Our first teachers in life are our parents. They teach us everything, from how to crawl, to walk, to speak, to behave and, yes, how to eat.
Growing up, food was always a challenging subject in my house. My mother was hospitalized in her 20s with anorexia, and at that time the treatment protocol was very limited -- unlike today.
As a result of this influence, my diet history -- especially in my teenage years -- included a variety of low-fat, low-calorie and fad diet plans. However, my very first official and monitored "diet" was in Grade 7. My mother, wanting to give me better tools for my food consumption, made an appointment with a registered dietician in an attempt to help me with being "overweight."
That dietician had me counting calories, weighing my food and, yes, since I was a ketchup addict as a kid, I would measure out my ketchup to take with my lunch everyday. I would have weekly weigh-ins, food journals and measurements, and I was congratulated on my weight loss and scolded on any plateaus.
I dropped a dramatic amount of weight, but it also started a negative association with dieting, food and being thin.
This jaded relationship with food reinforced the message that being skinny should always be my ultimate goal.
Already at a young age I was forced into a world of calorie counting and feeling emotion towards food (guilt, happiness, sadness). Above all, this jaded relationship with food reinforced the message that being skinny should always be my ultimate goal.
Although my mom did try, I witnessed, learned and inherited her obsession with food. She lived in a world of black and white: food was either good or bad. It would either make you skinny or make you fat.
Every day was a new chance to lose weight. Since having a piece of cake or a cookie was "bad" food, low-fat options were a better choice; it was the '80s and we owned every Snackwell's product that was ever made! If it wasn't low-fat, then exercising to "burn it off" was the strategy of preference for my mom, and then in turn for me.
Now, as a nutrition coach and fitness professional, I know that I'm not alone. In fact, I know that many other women (many of whom I know are coaches, too) have learned and adopted the same associations and relationships with food and dieting for a variety of reasons in their past.
I know that my struggle was all for a greater purpose.
Fast-forward 20 years. My life's work for the past two decades has been to help others see how the body is an aggregate of the mind. I firmly believe that how you train your body and how you fuel your body directly correlates to your mindset, your self-confidence and your self-worth.
In my many years in the fitness business, I work with amazing clients everyday who are incredibly successful students, parents, grandparents and professionals. Helping them repair their rocky relationship with food and fitness gives me unbelievable joy and purpose.
It starts with understanding not only what you are eating, but more importantly, why.
You may be surprised that sometimes in my nutrition meetings I meet with a highly recognized professional who is in tears because they put on a pound over the weekend or had a brownie during the week.
I am not.
And perhaps you find yourself doing the same.
Trust me, the feeling of being liberated from the guilt, the unhappiness and shame of a negative relationship with food is something that is incredible to have experienced, and now to coach.
Here's my take home message for readers out there:
You can change your relationship with food and rid yourself of the frustration of traditional dieting and food restriction. You can do all this while seeing incredible physical transformations to parallel your mental transformations.
Yes it is possible.
It starts with understanding not only what you are eating, but more importantly, why. This understanding is then fuelled by a desire and acknowledgement that you can and deserve to feel better. It ends with living a whole new life of freedom.
- Coach Whitney
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"We only see the sensationalized stories. There are many people who struggle with eating disorders and look like the average person on the street. People go to Sheena's and are worried they won't be believed" if they tell people they have an eating disorder, says Julie Notto, the program manager at Sheena's Place in Toronto.
"Eating disorders are [beginning] to start younger and younger. There have been cases of five and six-year-olds [being diagnosed with them]. They're on the rise for young women and men, too. Eating issues can flare up during transitional periods such as adolescence, during high school and through university. [They even] affect busy career women in their 40s."
"You have to say, "I am concerned about you. I'm just wondering if things are OK. It seems like you've lost weight." If [signs and symptoms] gets worse, tell friends and family members. It's about keeping the lines of non-judgmental communication open around [eating disorders], because there's so much shame around having [one]."
"People go into treatment and become weight stabilized. Physically they're in a safe place, but they're not in a safe mental state. There are still underlying emotional issues. It's completely about the food and completely not about food. [People] may be weight restored, but they may not be completely emotionally restored."
Thirty per cent of people with an eating disorder have been abused at some point in their life. Abuse can result in low self-esteem and difficulty with relationships. These can be contributing factors to an eating disorder. Notto says studies have found evidence there's a definite link between dieting and eating disorders. Four or five years ago, the dieting industry was a 42 billion dollar industry and it continues to grow.
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