I have a memory of being at a bar when I was 19 and overhearing a girl say “Wow, Des has sure gained some weight!” I was kind of blasted open by it because I hadn’t even realized I had gained weight and I certainly didn’t think that anyone else had. It sent me into a downward spiral to think of who else might be criticizing my body behind my back. I started overanalyzing comments that had been made over the years, and quite quickly fell into patterns of self-conscious behaviour. Despite the fact that I felt great, and that this was really an isolated incident, I began constantly criticizing and judging myself with negative self-talk. This dark time in my early twenties was accompanied by some other experiences that shook me deep, deep, deep. I began to hate how I looked, the way my body felt, and food started to scare me.
After leaving my boyfriend at the time, I entered into a relationship with a very caring and kind individual who would become my husband. It was in the safety and comfort of this relationship that I began to explore myself in a variety of ways, and that’s where things got really heavy. Together we become vegan and began to explore healthy alternatives and ways to cook and live. At the same time, I was forcing myself to work out relentlessly while managing depression and anxiety. I would leave the gym and come home crying, looking at myself in the mirror with disgust. I even imagined cutting the fat off my body, and other disturbing images that would haunt me as I stared with anger at myself in the mirror. I would create these beautiful meals and then would either angrily refuse to eat them, or would binge and then shamefully purge them later on. I wouldn’t go out, and I made horrible scenes in front of friends who would try to assure me that I looked great or that it didn’t matter if I had fat on my body.
At this time of my life, I began my Kundalini yoga teacher training. For anyone who knows this practice you’ll understand the type of digging I was doing, though at the time I didn’t have the capacity to understand or deal with the uprisings in a positive way. All I knew was that I was suffering deeply and I related it to an unhealthy mental state and added it to the multitude of things I claimed was wrong with me. This time also coincided with a major decision I had made to stop shaving my body hair, which was one of the first things that set me free from the expectations that had been placed on my body. My husband was very challenged by this, and we would argue endlessly over it. I felt empowered in my body in a way I never had, especially in the midst of managing disordered eating, and refused to do anything but stand my ground. And to be honest, it felt exactly like I was fighting a war, and that I had to fiercely defend what little self-appreciation I had brewing inside.
I experimented with different diets, including 80/10/10 and banana fasting (literally, 10 days of eating 30 bananas only at a time). I was constantly tracking every single calorie and working out in hopes that I could sneak in a little bit extra food. My mind was either on what I had just eaten, what I’d eat next, or my body. Eventually my stomach was in such distress that I wouldn’t/couldn’t have bowel movements for sometimes entire weeks. I developed hypoglycaemia and a range of allergies just popped up out of nowhere. This continued for over 3 years. Eventually I decided to take a course to become a registered holistic nutrition, but the reality is that no matter what I LEARNEd, what I understood, there had to come a shift that would change my perception.
The approach that’s worked best in my own healing journey has been multi-faceted. It’s included positive affirmations (consciously choosing kind self-talk, which takes time and practice because it comes down to rewiring the brain and habit patterns of negativity), cultivating trust in my own body and its capacity, feminism, yoga and meditation, environmentalism, and nutrition. Really, what it came down to was a desire to love myself more than I was hating on myself. There was a huge part of me that would stand behind all of the negative self-talk, yet desperately want something different for myself. This has always been my saving grace. Despite doubt, criticism, and even self-harm, there is a soft and gentle voice within me that’s always believed things could get better, and I am so grateful for that. There has always been a call within me to come back “home” to the natural state of my being. I have always known the disturbance and imbalances, rage and sadness, confusion and doubt, were not me. They were engrained in me, my own patterns, the accumulated consequences of life that I never sorted through and healed previously. The rabid advance of my issues unpacked in my mid-twenties and during my kundalini training were overwhelming, and without a developed awareness I often found myself downward spiralling. Still, the voice persisted and eventually I learned more and more techniques that helped me manage the uprisings that come with spiritual development. It was when I understood the nature of my negativity that I felt truly able to release it. The reality is, I had to make a CHOICE to stop living in this way. I would tell myself: “I enjoy food. I love my body. My body is healthy and perfect the way it is.” It took a long time and a lot of perseverance. I had to remind myself to think differently about myself and food. I learned about my body, and the strength and wisdom in my bones and flesh. How could I hate this body? It is powerful beyond what I had ever thought. I learned about my mind, and how deceitful its incessant chatter could be. I stopped trusting empty ideas and words, just because I had heard them over and over. I decided enough was enough.
Part of what needs to change is what comes as an outrageous consequence of being unkind or hurtful to ourselves and others. Regardless of ones own opinions, judgments, biases, fears, or best wishes, our goal isn’t perfection, it’s compassion. I mean, at the end of the day that’s what it’s about, and I would choose making someone feel comfortable in their skin and a sense of self-love and acceptance rather than assert my *outdated* opinion that fit equals healthy or skinny is better than fat. After all, one of the main objectives in yoga is to release the over-emphasis of the physical self; to change false identification of the physical body being akin to ones consciousness, existence, Self. It is my belief that in our individual and collective states of open mind and open heart, that optimal wellness and health occur naturally — rather than something we obtain or strive for, this vitality is our nature. We all possess the same crystalline awareness and ability to achieve balance on every level. Letting go of judgement, aversion, and attachments to ones opinions and ideas about health is a key to achieving a free-form state of wellness that is malleable and fluid. Ahimsa is a yogic concept that translates to non-harming. As we heal our relationships with our own bodies, we see the impacts of that negativity and judgement we’’ve been holding onto for so long. When we free up that space, all that’s left is appreciation and love. And it’s been a part of my own journey to want to share that openness and acceptance with others who are struggling to find love for themselves. We engage in the concept of ahimsa when we love ourselves so deeply that we do not allow the negative self-talk to creep in and dominate. We observe what our bodies need and want, and offer it in kindness. This means developing an awareness of our own needs and preferences, and responding with an intelligence rooted in self-love.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU! We have been guided by systems that attempt to put us all into the same box: a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness that very obviously does not work. There are so many factors that contribute to our individual needs for healing and growth, many of which are contorted by the workings of the monkey mind and ego. I believe the best thing you can do for your own health and wellness is to tune that noise out and turn into your own body and mind. Learn about them. Befriend them. Release what’s holding you back from understanding and hearing what you need to find that optimal health and wellness. There’s no easy fix. It takes time to cut through the layers we’ve accumulated; through the stories we’ve told ourselves. But you are always writing, sharing your story. Creator, you have the potential right now to look in the mirror with complete and utter acceptance and love, and say: “You are beautiful.” When we heal ourselves, we can look outside of us and spread that radiance. To me that’s the point. We work on our own liberation to spread that shine to others. We dig it out from underneath our own layers of dirt and grime, remembering that our true nature is peace and joy rather than doubt and fear.
I crafted the offering “Healing your relationship with food” to share some of what’s worked for me on my own journey, as well as some of the information about food that’s helped me to heal. I want to come together and CELEBRATE food and ourselves in a healing space that brings you back to the joy of food and the body. I’m hosting this workshop at a restaurant and wellness centre that has helped bring me back to the joy of food and loving myself, and I am so honoured to be able to share this offering in that special place.
So, this is some of my story. I hope that it inspires you on your own path, to remember that there is a light that never stops shining within you. It wants to shine. It wants to light the path for others.