How I Overcame a Decade of Yo-Yo Dieting

I was always a skinny kid and a notoriously picky eater as a child.  Yet, there was a drastic shift when I reached my teen years. Suddenly I was constantly hungry and gained a lot of weight in a short period of time. Looking back I realize that the initial weight gain was a normal part of puberty and due in part to a rapid increase in my height. However, at the time I became fixated on the fact that I was fat. I was self conscious and constantly compared myself to my thin girlfriends and the even thinner fashion models I saw in the magazines of the 70s.

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This period marked the beginning of an unhealthy eating pattern that lasted for close to a decade. I would literally starve myself to lose weight and then rapidly gain back those pounds and more. By the time I reached 17, I weighed 160 pounds and suffered from a slow metabolism and low self-esteem. I was so ashamed that I would attempt to hide in family pictures and would tear up my photos or cut myself out of the pictures. In fact, I have no photos from this period of my life. I erased myself.

After I graduated from high school I resolved to lose the weight and resorted to near starvation techniques to successfully reach my goal weight of 115 pounds. I looked great and was encouraged by numerous compliments and plenty of male attention. I dated, went on to college, got a good paying job, and kept the weight off. Life was great! There was only one problem. I began a pattern of yo yo dieting.  I would binge on all kinds of fatty, sugary foods and gain 5 to 10 pounds. I would then feel ashamed, insecure, and unworthy and would rapidly starve myself back down to 115 pounds. Food was the enemy, and eating was something that made me feel guilty.

The weight cycling continued into my mid-twenties until a big lifestyle change broke the pattern. I met and married my husband, Mike. Was I a damsel in distress saved by my knight? No this was hardly the case. I was and still am a strong minded woman. I was simply fed up with my own behavior and with the health issues I was experiencing from insufficient nutrition. My husband was the catalyst for the changes I was already mentally ready to make.

Neither one of us had any knowledge of nutrition other than the four basic food groups taught in school. However, what Mike did have was a love and appreciation for good food that he in turn shared with me. My Italian hubby enjoyed eating at great restaurants, cooking gourmet dinners, and drinking amazing red wine. He was a foodie long before that term was ever popular.

It’s funny because until Mike read this article he was unaware of the impact he had on my eating habits. Early in our relationship he put me in charge of making a salad for a meal we were preparing for friends. He quickly saw that I did not know how to do this simple task and patiently taught me how to prepare a beautiful salad. I remember Mike telling me something he would later say to our kids, “It’s all about the presentation.” That statement resonated with me and marked the beginning of a change in perspective. Food was not the enemy. It was something to be enjoyed.

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When my perspective shifted, I no longer struggled with my weight. I focused on nourishing my body with healthy, delicious foods and enjoying treats in moderation. My weight regulated over time and stayed within a normal range.  I went on to learn about exercise and fitness nutrition. I became a competitive marathon runner, cyclist, cross county skier quadrathlon athlete, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and national figure bodybuilding competitor. The past mistakes were far behind me, and I did not even think about those painful years for a long time.

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I was prompted to write this blog when old demons recently resurfaced. I suffered a back injury that left me unable to do any type of real workout. Although my body weight was staying fairly consistent, body fat was increasing and muscles were losing definition. I began comparing myself. The thin magazine fashion models of yesterday were replaced by the beautiful Instagram fitness ideals of today. I even compared myself to my own past competition photos. I was stepping on the scale way too often and skipping meals. I questioned my ability to successfully coach clients because I was not able to exercise and not in “competition shape.”

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This utterly absurd thinking compelled me to take a long walk down memory lane and relive some of the past mistakes to remind myself of just how far I have come. Yes, I can’t wait to get back into a workout routine. I love body building and seeing all the beautiful muscle definition. However, I also need to recognize that my worthiness as a woman and my ability to help others is not dictated by how I look. I wish I could go back in time and tell the younger version of me everything I have learned. Then I remember the choices I made were the choices that made me who I am today, and perhaps I can be the catalyst for change in someone else’s life.

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