At thirty-one, I can finally turn down over-sugared starches like donuts. But when I was twenty-five, I survived on Ramen noodles, fast food, and coffee. For dinner in college, I’d eat an entire bag of tortilla chips with a can of red kidney beans. In high school, I gorged on Hostess treats. Yes, gorged.As a child, I was hungry all the time. For years, I resented her — the young version of myself — for being so needy and helpless. My older sister and I lived in a Wichita trailer park with our mom who worked three jobs.I remember the ravenous feeling, the stomach caving in upon itself, the dread of hunger. I always worried about when I’d eat next. My problem — or should I say complicated relationship — with food began when I was in grade school, wearing handmade clothes I’d watch my mother cut and sew.
Once I start eating, I sometimes can’t stop. On my twenty-fourth birthday, I took home a dozen left-over donuts from work and ate them all, one after the other, while sitting on the living room floor of my one-bedroom apartment.
I’ve been afraid of and consumed by food all my life. I eat when I’m not hungry. I eat because I can, because there’s still this worry inside me of going hungry. It’s amazing the power our fearful and wanting inner child has over the adult.
Every day, I remind myself that I’m not that hungry little girl anymore. Or the lonely high school bookworm. Or the broke college student. I’m not even the same person who carried home a dozen donuts on her birthday.
So, what changed? I did. Not overnight. Not instantaneously and definitely not easily. Rather, I believed — finally, even for a fleeting moment — that my past does not have to define me. And I listened to the kind internal voice telling me that each day – this day! – can be, if I choose, a new day to be happy and to value myself. That affirmation, as quiet as it was, was louder and stronger than my yearning for pastries and salty french fries.
I never believed I was beautiful. Only smart. I loved my mind. Growing up, I nourished and respected it. I considered myself to be a thinker and a writer. But you can’t be singular, one part of a magnificent whole. By only accepting my mind, I was rejecting my body and declaring to myself it was not important enough to care about. I was wrong.
Past is Prologue, Forward is Now
After years of starving (figuratively and sometimes literally), I woke up to find a gorgeous Phoenix day outside my bedroom window. I marveled at what my life had become. How far I had traveled, from Wichita and Oklahoma to sunny Phoenix, from an insecure teen to a tentatively self-assured woman living in hug-proximity to my father. And while I despised what I saw in the mirror — a body I had disowned; a body I had betrayed — I was determined to love my body and be happy with myself. Finally.
I joined a gym. I worked with a personal trainer. I recorded every calorie and morsel of food I ate for 10 months straight. Even on Thanksgiving, I measured my portions and turned down seconds. By doing so, I was able to learn about food, about the nourishment I needed, about what my hunger was really about, about who really had the power in my relationship with food.
It took me years to realize that my relationship with food wasn’t about food. (Is it ever?) It was about love.
For years, I felt unwanted, invisible. I had no self-worth. Love was conditional. I misbehaved. I lived in my imagination and found escape in books. I was lonely. I had by circumstance and fear, isolated myself. I didn’t want to face the truth: My life was loveless. The only time I felt truly happy was when I was eating.
No one ever taught me about nutrition or explained why exercise is important — and I had yet to hold myself accountable. Even when playing basketball in high school and college. Even when I ran miles upon miles to drop the pounds because I was caught in a yo-yo trapeze act of trying to desperately help myself.
I had yet to discover how liberating and happy life can be when you put yourself first, when you value both your body and mind, and when you nourish yourself emotionally. I had yet to learn the tools needed to really understand what it means to be healthy, or make healthy choices for my body and my self-esteem.
On that sunny Phoenix morning, I vowed to love myself that day and every day after. That was my first – and most important – step. With devotion, time, and a very supportive network of family and friends, I changed my diet, began to better understand my food choices, realized how exercise influences my energy levels and happiness, reconnected with family, found financial balance, and finally – ecstatically – felt loved.
7 Lessons & Values I Learned
1. Knowledge is power. When you know what your body needs to feel satiated, you can give it the right kind of nutrients – hugs included. Sure, it’s not easy. But it matters. Pay attention to your energy levels, your cravings, your emotions, what motivates you, and the way your body and mind feel throughout the day.
2. Honor yourself. Give praise for the time you take to nourish, replenish, rest, and love yourself. Be proud that you have the privilege of being your biggest fan and best friend. It really is an honor to love yourself so unconditionally. It’s a gift you deserve.
3. Everything matters. Every bite. Every moment of mindfulness. Every choice you make. Each extra step taken. Every second of physical activity. They all matter. Above everything, YOU matter.
4. Be present. Be aware and be present in each moment. Open your eyes. Marvel. In the here and now, stand proud in your bones, your muscles, your emotions, your thoughts.
5. Understand what fuels you. For me, it wasn’t food. Stuffing donuts down my throat wasn’t the solution. Love was. Surrounding myself with family that loved me in Phoenix was. Learning how to turn negative self-talk into positive was. Accepting that I was worthy and deserving of unconditional love was. And celebrating my talents and giving myself room to be imperfect was.
6. Let love in. Embrace friendships and new relationships. Take a chance on romance. Exchange hugs and laughter. Let people love you, and express your love to others. Tell yourself you are worthy of love. It really does make the world go ‘round, at least for me.
7. Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect. Your past does not define you. It’s okay to stumble. Be kind to yourself, and give yourself the gift of forgiveness. For me, I am still learning how to forgive my always-hungry inner child, and I finally know that telling her she’s not going to starve (“you’re important and I won’t forget you”) is all she needs to feel loved.
Present Day, Working To Help Others
As the Social Media Manager at MeYou Health, I am the the face — and words — behind our company’s Twitter and Facebook presence , and the main point of contact for customer support. Talking with and getting to know each and every fan, follower and member is the best part of my role here.
I’m thrilled to be part of a well-being company creating products like Daily Challenge that give people the power — the way, the knowledge and the social support — in which they can change and improve their well-being one small daily action at a time – like climbing more stairs or drinking more water.
Because if you choose carrot sticks over cookies today as your snack, I believe that small, mindful decision is really a big victory worth celebrating! We each have the power to make those small-yet-awesome decisions to create our own personal success stories we can be proud of and share with others.
If I’ve learned anything through my own journey, it’s that you are the author of your own life. So do yourself a favor today and every day: Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself of all the love you deserve, and find out what you truly want to be. For me, it was always about love — being loved and loving others. Let’s all take the time and make those hard-yet-healing steps toward creating the change and the life we desire and deserve.