Updated: Jul 17, 2022
Food for thought when food wasn't enough
How It All Began
I was always a joyful, happy little kid with ambitions of becoming someone who would heal the world. My childhood was solid. My parents were extraordinarily loving; I could depend on them for everything. My siblings, always there for support and spine-building fights. My home was a happy one, but somehow my path would take an odd series of turns that would result in the flawed, bent, resilient and shameless woman that lives today.
My parents, sister and brother moved to Canada in 1990 from the Philippines. With no plans other than to move to Canada, my family had a tumultuous and lonely start. With very little familial support in a new country, they set out to depend on each other and build a life, one that would result in stability, financial independence and safety for my siblings. It wasn’t soon after their arrival that I was born (whoops!). A joyful child with a flair for the dramatic, I from a young age became the entertainer, the mochachino Shirley Temple at parties, and I relished it. But the problem early on was that I was a sickly child. A severe asthmatic, eczema that ripped up my legs, arms and every crevice of my body, multiple hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses and undernourishment. I spent a lot of my early years in the hospital, which is probably why I am so comfortable in them now.
Cultures Revolve Around Food
By age 8 my conditions were largely under control, and that’s when the balance tipped to the other end of the scale. The thing about Filipinos is that We. Love. Food. Birthday party? Expect pansit. Bad breakup? Sinigang will cure all your sorrows. Funeral of your aunt’s-second-cousin’s-third-born-sister’s-godfather? There will be relleno manok and lumpia at that celebration. Food connects us. We have to eat, most of us like to eat. Food is a source of nourishment, art and a way of finding commonality in people. When my family came to Canada, they were fortunate enough to find a small group of Filipinos in which to share their culture and their food. My family became a larger community. It is no doubt that in many cultures food brings people together. It also likely resulted in the development of my unhealthy obsession with food.
Sometimes, most times, you have to save yourself first.
Growing up sick, I had no idea what hunger and satiety actually felt like. I was encouraged to eat everything to gain weight and as I continued to develop, there were no restrictions or boundaries initiated to keep me from overeating. And why would there be? You should just know when you’re full right? I had no sense of equilibrium, never knew what hunger cues really were and how to separate eating from socializing, stress and boredom. Food was all consuming but never a mindful experience. By the time I was a teen I had ballooned to the point where walking up a flight of stairs was debilitating. Hiking up a mountain in my hometown (which is abundant in the Rocky Mountains) was an unspeakable horror and going for walks with friends was downright painful. People poked fun at my excess weight, family would pinch at the body parts that caused most of my insecurities and simply being in a room with anyone remotely thinner than me caused so much anxiety. But in spite of the pain, I hid it well. I was confident and funny, was student body president, ran yearbook committee and acted. I won an award for volunteer excellence and citizenship. I was popular, had a good group of friends, a boy I loved. I was really good at compartmentalizing my struggle. Inside, I was dying. With no sense of mental equilibrium or self control, I binged on everything imaginable and threw up everything including my dignity. I secretly weighed my food and would later weigh my vomit as a means for controlling and finding balance in my pain. Food was my be-all-end-all; every reward and punishment resulted in me eating something, often void of nutrients. This cycle continued on through college where things just seemed to get harder.
The Breaking Point and the Long Journey Home
Pursuing a nursing degree was always in the cards for me. By learning how to save and help someone else, I inadvertently learned to take care of myself. Focusing my energies on other problems allowed me to escape and ignore my personal struggles. I pressed on, kept my nose to the ground, I really thought I was coping well. I didn’t know that my inner demons were plaguing my relationships. I was somehow more abrupt, jealous, quiet, reserved. Drinking and smoking weed was a social lubricant that I depended on to maintain my new college friendships. I was afraid of bearing the real me, fearing that my demons would chase everyone away. The biggest turning point, the catalyst for getting better, came in the form of a fairly serious act of self-harm by someone very close to me in university. We, for years, bonded in a shared negativity for our own self worth but an incessant need to be there for each other. On my end, I wanted to save him and that day, I felt I failed him. It was in these moments of helplessness, in moments where I could not control the outcome and where a life really mattered I started to pay attention. I sought therapy and after a few sessions came to the stark realization that I can’t save everybody and that sometimes, most times, you have to save yourself first. I still carry this lesson with me in my profession, in my life. I started journaling, taking walks and sitting with myself. It was around this same time that I first discovered yoga. It was instant. I felt a fog lift after my first session. For the first time in my life I was inhabiting my body, and I wanted to learn more about it.
My health and wellness journey has never been clear cut and straightforward. It continues to be a trans-formative process for me. I have dabbled in so many weight loss programs, yoga retreats, clean eating seminars and journals. My journey through health up until my mid twenties was never for the right reasons. As I got older my goal became simpler: to find joy and be healthy enough to experience the simple wonders of my life. You miss so much living in a fog of shame and regret. I laugh a lot harder these days. By learning to forgive my previous transgressions against my own body, learning to accept those parts of me that are less appealing and learning to adore myself and speak to myself as kindly as I would my best friends, my husband and my family, has cultivated this sense of overall wellness that currently resonates within me. Healing my relationship with food will take a long while and forgiving myself will be lifelong. Unlearning the habits and the small traumas that have impacted my way of thinking will be a constant learning curve. I’m doing the work to manifest my best self. I gotta tell you, the more I get to know her, the more I fall in love with her. She’s lovely.