I thought this was the end of my story. Coming full circle, living my dream, finding contentment. But I was still seeking comfort in food and often alcohol. I had come a really long way but I still felt somewhat consumed. I wanted to feel my best- to live at my most optimal level. And in the last few months something shifted. My contentment turned into drive. I stepped back and looked at my life from the outside. I took into account the dreams that I still wanted to pursue and picked out certain things that were holding me back. I was fine with my body and was learning to love it but I knew I wasn’t living to my potential. I wanted to feel vibrant and alive and full of energy. I wanted to function at my highest level possible. I wanted to be my best self ever. And if I’ve learned anything, it is that the most significant change happens outside your comfort zone. If I wanted different results, I’d need to take different actions.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
As it turns out, I was most certainly insane. I committed to making 2014 the year of being my best self ever- and to be a person that keeps my commitments. I spoke to a health coach friend and got inspired, followed a clean eating program called the Whole30, cut out alcohol and any processed foods like dairy, grains, added sugars, legumes, and more. I educated myself. I started from square one and lived by the Whole30’s motto that “food either makes you more healthy or less healthy… there is no in between”. I committed to being active for 45 mins every day- incorporating yoga almost daily, running, strength training, long walks with my dog, and little things like taking the stairs and carrying my groceries home. I stopped eating out almost entirely and started hosting healthy dinner parties and tea dates (it turns out that a lot of people like these sort of get-togethers even more than the drunken bar ones!). I still went out to the bars occasionally and sipped soda waters with lime and danced until 3am- I’m pretty good at faking drunk after all these years of practicing the real thing. I focused on getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night. I took baths, wore cute lingerie to bed for myself, read TONS of books (which I’ll share in the future), took pride in the cleanliness of my apartment, burnt all the nice candles down to the glass, and cooked myself elaborate healthy dinners better than most restaurants I’d been to. I realized that every moment of life is a special occasion and it was time I started living it that way.
To wake up every single morning and know that you are a better version of yourself than you were the day before is a feeling that is hard to put into words. A month passed and I had no intention of going back to my old ways. Instead, I was so impressed with my ability to change my life in a month’s time, that I created a little game for myself called ‘The 12 Months of Greatness’ in which I commit to a new challenge, outside my comfort zone, every single month, while keeping all the challenges from the prior months. In a year’s time I would have 12 new habits. If that doesn’t scream “Best Self Ever”, I don’t know what does.
For the first time in my adult life, I can say that I am truly coming to peace with food. I still struggle with turning to food for comfort but I feel completely in control of what I choose to put in my body, yet not obsessive or consumed by rules and strategies and guidelines. The key to making lasting change is to be compassionately strict with yourself. Push yourself- but when you make a mistake, which you will, rather than beat yourself up for what you did wrong, instead look at how much you did right.
I had no idea that through changing my relationship with food and what I chose to fuel my body with, I would so immensely change my entire life. I am cleaner, more confident, more productive, more vibrant, have more energy, more optimistic, more active, more balanced, calmer, less judgmental, more centered, present, and most importantly happier. I can’t tell you how many times I start dancing around my apartment alone for no good reason other than to express my joy. I still have a lot to work on but that is why life is a journey.
At the forefront of it all, I’ve learned to trust and listen to my body again. I’d been so detached from it for so many years, it is nice to be home again. And in trusting it I’ve learned that it has had a lot to tell me. It told me that I’ve found something that works for me. I’ve found the answers that I’ve been looking for all along. It told me that I get joy out of sharing with others- being able to inspire those with similar struggles, telling my story, helping people find the answers that will lead them home too. It told me- clearer than it has every told me anything before- that this is my message. This is what I am here on this earth to do. And what better way to be my best self ever than to inspire you to be yours?
I challenge you to take a step back and look at where you are. If you are not where you want to be then have the courage to change something. Make it realistic but push outside of your comfort zone. Recognize that your personal happiness is a direct result of only one thing- YOU. So trust yourself- your body, your dreams, your passions. I promise they won’t steer you wrong. Commit to waking up every day as a better version of yourself.
Because when you truly love yourself wholeheartedly, and you recognize how valuable you are- you will take the necessary steps to take care of yourself. And when you can do this, I can promise you with every part of my being, that every other piece will fall perfectly into place.
With compassion, love, gratitude, and so much more,