Search
  • Paige Smathers

42: Dear Paige, Thanks for Pissing Me Off


“I’ve been listening to your podcasts religiously for the last few days– they pissed me off. Thank you for pissing me off.

The first time I heard “stop dieting,” I was immediately in attack mode. Why the heck would I quit trying to improve?!?!? (How in the world would I be able to quit?) The more I listened, the harder it became. Confessions from a fitness model hit too close to home. I put down my no-bread lettuce and avocado sandwich and took a good, hard look at my history.

Vegan, gluten-free, paleo, fasting, bingeing, over-exercising, vomiting… In pursuit of what?! I’d been 5’6”, [a certain weight] at one point and I still could lose just a biiiiiiit more.

So I listened and cried for hours this weekend, fully absorbing and accepting what you and these wonderful psychologists and dietitians were telling me. Yesterday, for the first time in years, I bought bread at the supermarket.

I need you to understand how important your work is to listeners. I’ve been insecure from an early age, reading self-help and writing about how I felt I could be more than I was. My father left when I was young and my stepdad and I never bonded. I never felt safe in relationships and neglected friendships to maintain my routine. I was trapped. I contemplated suicide, even, but I’m past that.

Thank you thank you THANK YOU, Paige.”

This was a letter I got from a listener. It made my heart so happy! She decided she wanted to have the chance to share her story on the podcast and she’s here now to share her experience with healing her relationship with food. Ruby Anderson is amazing!

Important links:

Listen here:

Full transcript:

Hey everyone, it’s Paige, your favorite nutrition podcaster and dietician. Nutrition Matters podcast explores what really matters in nutrition and health with a sensitive and realistic approach. This podcast relies on the support of listeners like you, and needs donations to keep this project running. To help support the podcast, please consider making a donation at paigesmathersRD.com/podcast. If you find this episode interesting, engaging, or helpful in your life, please consider donating, sharing with friends and family, and leaving a review on iTunes. You can leave a review about this podcast straight from your podcast app. Search “nutrition matters podcast”, click “reviews”, and then write a review. You can also find me on Instagram and Facebook at Paige Smathers RD if you’d like to have a little more food for thought. Thank you for listening.

[Listener, reading letter]: Hi, Paige, I’ve been listening to your podcast religiously for the past few days. It pissed me off. Thank you for pissing me off. The first time I heard stop dieting, I was immediately in attack mode. Why the heck would I quit trying to improve? How would I be able to quit? The more I listened, the harder it became. Confessions from a fitness model hit too close to home. I put down my no bread lettuce and avocado sandwich and took a good hard look at my history - vegan, gluten free, paleo, fasting, bingeing, over-exercising, vomiting… in pursuit of what?! I’d been 5’6”, [a certain weight] at one point and I still could lose just a biiiiiit more.

So I listened and cried for hours this weekend, fully absorbing and accepting what you and these wonderful psychologists and dietitians were telling me. Yesterday, for the first time in years, I bought bread at the supermarket.

I need you to understand how important your work is to listeners. I’ve been insecure from an early age, reading self-help and writing about how I felt I could me more than I was. My father left when I was young and my stepdad and I never bonded, I was trapped. I contemplated suicide, even, but I’m past that.

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Paige.

Paige: Thank you for reading that letter and welcome to Nutrition Matters.

Listener: Yeah Paige, thanks so much for everything you’ve done - for me and for other people.

Paige: Well I appreciate those kind words and I have to tell you about my experience when I opened up that email. Those first few words actually really made my heart pound really fast because I was like, oh no, this is gonna be some hate mail, I don’t know if I’m ready for this. And then it just turned into this beautiful story and I thanked you and I was so grateful to hear from you, I actually asked if I could post that on my social media account and you gave me that permission and then you said, hey, I’d love to join the conversation and so here you are today to do that, so welcome.

Listener: Yeah, I apologize for that vocabulary choice. I wanted to shock you but in hindsight…

Paige: Don’t, don’t be sorry - I loved the drama of it, it was great.

Listener: [laughs] good, good.

Paige: So let’s introduce you a bit, Ruby. And then let’s get into talk about your story. So Ruby Anderson, just kind of give us a little bit of background about who you are and tell us a little bit about you.

Ruby: Okay, I am 19, I’m a junior in college, a little background: I am from New York, I chose to stay in New York but I’m far away from my family. I grew up - I don’t know if you want to delve into the family history quite yet - but I grew up with my mother and my stepfather and my grandma, she was always around and was really into sports, really into reading books, I mentioned self help and was always kind of manic with that. And I kind of developed into a construct of what I’d been reading and I fell in love with, I guess, trying to put myself into positions that were considered successful so I had a lot of internships growing up and I still have internships but I think I wanna be a waitress now.

Paige: They make good money!

Ruby: I know they do, and I feel like you could be witty and fun loving as a waitress whereas you can’t be like that in a cubicle at all, but yeah, besides that I love to write, that’s my #1 passion in the world but the person who won the Booker Prize won like $12,000 so it’s definitely not a viable career choice. So I’m on the path to psychology as a lot of people are after they come out of situations like this, and we’re gonna see where it goes.

Paige: Well I’m rooting for you, keep in touch every step of the way, it’s really fun. Okay, so Ruby, first of all, thank you for taking the time to send that letter, thank you for communicating with me and helping me understand your story a little bit. So what I want to do with you today is just give you a chance to help everybody, myself included, understand how that transformation happened - I’d love to hear what led up to and the history and the context of that moment where you discovered the podcast or probably, I’m sure it wasn’t just this, I’m sure it was other things along the line that clicked into place, but just give us an idea of sort of past Ruby and what happened to lead you up to that point and we’ll go from there.

Ruby: Okay, past Ruby. So I guess we can start when I was really young, I was really shy. They wanted to hold me back in school but my mom didn’t want that because I hated coloring and I grew up with my father who was bipolar and eventually left. And my mother wasn’t very communicative so I never really knew what happened with him and one thing I want to communicate to people who are listening that might have situations like that is that you don’t always feel upset - sometimes you don’t feel anything at all and that’s just whether it’s just repression or not your personality type, but it definitely transferred into feelings of uneasiness with my stepfather and just people in general that when I went to high school after we’d moved, which was a big transition, I kind of felt like an imposter, I guess? Before I got into the weight loss, or “fitness” anything, I just wanted to be funnier and smarter and more charismatic and I would read books about that, and I think as a woman trying to be perfect, the body eventually comes with it so I think I was working on that at the same time. I won’t go into the specifics of what I was doing but I think a lot of people fall into a similar path where first, you are just adding lettuce to the side of your foods and then you’re restricting certain foods, and then you’re trying things that don’t seem like fad diets, things that label themselves as “lifestyle choices”, and that can become very obsessive and I saw results, I think that was the worst part for me is that for a really long time, I was doing very well and people congratulate you and people ask you what you eat and what you do and people know you as the “fit” girl. I remember my friend wrote a biography of me and the first thing she wrote was, “Ruby, the skinny, fit girl holding a black coffee in her hand, running and eating chapstick.” And the funny thing about the chapstick was my school gave out vanilla chapstick, and I would always eat it and nobody could understand why I’d take little bites of it, it just tasted so good to me and I found out that when I’d started going back to the healthier behaviors, that the chapstick was gross and that I had just been so hungry all the time. So it was funny in the moment to read about that, but looking back it was so sad and I got into a relationship that probably the hardest thing I’m going through right now is accepting that I kind of sabotaged the relationship because of my obsessions and it’s been so recently since I’ve broken up with the guy that it’s still so raw. But at that point, things were so stressful for me that I stopped seeing results and I started turning to even unhealthier behaviors and I started fainting at the gym and people were worried about me and talking about what I ate and one day, I actually thought I might’ve had binge eating disorder at first, because I thought there was only one type of bulimia so I looked up “binge eating disorder” on podcast land because I’d been so obsessed with other types of podcasts and I think I found yours first, and I remember exactly where I was. I was walking on the street at a light when someone suggested that you have to stop dieting entirely and I felt the wall go up and I immediately was like, nope! Next. like there has to be a diet that works to help me and the more I thought about it, it took a lot of discomfort - it wasn’t easy. But the more I listened to these people, who seemed happy doing things that weren’t dieting and trying to make themselves look better, especially someone who had been in almost the exact same situation, the more I listened to that, the easier it became. So that’s I guess where I am right now.

Paige: Wow, okay. So you didn’t have any other interactions or experiences with that idea until you found this podcast?\

Ruby: Nothing. Because like I said, it’s congratulated. Everything I was doing, everyone else wanted to do too.

Paige: That positive reinforcement can take something from being an innocent sort of “lifestyle change” quote/unquote, to moving towards an obsession or a disorder or a real, true mental health concern.

Ruby: Yes, absolutely.

Paige: Okay, so I’m curious if you could just sort of go with me on this, I’m just curious what broke through to you because I know what you mean when you say, the walls went up, I know exactly what you’re talking about, I’m just curious, what did we meaning, meaning me and whatever guests that have been on the show, what did we do right for you to help you chip away at that and remove those walls? Is there anything in particular that we said, or did, or sort of the body of work in total, or?

Ruby: Yes, I think the #1 thing, I had to be ready, was said on podcast, I had to be in a place where what was happening wasn’t working for me. And the interview that you were doing, I forgot what it was called exactly, but it was about a girl who, for a really long time, looked a felt great. Even though she would have her little episodes, she didn’t think anything of it because it wasn’t the stereotype of what she deemed as a problem and it was working and then it wasn’t working anymore and she was letting it consume her life and isolating herself.

Paige: Was it Jess Palmer? Does that sound familiar?

Ruby: Yes, I actually messaged her and I thanked her for what she said and we had a conversation and she helped me a little bit in the beginning.

Paige: Yeah, I got a lot of great feedback about that particular episode. She is amazing!

Ruby: She is, she’s incredible. I’m so thankful to her.

Paige: Oh, I’m so glad that you were able to connect with her! That gives me the goosebumps, I love it. Okay so that episode in particular was powerful because you could relate to her and you could really resonate with what she was saying and what she had been through.

Ruby: Yeah, self love and my parents expressing concern and even books I’d read in psychology weren’t enough because I think I thought I was different and special in my own narcissistic fitness world that, look at me, I look great, I’m not doing anything wrong, I just don’t have enough willpower, I’ll get better - that kind of thing.

Paige: Yeah. Okay, so just little by little, you were exposed to this message and in that email that you sent to me and in the letter you just wrote, you kind of mentioned that you had an experience where, for lack of a better word, binge-listened to the episodes. So tell me about what that experience was like, sort of going through that mental paradigm shift.

Ruby: Oh my god, I would cry all the time, I cried pretty much every episode and letting go of that - I learned that it’s not just jumping right into loving yourself, it’s letting go of this image that you’ve learned to worship and cherish, this “almost you”, this “you’re about to be there and look at all this attention and look at how wonderful you are” so to let that go, even though there’s a sense of freedom and hope that you don’t have to be this miserable and obsessive and isolated all the time. But you also can’t have all the glory and success that you’d envisioned yourself having and even though that’s not true, at the time I mourned that every episode while also being confused listening to the girls talking and explaining that they were happy, I kind of thought they were lying, but I thought they were just promoting that same self love stuff that I’d seen that hadn’t impacted me but I think the loneliness and isolation was too much to bear. You know, they talk about how people are overweight and then they lose weight, and that’s when they’re the most depressed, because they’ve gotten to a point where they thought they would be happy and they’re not and what else is there in the world? And these speakers that you interviewing were telling me else there was in the world.

Paige: Mmm. That is powerful. So there was sort of a sense of relief, a sense of freedom, but also just mourning, was there panic in there? Was there kind of a this feels scary, this is like my foundation, this is who I am, what about my identity - I mean was there sort of an identity crisis involved in this at all?

Ruby: Oh yeah, every time I ate something that wasn’t part of my normal foods, I felt like everybody knew and everyone thought I was falling apart. And what’s tough too is when you eat a certain way for so long, you get a reputation so people say things and that was the most triggering thing for me, because I thought they were just looking at me and saying, you’re fat. I didn’t hear anything else. And then as time went on, too, I wasn’t obsessively going to the gym anymore so my body was changing, not in a bad way, but it didn’t look the same and I remember one time a girl said to me, you know, you’re not that toned anymore but you still look normal, don’t worry. And oh my gosh, I almost went back. It was the most triggering thing I’d ever heard, which is silly because I’m much happier now. I still have lows, but to think that that one comment could’ve thrown me off just shows how sick I was.

Paige: Yeah, that’s a really insightful true statement that sometimes people’s best intentions and comments are just so, they can just make your head spin trying to figure out how to put that into place and how you cope with that. So you mentioned, in particular, that the confessions of a fitness model episode was powerful for you. And I think a lot of us can understand why, because you’ve already explained that you were pretty obsessive about the gym and about your eating and kind of in the same way that Maddie was, who is the guest for that episode. But was there anything in particular that hit home for you for that one? I’m just curious.

Ruby: I think in the Confessions of a Fitness Model, there was this scene that she painted about how after - this might not be the same thing - after her show, she - it’s not the one with the show, right?

Paige: No it is, yeah she was competing, yeah.

Ruby: Okay so she was competing and afterwards, she gets a meal and everyone kind of romanticizes the meal and she finishes it very quickly and her family looked at her and was like, wow, you ate that quickly. And she was like, no I didn’t! No, I didn’t eat that. No! And I sooo related to that at almost every meal when I was allowing myself to eat because I would go through periods of time where I’d be like, okay, especially when I used to have “cheat days”, I would just go insane and I would look at other people and I would wonder, how do they have that much self control? Are they going through this inner battle too? Can I eat that chip that’s in the center basket? Will they know? And then people would make comments like, oh, Ruby knows how to eat, and I remember feeling like they’d diagnosed me with an illness or something. It’s so unrealistic, but that’s one thing too that parents should say to their kids because growing up, my stepfather would say, Oh Ruby sure knows how to eat like when you bring home this thing of Oreo, you better watch out! Ruby’s coming! And I don’t think that was good for my psyche at all because I grew up thinking like, I don’t have control and I will eat everything. You know?

Paige: Yeah, putting that message in your head that then becomes a reality, either because you’re restricting and you’re scared of it - it’s a reality in that case - or a reality in terms of you overeating on certain foods and then reinforcing, yeah, I don’t have control. So that’s a negative foundation to set for sure, and we all make mistakes as parents, but I think that’s great advice. So in the letter you just read, you mentioned that you went out and bought your first loaf of bread - was that right?

Ruby: Yeah.

Paige: Okay, so can you just paint that picture for us? Because for those people out there who are like, oh this is an interesting podcast, I don’t really struggle too much with food, but I’ve had things here or there, I’m just trying to work a little bit better on my relationship with food, you know there are people out there who are kind of in that headspace, not quite as obsessive and extreme, so sometimes when I talk to people like that about what I do for work, they’re like whaaaaaat? Like I’m so confused. So if you don’t mind, just paint that picture for us a little bit about how you made that decision, your walk to the store, how you went in the store to purchase that and then eat it, like tell us about that.

Ruby: So I knew that I had to radically drop everything. I know in certain treatments, they say don’t have sugar or don’t have white bread - I think I read that somewhere - but for me, I was like, i’ve done this for so long that I just need to break it cold turkey, and my biggest fear was bread.

Paige: So you went for your biggest fear first?

Ruby: Yeah.

Paige: Wow. Good for you, Ruby! That’s amazing.

Ruby: [laughs] Thanks, it’s silly that we’re talking about this too, but it’s not. It’s not silly that my biggest fear was bread, but it was.

Paige: It’s your reality, yeah.

Ruby: So I went in, and I don’t get panic attacks - I guess eating disorders are a type of anxiety but I never felt extremely nervous, especially around food in a grocery store but I remember looking through all the breads and thinking, what’s the healthiest bread? What’s the lowest calorie bread? And I looked at this bread that I remember liking maybe 4 years ago and the question I had to keep asking myself is, what did you like 4 years ago? And so I picked it up, it was cinnamon swirl bread [laughs], and I bought it and I went home -

Paige: So you didn’t just buy bread, you bought cinnamon bread.

Ruby: Yeah I bought cinnamon bread [laughs].

Paige: That’s an important detail, I love that. [laughs] so great. You’re like, I’m going big!

Ruby: Right, and I hadn’t told my roommates at the time that I’d gone back, so I think when I was eating it they were a little confused but women, I think they understand on a deep level that you don’t ever comment about that, like they’d seen how neurotic I’d been, so I just ate it and I didn’t die! And one thing that I did suffer with were these kind of fake symptoms that I was getting where I felt, oh I’m so much more lethargic now that I have bread - and that was just kind of the disorder just trying to pull me back in, I think, and the other big one was bread, and then putting things in my coffee because I’m a big coffee drinker and -

Paige: Okay, wait, let’s talk about coffee in a second, I wanna talk more about the bread.

Ruby: So let’s keep talking about bread, sorry.

Paige: No no, it’s okay. You’re doing great. So when you ate that first bite of bread, were you scared? Were you excited? Were you all the things? So how did you do it? Because I think it’s one thing to buy it, and have it there and be like, okay I’m gonna gear up and do this, but it’s another to be like, I’m facing this fear that I have - tell us about that.

Ruby: First of all, it tasted amazing compared to the 5 foods I ate a day pretty much and I think in the moment I was caught up in how cool it was that I could finally eat these foods but I did have that little twang of lack of control when you finally have something that you’ve deprived yourself of for so long - I wanted more and more and -

Paige: Yeah that’s an important key.

Ruby: Yeah and that’s an important thing too because you justify that by saying, oh well okay well if you’re going to go back to this lifestyle, you have to eat it all - and I think that’s the anti-eating disorder but that’s also the disorder at the same time, if that makes sense. It’s like you’re trying to protect yourself but you still have the compulses so yeah, so I ate it pretty much every day for a few weeks and I’ve heard this said on your podcast too but I don’t really want it right now - I could go without it for a while, I’ve had my time with it, it’s like romance, and the lust is kind of gone. It’s cool that I can eat it if I want to and it doesn’t have power over me.

Paige: Okay, that’s such an important key. I’m also curious about like when you said, I loved it, it tasted so delicious, that is really great that you were able to experience that in that moment because a lot of people, when they try something that they haven’t eaten for a long time or that they’ve deprived themselves of, it’s almost like the fear of enjoying that food is so strong that then you kind of try to trick yourself and say, I don’t like it, because for a lot of people, a lot of people experience that sort of, okay I’ve heard and I’ve learned that if I start enjoying food, that I’m automatically going to be out of control and I’m gonna binge on it. So I’m just wondering how you managed those thoughts as they seeped in - were you worried about binging? Were you worried about enjoying a food, because I wanna make a point about this but I wanna hear what your experience was.

Ruby: I won’t lie, it was really difficult at the end of the day when I’d looked back on all I’d had for the day and thought about what effects it was having on my body. But one thing that was really helpful - I think I might’ve heard this on your podcast too or somebody else’s - but I would tell myself as I was eating it that I could have more later, especially for dinner, that was a big one because a lot of people say, and I’m sure it’s healthy in a way, that you should stop eating at a certain time before you go to bed but for me, I developed a very early stop and so when I would get to dinner, every time I would be panicky back when I was doing the other behaviors and now when I was eating what I wanted to, I would be panicky again both because of what I was eating, and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to eat again for a while. But by telling myself, okay here’s the bread. Here’s this loaf of bread. You get to eat this whole loaf of bread, gradually throughout the week, enjoy a little bit every single day, so don’t freak out about it now, it’s not gonna help you - that’s what helped me the most, I think sometimes when people hear other people say things like that, and then they’re in the moment, they think it’s not that easy. I had to accept - one thing that helped me with the binge-y feelings was I had to feel the discomfort fully and say, I hate this discomfort, I want to keep eating, I have to keep eating - instead of fighting it off or trying to distract myself and then by being in it I think I realized that this isn’t brain over binge, because I read a lot of books, I realized that it was just this stupid little feeling that had been formed after years of habits of bingeing on these kinds of foods and that I didn’t have to be overpowered by it.

Paige: Yeah, yeah. So one thing that I think that’s a key connection to make in this context is enjoying a food truly doesn’t lead to bingeing like if you’re really enjoying food it comes to a certain point where you get the message that says, hey, this food doesn’t taste quite as good anymore because you’re done and you can have more tomorrow like you mentioned. So a lot of people connect like, oh no if I enjoy food, I’m automatically gonna overdo it. But I actually argue that the opposite is true is that enjoyment and that peace and that pleasure from the eating experience actually leads to a greater ability to recognize when you need to be done. Did you experience that at all? I know that doesn’t usually come at the first try usually for most people but has that come over time?

Ruby: Yeah I would eat unseasoned, basic ingredients and feel very empty at the end and think there’s something missing and keep eating and then eventually binge. But when I was eating something finally that I’d taken time to prepare and that I really did wanna eat and that I felt like my body wanted, and I finished it, especially if I’d been hungry when I started, [laughs] at the end of it there was no need to keep eating and that was amazing to me,

Paige: Yeah and Ruby you mentioned that you had this kind of rule about when you stopped eating in the day and how that would create panic about getting enough at dinner and sort of the idea of, I can eat again later, or I can eat this again tomorrow was really helpful for you, and I just wanted to say that that was true for me too. That was a big connection for me to make in my process of healing my relationship with food was just that idea of I don’t need to get it all in right this very minute, there’s nothing wrong with eating a little something at night if you need it or want it or feel like it and that’s produced a lot of freedom in my life too. So I just kind of want to echo what you said and I think you said it so beautifully so thank you. Okay, so let’s move on to coffee. Tell us about your coffee. [laughs] Because that biography was all about your black coffee, so - it sounds like things have changed.

Ruby: [laughs] Oh yeah, we’ll talk about that. But I just want to say real quick, I listened to your podcast where you specifically talked about your experience and just talking about how some people are born with this body that’s supposed to look like this is something that I got especially from your podcast that helped me a lot, so thank you for making that. With the coffee, I think I used coffee a lot as an energizer, especially in the first few years of college when I was constantly trying to overcompensate for something but of course, I couldn’t put anything in the coffee because that would be against my religion that I was slowly developing so I started drinking black coffee and I really fell in love with black coffee in a way like with all the different brews and I could tell what was good and what wasn’t. And to put something in my coffee for the first time was much more significant because coffee to me was the one piece of my lifestyle, I guess, that I was planning to hold onto and I think it was my way to stay tethered to my eating disorder because it was - coffee does, in a sense, suppress your appetite and give you energy, so to put something in it was kind of a smack in the face to my old habits because now there was nowhere I could run and escape and compensate for a “mistake” I had made earlier that day. So I’d put creamer in it, which the worst one I thought in the beginning to do, I used the International Delight, not to brand -you can take this out if you want -

Paige: No, that’s okay. I’m not affiliated with any brands so I don’t care if you mention any, no problem. [laughs]

Ruby: [laughs] Okay. Well and then, like before with the bread, I went wild on that for a little bit and then I realized like, this is a lot of sugar and this is a lot of dairy and I like it maybe once or twice a day but after a while I don’t feel good eating this much or drinking this much coffee so I’m gonna stop.

Paige: And who know’s if that’s due to sugar, dairy, or even the caffeine, right?

Ruby: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, but like I was gonna say, I don’t drink that much caffeine anymore. I don’t feel like I need it at all so there’s that.

Paige: Well, that is a really important connection to make too because food is energy and so no wonder why you felt like you needed an energy boost when you were restricting but if you eat enough, if you eat to the point of satisfaction and if you do that consistently, your body is gonna be like okay great, I have energy and this is the best type of energy - I’m not bashing caffeine or anything - but just rather than that sort of chemical sort of fakey energy, this is like real, true, I can burn these calories in the form of energy and in the form of brain function and organ function and feeling good and vibrant so yeah.

Ruby: Yeah. If you’re out there listening and you feel lethargic and always thinking about food, your lifestyle is not working and there’s so much energy in store for you out there. [laughs]

Paige: Yeah, yeah totally and even on the opposite end of the spectrum like if y