I tend to be obsessive compulsive by nature, and food has been no exception. I've stood on the edge of the cliff that is eating disorders (and a close family member jumped off that cliff into full blown anorexia, so I've had some experience). I'm in no way diminishing the horror of eating disorders; I know that horror all too well. For me, though, it's been more about rigidity; which is a form of control I suppose. I was fortunate that it never went beyond that, and this is my personal experience.
In my teens I tried some diets that were downright dangerous; 500 calories a day for weeks at a time. I counted those calories carefully. In my twenties I went the low fat route. I lost a lot of weight and I felt pretty good. I was, however, constantly figuring out fat percentages – nothing more than ten percent was my hard and fast rule. I was an avid exerciser during this time. I ran, which is something I've done on and off for many years. I love the runner's high. I did aerobic videos (that was a thing then). I didn't have children yet, so other than work, I had a lot of time to worry about my diet and exercise.
Ah, but life changes. In my thirties (well late twenties and thirties) my two children arrived. So did my discovery of Weightwatcher's. Yay! They had a points program for breastfeeding women. I religiously counted my points and exercised maniacally so I could earn more points and have a bit more food. Do you see a pattern here?
Enter my forties. I became single again after almost twenty years. I ran almost daily and ate carefully. I skipped meals, I started working a physically difficult job that kept me trim. I was, as usual, always checking my food intake, and my exercise; weighing myself most mornings and making sure I was keeping things in check. More recently, I discovered intermittent fasting. More things to obsess about! I wouldn't eat until two in the afternoon. Not two minutes to two. Two o'clock. Period. No exceptions.
I had an epiphany some time ago. This way of life is exhausting. It never stops. The counting, the looking at the clock, the waiting for the next food point, or the next minute, or the next diet fad. I realized that one thing has stayed the same through all of those years. I was vegetarian for most of them, and vegan more recently, and with the exception of one or two very brief lapses, this has always been the constant in my life; the thing I never wavered from for more than a moment or two. This is the thing that made me STOP looking at myself, and my scale and caring what people thought. This is the thing that made me look outside myself. The last year has been huge for me. I had some time away from work and therefore some time to think about what's important; some self discovery. I spent a lot of time hiking in the woods with my dog, meditating and reading. Lots of reading.
I realized what an incredible waste of my time and energy my food obsessions have been. Looking back, I see that wanting to help the animals was the only constant in my “food” life, the only thing that really mattered. Light bulb! It has been freeing to realize how unimportant all that other stuff is in the big picture of what matters. It is wonderful to put my focus where it belongs and to have come through all of that realizing that it was there all along; I just had to find it. The doubt, and the insecurity, and the inability to express myself – all those things that made me a slave to such rigid behaviour – they haven't gone away, but rather, I've morphed my food obsession into educating myself and making good (and right) choices for myself and for the animals. I've realized that this is all so much bigger than me and I have a lot to do besides wonder if it's two o'clock yet.
That's power. The knowledge that I'm doing something important, something for the animals, the planet, the environment; that give me more self confidence and more self worth than I ever thought possible. I feel, as if at last, I am who I was supposed to be. It's been a long and painful journey, but it got me to this moment and I'm so grateful for that.