I became a dietitian because I was afraid of food.
This was the shameful secret that I hid from my friends, family and myself for 15 years through university study, years travelling the world, marriage and motherhood.
The last time I dieted was during my daughter’s first year of school. I wanted my body to feel capable and alive again. I wanted to be a fit mum, not a sluggish, weak one. So, I started a diet and exercise program. And it worked. My “transformation” felt like a miracle. Family and friends showered me with compliments about how great I looked. I was running, doing planks, and my pelvic floor was even hanging in there! I was about to turn 40 and was the fittest I’d been since high school.
From the outside, I appeared happy and confident. And yet, despite the elation of weight loss and improved fitness, the old fear was still there. Inside, I was terrified of the house of cards falling around me. The changes I had made to improve my health didn’t feel sustainable or enjoyable, and they came at a great cost to my family. I began to resent spending so little time with my daughter in favour of getting my quota of daily exercise.
My weekly weigh-ins were a stressful tightrope of elation or disappointment. Although I gave lip service to mindset and mindfulness, the parameters of success remained visible ones like weight and centimetres lost.
I had become society’s image of an acceptable figure, but no-one seemed to see ME anymore. With each comment of “Wow, you look great!” my discomfort grew about the message this was sending my daughter. What’s more, I still didn’t trust my body to maintain the weight loss. And worse still, I worried that I was teaching my young daughter the same mistrust for hers. I was ignoring the very principles I taught my clients, and I was not building a healthy relationship with food.
It was then that I realised that my lifelong love-hate relationship with food had the power to influence my daughter’s own emerging food story. If I continued to distrust my body, how could I ever expect my daughter to trust hers, when she learned from everything I said and did? I wanted to free her from her inner critic before it found a voice, and that would mean silencing my own.
Clarity came on one quiet morning walk, when I finally heard my inner voice’s new words: “You can trust your body. You always could. It knows what to do.”
The parts of this journey that mattered most to me weren’t about changing my body at all. They were about tuning in to my simple need for self-care. If I was quiet enough I could hear my body telling me exactly what it needed. There was no need to change my body or drown in food fear or weight concern.
So, I stopped dieting.
In the weeks and months that followed, I began to understand and embrace new, fundamental truths that had been kept from me my whole life.
These truths are:
· I can trust my body. When I listen to it with compassion I make wise decisions about food, eating and how I want to move.
· Sometimes I will make mistakes and that’s OK. I say NO to guilt, shame, blame and should do’s.
These days, our family food style supports all of us tuning into our wise inner voices. Our daughter loves food and “eats big” at times, especially her favourite foods. My challenge continues to be to give her the space to explore her appetite, not suppress it. We do this through mealtime structure, ritual and routine. She makes mistakes and so do I, but together we are learning from them. I am the fearless lioness who teaches her to love and respect her body and those of others for the uniquely amazing beings we all are.
I’m still treading the path to body acceptance and healing my relationship with food. Thankfully, my new inner voice is better at calling out my own internal nonsense. It’s the voice that pulls me up when I’m tempted to ask my mini-me daughter if she really needs that second helping. It’s the voice that drives me to help her tune out the noise of a diet culture that tells her that her body is anything other than perfect and exactly the way it should be, right now.
I continue to teach her and re-train myself how to trust my body by listening carefully to its whispers. I am becoming more confident in calling out and questioning diet culture and food rules as they inevitably appear in our life. My 10-year-old is learning to critically discern crazy diet promos and the extreme food and body talk that surrounds us everywhere, even within our family and friendship circles.
The fear is fading slowly, and in its place, is peace. My family is now free to truly enjoy food, our bodies and our lives in a way I never dreamed was possible when I was 10 years old.
My story is not unique. Most of us have experienced a tricky relationship with food, and many of us are still stuck. Food fear colours our conversations and our collective consciousness. The possibility exists for each one of us to make peace with food, for ourselves and for the young people in our lives. It requires the liberating and somewhat terrifying notion of turning our backs on diet culture and exploring what true health really means for each of us.
I know my body is changing as I enter my “mid-life” and will change even more as I get older. I’m no longer interested in reclaiming my pre-baby body. It has evolved.
My daughter and I are already the best versions of ourselves, and I know that possibility exists for all of us. I am a better Dietitian for having walked this path.