I've never had a healthy relationship with food and have always struggled with my weight (always being very overweight or yo-yoing between overweight and a healthy weight). I don't remember ever being excited by a particular food or wanting desperately to go and eat at a particular place. I just remember food being something I was made to eat at regular intervals and...that's it. I remember as a teenager developing what would later be diagnosed as EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified). For me, this manifested as a slightly erratic way of eating. I wouldn't eat for days at a time, then I'd eat everything that wasn't bolted down.
This carried on into my 20s and when I lived alone for five years, it only escalated. I would start every day with a coffee, eat nothing for the whole day, then go home and eat grocery bags full of food. I still didn't particularly enjoy the food, just the act of eating until I was almost sick. Eating nothing all day turned into eating nothing for days on end and the bingeing at the end of the week got worse and worse.
When I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, I was attempting to stick to Lite 'n' Easy. It was the first positive thing I had done for my body in a long time but I was the sickest I had ever been (given every Lite 'n' Easy meal is full of gluten!) The day I was diagnosed, I came home to my latest delivery of portion-controlled food waiting for me on the doorstep. I sat down next to the big polystyrene box and sobbed as I realised that I had been killing myself with food for all these years and now, even the healthy food was trying to kill me back.
That was seven years ago and there weren't really too many options for someone with coeliac disease, lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption so I did what any sensible 20-something would do. I stopped eating altogether. Ok, so I'm using the word sensible loosely. More like petulant. I was throwing a tantrum that lasted months and months, justifying it to myself by telling myself if I couldn't eat what I wanted to eat, I just wouldn't eat at all. So there. A year later I met my now husband and I still hadn't kissed and made up with food yet. I liked myself enough to have not touched gluten since I was diagnosed and to have vowed to myself never to touch it again but I was back to not eating all day and then having a nightly meal of either plain Doritos and avocado dip or a (gluten free) cheese toastie. My new-boyfriend-now-husband wasn't having any of this and started cooking my lunches and dinners under the guise of wanting to see if his old recipes were easily converted (rather than the FOR THE LOVE OF GOD EAT LIKE A NORMAL PERSON BEFORE YOU DIE approach).
It worked and I slowly got back on track but I never developed a great relationship with food. I still find myself resenting what others take for granted, for trying to kill me for most of my life. I still get suspicious of food and think it will make me sick regardless of whether it's gluten free or not. It still annoys me when I have to eat and makes me emotional when it's been too long since I've eaten. I'm still one of the pickiest eaters you will ever meet and have very strong opinions on which foods I like and which I don't (and never let a little thing like the fact I've never tried a particular food stop me from hating it). I get turned off by the texture of foods and I struggle to eat the right amount of food, either sometimes still depriving myself or sometimes still over-eating. It's a constant battle and, as a result, so is my weight. Just the other day my stomach was playing up and I found myself refusing to eat anything other than my old faithful Doritos and avocado dip. One of the few things I could eat before and after diagnosis and one of the few things that has never made me sick. It's like my crunchy, delicious security blanket that I just can't let go of just yet.
I don't like to say that I have an eating disorder. I prefer to say I have disordered eating. I'm not sure how that's any different but somehow it makes me feel better. What also makes me feel better is hearing about how many people with coeliac disease or other food intolerances also suffer from disordered eating. It all makes sense when we start to talk about it and look back at how ill food was making us, before we even knew that's what it was, and I feel far less alone now that I'm active in the coeliac community and hearing other peoples' stories.
I'm also inspired by some of the journeys I've read about over the years since I was diagnosed. I take a little piece of everyone's stories and use them to heal myself every day. I take inspiration from food bloggers and Instagram accounts that show beautiful, nourishing, healthy food but that also show balance with delicious, decadent desserts. I've learned that it's ok to like what I like as long as I like it in moderation and in the right amounts. I've learned that balance is the key and that not beating myself up for my choices is THE most important part of building a healthy relationship with food. Too often I see others on coeliac groups online justifying their food choices ("I don't eat like this all the time, I promise!") or judging others for their choices ("yes it's gluten free but it's so full of nasties I wouldn't touch it and you shouldn't either"), and it saddens me. We should absolutely educate and support each other but we can already judge ourselves harshly enough at times. Let's not turn on each other online as well.
I still have a long way to go in learning to love food and to love myself enough to eat well and look after my body more than I do but I'm getting there. Being diagnosed with coeliac disease was a massive kick in the backside and gave me the choice to be well or not. I chose to be well and to not touch gluten since the day I was diagnosed and I use that to inspire myself too. That's a big deal and a hard thing to do and no one should ever under-estimate that! I work towards restoring my health every day, no matter how slow or how small my steps may be. You can do it too. I believe in you.
Here's to good health, balance and support for all, regardless of your story. Here's to learning to love food again and to love ourselves. It's the most important thing we can do.
I would love for you to reproduce my articles as long as they remain intact and contain the author’s details as follows: ‘Gemma Boyd is a health advocate, passionate coeliac, holistic counsellor and meditation teacher based in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. She works with people who wish to manage and heal emotionally from chronic pain and illness. She can be contacted at breadoralive.com.au or sironawellness.com.au'