When I was growing up, my mother was always on a diet. I quickly learned that there were "good" foods and there were "bad" foods. I was allowed to have one soda on Fridays and one glass of juice on Sundays. Meals were to be eaten at certain times and any extra snacking was a no-no.
Our refrigerator always had pre-packaged meals in it. Still, just like my parents, I was overweight. The first time I was called "fat," I was 5 years old.
My History Of Dieting
When I hit 124kg at the end of my freshman year of college, my dieting became more extreme than ever. I lost 34kg and gained it all back twice. I would follow a diet perfectly for a while (although, in hindsight, I realise my diets involved drastically under-nourishing myself), but if I had one bite of a "bad" food, I was convinced that I had blown it all and binged.
I also punished myself with exercise. Once, at a baby shower, I ate several handfuls of pretzels, and the rest of the time all I could think about was how I needed to run them off.
Why I Got Help
In November of 2012, a co-worker told me that she was going to see a therapist for addiction issues, and I decided to try out therapy for myself.
I knew that my eating tended to feel the most out of control when I was anxious or upset. But I didn’t know how to make it stop or why I couldn’t lose the weight for good.
I started seeing a therapist twice a month and quickly found myself opening up in ways I never had before. I was so used to just pushing down anything that made me sad or upset that I didn't know how to deal with my emotions without food. For example, the day I had a miscarriage, I went to a pizza buffet but never talked about what I was going through with anyone.
As soon as I let go of keeping my emotions to myself, my mindset started to shift. Over time, my therapist helped me get better at identifying my feelings, communicating them to those close to me, and addressing them—instead of masking them with food.
Now, most of the time, when I find myself heading into the kitchen ready to binge, I’m able to pause and ask myself, "What am I feeling and what will solve the real issue right now?" Sometimes, what I needed was to talk to someone about my bad day or to take a few minutes to myself to de-stress.
I tried to remember that if hunger wasn’t the issue, food wasn’t the solution. Eventually, I slowly started to lose weight.
What I Learned About My Eating Disorder's Voice
Then, in 2013, when I started gaining some weight during my pregnancy(a totally healthy thing!), I found myself struggling not to restrict my food intake. I needed to nourish my growing baby, but I was scared to eat more. I feared gaining more weight or ending up back at 124kg. All I wanted to eat was grilled chicken and lettuce.
Fortunately, a year of therapy had equipped me with the tools to recognise these feelings and work toward a real solution. When I approached my therapist about my concerns, she referred me to an eating disorder specialist. That's when I began meeting with the specialist as well as a registered dietitian once a month.
Slowly, I learned about how an eating disorder can mess with your brain. My therapist told me I had an eating disorder voice in my head that told me whether a food was "good" or "bad" and talked me into bingeing and restricting. She helped me put a muzzle on that voice. For instance, when I refuse to eat a piece of cheese or slice of bread, I ask myself, "Is that me or the disorder talking?" If it’s me doing the talking, cool. If it’s the disorder, it's crap.
Why Therapy Worked For Me
I think that there is still a huge stigma associated with asking for help from a mental health professional. But working with a therapist is the best thing I’ve ever done. I truly believe that weight gain and loss is more mental than physical. It was only when I started addressing my mental health that I could lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off.
I currently weigh 65kg and have been able to maintain that weight for more than a year. I follow an intuitive approach to food, allowing my hunger cues to guide when and how much I eat. I include whole, nutritious foods in my diet, including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and dairy most of the time. But I can also enjoy a small bowl of ice cream or cookies without bingeing. On top of that, I work out for 30 minutes each morning and see exercise as a way to set the tone for the day and keep my anxiety in check.
Even though I've lost weight, I still see my therapist regularly. For me, the benefits are about so much more than weight loss. I truly believe that I’m a better co-worker, wife, mum, and person because of my work in therapy. I don’t plan on stopping my sessions anytime soon.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US