‘I really wanted to believe that “food is love”’
Alison Livanos, 38, is a creative facilitator and life coach who lives in Bryanston with her husband John, 40, and daughters Amy, 12, and nine- yearold twins Hayley and Nicole.
My earliest memory of food isn’t a positive one. When I was a child, my mother was dealing with a lot of mental health problems and meals weren’t a priority. As I got old enough to ask for food it was always an inconvenience to prepare, and I just stopped expecting anything. I learnt to associate food and eating as a negative experience. When I was older, I went to live with my grandmother and although there were regular meals, I’d already adopted unhealthy eating habits.
As a teen, I desperately wanted to be a model, but I also became aware of my changing body. I thought that if I was thin, everyone would like me more. By the time I was 14, I was keeping my kilojoules to 3 000 a day: I wouldn’t eat breakfast or lunch, and at dinner I’d just eat fruit, Provitas, low-fat yoghurt, and steamed fish and vegetables. Even when I was 1,65cm tall and weighed only 45kg I still felt it wasn’t good enough – people would comment on how thin I was but I still saw myself as fat. I’d heard that smoking could help you lose weight so I replaced meals with cigarettes. All my issues around food and my body lead to me binge- eating for comfort. Then the guilt would consume me and I’d always end up in the bathroom, purging it all.
By the time I was 21 I’d met my nowhusband, John, and I was too ashamed to eat in front of other people – at dinner dates I’d eat very little and drink water. I would start my morning with a cigarette, then coffee, and just before lunch I’d eat a slice of toast to get me through the rest of the day. John loves food and when we got married I really enjoyed preparing meals for him, but it didn’t change my unhealthy relationship with eating. He would tuck into dinner and, although he’s always been supportive and encouraging of my struggles, I’d eat as little as possible just to keep him happy and quiet. The only time I managed to eat regular meals was when I was pregnant because I knew that I was nourishing my unborn babies and I wanted to be a good mother from the get-go. When I no longer needed to breastfeed my twins I returned to my bad habits: I’d starve myself to the point of feeling faint – deep down I knew I was using self- deprivation to punish myself because I hated just about everything about myself, but I couldn’t stop.
A turning point came five years ago, when I wanted to fulfil my dream of becoming a writer. I signed up for a writing course, and while I was searching for inspiration I came across the self-help book The Artist’ s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. It was the spiritual awakening I needed to realise that I’m more than my body, and that I needed to nourish myself, both in a creative sense and literal, physical sense. And, I came to the realisation that with all the years of not eating properly, I had actually forgotten how to eat for my well-being.
In 2016 I read YouCanHeal YourLife by Louise L. Hay, which sparked the desire to build a better relationship with food. In 2017 I attended a talk by clinical dietitian Tabitha Hume and her opening statement was ‘ Food is love’. It was the total opposite of everything I’ve ever believed about food, but her talk really resonated with me – it helped me get to grips with the basics of how to nourish my body. Now I make sure I eat regularly. I start the day with oats and milk, and if I’m rushing to get the kids to school I’ll blend it and have it on the go. I’ve learnt that my eating habits had little to do with food and more to do with how little I loved myself.
People would often tell me I was thin, but I felt fat
I am still learning to love myself and to strengthen my relationship with food. But now I can look at my body with far more gratitude and compassion. It allowed me to give birth, and, despite what I’ve put it through, it kept going. Most of all, I’m amazed at how strong, and patient, it’s been.