I grew up in a small and loving family who were always on the move. We spent most summers packing boxes and heaving them into the living room because my dad’s company needed him somewhere else. I’m not complaining. Moving had its thrills and I got to explore so many new places.
However, I think these moves inhibited my social skills. They were so frequent that often I had only just settled down and made a new friend when it was time to pick up everything and move again. We would keep in touch, write letters, but only until a certain point—and then we would grow apart.
Through all these tough times, I remember having a bag of potato chips in my hand while wiping a tear from my face. I have always been big on food, and although my mother never encourage salted, artificially flavored potato chips over home cooked meals, she would let me have my way whenever we moved. She figured it helped me cope.
However, neither mum nor I thought that a harmless bag of chips could take control of my life.
An occasional indulgence started to become a regular thing with me, without my mum noticing anything amiss. I would save some of my lunch money and sneak candies, wafers, chocolates, or chips into my room. I would hide them under my bed in a shoebox. I don’t recall exactly when I started to hoard food like that, but I think it was sometime in my early teen years.
The teenage years can be difficult for any kid. I guess it was especially difficult for me because I never seemed to fit in. I had moved around so much that I did not feel like I belonged anywhere. I always felt like the new kid on the block who was being judged. If I did not play my cards right, I would be an outcast—which was what happened for the most part. So, I grew fonder of food—one thing that did not judge me and instead, made me happy.
My relationship with food became quite close as time passed. Food—mostly ice cream, fries, sausage, cheese, donuts, and chips—were my friends. If I ever felt disappointed or lonely, I would pick up a bag of chips and finish it in minutes. When I ran out of my stockpile under the bed, I would stand in front of the refrigerator with the ice cream tub staring back at me. I felt that the tub was beckoning me to pick it up and lick it clean.
Of course, I started gaining weight. Initially, neither my parents nor I were worried about my weight gain since I had always been a lanky child. They said a little weight gain was good for me. However, as I moved into my teens I started to grow concerned. I could not bear to look at myself in the mirror. I would flip through family albums and reminisce about my earlier body. I started abhorring the body I had and longed for the one I used to have.
Denial and Guilt
During this time of self-negation and loss of self-esteem, I think I grew even closer to my comfort foods—dear ice cream, candies, fries, and burgers. I did not realize that the things I thought were comforting me were actually responsible for all the discomfort I was enduring.
I think I was in my late teens when I acknowledged I was suffering from an eating disorder. It took me even longer to accept that I needed help. Until then, I kept reminding myself that it must be baby fat and I would lose it once my growth spurt kicked in. The spurt came, but I still looked big. I told myself that it must be hormonal imbalance that was causing my body to bloat.
Once I made that transition from denial to acknowledgment, half my battle is won. I started therapy and did the entire drill starting with group sessions.
In the group we shared our problems and sympathized with others. We did group drills where we were paired up and encouraged each other to abstain from binging. As partners, we could not let the other succumb to temptation. Being in therapy helped me admit I had a problem, and yet be okay in my own skin. It gave me hope, as it did to many others.
The harder part was changing my cravings. In therapy I slowly started converting my bad eating habits into better ones. I focused on a balanced diet that included mostly whole grains, protein, and vegetables and all my meals were prepared at home. I strictly stopped eating out.
However, no matter what I ate, nothing seemed satisfying to my tummy or my soul. I have to admit that I cheated and indulged in comfort foods and they seemed to be the only things that satiated my hunger.
But the guilt I experienced later on was so great that I felt it would devour me. So, during one session with my private therapist, I took this up with her. I told her that I knew I needed to eat right if I ever wanted to become healthy again, but mentally, I felt like I was starving.
She handed me a surprising solution—fruit. Who would have thought? There are a variety of colorful fruits to choose from that not only facilitate weight loss, but also give a feeling of satiety.
Foods For Success
Kumquats are one of my favorites. I have always loved them because they have a hint of sourness that hits one’s taste buds with a burst of flavor. Kumquats look very similar to small oranges but have a distinctly different taste. Unlike the bitter white pith of oranges, the kumquat peel has a slightly sweet flavor that blends beautifully with the tartness of the flesh. It is like the perfect magic trick—first, you experience the sweetness; then, when you least expect it, the sourness hits you.
Kumquats are also a rich source of vitamin C, which boosts the immune system. Moreover, they are also full of dietary fiber to keep you full. The fiber content also helps successful weight management and prevents digestive distress.
Berries are also a satisfying option. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are rich sources of antioxidants that help fight inflammatory conditions like arthritis and gout.
Eating fruit was key to my success. Before I used to eat fruit only if I liked it and more often would head for a slab of chocolate instead. Slowly, I started consciously including more fruit in my diet, and I noticed a marked mental change. I no longer felt hungry at odd hours or craved sugar-laden junk. I began to feel much healthier.
My therapist also told me to indulge in ‘dal’! Legumes, like beans and lentils, are good sources of protein that help you convert stored fat to muscle because they contain amino acids that are building blocks of muscle tissue. Legumes also have enough fiber to stop those hunger pangs.
Another variety of food rich in dietary fiber is vegetables—so eat lots and lots of them! I like picking them by color, chopping them, and throwing them together in a bowl to make appetizing salads with legumes, nuts, and meat.
A favorite salad of mine is baby spinach with cherry tomatoes; soaked and sprouted mung beans; roasted, chopped almonds; and roasted chicken breast. Combine in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil to bump up the antioxidant content, and season with salt and pepper.
I like to garnish with lush, green cilantro leaves, which help maintain blood sugar and blood pressure levels, and add a lot of flavor.
I have found it is important to make your food appetizing and appealing to all your sense so satiate yourself mentally so that you don’t have the urge to binge.
I practice clean eating now. I don’t do it from compulsion and I do allow myself a cheat meal once in a while, but I make up for it in the gym.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, remember that the key to overcoming it is patience and persistence. Remind yourself every day that you can achieve this mammoth goal. It’s hard work and a difficult journey, but one you can complete. I did it, and I am very proud of myself. So be a little selfish and defeat your eating disorder.
Vineetha Reddy is regular practitioner of and adviser on issues relating to health, fitness, and yoga. She writes contribute to the knowledge ecosystem. She strongly believes that the organic food you find in your pantry provides the best benefits for good health. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook for her best ideas and solutions.