Is food your enemy, friend or ally? Our relationship with food is complex and for some people eating goes hand-in-hand with guilt, anxiety and shame. I asked Juané, who recently embarked on a journey to overcome her negative and damaging ideas about food, if she’s willing to share her story with others. Juané’s passionate about this topic and she spoke openly about how the process of overcoming her deep-rooted anxieties is something that takes time and commitment. I’m excited to share this personal journey about creating positive change on the blog today.
From an early age, Juané sensed there was something ‘wrong’ about the way she thought of food. ‘I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it and over time food and my emotional state became entangled in a cyclical tug-of-war.’ As a result, she battled to keep her weight consistent which led to feelings of low self-worth and the conclusion that food is the enemy. ‘I like rules and structure,’ she says. ‘Give me any recipe and I’ll follow it to the exact milligram. I thought this approach to dieting would solve the issues I had with my fluctuating weight.’ She tried one diet after the other, religiously following all the ‘do’s and don’ts’. ‘The diets always worked for a while but none of them were sustainable and time after time I fell back into my old habits.’ She sought medical help, hoping there was another reason the diets weren’t working: If something was medically ‘wrong’ with her, it would mean this up-hill battle wasn’t her fault or responsibility. To her dismay, the doctor told her what she dreaded to hear: there was nothing medically ‘wrong’ and she simply had to eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise more. She knew this was good advice, but once her emotions were added to the mix, it felt nearly impossible to follow the well-intended advice.
Her daily battle with food started to influence other parts of her life: Who she was friends with, what sport she participated in, whether she went to social events, and how she acted around people. This wild roller coaster of emotions left her feeling frustrated, trapped and utterly helpless.
The turning point came during a December holiday. ‘I had just turned thirty and like most people who hit this milestone age, I took some time to reflect on past decisions and to think about what I want for my future. I knew I wanted to have another baby and that it’s important to have a healthy body and mind, but I also knew I was not on the right path. Something had to change!’
This shift in focus to a healthy body influenced her whole lifestyle. As a busy mom of two children under two, she had been neglecting her hobbies, like reading. She wanted to show her children what it looked like to relax and take care of yourself. Since actions speak louder than words, she decided to read in front of her children whenever she found a gap. ‘This meant I finally got around to a book a friend recommended years before, Made to crave by Lysa Terkeurst. This spiritual book was so inspiring and just what I needed to start a fresh new journey.’
Another significant event during this December holiday strengthened her resolve to shift her focus to health rather than weight. ‘My two-year-old started speaking fluently and I was surprised that she vocalised some of the thoughts and ideas in my mind. This made me realised I could unknowingly transfer my negative beliefs about food to my daughter. I believe the culmination of these events were orchestrated by God which allowed me to change my perspective.’ Consequently, her journey took on a deeper spiritual significance, one that required much soul-searching, quiet reflection and prayer. ‘The very first thing I had to do was to admit that this was my struggle, one I could and wanted to overcome!’ It was during this process that she came to better understand what was behind her negative ideas about food and this empowered her to make some major lifestyle changes.
‘It was tough to admit that what I was eating was not the cause of my problem, but rather the result of deeper underlying issues. I had always assumed that the struggle with my weight stemmed from the food I ate, rather than from my emotions.’ This insight was crucial for Juané to move forward. She became aware of certain beliefs she had about food and how she had built habits around these beliefs, ensnaring herself in a vicious cycle of bad habits and frustration. By identifying these beliefs, she’s now able to reevaluate the decisions she makes about food. In turn, this helps her to think about food in a positive way.
‘I believe the way people talk about food had a big influence on me. For example, since my childhood I believed you had to finish your plate, even when you feel full, because then you’ll be rewarded for being “good”.’ Food was also a way for her to soothe painful emotions. Now she focuses on other healthy outlets to process emotions, like speaking to a friend and staying active. ‘Once I acknowledged these beliefs, my thoughts about food started shifting. Instead of thinking “will this meal or treat make me feel better?” I focus on the role of nutrition in keeping my body and mind healthy.’ For first time in thirty years she thought about food in a positive way, a major personal victory for her. Food was no longer the enemy, but an ally in maintaining a healthy lifestyle!
‘Even though there are still challenging days, I’m now in a position to take a step back and to identify the reason behind my actions and emotions. This keeps me from falling back into those bad habits.’ She’s also conscious of how new negative beliefs can creep into her life, especially when dealing with the way her body is changing as she get older. To counter any negative thoughts she’ll now ask herself: Have I been kind to myself today? Am I eating a balanced diet, drinking water and staying active? ‘If the answer is “yes”, I feel content. I know I took care of myself and I remind myself of the amazing things my body is capable of.’
Juané’s committed to looking after herself and teaching her children how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. ‘I hope my positive attitude creates a happy and healthy environment for my whole family.’
It’s never easy to overcome old habits and negative thoughts as we often don’t know where they originate from. Juané inspired me with her bold honesty and determination. Admitting her struggle to herself, taking responsibility for it, and seeking out the root of the problem enables her to let go of damaging beliefs.
I admire your vulnerability and your willingness to share your journey, Juané. I hope it will be an inspiration for others who are facing their own challenges.
Thank you for reading the Wild Library blog. If you’ve enjoyed Juané’s story, you’ll also enjoy Dreams, Dirt and Personal Growth, a story about a girl who went from corporate glam-girl to a mom with a heart of gold and a huge vegetable garden. Or you can read about my youngest foodie friend in The Boy who Loves to Eat.
This story is part of the Stories that Inspire series about ‘everyday’ people doing amazing things. To keep up to date with each new uplifting story posted each month, scroll down and select Follow Wild Library to subscribe.