How I Distance Myself From Disordered Eating
I’m no stranger to the notion that eating disorders come from a thin ideal portrayed in the media. I know because I lived it. As a model for a decade, I was all too familiar with size requirements and Photoshop. I was even on the cover of a magazine that pushed extreme weight loss. Clearly, there are some problems there. But I think the media is just a small piece of the puzzle. The real problem starts with fake food.
When I was a kid, I remember peeling open a can of beets to snack on, when a family member shunned me: “Beets are just sugar,” they explained. Meanwhile, frozen dinners, Slim Fast shakes and Diet Coke lined the fridge. As I got a little older, I was plowing through a bag of M&Ms by the pool when I was warned that my skinny days were numbered. The threat implied that fast metabolisms don’t last long. The message was clear: Food was bad and going to make me fat.
When I started living on my own, I was being force-fed every kind of philosophy about food. As soon as my agent told me not to eat rice, another person warned me of dairy. Then a makeup artist freaked me out about fruit. Meanwhile, others were preaching a whole other concept, “balanced eating”, that suggests bad foods are good, but only if we eat them sometimes. I didn’t know what was right or wrong. The only balancing I did was eat all ice cream and candy one day, and plain salad and vegetables the next.
Just as I was compelled to learn the science behind the macro- and micronutrients in different foods, something else happened that tried to derail my attempt to be healthy. I was bombarded with the suggestion that people who go so far as to question the state of our food industry are mentally ill — something called orthorexia. It was almost as if, before I even had the chance to investigate nutrition, I’d be labeled with this scary term. But, I dug a little deeper and continued to pose some questions: Was my great-grandmother, Jadwiega Stachowiak Jankowski orthorexic because she wouldn’t go near an Oreo?
As a child of the ‘90s, chemical-laden fake foods marketed as “healthy” were constantly pushed. In high school, I’d sooner gulp down a sugary protein shake than eat some nuts. It never crossed my mind that some foods are fundamentally different than others. While humans have been eating food for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the introduction of diet culture, fake foods and fat phobia that the obesity epidemic was triggered. I believe that oblivion to what real food is and does for the body set the stage for a ravenous cycle of disordered eating.
This idea, that our brain knows what food we should eat, intrigues me. I think this is key in regaining a natural intuition on how to nourish. Eating disorders are a mental illness, but in recent studies theories suggest many mental illnesses stem from inflammation of the brain. It’s no mystery that some of the most inflammatory foods are highly processed ones. So my question is: Wouldn’t an anti-inflammatory, brain-friendly diet radically improve eating disorders? I definitely think so, and I practice this in my life today.
Running was a game changer for me in avoiding all the commotion surrounding diet. Suddenly my choices were determined by how food fueled my athleticism. I knew which foods were going to help get me back out there the next day and which ones dulled my inspiration. Processed food wouldn’t power my endurance training any more than Kerosene would run a luxury car. The more I trained, the hungrier for real food I became and the more I was able to distance myself from disordered eating.
Once I allowed wholesome food to wake me up, I began to feel confident about the relationship that I’d nurtured with food: a healthy, loving, and enjoyable bond. This comfort makes it easy to rise above all the chatter of what is right or wrong when it comes to eating. As long as I’m tethered to a strong goal to improve how my body works, eating well isn’t hard. My only dietary rule now: Eat whatever, as long as it’s real… Or at least, something great-grandma Jadwiega would recognize.
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