38: Learning to Love Your Body When it's Betrayed You
Episode 9 in the NMP Body Image Series is all about a subject we don’t talk about enough: how do you find peace with your body if you feel like it has betrayed you? I sat down with Mindy Kissner who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Addictions Counselor II, and a certified health coach and has personally gone through these struggles of finding peace with food and her body despite limitations.
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Hey everyone, it’s Paige. Thanks for joining us for another episode of Nutrition Matters podcast. This is episode 38 and episode 9 in the Nutrition Matters Body Image series. I’m so glad you’re joining us. A few words before I get to the interview. We are going to be talking about a few things that might be triggering for a few of the listeners, so I just wanted to put out a little trigger warning in the very beginning. Just to give you an idea of some of the things that we talk about that you might want to either not listen to this episode or maybe just be aware of it. We do talk about a lot of restriction and we talk about medically necessary restriction and I think it’s a really beautiful conversation we talk about, but for someone who might be in the midst of eating disorder recovery, you might find some of the things we say a little bit difficult to listen to. Listen on if you're feeling okay about that, and if not, join us for the next episode. We are going to be talking with a Nutrition Matters podcast listener who also happens to be a licensed clinical social worker as well as a certified addictions counselor and a certified health coach. She has a lot of great credentials, but also a really, really cool story that I think a lot of us can learn a lot from, so that is why we are here and that is what we’re up to today. Today we are just getting to know each other through just finding out more about her story. So Mindy, do you want to go ahead and say hello?
Mindy: Hi. It’s great to be able to be here on your podcast. Thank you so much.
Paige: Well, you’re welcome and I’m really glad that you reached out to me. Tell me about what was the impetus for that?
Mindy: Well I’ve gone through some struggles in my life and right now I’m really working on appreciating my body and I’m working on intuitive eating and I found through my struggles that I really want to make them useful. I don’t want them to just be painful and difficult. I want to use my experiences in a way that will help me learn and will have meaning by helping others through their struggles.
Paige: Yeah. Awesome! So podcasts are a good way to kind of explore that.
Mindy: Absolutely. I listen to a lot of podcast and as I’ve become more interested in the body positive space and intuitive eating, I’ve definitely been listening to many more of the podcasts that have those kind of focus. I just wanted to share my story with other people that might be in the middle of their journey as well.
Paige: Well, great! We’re so, so glad you’re here for episode 9 in the body image series on Nutrition Matters podcast. As you probably know Mindy, but just in case anybody listening, this is their first time listening, what I’ve been trying to do over the last 9 episodes is to create a space to really dive into understanding and thinking about and picking apart body image and talking about body positivity and how we really put that into place and how we support that in other people and how we understand it better for ourselves. So, Mindy I’m really excited to explore your story and explore your realizations and also weave in your professional experience as we talk about these things. So with that Mindy, let me know. Did I miss anything in the inrot? I know that it was a little informal.
Mindy: No I think that’s great. As I share more o my personal experience, I think your listeners will have a better connection with my personal experience because I think what I’ve experienced is what a lot of people are experiencing. I can just share more when I tell my story.
Paige: Great. Okay. Awesome. So Mindy, lets just sort of--I know this sounds a little bit therapyish--but let's just start from the beginning. Tell me about family dynamics growing up, what your relationship with food and your body and all of that was like as a child.
Mindy: When I grew up I had a fairly positive childhood. My mom stayed home. My brother and I were homeschooled for 1st through 3rd grade and we spent a lot of time outside playing. I was always doing things like playing softball or going swimming or just exploring because we lived in a small town.
Paige: And where are you from?
Mindy: Well I was born in Nebraska. I lived in Nebraska for six years when I was very young. Then we lived in Kansas for four years. Then we moved to Colorado.
Paige: Okay, so all over.
Mindy: Yeah. A lot of movement most definitely.
Paige: Okay. Alright.
Mindy: A good childhood. My parents were vegetarians because of religious reasons and a lot of focus on eating a lot of vegetables from our garden and a lot of home cooked food. There wasn’t a lot of restriction there. I was pretty healthy as a child, but eventually when I became a teenager, I think I would have more of what I would describe as eating more sugary foods, more highly processed foods, those kinds of things.
Paige: Okay and then what did that do to your sense of...your relationship with food and your sense of where you fit in the grand scheme of things as a teenager? I know that’s a tough time anyway.
Mindy: Well because I was fairly healthy and I was very active, I was playing volleyball and soccer and I would run to help keep me in shape for those sports, my weight was not a real big concern for me. I felt kind of in the middle of the spectrum, so it wasn’t a big focus. I definitely knew I could eat more healthy options sometimes, but it wasn’t a big concern.
Paige: Okay, so I’m hearing you had a really happy healthy childhood, mentally and physically.
Mindy: Yeah, pretty much. I think my struggles primarily started when I was about 18 when I got mononucleosis. That became a real struggle because it suppressed my immune system. I struggled with feeling very tired. I wasn’t able to do a lot of the things that I normally would have done because of the lack of energy.
Paige: Okay, so that was 18 and what did that translate to behavior-wise or food-wise?
Mindy: I think a lot of times when you’re not feeling well, you do turn to comfort type foods or foods that give you more energy. I definitely,,,Dr. Pepper was one of my favorite go tos as well as ice cream and those types of things. My struggle really continued when I turned 20 and I had my first migraine. I was working as a lifeguard, getting a lot of sunshine, really enjoying myself, so when the chronic pain started, that became a real struggle for me and food became a real way of coping with that.
Paige: Wow, so there’s chronic pain involved on top of developing this sort of crutch of leaning towards some of the more easy to find foods I guess you’d maybe say.
Mindy: Mhmm. Yeah.
Paige: So tell me about what the chronic pain was like. Describe that for us to kind of get into your headspace.
Mindy: Well, I started having migraines and gradually the migraines got more and more frequent and on top of the migraines I also started having daily tension headaches. After about a year, I was having a headache 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Paige: Oh my gosh.
Mindy: And then with the migraines interspersed and over the summer, that was difficult, but manageable because I was just working as a lifeguard. But I was going to school full time during the school year and working part time, so that made it really difficult. One of the things I would say to myself would be that I knew that I wanted and needed to eat healthier, but I was really struggling with not feeling good physically with the fatigue and the pain all the time, so one of the only forms of pleasure or comfort I could get was from eating foods that weren’t so great for me.
Paige: Yeah. Chronic pain is...that makes everything hard. If you’re in pain, how are you supposed to do anything right?
Mindy: Mhmm. Well and I knew that I wanted to eat healthier because I just knew including more fruits and vegetables and more unprocessed foods would be healthier for me, but it was the idea that nothing feels good except eating. And so for years and years, I really did not have the desire to change how I was eating or what I was doing.
Paige: So talk about how that sort of played out for the next few years. How did the chronic pain mixed with sort of this inability to...did you have a desire to improve your eating, but kind of just felt unable or what was the struggle like?
Mindy: Well, the body image comes is that I was still somewhat in the middle of the range. I did have some desire to lose weight, but with the chronic pain and hte feeling like I needed my comfort foods, I really didn’t feel like I was capable of changing my diet in any significant way. So during that time, I went to neurologists and medical doctors and chiropractors and physical therapists, and really tried everything I could to help the pain to improve the pain, but really nothing worked for a very long time. I felt really unable to make any changes in my diet.
Paige: Okay, so is there anymore to the struggle you want to share? Do you want to start moving in to talking about when things started to improve and when you started to make some realizations?
Mindy: Well, there’s actually a lot of the process with my diet comes in the following years in that I started looking into alternative treatments because traditional medical treatments were not helpful at all. I was a vegetarian and then I tried veganism and I tried raw veganism and eventually--this was when I was about 32--the joints in my knees and elbows started aching. I was a very active person hiking, running 10k’s, riding my motorcycle, and when my joints started aching, I knew that I really couldn't handle being in pain all the time and not being able to do all the activities that I really loved doing.
Mindy: Mentally I just couldn’t handle doing that , so I ended up going to a naturopath who recommended food sensitivity testing and I did the food sensitivity testing and the results came back and it showed that I was sensitive to 47 different foods, including gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, very basic stuff like olives and olive oil, cane sugar, really a lot of the basic foods that we eat on a day to day basis. In Spite of feeling like I really did not want to give up my comfort foods, I really restricted my diet and cut out all the foods I was sensitive to because I was really getting desperate.
Paige: Okay. What happened when you cut all of that out mentally and physically? I know sometimes it’s easier said than done to completely cut something out of your diet. Sometimes that restriction can lead to some mental struggles with what comes with sort of restricting something. So tell us about that.
Mindy: Right, well it really did help in some ways because the pain in my knees and my elbows really improved. My hypothyroid symptoms improved. I had been struggling with anxiety symptoms for years, and that improved. But, it did not impact the headaches at all and I still wasn’t feeling as good as I wanted to and I had some thyroid antibodies that came up in some testing, so there’s a possibility that I was developing Hashimoto's. By then I had switched over to a paleo diet and through immersing myself in the paleo world, I found what’s called the autoimmune protocol and that is a diet that in theory is helpful for those with autoimmune issues. So what I did is I combined to food restrictions from my food sensitivities with the restrictions of the autoimmune protocol diet and that was when I felt my best in that my joint pain completely went away, my hypothyroid symptoms reversed themselves, the anxiety was much better. But, I couldn’t eat out. I had to make everything that I ate from scratch. It was very difficult because I would go home for holidays and I couldn’t eat what everybody else was eating. I would literally have to travel with my own food and make my own food and watch my family members eating all of the traditional holiday foods and that was very difficult.
Paige: Yeah, so the more and more you restrict, the more kind of isolated you become. Is that how you felt?
Mindy: Yeah, it was very difficult. My family and my friends were very loving and very understanding, but when you can’t eat restaurant food you take fruit and jerky with you and eat it while your friends are eating restaurant food or try to recreate holiday favorites and sit there while your family’s eating it. It’s very difficult. You become very sad and feel very separate. So, while I tried to downplay that because I was feeling some better and my hope was that it would really help me get back to feeling like I did when I was a teenager, I kind of pushed those feelings down because I just wanted to feel better.
Paige: Yeah. So somebody listening, you know I’m just hoping to sort of help everybody listening not feel triggered by this because I know sometimes when you are sort of a chronic dieter or in recovery from an eating disorder it can kind of...you know sometimes you start to find, ‘Oh yeah. I have that issue too. Maybe I should follow that diet.’
Paige: So before we move on in your story, I just kind of want to hear what you’d say to help people listening just stay with us.
Mindy: Absolutely, yeah and I think that is part of why I’m very glad that I have come to find the body positive world and the intuitive eating world in that I don’t eat that way anymore.
Mindy: I’m definitely working on intuitive eating and finding ways to help my body heal so I don’t have to eat that way.
Paige: Okay, cool. So when did that shift start to happen for you?
Mindy: That shift started to happen about a year ago.
Paige: And how long did the eating last, the way you were doing it?
Mindy: Well, I would eat restricted for a few months and then I would...the way I thought of it back that way was kind of fall off the wagon for a couple of weeks and then I would get back on. But ultimately it was so restrictive and so isolating that I really, really didn't want to do that anymore.
Paige: Yeah. Ugh. I hear you. Not being able to go out to eat or to eat your favorite holiday foods or…
Paige: ...yeah that is a really, really tough thing. So talk about that transition because I’m sure there’s a lot of anxiety involved with introducing foods back in and feeling potentially really sick.
Mindy: Mhmm. Well and that is...one of the really good things was working with a naturopath is they did find a really good medication that has moderated my immune response to foods, at least for now. So I’ve been able to reintroduce all of the foods without the majority of the physical symptoms. And so that's one of my struggles as I’ve listened to body positive podcasts and intuitive eating podcasts is, how do you find that balance between needing to eat a restricted diet for purely physical issues while also balancing that you want to eat intuitively and that you don’t want to eat a restricted diet. That’s been something that’s been a little bit difficult for me to wrap my head around is how do you do that when you really, truly in some ways need to restrict your diet because of purely physical reasons.
Paige: Or because of an intolerance or…
Paige: ...like a true intolerance because sometimes I think we need to look at other possibilities to why we might be reacting negatively to a food, right, so sometimes it comes down to you’re just eating too much of that food at a time and you associate that stomach ache or whatever it might be. I know this isn't’ your story Mindy, but I’m just trying to say this for the listeners so that as people are listening they’re not automatically jumping to conclusions like, ‘Oh I have this intolerance!’ Sometimes it does have to do with portion size. Other times it has to do with your anxiety about that food and you actually don’t digest it very well because you’re so nervous about eating it.
Paige: Sometimes it’s just you think that it’s such a bad food and it just causes a cascade of feelings in your brain that just end up making you react negatively to it. I think whenever you are cutting out a food in your diet, I think there has got to be a really, really good reason for it and it sounds like, Mindy, that you did have great reasons for it. I just want to make sure the listeners are hearing that message. Does that make sense?
Mindy: Oh, yeah. As I did my research, I found more information about that. Knowing that if you have some sort of emotional response to a food or some kind of mentally ingrained reaction to a food, it’s really hard to take apart your emotional reaction to a food versus a physical response to a food.
Mindy: And you know, finding professionals that can help you with that is very difficult because many professionals just have no idea that these kind of issues are out there.
Paige: Yeah. That’s very true. And just aren’t even open to the possibility that maybe we should look into other explanations for why we’re experiencing this reaction because cutting out food from your diet has some really potentially serious consequences.
Paige: Not even as much physical or nutritional as it is in terms of your headspace and your mental health.
Mindy: Mhmm. Absolutely and that’s part of the reason why I thought it would be good for us to talk even knowing that some of the ideas of restricting food could be triggering. I thought it was good for us to talk about it because I think what I’ve found is that if you do have some sort of physical illness that requires restricting foods, the important piece is coming to those actions from a place of taking care of yourself physically versus focusing on weight loss and restricting foods for weight loss. Those can have two very different impacts and two very different impacts on a person mentally.
Paige: So yeah, I think you’re striking at the core of the issue and I think you’re right. This is a little bit of an untapped conversation. We just kind of blanket statement say, ‘Hey, everyone should eat intuitively,’ but in reality, not everybody can…
Paige: ...and how do you think about it, how do you react, how do you get your head in the right space when you aren’t able to be completely intuitive. What I love about what you just said Mindy, is I was actually just saying this morning at a class I teach is, two people could eat the very same way---let’s just say it’s really well-balanced and healthy and what someone might call clean, which I really don’t like that word but let’s just say that because I think people know what I’m talking about when I say that. One person could approach that way of eating in a completely unhealthy way and from this motivation and this standpoint of, ‘I want to punish my body. I want to change my body. I hate my body so I’m eating this way to make it look differently.’ Another person could eat that way with the intention of ‘This is what makes me feel great. I allow myself things here and there. I don’t feel deprived. I’m just doing awesome.’ I think there’s room for a little bit of a degree of how we eat even if it looks similar to someone who might actually have an issue. Does that make sense?
Paige: Because not every single person is the exact same way. So for you, I think the point you’re making here--and correct me if I’m wrong--is you could have to be a little bit restrictive for a medical reason, but you can do that in a mentally healthy way as long as you come to it with the idea that I’m doing this out of love and respect and honor for my body, rather than deprivation.
Mindy: Absolutely and part of the reason why I’m so thankful for the body positive and intuitive eating realm is because even though I was making those changes and those restrictions primarily for health related reasons--and very valid ones--but in the back of my mind there was always, ‘Well, maybe this will help me lose weight. Maybe this will help me get back down to the size I was in high school.’ Once I started paying attention to the body positive and intuitive inputs that I was searching out, I was able to stop the restriction knowing that I may have to go back to it for purely health reasons, but I was able to stop doing the restrictions and be okay with the weight that I gained.
Paige: Okay so that kind of ties into this idea of finding peace with your body and accepting your body. So tell us how you wrapped your mind around that amidst all the other concerns you were having to sort of juggle.
Mindy: Mhmm. The honest truth is it’s still...I’m still on the journey in that I stopped restricting my food completely about six months ago, so I’ve been gaining weight since then. That has been a bit of a struggle, but nowhere near the struggle it was in the past and I was not aware of the body positive movement. It has allowed me to gain weight and work on learning to love and appreciate my body and giving myself the freedom to enjoy my life with a picnic with my boyfriend or going out to eat with friends. I’m still in the process in it of I’m still trying to love and accept my body, but it has made a whole difference in how I have gone through this transition of stopping restriction.
Paige: So I love the honesty Mindy because sometimes I feel--I know I’ve said this on the podcast before--but sometimes I feel like these recovery stories just end up sounding like rainbows and butterflies and just kind of whimsical and impossible to even grasp.
Paige: So I love that you’re willing to talk about this even in the midst of feeling like, I’m figuring it out. I'm not perfect. I actually recently--a couple months ago--did a podcast interview with a fellow dietitian podcaster and the topic was where you feel like a hypocrite where you’re trying to stand for this body positive, accept your body love your body thing, but you still struggle occasionally with your own ability to stay positive about your body. I’ve been thinking about that interview ever since because I don’t even think I ever connected that when I shared my story on my podcast, I have an episode called Paige’s story and I talk about how I’ve struggled with my own body image in the past and who hasn’t you know? I’m really open that I feel great now and I am in a really good space and I don’t personally feel hypocritical when I have moments or days of like ‘Dangit, these pants don’t fit quite the same way that they normally do,’
Paige: ...or ‘I feel a little bit bloated from yesterday’ or ‘Man I look a little different in a bathing suit after having two babies than before having two babies.’ I don’t really consider that hypocritical personally, but I can see why someone might. I just kind of consider it real life and so I love that you’re being real about where you’re coming to this in terms of ‘I’ve figured some things out. I’m feeling good. I’m also struggling with the idea of gaining weight and what that means and how to balance body positivity in that context.’ But, I love it because that’s messy and that’s real and it’s so much more helpful for someone to connect with that than just hearing, ‘Oh it just magically clicked and now I never think about it again,’ you know?
Mindy: Absolutely and I think in the mental health field that is something that people struggle with as well is that struggles with whether it’s body positivity or self-esteem or depression or anxiety. You can feel good for a few days or a week or you could have moments in every single day where you’re struggling. That doesn’t mean that you’re not making progress and that you’re not doing the thing that will lead you to being your healthiest. I think in the body positivity world it’s the honest truth of it is that even if you have a very positive view of your body, you’re human and there are going to be days where you struggle.
Paige: Yeah. Yes and I think that’s an important message for people to hear who are in recovery from an eating disorder or who are working on body positivity or who have struggled with disordered eating. I think it’s absolutely critical to recognize adn to have the expectation that it will be a process and there’s ups and downs and I know this is all cliche what I’m saying, but it’s very true. It’s not this linear process where all of the sudden it’s just not an issue anymore.
Paige: I think it's just realistic to approach it that way and to have those expectations so that when those feelings or thoughts come up, you don’t start questioning whether or not you’re doing the right things. Does that resonate with you?
Mindy: It absolutely does and I think one of the other reasons why I wanted to chat with you on the podcast is because a lot of the podcasters that I’ve found that talk about body positivity and intuitive eating, they’re still at a socially accepted weight and something that I’ve struggled with is that with my weight gain I am definitely nearing the point where it’s not so socially accepted. There’s a bit of tug of war and struggle with really accepting my body even if I am nearing a point where the weight that I am is not socially accepted on a whole.
Paige: Absolutely. That’s really, really tough issue.
Mindy: Mhmm and I think that’s really tough for those that are trying to recover from an eating disorder who are not at a socially accepted weight. That they feel like if they want to be treated well by society, they have to be at a lower weight even if they recognize that they just need to love their body as it is. It’s a real tug of war.