When nobody was looking?

I’d dig into the Easy-Bake Oven box and mix myself up some chocolate cake batter. This was usually in short supply, so my second choice was to make myself some homemade cinnamon apple crisp — only without the apples. I’d scoop butter and brown sugar into a bowl, add a teaspoon of cinnamon, mix it with a fork until it was nice and crumbly, and enjoy.

My daily comfort. My daily guilty pleasure.

Would you prefer to listen? Here’s the AUDIO

I was only 7 years old, but guilty pleasure describes my secret habit perfectly. At that age, I dealt with a lot of overwhelming emotions and sugar brought me comfort.

Except comfort was only part of the way it made me feel.

You see, I grew up faster than many. My parents broke the news of their marital separation to my two younger siblings and me when I was just 6. I still remember it like it was yesterday. That’s when I slipped off my carefree little girl shoes. Instead, I tried on the much larger shoes of a protector, caretaker, peacemaker, defender, confidant, and worrier. And guess what? None of them fit so well, but I wore them all.

I’m proud of all I did at such a young age. I felt needed and purposeful. But most of the time, I also felt incredibly lonely, and somewhat disconnected from friends. Their worries were just so different than mine. But sugar? Sugar made me feel good. It soothed my emotions, at least for a few minutes.

Before long, though, the comfort sugar provided would be replaced with something worse: a guilt hangover.

Guilt hangovers got me every time. Guilt, disgust, and confusion combined into the perfect storm for an adolescent girl forming her opinions of herself and her body.

With these complicated emotions and my family stress, I guess it’s not too surprising that I started adding a glass of my mom’s Riunite Lambrusco to my after-school snack while I watched my favorite soap opera. By fifth grade, this was a daily routine for me. But I didn’t want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, watching grown-up dramas. What I really wanted to do was go to dance lessons.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to dance. At the time my parents separated, my friends started to take dance classes. Money was tight because of the divorce. I wanted to save my parents from the stress of either saying no to me taking lessons, or finding the money. By the time we were more financially stable, I’d already planted my feet in a garden of insecurity and body-image issues and was mortified by the idea of my chubby body being seen in a leotard.

This insecurity held me back in school, too. My personal nightmare was gym class. I faked sick on gym days so many times that my Mom took me to see a counselor! And I’d still like to know who designed the Presidential Fitness Tests. Maybe some plies or down dogs could’ve been, and still should be, included in the battery of torturous tests so the less athletically-inclined don’t have to worry quite so much about being humiliated in front of their class?

Yes, I dreamed every single day of leaping gracefully across the dance floor. But I wanted nothing less than to have to run across the gymnasium floor, feeling like everyone’s eyes were on me. Never in a million years would I have guessed that the gym would become one of my favorite places!

I survived all those years of gym classes, and in 10th grade, I moved and started a new high school, and my body image issues solidified their hold on me. On my first day of school, all the students gathered in the gymnasium for an assembly. A sweet soul approached me and took me under her wing. She introduced me to another friend, and the three of us were attached at the hip for the next three years.

On the outside, we looked different. One of my girlfriends had long, straight blonde hair. One had short, curly, dirty blonde hair. And I was a big-haired (yes, I was an avid Aqua Net user) brunette. But on the inside, we were all struggling with body image issues.

When I met them, one friend was slowly recovering from anorexia. My other girlfriend had mastered the art of making it through the day on an extremely low amount of calories in an effort to maintain her skinny figure. Calorie restriction was new to me. I loved to eat. I come from a family of eaters. But my friends were so skinny. I wanted their figures. After all, it was the skinny girls who were considered the most beautiful, confident, and attractive to others — at least that’s the message I learned at that age. So, I gave it a shot.

I’d skip breakfast altogether. And lunch was easy. My friends weren’t eating anything, so temptation was a non-issue. But by the time I got home, my stomach literally felt like it was a mad lion growling and gnawing on itself for nourishment. I couldn’t get to the fridge fast enough to grab my one allotted Granny Smith apple. That was my food of choice. I’d heard they’d help keep me stay regular even when I wasn’t eating much, but I always ended up feeling even hungrier afterward. I’d allow myself to eat my only meal of the day at dinnertime. I really wanted to stuff my face, but I didn’t want to spoil my efforts or give my mom any reason to think things were any different than normal. It was my business and mine only.

After a few weeks, my body got used to not eating. It actually got easier for a little while, and the hunger pangs got less sharp. And I did see a difference in my weight. I liked that my stomach was getting flatter because after all, boys liked skinny girls.

But after a few months, it got more complicated. I felt so awful about myself when I ate more than I’d planned. And the more I let myself nibble here and there, the more I missed food. And I mean I MISSED food! I actually wondered what was wrong with me. How could my friends have such incredible willpower and not me? Why did they seem OK with their restricted diets when I was vividly daydreaming about chocolate-covered donuts and ice cream? It got to the point where I would feel nothing but anguish around food. One of my greatest loves became so tainted by negative emotions that I could no longer extract even an ounce of pleasure from it.

At a young age, I realized first-hand that restricted-calorie diets were unsustainable, and just reinforced my anxieties and shame around food.

Eventually, my cravings for food took over. But I so desperately wanted to get rid of the baby roll of fat under my belly button that I had to try something else. So I resorted to another strategy. Yep, I gave purging a try.

After a small handful of experiments, I realized purging was not an option for me.

One day, out of nowhere, something started to shift. I still remember this day like it was yesterday. I sat at the lunchroom table looking at my friends and became overwhelmed with confusion.

How could these two girls who were so beautiful inside and out feel so uncomfortable in their own skin? Why would they possibly want to do something so damaging to themselves both physically and emotionally when they were so special and so lovely just the way they were?

Later that evening, I stood in front of the mirror and looked at my reflection in a different light.

Rather than pick out my flaws, I saw my body as a precious gift that God gave me to fully experience my life.

That’s when I realized that the only person I should change my body for was me. If another person didn’t accept me because of my flaws, they shouldn’t be a part of my life.

This epiphany didn’t give me a reason to become complacent. It sparked my fire to take action. I considered how I sacrificed my dream of becoming a dancer to my body image issues and insecurities. I let fear determine my choices.

But I had the power to change.

The first step I took was to break the pattern I had of looking for external validation. Instead, I turned inward and listened. What arose was what I truly wanted.

  • I longed to be free of self-criticism and self-judgment.
  • I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin.
  • I wanted to feel grounded and confident.
  • I wanted to experience the joy that eating had once brought me – but without the guilt.
  • I wanted to feel physically and mentally stronger.
  • I wanted to be free of all the stress I’d created for myself around my body and my eating habits so I could finally feel happy on the inside.

Going inward and reflecting on how I wanted to feel on the inside sparked the momentum for my life-changing shift.

I had no athletic ability. And I’d gotten so far off track with my eating that I wasn’t even sure where to start to turn this into my reality. But I had the desire. And so I made a promise to myself.

That’s when my commitment to a living a lifestyle based on self-LOVE was born – and therefore my love for all things healthy.

If you, your children, or your teenagers struggle with your relationship to food, I’m here to support you. Click here to schedule a FREE 20-minute Empowered You! call.

Next week, I’ll share the next steps I took that lead to my big failure and my bigger rebound!

What about you? I’d love to hear if you’ve experienced similar struggles with food. Comment below or feel free to email or PM me. The more I know about your struggles, the better I can support you.