We recently asked HuffPost Women readers to tell us how they've overcome their eating issues. That's right -- despite the multitude of influences encouraging us to think food and our bodies are the problem, there are women who refuse to believe that. We don't hear from those women enough.
Here are four of the amazing responses we received. We hope you find their stories as inspiring as we did.
"Dieting meant you were 'good,' 'obedient' and 'worthy.'"
I have dealt with food issues my entire life... all 23 years of it. I come from a family of very body-conscious women. My grandma, [five] aunts and mother were/are always on "cleanses," "flushes," and straight-up crash diets. They ran 10 miles every day. That's all I ever knew. Dieting meant you were "good" "obedient" and "worthy." Eating carbs meant you were "bad" "weak" and "sinful."
From the ages of 18-22, I consumed food and food consumed me. I dealt with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and compulsive over-eating. Food would be the first thing I thought of when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about before bed. The guilt of eating something off-limits killed me every hour of every day, and I wondered if I would ever have normal eating habits. I struggled with depression and thyroid disease. I was a mess. I hated what I saw in the mirror.
I finally sought counseling. It changed my life. I had to change my way of thinking--I had to stop expecting perfection. Today, I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I eat because it makes my body strong and it makes my body function properly. I'm done being mean to myself. I think of food in a much better light. It is no longer the enemy.
On a Friday night, if I want to splurge on gin and tonics and a burrito, then I'm gonna do it, dammit. I am not alone when it comes to food issues. In this society, it is something every single woman has to deal with. We are expected to do it all, and to do it all perfectly. Well, sorry, dude, that's not going to happen. I can't be perfect, and I can't always eat perfectly.
The key, as cliche as it sounds, is to start loving yourself from within. Every freaking part of you. Be extra kind to yourself every single day. Once you truly put your happiness and health first, the fixation with food disappears. That's what happened with me. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect. I started loving myself.
"Food is fuel, not a score."
Being 23, I'm used to technology being a tool I can use to obsess over food, weight, and calories. There are tons of apps about exercise and weight loss and calorie counting and motivation, so many it almost makes you guilty: "If it's so easy to obsess over a perfect body, why AREN'T you doing it?" I went through a few phases where I was constantly logging calories on my phone, calculating and re-calculating how much I could eat based on daily exercise. And one day I said, This is stupid. Food is fuel, not a score. Treats are to be enjoyed, not bargained for.
I do follow a few basic rules: I'm a vegan, I don't keep any sugar in the house, I run and do yoga regularly. These things keep me healthy and happy without feeling restricted. But if I go out with my boyfriend, we're getting dessert. If I wake up with a sore leg, I'll skip a run. I've witnessed "breaks" in meals where everyone whips out their smart phones to log their calories, and I vow to never be in that place again. I'm not perfect. I'll never be perfect. But I'm healthy and I'm happy and that, in my opinion, is more than enough.
-Maggie, age 23
"I don't want body image to take over their lives like it took over mine"
I've had food issues as long as I can remember. My grandmother called [me] fat, my father called me fat, my mom constantly made an issue of what I was eating. All of them had their own issues with weight and took it out on me. As a little kid I was never "fat." I was tall, the tallest girl in the class, always called "big." I have a twin sister who is "petite." The comparisons still sting to this day.
I went up and down with weight and exercise my whole life. I'm now 36 and a mom to two beautiful kids. My mission as a [mother] is not to continue the damage my family caused me. I don't make food an issue. We do our best to eat healthy, but we don't have guilt when we splurge. We enjoy all things. Body parts are beautiful in every shape and size. If I don't love and accept my body, my daughter and son won't love and accept theirs. I will model good habits of eating well and exercising and splurging too. It's so liberating once you let go of all that guilt and fear.It may be a daily battle to fight the messages the media puts out there, but my kids will have enough to worry about in their lives. I don't want body image to take over their lives like it took over mine.
"I know what's good for me, and my body tells me the rest"
I was bulimic starting from about age 17. Binging was my release, and purging was a way to regain control. I stopped on my own, for the most part, when I was about 22, without seeking help. When I was about 23, I went to Weight Watchers with my mom. I also began training for marathons. This was the worst combination. I found I had no control despite WW, and even all of my training still found me well above my healthy weight. When I started vomiting again, I stopped [Weight Watchers] because I had promised myself I wouldn't purge.
When I stopped dieting, I started to change my relationship with food. When I stopped trying to control and took the time to listen to what my body was telling me, I lost the weight. I'm still running and exercising, in fact I'm "top physically fit" among my peers in the Army. But the difference came when I made the effort to listen: Am I hungry? Am I full? And asking the question: Will life go on if I leave this pile food on my plate?
Honestly, I fear regulating my food anymore. I know what is good for me, and my body tells me the rest. I know it's no magic fix, and it seems too easy, but when I took the neurosis away from the idea of food, I found my peace.