By Carolyn Brown, MS, RD
I’m a nutritionist – so preaching about the benefits of healthy food is kind of my life.
But the truth is, I haven’t always practiced what I preach.
My bad habits started during high school when I got invited to join a modeling agency. The same woman who had invited me in told me so callously at our first meeting that, actually, I needed to lose 10 lbs first. My parents reluctantly agreed to let me try, but wanted to make sure that I was being healthy about it, so they sent me to a dietitian. She was great. But instead of sticking to her advice, I tried to do it my way – which basically meant not eating all day, then binging on a whole pizza at night. Somehow I thought that by hating my body, I could change it. Needless to say, I never lost the 10lb and, instead, gained weight and a really unhealthy relationship with food – I was completely obsessed with counting calories and grams of carbs, tried every diet from Atkins to the master cleanse, and even took some dangerous weight loss supplements.
By the time I was in my early 20’s, I had started reading about health and food a lot and had organically adopted some healthier habits. I knew that nutrition was what I wanted to do, mostly because of my experience with it, and if I’m being totally honest, I thought it might give me some accountability to keep myself in check. So, I went to school to become a registered dietitian.
Still, even as I learned all about nutrition and healthy habits, I held onto my extremist mindset. I would eat a whole tub of cookie dough and the next day spontaneously run a half-marathon, thinking that the huge calorie burn of the race would allow me to eat whatever I wanted. I see now that, in reality, I used to feel like eating well and exercising were punishment. It’s scary to admit I felt this way while I was in nutrition grad school and even when I started doing this as a profession. Some days, as I was just starting in my career, I found myself counseling people on their diet while feeling like my own was kind of a mess.
It was my sister who finally called me out. She was my roommate at the time and had just come home from hanging out with her friends. Apparently, one of them had seen my blog/instaaccount, which was overflowing with nutrition advice, and said, “Does your sister actually eat that way?!” And my sister said, “Haha! Absolutely NOT. Not at all.” When she first told me this, I was so defensive – like, of course I DO!!! And then, with a little time, I realized she was 1000% right.
That “come-to-Jesus” moment sparked a change in me, but the real shift happened when I came to understand, with every cell of my body, that eating well and exercising are FOR me, and not intended to make me unhappy or miserable. Gaining this understanding didn’t happen overnight (I have been in therapy for years and years), but wow, once it did, this simple flip in mentality had an unbelievable effect on me. Even if there are (many) things I still wish I could change about my body, what my body does for me on a daily basis deserves some serious love. And when you eat well and move well because you really like, and love, yourself, you can actually put a stop to the war on your body and mind.
There is a quote that I love (thank you, Tara Stiles): “Eat like you love yourself. Move like you love yourself. Speak like you love yourself. Act like you love yourself.” For many of us, liking and loving ourselves has to be a decision, but I promise you it is possible. And once you do, making peace with your body is possible.
Carolyn Brown, MS, RD, is a nutritionist at Foodtrainers, a private practice in New York City. She is also a certified yoga guide, occasional marathon-runner, and is a spin and snowboard junkie. Carolyn is a huge advocate of “you can live a healthy life without losing a social life.” Carolyn has been featured in TV and print, including The TODAY show, Dr. Oz, FOX, health.com, CBS news, TIME.com, Cosmopolitan, and Shape Magazine, among others. Follow Carolyn on Instagram @carolynbrownnutrition and Twitter @carolynbrownRD.