I have suffered from an eating disorder for most of my life.
It all began at the tender age of seven, when the 90s – the decade that saw diet culture hit its peak, Atkins all the rage and health modelled on Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig – was in full swing.
Some of you might remember what it was like growing up at that time.
Even as a young kid, I was subjected to society’s warped views of health and wellness. All around me the mantra was: ‘This is good food and this is bad food, and you shouldn’t eat this because it’s bad and you will get fat’.
After a kid at school asked if my best friend was Jenny Craig, implying I had issues with my weight, mum and I went on a diet together.
Looking back, that’s what triggered it all – the connection between food and weight and shame and calories and keeping track of it all.
Mum is my best friend and all she wanted to do was protect me.
It was just a strange time in the world, when we seemed to forget what made us human. We were putting too much emphasis on how we looked and what we ate, believing we had to look a certain way or demonstrate a certain level of willpower around food to be considered a worthwhile person.
At birthday parties I remember everyone enjoying playing games and having fun, while I would fixate on the food. The thing that was ingrained in me as being “bad” was just sitting there on a table. It took the experience of being “a kid in a candy shop” to the next level. Even at that young age, I was afraid that if I indulged or participated in sweets and treats that it would make me a bad person and somehow degrade my own self-worth.
It was the early stages of a nearly 20-year battle with Anorexia that almost claimed my life many times. I was 13 when I was officially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and 16 when I was first admitted into hospital.
Now 32, and on the other side of it, I can see a silver lining. Because of what I went through as a child, I can live my adult years free of food, weight or shape concerns, which I know still torture many women.
I went as far as I could with an eating disorder to realise this is not a life worth living. I was lucky to find mindfulness, yoga and nutrition education (it took seven years but I recently graduated from a Bachelor of Health Science – Dietetics & Nutrition at Endeavour College of Natural Health), which all helped with my recovery and allowed me to see what food could do for me rather than the black and white picture of good food or bad food.
I couldn’t tell you what I eat on a day-to-day basis other than I’m led by how I feel after developing a strong connection with my body and satiety. When you are balanced, your body knows what it needs.
After my eating disorder journey, I have a very healthy relationship with food. I enjoy a level of freedom now that I never had living by the rules of anorexia. And the most important thing I’ve learned as a nutritionist, and as a mum, is that all food is good in moderation.
I’ve read statistics and studies which suggest that food anxiety and disorders are more prevalent among the children of parents with an eating disorder but I am hoping to use my experience to help my daughter.
Due to medical complications from my eating disorder, I didn’t think I could be a mum.
And the unexpected news that I was pregnant brought with it a mixed bag of emotions and a lot of anxiety.
Anorexia is about control but when you are pregnant, you have no control.
But it also taught me to appreciate my body and what it was capable of and helped me take another step towards recovery.
From the moment my daughter was born, I knew it was my responsibility to protect her from diet culture and not let food dictate or control any element of her life.
When it comes to children and nutrition, you are the best role model for them as it is completely new territory for them and they only have you as a guide.
In our household there is no such thing as good foods and bad foods, however there are reasons why we eat what we eat. Protein helps build our muscles to keep us strong and carbohydrates help to keep us happy and playing longer.
We don’t look at cake as a guilty indulgence but as something delicious to enjoy. It’s not glorified as a treat just because “you have been good today”.
During the week we balance out the food groups to match energy requirements so her day care lunch box might include fruit, yoghurt, homemade healthy snacks such as muffins, as well as some carbohydrates like pasta and a protein source.
We don’t follow a plan or rigid structure and make room for spontaneous sushi and ice cream dates and moments of “why not?” at the grocery check-out.
My daughter openly shares that her favourite food is cake and nothing lights up my soul more as a mum than watching her bite into a piece and seeing the pure joy on her face.
After a very intense journey to get here, I now understand that food is just food and it is not something to be afraid of. It’s a means to keep you alive and also to live your life, outside of rules and expectations.
Lexi Crouch is a registered yoga teacher, nutritionist (Bachelor of Health Science – Dietetics & Nutrition at Endeavour College of Natural Health), motivational speaker and advocate for Eating Disorders Queensland and the Butterfly Foundation.