As a lil gal I don’t remember a time I didn’t have options to eat a wide variety of foods. I think back to stories my parents filled me in on – the ones where I was about 3 years old and the babysitter received instructions that if I ever got too upset she should just give me some asparagus and I would be happy again. Looking back, even I am perplexed with this seemingly odd child. But then again, if more children were given unlimited permission to eat all types of food, their comfort food when mom & dad are gone might be a vegetable as well.
This veggie-lovin trend continued as I was growing up. Olive Garden was always the restaurant I chose for my birthday lunch during elementary school, equally for the unlimited salad and the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. YUM. During this time though, I started to become observant of the women in my life, of the SlimFast in refrigerators when I would go play at different friends’ houses, of the poking and prodding and sucking in and toning. It was confusing, but it was laying a foundation I would later have to chip away at.
As I made my way into the oh so manageable (yeah right) world of junior high my relationship with food began to change. Backing up a little bit, it’s important to keep in mind I was born into a very tall, very slender-bodied family. I’ll never forget the day a boy sitting behind me in English class in 7th grade called me Annie. Now, I wasn’t great friends with him but we had worked in groups together and were in many of the same classes. I asked why he hadn’t called me Lauren, “Don’t you know my name by now?” I was embarrassed and ashamed when he said, “Yeah but you know… Annie… like anorexic.”
What did this word really mean? I thought it was “bad skinny” but didn’t know much more about it at the time. So, I would need to change from being “bad skinny” or at least prove to people that I ate. And so,
This transition period in my life included moving schools, changes at home, and the usual teenage drama. Amongst all the transitions, food was a constant. Food was comfortable. Food could make everything better. And food could be eaten in excess to a point of feeling numb both physically and emotionally. So, food became my solution.
It wasn’t until high school and a well-meaning comment from a great aunt that I started to question the amount of food I would eat regularly. “You’re not so skin and bones anymore.” And so began my first dip into the diet culture pool.
When I arrived at college I was welcomed into a sisterhood. Turns out, talking about how much you dislike parts of your body and how many calories you logged in an app is a great way to bond. I bonded. I learned to build a giant and boring salad, ask for plain grilled chicken from the burger station, make microwaved egg whites and broccoli almost palatable with enough salsa, and substitute most of the foods I liked with lower calorie, trendier alternatives. But I was also majoring in biology and learning about how micronutrients work in the body. I was hooked. Nutrition was cool. And maybe, just maybe, there was more to food than calories. I decided in a four-month period during senior year that I liked this whole food thing and was accepted into a graduate program. THIS is what I would do with my life.
Grad school was every level of intimidating and confusing. I was surrounded by other individuals that understood food, how to manipulate it for a desired result, and were really heckin’ smart. I’m beyond thankful for the family that was created during this experience. My classmates meant more to me than a study group, and still do. Together we learned how food can help to manage a variety of disease states. We learned how a dietitian can be a crucial member in an athletics department to maximize performance. And we learned about the deadliest of mental illnesses – eating disorders. No matter how much information I consumed on how to utilize food as a tool, the relationship we have with food and the psychology of our food desires and choices was always of interest. My own relationship was evolving with food as well. The relationship was being cultivated rather than ignored; and my body was being nourished and cherished, rather than hated.
My friend Emma (shout out Emma!) brought a book to class one day. It was called Health At Every Size. A few weeks later, she brought another book, Intuitive Eating. The more our “nutrish crew” family learned about these topics, and the impact weight-neutral and relationship-focused work can have on eating disorder incidence, the more I knew how I wanted to spend my time as a dietitian.
During my first year as a dietitian, I got my first RD job, invested my free time in continuing education, and fell in love with behavioral health nutrition. In this new chapter of life, I found myself in a unique place where my food choices were no longer regularly being influenced by others. I learned which foods I really liked and missed out on in college. I learned which “health foods” I tried out with my nutrition family that I honestly didn’t really enjoy. My self-care became intentional and my plate became all mine. I was able to experience a sense of peace, freedom, and lack of judgement, with food that I hadn’t before.
This new era was a time I felt like I was finally able to do the dietetics work I had always wanted to. I also become certificated as an intuitive eating counselor. I quickly found out the one thing that makes working as a dietitian in behavioral health the best is that it goes beyond the plate.
One of the biggest misconceptions I hear about eating disorders is that they are all about the food. I like to say as much as they are about the food, they’re also not about the food. What i’ve found is that so often the plate becomes a reflection of what’s going on in life.
I was getting to learn so much more about the people I was working with and really support and encourage them. I got to thinking, is it possible to do just that? To be that person that adds the little something extra to the recovery experience? Turns out: that’s exactly what I find myself doing now. As an eating disorder recovery coach with The Eating Disorder Center, I’m able to supplement the outpatient recovery experience to help clients continue to improve their relationship with food and their bodies.
To the people who challenge the truths I’ve come to learn about food and our relationship to it: thank you. You’ve helped me stay on my toes in this diet culture consumed world and better understand what my clients are up against.
And to everyone else who actively supported me in getting to this beautiful place in my life: