LifestyleWellness How to Overcome Disordered Eating

disordered eating

How to overcome disordered eating

I grew up fat and weird in a small town in southwestern Ontario. 

A chubby kid by nature, my hardworking mother traded her time for money. This left me fending for myself most of the time.

My diet consisted of the 90’s latchkey kid staples like Kraft Dinner, Mr. Noodles, Pizza Pockets, Alphagettis, Pogos and so on. Essentially refined sugars, trans fats and preservatives disguised as foods that could be easily nuked or prepared with minimal effort. As an awkward child who always felt a bit like an alien, these foods unknowingly filled a void that I didn’t even realize existed in my little brain.

How our primitive brain works

You see, we seem to forget that we are animals by nature. In fact, the basal ganglia or reptilian complex dictates 90% of our behaviour.

This primitive structure motivates you to: 1) seek pleasure, 2) avoid pain and 3) do so by expending the least amount of energy possible. We are hard-wired to seek comfort over everything else. That’s because comfortable animals survive and proliferate the species at a higher rate.

Thinking about this concept in terms of food, binge eating becomes more understandable. In nature things like sugar, fat and salt are not in excess. We are therefore programmed to fully exhaust whatever sources we may come across in our travels. Normally, this would be super adaptive for animals living in the wild, or our primitive hunting and gathering ancestors. In modern society, however,  a never-ending stream of sugar, fat and salt surrounds us.

Take sugar for example. Did you know that there are more than 17 different names for it, so ‘food’ producers can cleverly hide it? Refined sugar in any of these forms reacts the same way in your brain as psychoactive drugs like cocaine do.

Both substances trigger the release  of dopamine: a happy feel-good neurotransmitter linked to reward

In nature, this chemical reaction is what reinforces our consumption of these valuable resources. But, in our current society, it can be a death sentence. Since we are hard-wired to feel good and most of our behaviour stems from the primitive part of our brain that is only focused on instant gratification, many of us get stuck in a loop of feeling bad. So we use food jammed with sugar, fat, salts and preservatives to ‘feel better’.

This is what’s known as a maladaptive coping mechanism

With maladaptive coping, the means of feeling better are short-sighted and actually lead to further issues down the road.

This is exactly what happened to me in my formative years. As a lonely child, food was a comfort. Eating large amounts of these meals while unsupervised felt good to my little brain. Massive amounts of dopamine were released, reinforcing the behaviour. It was love at first bite. But like, messed up abusive love as these same foods also caused my weight to balloon. This negatively affected my self-esteem, value, and worth even further. I continued to feel badly about myself and my extra weight.

At the same time, my family members told me I needed to watch out for my disordered eating and put me on all sorts of different diets. I’ve done calorie counting, points, low carb, low fat, weird fasting regimes, shakes, supplements and more.

None of them worked because they all felt bad!

Remember that 90% of our behaviour is unconsciously focused on seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and saving the most amount of energy possible. With dieting, you are intentionally eating less than your body needs to survive.

Fad diets cutting out important macronutrients like fat or carbs are especially uncomfortable as we are depriving our bodies of essential nutrients

So we’re  not getting what we need, which goes against our nature. And then we’re also asking our bodies to exercise, using up even more resources. Then, when you take into account the negative affect associated with why you’re dieting in the first place, it’s bound to fail.

Hating your body feels bad. Dieting feels bad. Exercising on a caloric deficit feels bad. We are hard-wired to feel good. See the problem?

This is exactly why studies have shown time and again: that people who participate in fad diets, caloric restriction and harsh physical training protocols may lose weight initially. But over time they end up being heavier and worse off than those who didn’t even try.

Looking back over the past 3 decades of my life, I’ve gained and lost 100’s of pounds by participating in this cycle. I’ve done every diet imaginable: I’ve starved myself, I’ve abused exercise and have even had periods of time where I was hyper focused on counting macros and only eating clean.

Eventually I ended up working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer after finishing my degree in Psychology while becoming a newly single mom. During this time I learned a lot about how the body works and even became certified as a Precision Nutrition coach. Through this process I began to understand the importance of clean whole foods. But I was still overly focused on eating this way to elicit a result in my physical body because I was terrified to be the ‘chubby trainer’.

Filling the void

Since I wasn’t using food as a coping mechanism to numb the negative affect associated with this mindset though, my brain sought other methods: alcohol, drugs and a string of meaningless ‘relationships’ with emotionally unavailable men to fill the void and make me ‘feel better’.

After a particularly dramatic and difficult situation with one such individual, paired with the news of a good friend of mine being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at 31, I finally gave my head a shake.

I wasn’t happy.

In fact, I realized that I didn’t even know what that felt like. Life was just a constant drag. I felt bad all the time but instead of acknowledging it I just covered it up with distractions. Really my brain was just doing damage control the only way it knew how. I was completely under the control of my basal ganglia which had no future planning or ability to see past immediate gratification.

Because I felt bad, my brain provided me with many ways to ‘feel good’ now, except all of these things really just made the problem much worse in the long run.

Then I decided to stop drinking and doing drugs, went celibate and dove into self help.

I learned about quantum creation and came up with a vision of myself in the future being a motivational icon. While I white-knuckled sobriety I tried to meditate and envisioned myself in a life of luxury. Talked about light and love and the law of attraction but something was not quite right.

I was still focused on external gratification and how others perceived me. Didn’t love myself fully because I was hiding things that I was ashamed of. I still hated my body even though I was jacked. I was incredibly insecure about my loose skin, stretch marks and cellulite and was terrified that people would find out my addictions, anxiety and depression. In few words, I wasn’t being myself. I had created an avatar that I thought would be an attractive character and was playing a role.

This created a massive incongruence within me that felt bad. Since we’re hard wired to feel good, this was a problem. I kept going with the self help materials though and even hired a very expensive (& totally worth it) coach who told me that I should do some shadow work. This sucked, like a lot.

Through this process you basically uncover all of the things that are less than awesome about your personality and behaviour.

You come to understand that everyone is just as much darkness as light and begin to desensitize yourself to your shadow. You realize that there’s nothing wrong with you for having those traits and by freeing yourself from the need to hide them you become super powerful!

Once I began to love myself not only despite my flaws but because of them, I became whole

I experienced peace, joy and pure acceptance as I never had. I was working as General Manager at a Crossfit gym at the time and began to find it difficult to give people diet and fitness advice based on the old paradigm of hating their bodies to get results.

Eventually this incongruence became too much and I left the fitness industry altogether to pursue further spiritual enlightenment. I stopped lifting weights to an obsessive degree, & instead took up yoga, breathwork and meditation. I ate what I wanted to and loved the heck out of myself for the first time ever.

After a year of this, I opened myself up to a new career path and received 3 separate requests for me to coach people in my network unsolicited. I took on these life coaching clients and used my new teachings with them. They all saw amazing progress and so I decided to get back into coaching. As part of my business rebranding I wanted to do some body positive photoshoots.

After the first one, upon looking at the pictures I realized how body dysmorphia can work in a positive way. I felt great about myself. So great that I hadn’t noticed just how much weight I had gained by not working out and eating whatever the heck I wanted.

Then this perplexing issue stroke:

I wanted to lose weight. But how was I supposed to get motivated when I loved myself the way I was?

When it came to weight loss, I needed a paradigm shift. Gone were the days of punishing myself with caloric deficits, counting macros and harsh training protocols. Could I somehow combine my expertise in brain science, exercise, & nutrition with my newfound spiritualism and radical self love? Heck yes I could! The key was shifting the goal to feeling good. 

By working with my brain’s natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain instead of against it, I developed the Quantum Weightloss Solution.

In this paradigm we become conscious observers of our thoughts and monitor how our behaviours make us feel.

Instead of operating on auto-pilot, following subconscious urges and cycling through maladaptive coping mechanisms in a never ending spiral of negative affect, we pay attention to what we think and feel about ourselves and how our corresponding actions affect us.

By addressing our shadow and examining the limiting beliefs we put upon ourselves, we alleviate the need to be punitive or motivated to change because we don’t like our bodies. It then becomes easier to see the connections between our behaviour and how we actually feel.

Our bodies and minds actually really like the things that lead to weight loss when we do it from a place of positive, self-loving motivation

It feels really good to eat clean whole foods, including more plants. To drink at least 3-4 litres of filtered water a day. It feels good to move your body with intention based on your individual body composition, physical limitations and interests. It also feels really good to practice mindfulness and make space for yourself to just be in the world without distractions.

By practicing these simple behaviours and paying attention to how they feel, your body will start to fall into alignment with its natural rhythm

You’ll reduce your stress levels, which are another contributor to excess weight and be happier in general. From this space you will have more mental real estate for positive goal setting. And since the goal is feeling good, it’s so much easier to adhere to.  Compared to those yucky goals rooted in ‘shoulds’, ‘have to’s’, and other negatively rooted motivations.

Just remember that ultimately feeling good is your body’s baseline. Everything that you do is motivated by this outcome. However, we are so caught up in modern stressors that our poor brains don’t have the capacity to see that short term gratification does not lead to long term satisfaction.

So if you’re ready to stop feeling bad and ready to start feeling good, come join me in this new paradigm! Your body, mind and soul will thank you, I promise!

Woke Weightloss Solutions

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