One day, toast changed my life.
Literally. Sort of.
It was many years ago.
I was still planted firmly in the fitness industry at the time, working as a personal trainer and nutrition and wellness coach.
I spent my days helping people “get fit” and “eat healthy” so, of course, I was always preaching about lifestyle changes, “healthy” eating, “whole, clean, nutritious” food, and demonizing “processed” foods, as most others in those worlds do.
Toast, at the time, was a big no-no. Especially toast made with white bread.
That’s basically blasphemy in the “healthy eating” world with two strikes against it. First, it’s carbs, which I learned from Atkins in the 90s were trying to kill me and making me gain weight. Second, it’s processed which I learned from the “clean eating” world is also trying to kill me and making me gain weight.
So I wasn’t allowed to eat toast for breakfast. Toast was bad.
Really bad. Especially pairing it with butter and not at least also having protein with it.
And there I was this particular morning standing at the counter buttering two pieces of toast, on *gasp, shock, horror* white bread of all the blasphemous things, for breakfast. With no protein.
Because despite vowing to “get back on track” that day, a mere hour earlier when I woke up, I had already decided I’d start the next day because I didn’t want to eat what was on “the plan”. I wanted to have toast instead.
You see, like many in the fitness and nutrition world, while I was preaching about clean, healthy balanced meals to my clients, and trying so hard to stick to those rules myself, I was also a raging bulimic/binge eater.
In fact, within four days of my first attempt at “clean eating”, I was a full-on bulimic.
At its worst, it got so bad that I was once hospitalized for a week and often went to bed feeling like I might die in my sleep, I’d eaten so much.
I lived in what I call, “on track” vs “off track” mode for many years. Many, many years.
When I was “on track”, I ate meticulously “clean” and healthy.
When I was “off track” I was bingeing and completely out of control around food.
This particular morning, with the toast, I’d woken up vowing to “get back on track” but by the time I went to eat breakfast, I was already falling “off track” again.
But at that point, I had started working on understanding how my thoughts were contributing to so much suffering in my life so I was in the very beginning stages of awareness, you might say.
And there I am, standing at the counter, buttering toast & listening to my thoughts as I do so.
They were horribly abusive, judgmental, and berating – all because I was about to eat toast.
“What kind of loser eats bread for breakfast? And white bread, even. It’s so bad. You’re such a screw-up. What’s the matter with you? You’re gonna be so bloated and gross. This isn’t going to build any muscle. You trained hard yesterday, you should be eating protein. God, you’re an idiot. You just promised you were going to be good today and you’re screwing up again already. That’s all you ever do. All you ever do is screw up.”
Then the voice started planning a trip to the grocery store for all the things we would buy to binge on the rest of the day – yanno, because I’m such a stupid, screw up already – may as well just eat everything today because I won’t be able to have any of it anymore when I get back on track tomorrow.
The voice had our entire day of bingeing planned out and then it started getting all judgy again.
“You’re supposed to be having oats & eggs & 6 blueberries. That’s what you should be having. That’s a good breakfast. You’re never going to be able to stick to anything. Loser. Why are you broken? You’re going to get fat. What’s everyone going to think of you then?”
(yes, I used to actually have meal plans from my own coach with 6 blueberries in a meal – this is me rolling my eyes into oblivion)
Then, like magic, something switched in my brain and another voice came charging in like a knight on a white horse and said in a lighter, more compassionate tone, “Uhhm, dude, it’s just toast.”
The first voice stopped in its tracks and was like… “wait, what did you just say?”
White knight voice: “I mean, it’s just f*cking toast. You don’t want oats and eggs this morning, you just want a couple of pieces of toast. Normal people eat toast for breakfast sometimes. Why have you decided you’re a horrible human because you feel like a couple of pieces of toast for breakfast? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
It was like someone shook me out of a nightmare.
Like, someone in my head finally threw me a life raft of sanity.
The first voice was a little taken aback for a second and needed to sit with that information before replying …”holy sh*t, you’re right!!”
Instantly, all abusive thoughts were gone, all thoughts of going to the grocery store for more food and all plans for all the things I was going to eat the rest of the day were gone.
I ate and enjoyed my two pieces of toast and went about my day in peace.
A few hours later it was lunchtime. I realized I was starting to get hungry which made me realize that not only had I not thought about food since breakfast but I had even forgotten that before breakfast I had been planning to go to buy binge foods.
I forgot to binge.
What?! How did I do that!?!
It felt like a miracle – normally I was consumed with thoughts of food non-stop and nothing in the world could stop a binge.
So I wondered, hmm.. can I use this new skill of just having what I want for lunch too? *gasp* Dare I?
I asked myself what I wanted.
I felt like a sandwich.
*gasp again* But.. that would be bread… twice …in one day. *the horror*
The white knight rolled in with the reminder… it’s okay to eat what you feel like eating.
So I had and enjoyed a sandwich.
A few hours later, the same thing – I noticed I was getting hungry and again, I hadn’t thought about food since eating my sandwich at lunchtime.
I don’t remember what I had for supper that night but I just ate a normal supper, went to bed feeling fine and contemplating the fact that I hadn’t wanted to binge after all.
What was almost another day of being a complete train wreck with bingeing on things that made me feel like garbage, turned into just a normal day of eating in peace and enjoying food.
Because I took my power back.
I shut down the voice in my head that had been programmed by our insane diet and healthy eating cultures. I reconnected with myself, trusted myself to decide what I wanted to eat, and allowed myself to eat whatever it was without shame or fear.
That was the beginning of freedom, peace, and getting my sanity back.
It was the beginning of healing not only my relationships with food, and my body but also with myself.
It was the beginning of healing and creating truly healthy eating habits–habits that are rooted in love and trust rather than fear and restrictions.
And it was the beginning of using the same strategies successfully with clients who were also struggling with the same “on track”, “off track” cycle, or even binge eating.
Before I’d be scared to buy bread because I didn’t trust myself with it.
“Don’t keep the bad food in your house” after all, right?
Back then, if I did have bread in the house, I’d eat the entire loaf in a day.
Now, I can’t remember the last time I bought a loaf of bread not because I’m scared of it but because I simply don’t care about eating it anymore. The last couple of times I bought bread, I threw it away because it got moldy before I could eat it all.
This is the woman who would regularly eat an entire loaf of bread in one day before.
Obviously, complete recovery required more work than one day with the toast but it was definitely a pivotal moment.
Because from that moment on, I stopped fearing and trying to control my food intake.
Instead, I practiced connecting with myself and learning to understand what I wanted to eat, and more importantly why I wanted it.
Like, if I was about to make a choice for myself that I knew wasn’t in my best interest, why? Why was I making the self-destructive choices I was making?
Two of the three biggest reasons I was stuck in those patterns with food, as I learned, were because I kept trying to “be good”.
The fear and restrictions I’d learned were required to “eat healthy” were, in large part, causing the bingeing and feeling out of control around food.
That’s why after I simply just allowed myself to eat and enjoy the toast for the breakfast, I didn’t binge and wasn’t consumed with thoughts of food the rest of the day.
Here’s the thing, I’m not here to argue about what’s the healthiest or the best way for anyone to eat (anymore).
What I will tell you is that it doesn’t matter how perfectly healthy and “clean” you’re eating part of the time if the rest of the time is a complete train wreck because you’ve been trying so hard to “be good” that you can’t white-knuckle it anymore so you’ve fallen “off track” and are eating everything you can’t have when you start “being good” again.
And, carrying fear, shame, self-judgment, and criticism over the way you eat is a hell of a lot less healthy than just having a cookie or two when you feel like it.
It’s incredibly harmful and unhealthy, in fact.
Especially because when you start allowing yourself the cookies while working on uncovering why you want them in the first place, you eventually naturally stop caring about the cookies so much, in the same way, I have with the bread.
The healthiest way for you to eat is whatever way best nurture and supports not only your unique body but also your mental and emotional health and your relationships with yourself, your body, and food. Nobody knows what that looks like for you, better than you and your own body.
And you can be trusted to decide.
There is no binary, one-size fits all answer to “healthy” eating and it’s not rooted in rules and restrictions.
It’s rooted in love. Trust. And wholehearted being; being present, connected, curious, and intentional about our choices.
Image: CordMediaStuttgart / Pixabay