‘I re­ally wanted to be­lieve that “food is love”’

Essentials (South Africa) - - YOUR LIFE -

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.

My body

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

The war­rior

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.

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