“’Really? That’s what you’re going to eat for breakfast?’ I vividly remember standing in the kitchen, holding my two pieces of cinnamon toast in my trembling hands. Every single one of my siblings had already made their way through the kitchen, toasting their bread, buttering it, and sprinkling it with cinnamon and sugar and yet, I was the only one standing here, singled out by my grandpa, a look of disappointment on his face.
That was just the beginning. At extended family events, I was the one only allowed one scoop of ice cream. At the movies, an aunt would comment on the amount of popcorn I ate, but not any of my cousins. The shame and embarrassment about my body and eating habits festered and grew.
By age 11, I began doing Tae Bo, a popular workout video at the time. Each day, before heading to my 6th-grade classes, I’d set my alarm to wake up before anyone in the house and do my workout. By the time I was 13, I was working out every morning, taking diet supplements, and tying a string around my stomach so I could remember to ‘suck in’ and ‘train my abs’ to be tighter. I was consumed with thoughts about my body. I ate my lunches in the bathroom and afterward, would lay on the tile floor and do crunches. Soon my body began to shrink. It felt like a miracle. My mom took me shopping for new clothes. Kids at school started paying attention to me and best of all, family members began showering me with praise. I heard words like ‘healthy, disciplined, strong and confident’ used to describe me. I bathed in their praise and began to relax. I’d done it, I’d fixed my ugly body. And then the weight began to come back.
Before long, I was back to my starting weight, plus some. I couldn’t believe it. All my hard work–gone. The praise disappeared, replaced with looks of disappointment. No one was more disappointed than me. The shame I felt was crippling. Then one night my mother sat me down to talk. ‘Kylie,’ she said, ‘How would you like to do Weight Watchers with me?’ It was like the sun parting through the clouds. ‘Really?!” I replied. ‘Yes! Please!’
Age 15 now, I began attending meetings every week with my mother. Meetings that began with a woman I’d never met weighing me and then commenting on that weight. ‘Oooh tough week?’ they’d say, or ‘What happened, honey?’ whenever my weight went up.
But then there were the weeks when I lost weight. Strange adult women would applaud and beam at me. I was given stickers, badges, and jewelry to celebrate my hard work. Women twice my age and older would ask what my ‘secret’ was.
Their praise was addictive. My ‘secret’ became multi-dimensional tips I’d picked up from other Weight Watchers over the years. I put all of them into practice. Throw ‘bad’ food away immediately. Write down EVERYTHING you eat ALWAYS. Bring your own food to parties and events. Stop eating after 7 p.m. Look up menus at restaurants before going out. Plan what you eat before eating. I memorized each one like a verse of scripture and engrained them into my teenage brain.
Before long I was the kid showing up to friend’s parties with baggies of carrot sticks. I’d sneak my little paper ‘food tracker’ to school or sleepovers and write down everything I ate when I thought my friends weren’t looking. Family events were stress inducing planning sessions where I had to ask everyone what ingredients were in each dish, often digging through the trash to find old dirty food labels. I became a Weight Watcher expert. There wasn’t a single food I didn’t know the ‘points’ for. It wasn’t even food anymore, it was all numbers and the higher the number, the higher the shame.
By the time I’d hit my early 20’s, I’d figured it out how to stop the repeated ups and downs of gain and loss. I’d just have to count and write down every single thing I ate, weigh myself at least once a week, try to work out at least once a day, look up every restaurant menu, and pre-plan everything I ate for the rest of my life. In my mind, it’s what was necessary. Even following these extreme rules, my weight still fluctuated. I still went through periods of gain and loss, but for the most part, I was able to keep it down spending endless amounts of time, energy, and money dedicated to it. Keeping my weight down became my life and why not? It was all in the name of health.
Then in my late 20’s, I got pregnant. My husband and I were over the moon. I was thrilled. But, then the panic began to set in. I knew I couldn’t go to Weight Watchers while pregnant. I felt lost, confused, and terrified. The thing I’d relied on for over half of my life to tell me what to eat was gone. In the first trimester, I was sick. All I craved were ‘bad’ foods, fizzy drinks, and carbs. If I ate a vegetable, I threw it up. Halfway through my pregnancy, my husband and I moved two states away from all of our friends and family. I became deeply depressed and by the end of my pregnancy, my weight had skyrocketed. I had gained a total of 75 pounds I felt so ashamed, disgusted with myself.
My sweet baby boy was born and within the first week of his birth, I found myself at a Weight Watchers meeting. In the midst of new motherhood, I weighed, tracked, and measured everything. I took pictures of my swollen naked body in the mirror, determined to fix it, put it right. My son struggled to breastfeed and I struggled to keep my milk supply up. It was hell on earth. I painstakingly tracked my food, often only losing 1 pound a week. At long last, we made it through the first year. I was down 50 pounds and was mentally, physically and emotionally spent. I weaned my son and then got pregnant again.
‘I know better this time,’ I thought. In the first trimester, I ate mostly naan bread and hummus, the only two ‘healthy’ things I felt like I could stomach. At around the halfway mark in the pregnancy, I started gaining weight, as I’d lost some in the beginning. I started working out more regularly and began incorporating more vegetables into my meals. I felt good and overall much better than my last pregnancy.
I gave birth and everything was wonderful. The workouts really helped with my strength and recovery this time was much better. We came home with our beautiful baby girl and I got back on the weight loss grind. I signed up for a 6-week weight loss challenge. Every week when I stepped on the scale, my weight didn’t change. I couldn’t believe it. I cut my calories and the next week again, no change. This went on the entire 6 weeks until I was down to 1700 calories, which anyone can tell you is not nearly enough for a newly postpartum, breastfeeding mother. Mania and panic began to set in. My emotions were all over the place and I could not stop crying. I was so tired and so hungry. All I thought about was food. I started eating gallon-sized zip lock bags of protein balls (supposed to last me a week) in one sitting. I hated myself. I felt lost, desperate and out of control.
That’s when I found Jessi Jean on Instagram. This beautiful petite blonde woman preached about living a life free from food obsession, a life where she was SO free there were actually times when she’d forget to eat. ‘Give me a BREAK.’ I thought. No one actually forgets to eat. Then one day I saw her being interviewed on a live Instagram.
‘When I first heard about intuitive eating, I laughed out loud,’ she said. ‘I thought, are you kidding me? If I ate whatever I wanted, I’d be knee-deep in ice cream 24-7!’ I was intrigued. Isn’t that what would happen?
‘No,’ the beautiful blonde woman said, ‘You see, when you give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, they lose their power over you.’ She continued. ‘Think of yourself as a bottle that’s been tightly sealed shut. Every time you diet, every time you restrict your food intake, you increase the pressure in that bottle. Eventually, that pressure bursts which leads to a binge.’
I couldn’t believe it. She was describing EXACTLY what I was experiencing, what I’d experienced SO many times in my life.
‘In my Food Freedom Masterclass, I teach my clients how to take the cap off and release that pressure once and for all, resulting in peace with your food and body.’
I sent her a private message immediately. Everything inside of me said, ‘this could be a scam, she could be lying.’ But, I had to see for myself. I was desperate. She messaged me back and we scheduled a phone call. I don’t know how long I talked to her, but I know I cried through most of it. She listened, she was kind and she understood. By the end of the phone call, I was officially a member of her program and I was terrified.
The next couple of weeks were a blur. As I went timidly through her modules, listening to her wisdom and connecting with other women in the group I was continuously blown away. Everything just made sense. I felt like I was having the wool slowly pulled from my eyes. One of the first things Jessi said was that, while participating in the course, she’d like us to stop weighing ourselves.
‘Ok fine,’ I thought and immediately asked my husband to hide our scale. The next thing she asked was to give ourselves unconditional permission to eat what our bodies wanted.
That wasn’t as easy. I remember walking up and down the freezer aisles, looking at all the flavors of ice cream. I think I bought five different kinds. The next few weeks were like living a childhood fantasy. I ate anything I wanted. And here’s the bizarre part: I never binged. Not once. I knew I didn’t need to. Anything I wanted was all there. The pressure was gone. What made a binge a binge wasn’t the amount I ate or the type of food I ate. It was how I felt. It was the panic, the mania and the fear that made it a binge.
All that fear began to dissipate. I experienced true food freedom. And you know what else? I realized I didn’t really like ice cream that much after all. I’m much more of a chocolate chip cookie kind of girl.
It’s been almost a year since that initial phone call with Jessi. I no longer binge. I feel freedom with the food I eat. I go on dates with my husband and we try NEW restaurants without me ever looking up the menu to see how many calories are in their dishes. I cook more often. I search for and make new recipes. My food guilt is GONE. And you know what? I do on occasion forget to eat.
As far as I can tell, I haven’t gained any weight either. I wouldn’t know because there is no longer a scale in my house. I’ve also realized that whether I’ve gained or lost weight is no longer the point. I refuse to live my life dedicating my time and energy to keeping myself small, in ANY way. My children will NOT see their mother weighing herself, or hear her talking in shame about something she ate.
They WILL see a vibrant, smart and STRONG woman, tenacious about her values and goals.
I’m excited for the first time in my life for the things I know I can and will accomplish. The time and energy spent shrinking myself has been set free into other areas of my life. My goals are no longer associated with weight loss, but with growing my life. I’m currently creating art again for the first time in YEARS and have plans to start selling my images on a website later this year. My husband and I are planning on training for and completing a triathlon just because we’ve always wanted to and know we CAN.
I no longer sell myself short. I’m determined to be and continue becoming my most authentic self, free of the burdens of dieting and body hate. There are days I still struggle with this beautiful and flawed body of mine, but I now recognize that that is ok. Success is not linear and neither is healing. I’m miles away from where I was and cannot WAIT to see where I go.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kylie Russell from Las Vegas, Nevada. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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