5 Steps to Food Freedom (That Don't Have to Do With Food)

Y’all know I love running with all of my heart and soul. But there was a time in my life where I was abusing my relationship with running, fitness, and food. Since I’ve opened up a bit about these struggles on my podcast interviews with friends, I figured it was time to actually reflect and write about this part of my (hodgepodge) life.

My struggle with food and body image.

The day before Thanksgiving of 2012, I passed out in my (future at the time) in-laws bathroom. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and sent home that same evening with no answers.  What turned out to be a 5 day hospital stay, two blood transfusions, and many iron IV’s later...was a stomach ulcer that actually saved my life.   

You see, before this bathroom-pass-out-incident, I was going down a dark path that was taking me towards an eating disorder.  In true fashion, I can’t pinpoint when or why it started. But once I began my sophomore year of college, something in me was feeling empty.  I was on the women’s soccer team but I was that *starts warming up with 15 minutes left in the second half* player. I hated it. I lost all status and control of who I was as a soccer player and was embarrassed with myself. So with that loss of control, (and a mother who has a lengthy background in eating disorders) I started to control what I ate and how much I weighed. This ability to take control over something in my life became a quick fix to hide any struggles or pains that came my way. I was hooked.

So I quit soccer after two years and picked up running again.  I had this brilliant idea to sign up for the Dance Marathon Marathon through the University of Iowa because I had this perfect formula in my head:

Marathon training + restricted eating + raising money for kids with cancer = I get to lose lots of calories, get skinny, but still feel good about myself because I’m doing it for the right reasons.

FAIL.  BIG FAT F FAIL.  Little did I know how dangerous this road was going to be. 

I became a slave to food. I started to count calories, fear carbs, fear dairy, fear eating out and eating dessert.  Anything that I didn’t prepare for myself, I did the half rule. Half of the bagel, half of the enchilada, half of the smoothie, half of the muffin.  I was border-line orthorexic while doubling my exercise and cutting my calorie in-take almost in half. NOT okay. 

I ran the marathon and ran it well.  “This was working!” I was getting compliments and attention.  “This was definitely working!”  So what did I do?  Signed up for the next marathon and trudged on.  Still enslaved. Still in chains. 

Until I passed out.  

And that’s why I think the stomach ulcer was a gift from God.  My body was in so much stress and the only thing that could stop me was my own body shutting itself down.  Once I was released from the hospital, I couldn’t run for months, so all I did was control my diet with no exercise -- enter yo-yo dieting.

At this point in my journey I loathed to be back in my “Restriction Queen” abilities because facing the guilt and self-shame of overeating is really uncomfortable stuff.  I went through that for years.  I prayed about it, talked about it (with a select few), read about it, contacted bloggers and health coaches about it, wrote about it, YOU NAME IT.  I knew the “top ten tips for avoiding late-night snacking” by heart and none of them worked. For all of the years I wasted trying to control this beast, I was pretty damn out of control.

So how did the chains finally break?  I wish I had a simple answer. There is no formula, no google search, and no online blog post that can solve this beast.  But here is my unprofessional advice on what helped me that doesn’t have to do with the food at all:

  1.  Go within.  There is nothing wrong with you. You are worthy of love, joy, and life because you EXIST. If you are abusing food or exercise (or anything for that matter), work on figuring out what’s missing.  I know, I know, easier said than done. Personally, my biggest self-discovery tool was and is my faith in Jesus. Working on my relationship with Him has helped break down lots of walls.  Getting even a sliver of what it feels like to be fully known and loved by Him, is what has helped me learn to love myself and start this process of self acceptance and discovery.

  2. Talk to someone.  Get that secret out of the darkness.  Whether there are a few thoughts creeping in here and there...or you are in the middle of a full blown disorder, tell someone.  I thought I was fine, until I wasn’t. The moment you can start to be true with yourself and recognize there is a problem, you need to find your trusted person.  My biggest transformations in life have happened when I have brought pain out of darkness and into the light.

  3. Ask for help.  If you do tell someone, don’t be afraid to actually ask for help.  Whether it’s in the form of prayer, accountability check-in’s, frequent texts, or getting professional help, don’t discredit yourself from getting the help you need so you can start to heal. 

  4. Be uncomfortable.  This is gonna suck.  It’s going to be really hard, but when did good things ever come from being comfortable?  If you feel uncomfortable right before you tell your best friend or mom, that is a GOOD sign.  If you feel uncomfortable because you decide to eat what your body is craving, not more of what it is lacking, that is a GOOD sign.  If you feel uncomfortable sitting still instead of mindlessly eating an entire bag of chips, that is a GOOD sign. You gotta start somewhere.  And if you’ve already talked to someone or asked for help, these are great times to talk to that trusted person.   

  5. Give yourself grace.  You probably won’t find food freedom over night.  It might take months, years, decades, or an entire lifetime.  But WE are worth this battle because GUESS WHAT. It isn’t about the food.  It’s not about wanting to perform the best or look a certain way...it’s about the broken heart within.  We are always going to mess up, but if we can water those mistakes with grace, we will grow and bloom in unbelievable ways.  

If you have read all the way to this point, there is probably a good chance you are either a) one of my family members or besties supporting my blog, or b) someone who can relate.  If you can relate, please know that you are not alone. I’ve been there, I am here, and I know the craziness of it all. Although I have felt my chains break, there are tendencies that make me want to pick them back up.  Often times it is a different part of my life that begins to suffer and I feel like I am losing control once again. But I am aware, and I am constantly working on recognizing the deeper longing within me. In that space is where I can surrender control and remember it doesn’t even have to do with food in the first place.

There can be healing.  There can be guilt-free food and joy in eating again.  The chains can be broken.

Reach out,

xo, Jess