Written by Jessica Manginelli, Down to Earth Nutrition's dietetic intern.
In her own words, Jessica explains her experience with food and body image as an athlete, further showcasing that no one's intuitive eating journey is the same.
Hi, I'm Jessica and even though I am officially about 5 months away from being a registered dietitian (yay!) food has not always been an easy subject for me to think about…
Growing up I was raised in a household that was always filled with comments about food and how other people’s bodies look.
“Did you see how big she is now?!”
“You’re going to have another serving?!”
“Keep those away from me or I will eat the whole box!”.
Unsurprisingly, I grew up worried that if I ate too much I would become fat (at the time I thought there was nothing worse I could be) and then people would talk about the way I looked behind my back. So I made the only rational decision and I started dieting.
I would skip lunch, cut out all sugar and bread. I only ate “clean foods”, tracked everything in MyFitnessPal, and made sure I stuck to my macros and calorie goals at all costs.
As a competitive athlete, not only was this negatively impacting my performance but it was outright dangerous. I would nearly pass out at practice, had frequent headaches, and completely lost my period. But the most frustrating part was that I was always thinking about food!
I was so focused on making sure I was eating perfectly, yet for some reason I would find myself binging if I found some “bad food” in my house. Those cookies that a roommate bought for the house to share—I kept sneaking back to the cupboard until the box was gone. The dairy-free, sugar-free ice cream I bought as a treat for having a “good week”—magically disappeared before I even realized I was half way through.
This pattern caused so much shame, embarrassment, and even more negative thoughts about my body. At my lowest weight I remember looking in the mirror, so upset at every inch of my body and wishing I could finally lose those last 5 pounds.
Then March 2020 came around.
The pandemic was in full swing, I finished my last quarter of college online, my sports career ended suddenly before my last competitive season, and I was completely isolated in a house full of food. I grieved the loss of my sport and just general normal life and the only thing I could think to do was eat. I tried to cover up my pain with food but continued to feel sad. I stopped exercising completely due to lock down and not having an athletic goal to work towards anymore. And my weight began to climb.
I found myself living my biggest fear. I was at my highest weight, I felt so out of control with food, and nothing I tried to do was helping. The 90 day W***e 30 Challenge I did with my friends only made me feel worse and cutting out foods didn’t give the same results it used to.
My body was changing and I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I stumbled upon a dietitian on Instagram who talked about food freedom and instantly was drawn in. She talked about being able to stop eating when she was full, regardless of what food it was, leaving food on your plate, and that restricting what I was eating was the reason I was overeating. I knew that I needed to learn more so I enrolled in her class and learned just that.
I started pushing myself by buying cookies and ice cream again and letting them exist in my house (something I was sure would lead to a binge). I reassured myself that it was okay if I left 2 bites on my plate if I was full and that I didn't always need to clean my plate. I started planning out snacks when I knew I would be going 4+ hours without eating so that I wouldn’t end up hangry later in the day.
It was hard and frustrating because deep down I secretly believed that if I followed this better way then I would lose the weight, get back to my smallest body, and finally be happy. But that didn't happen.
My weight has been fairly stable and I have found new clothes that make me feel comfortable and not pinched or squeezed. In all honesty, I have no idea how much I weigh. I haven’t looked at my weight on a scale in over a year and that is a hard thing I am very proud of.
Today I still have moments of questioning if I should eat a certain food or if I should actually eat that much but I try to let those thoughts pass and focus instead on if I feel happy, comfortable, and satisfied. I have a new found love and appreciation for leftovers and now that I don't feel pressure to always finish what I am served, I get to enjoy my favorite foods for even longer—even dessert.
Intuitive Eating is really a deceiving phrase because it's not always intuitive. If you are like me, it’s not intuitive to stop eating when you are full and to eat any food that sounds good to you, regardless of the calories. It takes practice and effort and patience to teach yourself how to eat again without stress, but if there is anything I know, it's that it is worth it.
Learn more about Jessica and her aspirations as a registered dietitian here.
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Everyone's Intuitive Eating journey will be different. While I am a registered dietitian, I may not be your dietitian, personally. This intuitive eating guest blog post is for informational and educational purposes only and may not be the best fit for your personal situation. Information shall not be construed as medical nutrition therapy. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. It is not intended to replace individual nutrition care or nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian. Always check with your own registered dietitian and physician or medical treatment team before trying or implementing any information read here.
If you choose, Down to Earth Nutrition would be happy to help you in your own, individual nutrition and intuitive eating journey.