Today I’m sharing my journey to making peace with food after years of binge eating and restrictions.
It feels a little weird to share this story with everything that’s going on in the world, but you guys asked to keep sharing regular posts, so here I am. I’m not sharing this to be insensitive. I simply want to keep some normalcy to the blog (along with many easy pantry-staple recipes to help you!).
So today, I’m sharing my journey to making peace with food. I hope that this post will help you understand my story and the reasons behind the change to Nourished by Caroline.
Before we get into it, I want to stress that this post is not intended as medical or nutrition advice. For personalized advice, please contact your dietitian or physician.
This post also contains some mentions of dieting behaviors, this may be triggering for those who are currently or have previously struggled with disordered eating.
That being said, here’s my story…
Making Peace with Food
Like many others, I was a victim of diet culture.
In my early teens, I was an athlete. I was a competitive swimmer and runner. Back then, I had no idea how food could affect my body or even my performance. I ate when I was hungry and I stopped when I was full. I didn’t think about how my body looked, I just lived.
As time went on, I got more and more exposure to diet and body talk.
Just like many other girls and boys, I’ve received negative comments on my appearance. Some parts of my body being too big or not good enough. Any positive comment on my “thinness” had just encouraged me to stay that size or to lose more weight.
Fast forward a few years and I was now in High School. I stopped swimming, which naturally meant that I was less active. This, along with puberty, meant that my body was changing. I had more curves. In my teenage brain, that was a problem.
So by the time I was 16, I was starting to feel some guilt over food. I started seeing some foods as good and others as bad. I tried to limit the “bad” foods and of course, what followed was years of restricting and binging.
Most days, I would come home from school and binge alone in my room. That was usually followed by a deep feeling of guilt and a promise to make up for it the next day, in the form of restrictions and exercise. At the end of the day, I would feel so deprived that I would binge again.
Some periods were better than others. When I was able to lose enough weight, I would feel a short-lived victory, just to fall back into my old habits when I inevitably gained the weight back.
When I was 20, I decided to seek help from a therapist. I was convinced that I had some sort of eating disorder. What he told me was unexpected. He said that I had a sugar addiction and that I would have to give up sugar forever. Of course I was desperate and I listened. It made sense!
So for 4 years, I avoided large amounts of added sugar.
That’s when everything changed. I grew confident in my new “lifestyle” and I honestly loved it. My cravings were gone and I felt great!
Starting Unsweetened Caroline
That’s when I started my blog Unsweetened Caroline. I was still in university, studying to become a dietitian and I decided to start sharing my recipes in my spare time. At that time, recipes with no added sugar (fruit-sweetened recipes) were hard to find and I wanted to share my experiments.
I never thought that my blog would get where it did. Many people started following along and trying my recipes.
My goal with my blog was never to encourage others to stop eating added sugar. I just shared my “healthier” alternatives, hoping that others would enjoy some good “healthy” snacks.
When I graduated from university and started working as a dietitian, my views on nutrition started to change. It quickly became clear to me that restrictions and diets don’t work on real people. I started learning more about intuitive eating and it changed everything.
Learning More About Intuitive Eating
The more I kept learning about intuitive eating, the more uncomfortable I became sharing my “healthy” recipes. It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the recipes that I shared. I think it’s great to have some wholesome, fiber-rich recipes on hand. However, I could see the kind of attention my recipes were getting and the message it potentially gave. I started getting more messages from readers asking for the calories in my recipes. I regularly got messages from people who were restricting their diets, either thanking me for my recipes or asking if they could substitute some of the ingredients in my recipes for lower carb or fat options.
While, as a dietitian, I’ll always get those kinds of questions, I didn’t want my content to encourage any kind of restrictive behaviors. I don’t want to be a part of diet culture, even if that wasn’t my goal.
After my first year of blogging, I started shifting the focus away from the fact that my recipes have no added sugar. I started avoiding the terms “sugar-free” or “refined sugar-free” and instead, I used terms like “sweetened with fruit”. I also avoided “diet talk” in any of my posts. By that, I mean I never talked about restrictions or labeling foods as healthy and others as unhealthy. It was a step forward, but it wasn’t enough. I still felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want people to think that sugar was bad and I felt like that’s what people took away from my content.
Reintroducing Added Sugar
In 2018 and 2019, I started sharing more about the importance of improving your relationship with food and the negative effects of diet-culture. I shared the message that diets and restrictions don’t work, but one thing remained: I was still avoiding added sugar.
So I dove into the study of intuitive eating and decided that it was about time that I ditched the diet mentality myself. I started eating added sugar again.
How do I feel? I feel exactly the same, but better. Better because I can enjoy the food that I thought I had to avoid forever. I’m finally at the point where I accept that I’m not addicted to sugar. That idea that was put in my head by that therapist is finally gone. I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to binging. I binged in my teenage years because I was restricting myself, even if I didn’t realize it.
Over the years, a lot had changed. I learned that diets and restrictions don’t work. I learned more about the negative effects of dieting on our physical and mental health. That our weight does not define us. That to be truly happy and healthy, I needed to enjoy all the foods, without feeling guilty. My confidence and knowledge in myself had increased. My relationship with food had dramatically improved, the only thing standing in my way of making complete peace with food was my own restriction of sugar. I didn’t feel like it affected me and I felt great, but reintroducing sugar made me realize what I was missing.
Honestly, I missed enjoying dessert with my family at Christmas. I missed baking, for myself and for others. Most of all, I missed the connection and experience you can get from food. An ice cream cone with friends after a day at the beach. Cake for a birthday. Food is so much more than just fuel.
I got married in September of 2019 and I traveled to Europe for 3 months with my new husband. During our time in Europe, I ate what I wanted and I enjoyed the experience, food and all. I ate gelato in Italy. I had pains au chocolat in Paris and I ate chocolate in Switzerland. It was an amazing experience and I would have missed a lot if I was still restricting my diet.
Things have changed over the past 5 years. I’ve worked on my relationship with food through intuitive eating and I now enjoy all foods (other than meat for environmental and ethical reasons). I slowly started allowing myself more sugar over the years, starting with bites of dessert or sweetened nut butters. In 2019, I finally let go of the diet mentality that was drilled in my brain. I allowed myself to eat all foods and I accepted the fact that my weight does not define me.
I only eat food that I truly enjoy and that means having at least a bite of chocolate most days. I listen to and respect my hunger signals. I don’t let food stop me from fully enjoying life.
All of this doesn’t mean that I ignore my health. Quite the opposite, intuitive eating has made me respect my fullness. It makes me feel good physically and mentally. I only eat foods that I enjoy or make me feel my best and that includes nourishing recipes. I still love fruit-sweetened recipes. I still eat tons of vegetables.
Intuitive eating is not about eating whatever you want, whenever you want and in whatever amount you want. It’s about ditching diet mentality and rules, respecting your hunger and fullness and enjoying your food.
It’s a long process, but it’s absolutely worth it.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, I encourage you to seek help from a dietitian that focuses on eating disorders and/or intuitive eating. Surround yourself with health professionals that practice with a Health At Every Size Approach and that will support you through the process.
I hope this helps you understand my experience a little better. And thank you so much for all of your support along the way and your excitement for this big change. I’ll keep sharing some nourishing recipes with you, along with non-diet nutrition and delicious food (including sugar-containing foods).