After losing 70 pounds, ridding myself of joint pain and finally feeling good to just be me, I know that a real wellness change — the sort that lasts long-term and is about way more than just the pounds lost — is a process.
Change, for me, didn't happen from actually losing weight. Or I should say, it only happened in conjunction with a lot of reflection and, let's be real, loads of therapy. These things were pivotal to understanding my relationship with food and making a long-lasting change.
To really show what this transformation looks like, I asked 11 people who all lost 100 pounds what they learned about their relationship with food. For each of them, their connections to food changed dramatically and, quite frankly, those connections are still changing. Here's what they had to say.
1. I stopped turning to food when I was stressed.
For all of my life, food was a source of comfort. I had a chaotic childhood and started overeating, hiding food, and gaining weight as a young person. I got so heavy that dieting seemed pointless.
One day, I got on the scale and it read 300 pounds. Something triggered in me and I decided to lose weight. I developed a daily food plan and I was able to stick with it. I could tell myself, "You are not hungry," and believe it was true. After a while, I truly wanted the salad and not the fries. That was a revelation.
I don't turn to food when I'm stressed now. My habits and relationship with food have truly changed. —Lara, age 49, book publicist, who lost 150 pounds
2. I'm still working on my relationship with sugar.
I am still working on my relationship with food. It's a process that ebbs and flows. I eat in a flexible way (with a lot more vegetables) and cook most of my meals. In addition, I struggle with anxiety and that affects my relationship with food. When I feel anxious or stressed, I still reach for sugar.
As a new homeowner, I went through home repairs in August and spent the entire month shoveling a donut or two into my mouth daily. Usually, the best thing I can do for myself is to not buy anything sugary. I'm working with a therapist to overcome sugar cravings and find new ways to relieve anxiety. —Irina, age 32, freelancer writer and editor, who lost more than 100 pounds
3. I try to view food as (mostly) fuel.
Since losing 255 pounds, I avoid sweets and most baked goods (except for chocolate once a week). I eat out much less than before and exercise regularly to keep my weight level.
My relationship with food has changed. I'm still hungry all the time, but I try to view food as fuel. When that doesn't work, I know I'll have chocolate soon or maybe I'll swap in chips instead of a salad with my sandwich to avoid a complete meltdown. The chocolate is almost like a reward and a reminder that none of this is to punish myself. Swapping to a less healthy option from time to time suppresses the urge to completely binge.
I realize the contradiction of viewing food as fuel but also using it as a reward. It's a constant struggle but I now see myself as strong and healthy. —JB, age 37, payroll supervisor for a grocery store, who lost 255 pounds
4. I've learned that nutritious food can be flavorful.
Since my weight loss, my relationship with food has deepened, if that's even possible. I care more than ever about what goes in my body — and those bodies that I cook and develop recipes for. Nutrition had historically always taken a backseat to flavor. I've learned that those things don't have to be mutually exclusive.
My mission now is to work to define new ways that I can deliver flavorful, bold food without consequence to health. —Matt, age 42, four-time-James-Beard-nominated chef, who lost 185 pounds
5. Tracking my food is a tool for normalcy.
My relationship with food has changed drastically. It's always been a source of joy and celebration, and it's also a frequent tactic for self-soothing. The thing that seems to best stop this in its tracks today is to simply track my food. If I do that regularly, food finds a place of normalcy in my life. —Martha, age 47, book packager and literary agent, who lost 180 pounds and has kept most of it off
6. I treat my body like a truck.
I never really looked at food as the enemy, but obviously it was. I now look at my food consumption like this: My body is a machine, much like my truck. If I put bad gas and bad oil in my truck, it won't run the way it is supposed to and it will eventually break down. I couldn't continue to eat bad food and expect my body to work the way it was intended.
I feel better now than I did when I was in my 20s. If food kills me now, it's going to be because a Little Debbie truck hit me while out doing my daily walk and not because I sat on the couch stuffing my face. —Jack, age 52, sports editor, who lost more than 130 pounds
7. I still turn to food when times are tough.
My relationship with food has always been complicated. There are many dynamics why one turns to food for comfort, and I always have. After losing all the weight, I think I understand more about my eating, but it is still a struggle. When times are tough, it's very easy to grab something to eat or make a cocktail. And very difficult times — like the death of my husband — are emotionally draining.
I do eat a bit more these days (but not much more), and a bit less healthy (but not much less). I'm hoping I can reconcile it to maintain my weight loss. —Patrick, age 53, chef and journalist, who lost 200 pounds
8. Weight loss started by understanding my heart and brain first.
I've always enjoyed food and cooking. I was an adventurous eater. But when I made the decision to become mindful about my eating, the variety of food I ate expanded tremendously. I ate large volumes of food and found ways to integrate nutrient-dense foods. My mission was to keep everything in my diet and use something like dark chocolate as my "You got through your day" reward.
While I was losing the weight, I did explore the layers of my relationship with food because sometimes I reached for a lot of sugar and sometimes I ate because I was bored or tired. Some of those layers involved grief. Some involved a-ha moments. Some involved pure joy. For me, it's all about exploring the heart-brain connection and the food is what connects those.
I went on a deep dive into my emotional journey and the work that I did really solidified the sustainability of the weight loss. —Rose, age 36, weight loss coach, who lost nearly 150 pounds
9. My relationship with food came out of childhood fears.
I worked with a coach to understand my relationship with food and my dependency on it. I was able to determine that it dated back to my childhood when there was a shortage of food in my home. I had to eat at friend's houses or get by on what little we had. It was a relationship of fear and lack.
I eat differently now. I look to see what has sugar in it to avoid excess intake and avoid carbs on a regular basis. I still eat all the foods that I enjoy, just in moderation and less frequently. I feel better, clearer, and stronger than I can ever remember. —Scott, age 46, financial services, who lost more than 100 pounds
10. I am OK with food being comfort sometimes.
During my childhood and early 20s, I would use food as a way to comfort myself, to combat overwhelming grief and loss, to just help me get through the day. Now I look at food as a way to truly nourish my body, to help facilitate joy in my life, and to create opportunity to connect with my friends and family.
Sometimes I need the comfort of a bowl of pasta shared with my wife and son. Sometimes I need a fiber-filled green smoothie to start my day. I think that when I decided I could be both a healthy eater and a happy eater, I finally made peace with my relationship with food. —Taji, age 43, chef, who lost nearly 100 pounds
11. I (mostly) stopped using food as a coping tool.
Throughout my weight loss process, I learned that I was using food as a coping tool. I ate for any emotion: happiness, stress, frustration, anger, and depression. Food was always there for me, as horrible as it sounds, so I formed a relationship with it. Food tasted good, it was easily accessible, and it made me feel good in the moment.
I still have tendencies to turn to food for any of those feelings, but I do try to be more mindful and find other ways to deal with my daily stresses. Food addiction is hard to fight and overcome. This process has not been easy and it will never be easy. Every day is a struggle to make good, healthy choices. But today I feel amazing. I feel strong. I feel healthy. I feel alive. And I feel beautiful. —Elizabeth, age 30, financial coordinator, who lost 170 pounds