I remember the first time someone told me I needed to go on a diet. I was young, around 12 years old. Although I was an active child, I put on weight easily, a trait I still carry with me to this day. I had gone to the doctor for a routine checkup, and he made a remark to my mother that my weight was higher than it was supposed to be for a girl my age. My mother, who was overweight most of her life, felt ashamed for letting me get to that point. And so began years and years of chronic dieting, disordered eating, and plenty of self-doubt.
I tried every diet in the book, but no matter what I did, my weight still fluctuated. My Pinterest boards were filled with healthy recipes that promised to help me lose weight, and my bookshelves were lined with dieting cookbooks. I forced myself to eat bland meals that I didn't like. I was so focused on what I thought was healthy that I had fallen out of love with food, and in the meantime, I was only gaining more weight.
My final straw came a few months ago, when I went to see an internal medicine specialist. She told me that I needed to reduce my caloric intake to 1,200 calories per day and track everything I ate in a journal so that I could see where I needed to make changes. For some, this disciplined approach works, but for me, it was heartbreaking. I feared that I would be starving myself — and for what? Just to lose weight and run the risk of still not being content with my body?
Fed up with this vicious cycle of self-sabotage, I knew there had to be so much more to life than dieting. Then, I discovered a more mindful approach to eating — called intuitive eating — through a high school friend of mine, Maria Scrimenti, a certified counselor and coach who specializes in helping people recover from years of emotional eating and body dissatisfaction. I signed up for an eight-week program with her to learn more about it.
In the few weeks that I've worked with Maria, she has taught me so much about developing a positive relationship with food. She's explained that the process of eating more mindfully and intuitively is centered on self-trust. If we're constantly looking to the next diet or meal plan to teach us how to feed ourselves, we'll never learn to trust ourselves. I've come to realize that the more I've dieted, the more I've become disconnected from my body, including my hunger signals.
"Authentic health and true well-being come from a place of being in relationship with your body, not at war with it. In order to have a functional, positive, adaptive, and sustainable relationship with food, we have to be willing to acknowledge what the human body needs and listen to what our unique bodies want," Maria explained. "A beautiful relationship with food and body is one in which you remove deprivation and control and operate from a place of respectful self-care and holistic nourishment."
I'm finally learning to make peace with food, and in turn, I'm finding joy in nourishing my body.
On more than one occasion, Maria has noted that self-acceptance and growth are allowed to coexist. Lasting change is built on a foundation of acceptance and self-compassion. For so long, I've personally battled with my appearance. I would find myself yelling in the mirror out of frustration: "You lost weight before! Why can't you just do it again?"
Learning to accept that bodies come in diverse sizes and that there is nothing wrong with mine is helping me want to make choices that nourish my body. Whether I'm eating a salad or hamburger, I'm listening to my body and taking care of myself, instead of fighting against my wants and needs. My life is becoming more meaningful now that I'm not focusing my energy on things like what my next meal will be or whether drinking a protein shake because I'm still hungry will ruin my progress.
Now I can make decisions for myself, which is alarming but also exciting. The other night I made pasta for dinner, not as a cheat meal, but as an actual sustainable dinner. And you know what? I didn't feel bad about it. Am I completely at a point of self-acceptance? No, I'm not. But I'm finally learning to make peace with food, and in turn, I'm finding joy in nourishing my body. For that, I could not be prouder.