Today I have the pleasure of publishing a guest post from a dear friend of mine; Sibylle Leon. She’s had quite a journey, and I’m sure many of you will recognize part of it in your own life.
I used to be as insecure a teenager as any. Or maybe I was even more insecure than most? It’s hard to say. I believe issues like body image and the huge pressure to be thin, thinner, thinnest, has become even worse in the decades since I was 15 (I’m 44 now), but it was definitely present in my youth, too. And I felt it, to the point where I couldn’t see just how slender I really was. All I’d focus on in front of the mirror was my belly, which seemed to be protruding inordinately.
When I look at pictures of myself at 15, I marvel at how slender and pretty I was. HOW could I have felt so fat? It’s hard to connect my present, relaxed, loving self back to the teenager I used to be. It makes me realize how far I’ve come in those past three decades.
Sibylle the teenager was obsessed with wanting a flat stomach. I have a hollow back so my stomach naturally sticks out a little most of the time. I couldn’t accept this and found myself “fat” until at 17, my obsession manifested in the shape of an eating disorder. I was overeating compulsively, in “fits” that had me devour absolutely anything to the point of feeling completely stuffed and nauseous. I DESPISED myself for my “weakness” and my ever-growing body. All together I put on nearly 20 kilos in less than two years (that’s about 44 pounds). I was an emotional wreck, half-mad with fear of getting even fatter, and the rumours and remarks from classmates and other people in my school weren’t helping.
At 18, my older sister took me to a weekend workshop about Brazilian Samba, the “real” Samba (not the version that’s taught in dance schools). It was summer, and I danced in a circle of beautiful, open-minded people with a lovely teacher who openly appreciated everyone. I remember this weekend vividly, as it marked a turning point: It was my first respite, my first experience of my body which was beyond judgment and full of enjoyment.
Thus began my long journey to recovery. During the next 12 years, I had a year of therapy, contact with many other compulsive eaters, and gradually began to accept that I wasn’t “weak”, that compulsive behavior and addiction actually occur most often in very strong-willed people – people who are so strong they need an outlet where they have no control at all.
You see, it’s not enough to realize what’s going on. It helps in the process, but if all we needed was to learn what makes us behave in a certain way, change would be a breeze. There’d be no overweight people, no smokers, and generally no unhappiness! After all, most people know that healthy food and regular exercise are the way to feel great, but it doesn’t mean we’re always able to put that into practice.
Healing rarely occurs in a linear fashion; I had better times alternating with periods of regular compulsive eating until around the age of 30, my weight fluctuating wildly. I do not remember any periods of compulsive eating after that and my weight stabilized. At the same time, just like an alcoholic who’s done the AA program and can never touch alcohol again, I had to and will always have to be very careful not to “prescribe” my eating, not to apply any strict rules.
In the past five years, this approach has led to a lot of unhealthy eating. I was in a job which wasn’t aligned with my personal values and what I see as my purpose in life (which is helping and supporting people, empowering and enabling them), and I compensated by eating junk food. For the first time in my life, though, I didn’t feel bad about myself. I recognized what was happening and focused on practising loving acceptance and ALLOWING myself to eat whatever I felt like eating. So for the first time ever, I put on weight the “natural” way, slowly. I didn’t try to intervene or prescribe healthy food and restrictions. I let it run its course and I can’t tell you what a difference it made! I did go to a weight slightly above healthy, but it’s better to be overweight and happy than overweight and feeling terrible.
Four months ago, the miracle happened. I changed jobs and am now working in a way that’s completely aligned to my purpose (in addition to my Coaching business, www.gentlemiraclescoaching.com), with a lovely company and amazing colleagues. And suddenly I was able to eat the healthy, fresh food I love. I don’t need such large portions anymore either; there’s no need to stuff a void in my soul with food. Currently I’m mostly vegan, eating a variety of whole, fresh foods and leaving out anything that has given me digestion pain all my life: gluten, yeast, sugar, and dairy. I found some amazingly tasty recipes and enjoy every meal so much! At the same time, I’m careful not to put any labels on it; I feel my way along. If tomorrow I won’t feel good about this any more, I’ll change what I eat tomorrow. That way, I’m not forcing anything and not triggering any compulsive behavior.
So what’s my advice to those who are still struggling? Mostly, it’s to take your time. This is a process which can’t really accelerated, only accepted and, yes, enjoyed. Heck, it took me 30 years! Stay with it. The happiness and peace of mind to be gained are profound, and I am grateful every day for all I’ve learned.
Sibylle is a trained and experienced Coach with a passion for helping people unfold their full potential in their lives, careers, or businesses. She specializes in HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) and works with clients from all over the world in intensive Coaching sessions over Skype. Check out Sibylle’s website at www.gentlemiraclescoaching.com.
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