The five most important lessons I have learned…from my food addiction.

0 (1)Looking at myself in the mirror or glancing down at my legs I hardly recognise myself at times, which is a weird experience.  Sometimes when I look at my jeans I wonder how I am ever going to get into that size 12 rather than the former size 16/18 I was wearing this time last year.  And even the 12s are getting a little big!?

Sometimes when I browse through the clothes stores (no shopping at the moment) I will look at a dress or outfit and wonder if they’ll have it in my size or if I’ll fit into it…and then remember that my body has shed almost sixty 500g blocks of butter in the past year, and of course I will!  Shopping has always been a horror experience for me, taking a range of clothes to the change room only to discover that even the size 18 is a little small in some part.  Avoiding full eye contact with my reflection because I was embarrassed by my own self…thinking that I was lazy and useless to not have been able to stick to yet another diet plan and lose the weight that had crept on over the previous 12 months or so.

One of my biggest realisations over the course of my process has been that a big part of my inability to successfully complete a programme comprised of a couple of elements:

  1. The diet was restrictive and unsustainable, eliminating whole food groups which I love (insert carbs here).
  2. The expectations I placed on myself about the results I was going to achieve and the time frame I was going to achieve them in were completely unrealistic.
  3. The mindset I had around nutrition and exercise where fixed, which resulted in seeing every little slip, scale gain and  plateau as a failure and a chance to give up.
  4.  I did not know how to create accountability around my process, because if I couldn’t get it “right” that must mean I was lazy and incapable.
  5. I just didn’t love myself enough to see it through to the end!

Nothing earth shattering there! And what a load of complete and utter BS!  I have come from the school of dieting that is all about getting on a diet and sticking to a diet until you have achieved the required results.  No erring!  No mistakes!  No excuses!  If you are following the plan/programme, sticking to the instructions and eating the food you are supposed to you WILL LOSE WEIGHT.  So if I was doing all that and wasn’t getting the required outcomes then I  must have been doing something wrong.

Often after a great start of weight loss, I would quickly plateau in my scale losses.  I would become disheartened and frustrated that nothing was changing, and when I would ask the programme leader, dietitian, nurse or facilitator I was working with what was going on they’d always answer with a raised eyebrow and something about “Sticking to the programme!”  These comments and attitudes would leave me feeling uncertain and then I would start to question myself…my will power…my inability to do it right…my frustration at feeling deprived and unhappy…and sure as anything I would  be throwing in the towel and back to my old ways!

My old ways included self-deprecation for being so useless, criticising myself for not being focused and motivated enough, considering myself a loser because I just couldn’t see anything through.  And back I’d go to eating for all the wrong reasons.  The problem with any sort of dysfunctional eating behaviour, is that abstinence is not an option!  Unlike substance abuse, we can’t simply give up eating.  So, I would abuse food in the same way that I abused alcohol.

Depriving myself of anything nourishing or healthy when it came to what I put in my body.  Hiding my eating habits from my family and friends, which included chronic binges that left me feeling sick, guilty and ashamed (not unlike the way I would abuse alcohol in my twenties and early thirties).  The Friday evening shopping ritual was like a visit to the bottle store, piling my trolley with the most highly palatable food I could find and the I’d isolate over the weekends and eat, to the point of physical sickness.  I wasn’t bulimic because it didn’t happen every weekend, and like with drinking I could go for days without being dysfunctional.  But then the urge would strike!

This usually happened when I had nothing planned for the weekend, and I was feeling lonely or excluded, I had not been taking care of my stress, or I was just feeling I needed a reward for a long, hard week.  I’d get home and unpack all the food onto my kitchen counter and plan how I was going to eat it.   How I would have a little of this and one of those, maybe a small bowl of ice cream and just a few of the potato chips.  And it would start of well enough, just like the first couple of drinks in the years gone by.  But then something would happen and my brain would take over, and I would be lost in a hopeless cycle.  I would tell myself that I was only going to have one more brownie and leave the rest for tomorrow, only to end up eating the whole pack and then feeling immensely weak and out of control.  And so it would go until the food was finished or it was all in the bottom of the toilet.

This pattern of eating really got intense over the last few years leading up to when I started to identify that I was actually dealing with a cross-addiction in my life.  As a coach working in the field of addiction recovery, it was an extremely difficult realisation to own that I was abusing food in the same way I had abused alcohol years previously.  I was no longer eating for enjoyment, nourishment or reward, I was eating to punish myself, to hide away and to release negative emotions.  The similarities were difficult to ignore and the consequences were just as negative.  Feelings of self-loathing, isolation, emotions ranging from helplessness to rage, guilt, shame and a tattered self-esteem.

Ever move I made I was conscious of how I hated my body.  I was unable to walk into a room without feeling like everyone was judging me for being fat and lazy, because I was unable to control myself and stick to a diet, lose some weight and get myself into a gym.  Every week I promised myself that I was going to make changes, only to end up slipping off to the kitchen to eat slices of cheese behind the half-closed fridge door!  Not that there was anyone to see me doing it.  It all felt so dark and secretive, so damaging and yet even with a set of tools and practices, I felt powerless to do anything about it.

The challenge with certain addictions though is that the only option is moderation management.  Learning a way of reducing the harm that I was doing to my body, mind and soul through this destructive behaviour, was going to be my only way out of it.  Learning a new set of habits, skills and behaviours that were supportive of change; long-term, sustainable change.  And then I reached out…and like with any recovery that was the beginning of finding my way forward.  I didn’t get the right support for me off the bat, but I did start to make changes.  But what I did get right is that I started to get honest!  I stopped talking about the food and I started addressing my intentions and underlying motivations around the way I used food.  Making changes to my narrative was an essential part of the process, and learning to listen to the quiet, gentle inner voice rather than the angry, destructive critical one became a turning point for me.

In September 2016 I had a real breakthrough with my personal coach when I started to explore how I spoke to myself, and it was there that the real change started to happen.  I wrote about this in my blog post “How Do You Speak to Yourself?” and that was the day that I realised that the only way I was going to move forward was to do something new and different.  Something that I hadn’t tried before…  And so began my real recovery into finding and loving myself.

And after 12 months what I have learned is this:

  1. An eating plan can be as inclusive and exciting as I choose it to be, with all the food groups, and yet healthy and sustainable.  Thank you Flexible Dieting!!
  2. The expectations I place on myself are controlled by me, and need to be realistic, achievable and self-loving; only then can I expect to achieve them.
  3. That if I embrace a growth mindset in my life, then everything becomes a learning and an opportunity for growth and development, and there is no beginning or end just the process I chose to follow.
  4. I have created accountability and support through allowing myself to be vulnerable and reach out, because there is no right or wrong, just finding a way that works for me.
  5. And my biggest learning has been that I am deserving of the love and attention that I give to myself.  That the choices I make are ones that nourish and fulfill my bod, mind and soul, and I am worthy of making those choices and loving myself!

My name is Leigh-Anne and I am a recovering food addict and a flexible dieting convert…

Strong is the New Skinny

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The key to looking and feeling  great is Strength Training.  Strength training helps you burn body fat and gives you a firmer, leaner look with curves in all the right places.  And no; it won’t make you “bulky”, unless you overeat, take drugs, or are a genetic outlier.  The truth is that most people aren’t genetically predisposed towards gaining significant amounts of muscle.  It’s even more difficult for women, who, on average, have about five percent of the testosterone of the average male.  And since building muscle does take time, getting big and bulky overnight is really nothing to worry about.  It takes a well designed programme, with periodic changes, implemented with sufficient intensity and consistency over time to achieve the body changes you are interested in.

If you are holding back on your training by going too light, because you think you are going to end up with a “bulky” body, then be aware that you run the risk of achieving no real results and of hitting a plateau very quickly. This means that you will have mostly wasted your time in the gym unless you enjoy hanging out there which some seem to do.

People everywhere are getting stronger and fitter – men and women.  Lean, fit bodies are getting more appreciation and attention, and so they should.  People work hard to achieve these results and a strong body is a healthy body.  This is especially true in comparison to the bodies that have dominated the media for so long.  The waif-like, skinny, stick figures with virtually no muscle tone, resulting in a skinny-fat look.  It is also a look that has encouraged ill health and eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia and orthorexia.

Sadly, for some, this remains the ideal look.  But people have started to love getting and looking stronger and more powerful.  If you doubt this, ask yourself how the CrossFit movement has gone from 13 boxes in 2005 to more than 13,000 boxes worldwide at present!? What an explosion of strength enthusiasts!  However, CrossFit can be extreme and it is not for everyone.  There are plenty of other ways to get strong, lean and fit, and basic strength training is one of them.

In order to get results, you need to follow a well-structured, personally-customised training programme based on your specific goals, circumstances and abilities.  And a well designed programme can help just about anyone look, feel and perform better.  The guidance and support of an experienced and knowledgeable coach is invaluable to develop and monitor this process.

Every day I see people who don’t really know which exercises they should be doing, how to do them effectively for optimal gains, or even complete them in a way that won’t lead to injuries further down the road.  And because we are all looking for the next, new best thing, novelty plays far too big a role in people’s choices.  Fads come and go, nonsensical exercises are simply invented and are completely ineffective, and often a huge waste of gym and training time.

To add to these challenges that we face, there are some fully-certified trainers with years of experience, that are not aware of how to teach or even do the basic exercises, which are the foundation of any effective strength-training programme.  Unfortunately, since they have not mastered the basics, they simply cannot put together a training programme that effectively achieves the results that you are working towards.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great trainers and coaches.  As with any industry there is a huge skill variance, and the fitness and nutrition industry is no different!  Also, changing the way that our bodies look, is extremely challenging for most of us, myself included.

I have personally experienced frustrating plateaus, when nothing seems to be changing, training feels like torture, and my body doesn’t comply with my expectations. If you belong to a gym, have a look around next time you are there.  Then think back six to twelve months and identify some of the people who have achieved noticeable changes in their physique.  I know from personal experience that, unfortunately, there won’t be very many. Change is hard- and sustainable fat-loss and physique transformation is, for most people, one of the biggest life challenges they will encounter.

As a coach who is passionate about getting results, it can be confounding to see a strong woman, who picks up her 15 kilogram child in one arm, head off to the mini-dumbbell section to find a two kilogram weight to row with.  Always remember- “ If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you! “

With strength training it is very important to have realistic goals and expectations, and a good coach will help you with this. “The Cost of Getting Lean” is a great Precision Nutrition article that challenges us by asking some straightforward questions, “Six-pack abs. Tight butts. Lean, vibrant, flawless health. That’s the image the fitness industry is selling. But have you ever wondered what it costs to achieve that “look”? What you have to do more of? What you really have to give up?

IMG-20171113-WA0001 (2)Everyone wants to be really lean and “ripped” or even “shredded”.  Sounds awesome. Until the reality of the process kicks in.  For many it will be a nightmare and they will quickly burn-out.  The mental and physical stress of the dieting and intense training.  The gnawing hunger as your body desperately fights back against perceived starvation.  This starts affecting your sleep.  But without sufficient quality sleep you can’t adequately recover and stress goes even higher!  Do you work full-time and have kids? Oh dear – stress ever higher.  Oh well, maybe if you can plan, shop and cook a whole bunch of meals on the weekend you will still be able to stick to eating lots of pretty boring meals most of which never really leave you feeling very satisfied.

And be sure to cancel and avoid any social engagements for several months because you won’t have the time or the energy and will need as much sleep as you can get.    The bed will only be used for sleep as hormonal disruptions  kill your sex drive.   Besides you will often be so irritable you would sooner strangle them than make love.

Does this sound like something that most people should consider?  I don’t think so and that’s why I help clients achieve good results without driving them insane and ruining their health and well-being in the process.

The fitness and nutrition industry, especially when it comes to “fitspiration” on Instagram and other social media platforms, can be so misleading.  Carefully selected, filtered photos of genetically-blessed, drug-enhanced, fitness models are everywhere.  And it sends out the wrong message to people like you and me who are trying to change and  improve our bodies.  Promises of quick, dramatic results are rife if you buy their diet or meal plan, or book or training system, or supplements and meal replacements.  For most of us mere mortals anything really worthwhile and sustainable takes time and effort.

Strength training combined with Flexible Dieting is the way forward for most of my clients.  It is the shortest, most enjoyable route to success, that is sustainable in the long-term.  This does not mean it is a shortcut, but a process that is based on evidence and science, rather than the latest fad that promises quick results, but is inevitably unsustainable, resulting in another bitter disappointment.  This only serves to reinforce the disillusionment and feelings of personal failure that grow stronger with each aborted attempt at weight- and fat-loss, and muscle gain.

Since everyone is different, I understand the importance of meeting clients where they are at in their nutrition and fitness process.  And while it is important for the individual to understand some basic nutrition principles and ideas, and what’s true or false according to the science; it’s even more important that we start taking action, developing the habits and learning the new behaviour that are necessary for sustainable transformation.

That’s the most important aspect of coaching.  It’s providing the guidance, support and encouragement to get you on the road of action.  Then to keep you on that road by developing accountability around what you have decided on as your goals, plans and steps to getting the results you want.  It’s a team effort and if you keep taking actions, motivation and inspiration will follow, and the sustainable results that have eluded you, will be the results you achieve and maintain.

Start small, but begin today!

Click here for more information on my strength training and fitness coaching programme.