My battle with diet culture + 3 recovery steps

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3 minute read

I was at war with myself and I didn't even know it.

At my fittest, I was super strong, trained 1 hour a day, 5-6 days a week.

My personal best was 34 chest-to-floor push-ups, 165 lbs (75 kgs) below the knees, 1-rep back squat and my proudest achievement: 10 perfectly executed tricep dips on the parallel bars.

This took me a lot of heart-pumping, heavy lifting, limit-pushing, and mind-manipulating tactics to achieve in the 5 years I trained like this.

I was OBSESSED with obstacle races. I did a half marathon, a 12-mile, (19km) Tough Mudder and a 14-mile (22km) Spartan Beast race and loved every single mud soaked, adrenaline gushing, glorious moment! (see PHOTO below)

I was so proud of my meal planning, and workout ethics that I didn't realize the damage I did to my self.

Food was viewed as fuel but mainly as the enemy.

If I had a cheat meal or ate something that was considered "bad food," I would thoroughly enjoy everything I put in my mouth for a couple seconds, only for the experience to be followed by guilt and shame.

I'd then worked extra hard at the gym to burn it off or I would be extremely disciplined with my diet during the week.

 Tough Mudder 2012 (rep Greece of course!)

Tough Mudder 2012 (rep Greece of course!)

I also criticized anyone that wouldn’t work out or eat restrictively, thinking that they lacked the discipline I so diligently possessed and wondered why they didn’t make their health a top priority, as I did.

Judgment at its finest right there.

Guilt and the shame were considered normal. And each time I looked in the mirror, I ALWAYS found a flaw. I was ashamed of my body. It affected the way I dressed (I always wanted to cover up), and it changed how I felt about myself, I had low self-esteem and low self-confidence.

It didn't matter that I was solid strong, powerful or a size small.

I always had extra bra fat I could pinch and cellulite on my glutes I needed to cover up. I was even too embarrassed to be in my bikini during the summer.

I never felt like I was enough.

Have you ever felt this way?

This dysfunctional relationship with body and food, what we now call disordered eating, is a product part of "diet culture" that haunts so many of us.

I was able to recover from this after a year of re-programming my mind and body to have a healthy relationship with food and overall well-being.

It took a lot of self-compassion, acceptance and love for myself to get there.

In order to understand this better I interviewed an expert on the subject.

Anna-Maria Ioannou is a Registered Dietitian with a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Clinical Dietetics in Cyprus.

She comes from a long history of eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship with food. She spent most of her life trying or wishing to be thinner, fearing food, worrying about her diet and restricting her food intake.

She explains what diet culture is and how intuitive eating saved her (and her clients) from spending the rest of her life in “diet prison.”

You won’t find a scale in her office. And I totally applaud her for that.

ILIG: WHAT IS DIET CULTURE?

A-M: It is a culture that is based on the belief that we need to make our bodies smaller to achieve optimal 'health'. But at the same time values weight, shape, and size over health and well-being.

Some characteristics of diet culture:

  • Worships being thin

  • Celebrates weight loss

  • “Demonizes” certain ways of eating while praising others

  • Associates beauty with a certain body size or shape

  • Deems body fat or being fat a sign of weakness or failure

  • Measures health based on our weight

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"Diet culture has become extremely harmful because it’s causing us to have an unhealthy relationship with food which is always accompanied by stress, shame, guilt, and fear.”

-Anna-Maria Ioannou

We also experience weight discrimination, a lower self-esteem and are more likely to develop eating disorders.

This is where intuitive eating comes in.

ILIG: WHAT IS INTUITIVE EATING?

A-M: It’s a way of eating that allows you to nourish your body in a non-restrictive way.

The theory behind it is that each person has it’s own genetic blueprint that determines his/her ideal body weight.  By learning to listen to your body- honor your hunger and respect your fullness, enjoying food, quit dieting and respecting your body then an ideal body weight can be reached and maintained with ease.

 

ILIG: What are some practical ways people can start having a better relationship with food right now?

A-M:

  1. Stop dieting and accepting your body as it is, no matter what weight, no matter what shape.

  2. Start nourishing your body. Start eating anything and everything you want. At this point, I usually recommend 3 meals and 3 snacks about 3 hours apart.

  3. Start noticing the feedback your body is giving you. Are you hungry? Are you full? How are your energy levels?

At the same time, you should be noticing and trying to change any unhelpful thoughts such as ‘ X food is bad’ ‘I shouldn’t eat that’ ‘I need to lose X kgs’. 

When you allow yourself to eat without any strict rules then food will slowly stop being an enemy.

This is the first step is building a trusting relationship with your body.

Once you start trusting your body (and your body starts trusting that you will no longer deprive it of food), you will be able to listen to what your body is asking for. This is a process that requires some time, practice and patience.

 

Anna-Maria finds that the most rewarding part of her job is helping people develop a healthy relationship with food and their body. Most people she works with have a long history of dieting, have developed a fear around food and constantly stress about their diet. This is usually combined with a negative body image, which prevents them from living a fulfilling life. Through their work together, her clients can break free from such restrictive living patterns and start living a life that doesn’t revolve exclusively around food and their body.

 

You can read her story:

https://www.amioannou.com/blog/my-journey-to-becoming-a-non-diet-dietitian

Find her:

https://www.facebook.com/AMnutritionist/

IG: @amioannourd

www.amioannou.com

 

Want to share your experience with diet culture or disordered eating? Feel free to contact me dena@inspiredlifeingreece.com. Your story will remain confidential.