Ten years ago I sat in an auditorium in New York City, ready for my first day of class at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a program that teaches over 100 different dietary theories to people eager to transform their health and happiness and become certified health coaches. I brough some organic snacks in order to not be judged by my peers for having no idea what “holistic health” even meant, only that I needed it in my life and I thought it was mostly about food.
Up until that point, I was on a diet of mostly anxiety and packaged South Beach Diet breakfast burritos. When we received a handout explaining the cornerstones of holistic health were a pie chart called “primary food,” my anxiety kicked in. Spiritual practice? A fulfilling career? Healthy relationships? My twenty something brain couldn’t comprehend why those were integral parts of my health, so I decided to ignore those pieces of pie for the year and focus on learning to eat healthy. The whole spiritual thing was not for me.
Six years prior I had moved to New York City from a suburb or Portland, Oregon. I was on the fast track to fashion model and the ride started rather abrubtly for a small town, athletic good girl like me. On my first modeling trip to Paris I was horrified to have been told to start smoking and eat only apples because my thigh gap was not making the cut. That plan alone didn’t leave me thin enough so I was shipped off to Germany where the “big” American girls worked for catalogs ( as opposed to runways) and earned a healthy income doing it. It was a good fit for me but Paris never left the back of my mind and I continued to diet towards a catwalk waistline.
My health began to unravel and I learned what anxiety and depression felt like for the first time in my life. On one hand, I had discovered the joy of Nutella, but on the other I was being paid ridiculous sums of money to slim down to a body that wasn’t me, so I was in a bit of a bind. I chose the route of diets and hours of cardio which led me down a path straight to the hospital. The diet pills I was consuming to control my hunger were taking a toll on my health.
As a physician left my room explaining my plan was not sustainable if I wanted to live a long life, I thought it might be time to start reassessing my goals. I had to face the tough question of “would it be okay if I showed up in the world as my full size, rather than the diminished, shrunken one I had been working so hard to attain?” “Would it be okay if I took up some SPACE in this world?” There is a certain sick, but powerful feeling when you step on the scale and know that you’re starved but had the willpower to attain your goal weight. The quest for a perfect body is disempowering ( because it NEVER ends) and had left me afraid of coloring outside the lines in all areas of my life. It had left me afraid of standing out, being myself and enjoying so many moments I could have chosen to find joy in but instead worried about sucking in my stomach.
My new education helped me climb out of the doom that is dieting. Over the course of the year I finally learned what it meant to nourish my body with the nutrients it needed. I experimented with many different ways of eating “whole foods” and finally settled on a plan that worked for me. I built incredible friendships in our classroom at IIN and finished off the year feeling healthy and radiant, with a burning desire to share what I had learned with others. Food and I were friends.
The next year I felt things start to crumble in my life again. My modeling career had evolved into mostly catalogue lingerie modeling. One day I walked into the second shoot in a series for a new line of Calvin Klein bras, made for women with curves, only to see a life size mock up of the first photo shoot we had done on the wall. It was full of red pen marks circling every single flaw on my body. They quickly hid it from me but the image stuck in my mind even though I knew photoshop would take care of it all before it made it’s way to public eyes. That was enough to start the hours of cardio and dieting mindset again. My physical imperfections defined me and I let them.
Later that year my friendships and romantic relationships hit an all time low on the unhealthy scale and I called my big sister in tears for the millionth time. In her wise, big sister way she helped me recognize I was the common denominator in all of the things “happening to me.” I didn’t really know how to change, but I knew deep down that what I was doing was not working for me. In that moment I decided to be open to a new way of living, and asked whatever spirit was out there to throw me a little bone, SOMETHING to let me know something greater than myself was there. Spirit showed up later that day as a six foot tall Swedish supermodel.
Signe was the first person I had ever met who was so freely herself. She had so many qualities I wanted, and she was deeply in touch with herself. We became fast friends and when I told her I had just moved out of an awful living situation and found a great new apartment we couldn’t believe it was on the same Manhattan block as hers. I couldn’t ignore the serendipity. To be clear, Signe is not a guru or goddess( well, kind of a goddess) but she was the first person in a line of many that helped me see that Spirit, the Universe, God, or whatever you would like to call her is here for us, guiding us in every moment. In that moment Signe was the hand I needed to pull me up and point me in the direction of my true path. Through Signe I discovered a woman I would later travel with to India and practice breathwork meditation on a mountain top, bathe in rivers and chant in temples at 3:45am. I went WAY spiritual, way fast. It was there that I learned why and where all my destructive patterns came from and it was the start of working to dissolve them. My mom thought I was joining a cult but I think later she figured it’s just what I had to do to find myself.
So how does this relate to food? I’ve learned filling myself up usually has very little to do with food itself. While I firmly believe in clean and healthy eating, my disordered eating was a result of trying to be someone I”m not. It was the result of of ignoring the inner callings I had to do more with my life than be a coat hangar. It was the result of staying in relationships with friends and boyfriends that were not for my highest good. My hunger was always a result of acting in ways that were out of alignment with who I was put here to be, and she happens to be someone with a strong, sturdy frame who needs to eat. At 18 I wasn’t wise enough to know this, but today if someone put a tape measure around my healthy body and told me it wasn’t for them I would be happy to walk away knowing I’m meant for something greater. When we are young and don’t know our worth, it’s much more difficult to do that.
Working with the ways I’ve struggled with food over the years is forever a process, but I’ve learned when I have the urge to diet or overeat, it’s always a result of another area of my life being out of balance and me trying to control it with food.
I’ve found liberation by sharing my experience with others because I know I”m not the only one that has struggled. Years later I would work with a soul centered business coach named Michelle that constantly reminded me spirit meets us at our point of action. If we show up and ask for help, are willing to take a look at ourselves and do the work to change, there is always a solution. I no longer focus on diets or calorie counting, but on fueling my body with the proper nutrients.
Opening up isn’t easy because there is so much shame around eating disorders, but I promise if you remain open to help, and find a way to connect with the higher power and spirit within you, you will never be alone.