093. A Binge Eating Recovery Story ft. Elena Kunicki; @elenakunicki_rd

Elena Kunicki

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Ryann Nicole


Connect with Elena

📲 Instagram: @elenakunicki_rd

🎙 Podcast: The Binge Eating Dietitian Podcast

Episode Transcript

Ryann

Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Food Freedom Lab. I am, I’m so excited for today. I was telling Elena earlier, she was one of the gals when I started my Instagram that I found very early on and I was upset with her content from a business perspective and also thinking about if I would have had this material and this content and, you know, somebody to connect with that has also been through binge eating, if things would be different. We don’t know, but now we have Elena here so they can be different for you. So Elena, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story with us today.

Elena

Yeah, I’m excited. So excited to be here. Long overdue.

Ryann

So I have heard snippets here and there, but I haven’t heard the entire thing. So I’m just going to let you kick things off, share with us from, you know, beginning to where you are now, and then I’ll just take a part from there.

Elena

Okay. All right. So, so it all starts growing up as like the chubbier kid in a group of very close-knit and all just happen to be very thin friends. So I grew up with like four really close girlfriends. I did, I have one brother, I don’t have any sisters, and we all lived in the same neighborhood. So like we spent all of our time together from when we were really which was great, fabulous thing for me as like growing up socially, but you know, the differences in our bodies was definitely a thing that started to become more apparent later on in my life. So when I was younger, I was like, you were talking earlier, Ryann, about like how your personality as a kid was like very bubbly, big personality.

Same with me, very outgoing, very big personality and confident as well in some ways, but, and that was, so that kind of carried me through in the earlier years. I wasn’t really thinking much about my body. I acknowledge I was bigger than my friends, but I didn’t feel this like value judgment against myself because of it. I didn’t feel like I had to hide my body until around puberty time. And I don’t remember what first did it. I think it was 12. And he, I remember a doctor telling me I was overweight based on BMI, telling my mom, telling, I was in the room, I remember like getting that. And he suggested I should drink like less grape juice or something like that. And like going back to the doctor, I was like, I’m not going to that doctor anymore. I’m drinking as much grape juice as I wanted to my mom.

But these things, I had a very like defensive, like not defensive, but I had a very tough exterior. So I don’t think it showed, but I think it was impacting me more internally than it seemed, which is like story of my life basically. So I remember being told I was overweight, kids on the playground started calling me fat, teasing me. And I was, again, big personality. So I would kind of like bully them back. Like if they called me fat, I would hit them in the head with my shoe or pour a whole can of Coke in their bag. So like, you know, interesting outbursts of mine in response to this.

But yeah, those things kind of stick with you. And that continued through middle school and just very much this focus on like what boys were thinking about me, seeing how they treated my friends differently than they treated me. And that was in my mind. I didn’t do anything about it. I just felt this negative body image, this discomfort in my body and wishing that I was thinner. And then in high school is when I first started trying to actually do something about that and change how my body looked. And it was in preparation for my boyfriend’s prom, who was a senior and I was a junior and it was his prom. And so I was going to his prom and I wanted to lose weight to look a certain way in my dress.

So I was trying to diet. I was trying all these different wild diets that my mom was on because, you know, she also has her own history, very similar to mine with food. And so she had all these different diet books, holistic, you know, health books, different things. So I was trying all these different wild diets in an attempt to lose weight and trying to start exercising. I was not, I was also telling you this earlier, Ryan, but I was active as a kid, as like a young kid. I did creative type movement, like dance, gymnastics, things like that, but it wasn’t until this point when I really started trying to exercise. I was not an athlete. I didn’t, intentional exercise was not like a part of my life at all up until this point.

So I was trying to get into working out, trying to diet, and I couldn’t stick to anything. So I would kind of stay on the diet. I would struggle with motivation to get to the gym, but it wasn’t like I wasn’t binging. I was just feeling like I’d be like, eh, I’m not gonna try it. I’m not gonna do this anymore. And I would just do something else, which is very different from the experience I had later on. And it’s really interesting how this progressed looking back on it. I do remember having my first binge at that time, but it was very minor on the spectrum of binging compared to what my binges became. I was on like trying again some wild diet that was like eliminating all different foods and like food combinations on different days it’s like a 10-day diet and it was like day six and I was eating like only ground beef that day or something like that and I just couldn’t do it anymore and there was a bag of like chocolate treats in my closet from some like party I went to and I just grabbed the bag in my room and I just ate all the things in the bag.

And it wasn’t like a lot more food than I would normally eat, but it was that feeling of being completely out of control and then coming out of it and being like, why did I just do that? Which is like the hallmark of a binge, obviously. And then I was crying, and I just remember crying and feeling like, oh my gosh, I’m never going to lose weight. Like, I’m literally never going to be able to do this and having that feeling of being helpless. And then, kind of continued like that, but I didn’t have any more binges that I remember and I probably would have remembered them. So it was kind of more just not really sticking to it and not feeling like I was really that successful, but I still had a fun time at prom and kind of just did my thing. Then the next year came around and it was my time for my prom and that’s when I was like, we got to get serious about this shit now.

So I found this wild diet that was basically, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the master cleanse. I do not recommend it. It’s awful. But this was like, my mom was like, Oh, Lena, I heard of this thing, like, and she had a book on it or something like that. So my mom and I did this together literally didn’t eat like for 10 days, basically, I just drank some like lemon juice is basically what you do. And it’s an awful situation. And I completed that I did the whole 10 days. And I continued to go exercise, which is just sickening to think about considering the fact that I wasn’t eating, but I felt I did it. Like that was this shift in my mind where I feel like I shifted into like this very anorexia type mindset, where it was like, I got that taste of like, you can literally eat nothing and you could do it, you could do that.

So from going to a place where I felt like I had no control over my situation, no discipline to really realizing I could access this part of me that was like, you know, almost enjoying the hunger, which is also a very like anorexia type trait, which is like really messed up. This is how people die. So like, I’m not glorifying this. It’s not a good thing, but that is what switched my brain. I was like, okay, I can do this. And so from there, I started tracking my calories. I started being regimented with exercise. It was like a switch literally flipped in my brain. And I could just, I was like, anything I put my mind to, I’m going to do. And I was not a disciplined child. Like, I didn’t have a schedule. I didn’t like life schedules. I didn’t do well in school. Like, I was smart, but I didn’t try. Like that, it was a big switch in my personality. So then I went to college. I was continuing on this fitness train. So I got really into fitness. I was exercising every day. My whole body changed. My face looked different.

People in school were like, Elena, what are you doing? This influx of attention and compliments from people on my body, which was what I had wanted all of that time as a child when my friends were getting this sort of attention and I wasn’t, it was like the perfect combination. So all of that coming in from my peers, it was like a drug. Literally it was like a drug, just getting high on that feeling. And in my mind, I was like, I am not gonna lose this. Like nothing will make me lose this feeling that I have now, because this is what I’ve always wanted. So I kept going like little by little, exercising a little more. At first, everything seemed healthy. Everyone’s like, oh, you know, I was tracking my calories, but like I was flexible. I would go out to drink with my friends. Not that I recommend you track your calories, but like, you know, it seemed fine from the outside.

But inside this disordered relationship was brewing, but I was still pretty flexible. I was still living my life. It wasn’t taking away from my life that much at this point. I felt good exercising because I had never really exercised before. So there was benefits from it of me learning how vegetables can be tasty and how exercise makes your body feel good. So there were benefits to it. But like I said, this disordered mindset was brewing. So when I went to college, I realized that people gained the freshman 15. I heard about the freshman 15. People were talking about this. And in my mind, again, I was like, no fucking way I’m going to gain the freshman 15. This is not happening.

And so when I went to my freshman year, I started eating even less and working out even more even though I didn’t even want to lose more weight. I was like, I feel good, but I was so afraid that I was going to gain weight that I felt like I needed this buffer. You know, I felt like I needed this buffer of like, oh, I’m going to eat a little less and then actually a little bit more. So like, just in case something happens, I’m no, I’m not going to gain weight. And that’s where I started to lose more weight. And like, you know, it was getting really thin. Like I’m not thin naturally. I’m kind of like great size, but like I have like, you know, I have some meat on my bones. I’m not thin naturally. That’s not like a thing for me. So people, some of my friends and family were like, wow, like you’re really thin. But like, there wasn’t a lot of concern expressed. And I think part of that’s because I’m not in like a smaller body naturally. So like, to become even smaller, or to become, it’s not like I was going from small to even smaller, where people tend to express more concern.

Like I didn’t look that quote unquote sick, which is a big problem for people. And this is another thing like for the people that I work with, for the people I try to like reach on Instagram, specifically these people who are not validating their problems because they’re not underweight, or they don’t feel like they like fall into that category of I look anorexic, whatever that means. I feel like it’s really important to like address that because a lot of people are dealing with those same types of issues, but they’re just not underweight clinically and people might not see it on them, if that makes sense. So at this point, I lost my period. I was starting to think about food constantly. I was starting to withdraw from social activities. I wouldn’t go out with my friends. I had a couple of friends that I was making there and I stopped going out with them. I was afraid to drink. And I was just thinking about food constantly, planning everything out a week ahead of time.

And just my whole life was becoming wrapped up in it. And so I was feeling more of that anxiety, feeling so much fatigue. I was getting acne, like really bad acne that I’d never had before. My digestion was getting all messed up. So I was having all these signs, but I wasn’t thinking much of them. And I heard about how you can lose your period from working out a lot. And in my mind, I was like, oh, great. Wow, I used to be the fat one. Now I’m so athletic that I lost my period. Like, that’s cool. Like, it was a very, like, again, that identity piece comes in. So I was still kind of riding high, even though I was feeling worse and worse. I wasn’t feeling energy anymore. I was feeling like really depleted. And then the binge just started. That’s in my mind when, at the time, if you talked to me before I recovered from my disordered eating, like that’s when I identified the problem started.

I had my first binge when I was drinking, or my first binge since like losing the weight that I started drinking, that I, when I was drinking and I binged. And that’s, that’s what started the whole thing. And then I continued to binge for the next four years. Throughout my whole college career, I was binging, you know, once a week, twice a week. And I just tried all different iterations of different ways to try to get that sense of control that I had in the beginning back again. Ryann, you were also talking about this with your story, but it was all just, I just want to feel that discipline and control that I had again. Like I know I can do it. I had this discipline. Why can’t I just do it again? I didn’t realize that this was literally a biological primal drive my body was sending me to say like, you literally are not eating enough and you need to eat, we don’t feel safe. And it wasn’t just not eating enough.

It was my restrictive mindset around food as well. But yeah, and then I got really into bodybuilding and weightlifting. I went from being like a runner to shifting into lifting weights after I injured myself. And then that became a huge part of my story because I loved lifting. And for somebody who never enjoyed exercise and running was very forced for me, I actually loved lifting weights. And like I was not, that was never a thing for me that I really loved exercise and felt strong and powerful. And I think I really felt like athletic and like empowered in my body then. And I think back to like gym classes, like a chubby kid where I felt embarrassed to like exert myself in front of people. And then I was in the gym, like lifting heavy weights, feeling really confident. And like, I didn’t care who saw me.

So lifting brought a lot of that, like confidence in my body that I was lacking and helped me focus a little bit less on being so thin and just like, but it was the same shit. People say that with bodybuilding, like, oh, it helped me focus on being strong, not skinny. But you’re saying the same thing, really. What I meant was I just now want to be muscular and lean. I literally just want to have more muscles so I look more like curvy, but I still have very low body fat. So I was still striving for the same thing. It was all about controlling how my body looked. So that just, you know, the binges just kept getting worse. Nothing really improved even though I increased my calories and I was working out less because I was in this bodybuilding space. I wasn’t doing as much cardio. I was lifting. I was eating more calories and that even more so fueled in my mind for me that this is not a restriction thing.

This is a self-control thing because I acknowledged that I was eating too little and exercising too much back then, but now I’m like in this bodybuilding world. I’m eating like X amount of calories a day more than I was before and I’m not doing nearly as much cardio and exercise as I was before. So this is not an under eating thing. This is not a restriction thing because now I’m doing flexible dining. Now I’m doing if it fits your macros. So I’m eating cookies, I’m eating X, Y, and Z food. So that just continued. And then finally, when I graduated college, I realized that my entire life was spent just working out, planning my food, working on my schoolwork. And repeating, sleeping and repeating and researching how to stop binging and researching how to reach my physique goals and how to be adherent to my diet. That’s all my time was.

That’s all I spent my time doing. I didn’t make any friends in college other than my boyfriend. And I was like, now I’m going home and I have friends at home that I want to spend time with. So now what am I going to do if I have to miss this day of working out because I drank the night before? Or on my rest day, I have to eat less. And what am I going to do if one of my friends invites me out on that day that I’m supposed to rest? Like, I can’t stop thinking about food. I binge. I can’t get my period. I still wasn’t getting my period unless I was on the birth control pill, I wouldn’t get it. My digestion was awful. And I was like, Elena, you spend so much time trying to be healthy and also, you know, be this fit person and like the fit one that everyone thinks you are.

Everyone gave me so many compliments still about how fit and healthy I was, yet you are literally unhappy and unhealthy. Like, I don’t think it’s healthy for you to not be able to get a period, but it seems like a pretty important function. And your digestion sucks and you can’t even stick to anything you try with your diet. So what are you doing here? Like what is this? What is the point of all this? And at that time, I was also starting to hear some content from like fitness podcasters that I listened to, where some dietician came on and was talking about hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is what I had, I didn’t realize, which is a loss of period due to under eating, overexercise and stress. And I was like, huh, interesting, because she was talking about disordered eating, she was talking about HA. And I was like, that’s literally me, like, this is what I’m dealing with.

And so I was starting to get that information, I think at the right time of also being so like, I can’t live this way anymore. Like I’ve tried everything I could possibly find to stop binging. What is going to help me actually stop this? I’ve exhausted my options. And then I realized that I hadn’t. The whole time I was still just trying to control how my body looked and lose weight. And that is literally was the root of the problem. And then when I realized that it was a pretty quick shift once I started recovery. And the whole time I was also becoming a dietician. So then I became an RD and then I could help people, you know, who struggle similarly to me. So it all worked out.

Ryann

Oh my god, it is so, I don’t want to say good, that’s not the right word, but just like so inspiring to hear from you just everything and the different pushes and pulls. But as you were saying before, you know, everyone has such a similar story. There’s just like little elements here and there that are different, but like the foundation is usually the same. I mean, 100%. The thing that I just took out of yours so much is the ways that we justify what we’re doing, like the ways that we justify the behaviors, like how many times you justified to yourself, like, but it’s not a big deal. I’m, you know, healthy or I’m fine. Like I’m fine. Like I’m not as bad as they are. I’ve got this under control. Like I don’t have a problem. And all of the things that we tell ourselves that keep us in this cycle.

Elena

Yeah. The whole they’re doing it. Why can they do it? But I can’t.

Ryann

Yeah.

Elena

That’s the worst. That’s the biggest one. That’s like a big, like top complaint I hear from clients is like, I see all these women who, some of them, maybe I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but some of them seem like they’re professionals and like they’re cutting, they’re bulking, they’re doing all these things with like macros and fat loss, how come they can do this, but I don’t, I can’t. And that’s where like the self-control, the feeling of self-control and not having enough of it, and that’s really the main root problem was really enhanced for me.

Ryann

Yes, a hundred percent. Okay, I have so many questions to ask you. Okay, so you said you have a brother. I have a brother as well. Is he older or younger?

Elena

Older, he’s six and a half years older.

Ryann

Were you ever compared to him or did you ever compare yourself to him? Or like, I know for me, I used to always be so frustrated. Like he gets to eat whatever he wants and he’s fine and I can’t.

Elena

So interesting that you said that. So it’s kind of in a different way. I remember and I didn’t mention this about my family, but like I’ll get to that in a sec, but I remember when I remember specifically and that’s how you know, I remember this because it’s a very specific moment, you know, how like emotions, emotions, they heighten our memory.

Ryann

Yeah.

Elena

So I must have had an emotional response to this that I didn’t really realize at the time, but we were sitting eating Eggo waffles at the breakfast table when we were young. Like I was maybe eight or something. And John was like, I don’t know, whatever, 14, however old he would be. And he wanted X amount of Eggo waffles. And I only got X amount. And I was like, I want more. Like I’m still hungry or I still want, I just want more. And or I something like, why can John have more, but I can’t. And there’s something like, oh, John’s a boy or John’s a growing boy or something along those lines where it’s like, and this type of thing of like telling somebody you can’t, you can’t, basically that’s saying you can’t trust your own body to eat how much it needs.

It’s, there’s a pre-set amount that this group’s supposed to eat and this group’s supposed to eat and like if you want more than that, your body’s wrong, which is obviously like, it’s, maybe it’s not obvious to everybody, but this is to me another like root factor. So that definitely was something that impacted me and probably had a role in me not trusting my body as much. And then there was not a comparison to his body type. We had similar body type. He got in very into and his relationship to food’s been pretty much okay, but he has a whole different story because he had Crohn’s disease and had a really, really like almost like life or death situation with that. That influenced a lot like what he could eat, but he didn’t get very into like fitness at one point where he was tracking his calories. He was, you know, you know, working out a lot and I saw that go on but we’re big age difference so I didn’t that didn’t register with me that much. I was like, what’s John doing?

Why are there like two egg yolks in the fridge, like just two plain egg yolks. And it was because he’d taken the whites, he had separated and like taken the whites and put the yolks in the fridge. So I was like, huh, interesting. But I don’t think it really, that didn’t impact me that much. But the mindset about like boys can eat more than girls, you can’t trust your own body, you have too big of an appetite. Like you were talking about how you’re a big, you were called like the big eater, like always a foodie when you were younger, same. And that’s a big thing that when I was, you know, going, my fears with when I was going to recovery and giving myself unconditional permission to eat was like, well, I’ve always, everyone’s always told me I’m a big eater or like I always loved sweets and like, maybe I just have too big of an appetite or too much cravings that like need to be controlled. And I can’t be healthy if I don’t do that, or I’m going to gain too much weight because of that, you know?

Ryann

Yeah. Oh my gosh. And the fact that that started with you at eight, like that you remember that at eight. And that doesn’t even mean that those comments didn’t start before you were eight, but just the fact that, wow. Okay, so staying on the topic of your family, I know you mentioned mom kind of struggled as well. I always love to hear as people are sharing their stories, because I know that I have a lot of moms, as I’m sure you do as well, that are clients, and wanting to change their relationship with food to help their children. But also I think that we, and I know I was guilty of this, like I thought I was so good at hiding everything and I thought that nobody knew what I was doing. So I’m really curious, like when did you first become aware of like your mom dieting or your mom like obsessing over food or your mom struggling with food? Like when did that become evident to you?

Elena

Honestly, like I don’t think I was, I mean, I’m sure that there are things that I must have heard her talk about food and body image, but the thing with my parents was that they were very, they were, other than those a couple of things, they were so much different than a lot of my clients’ parents in the way that they, thank God, never made comments about my body.

Ryann

Okay.

Elena

There was a very good food, bad food mentality in my household. Like we were like the healthy household where we didn’t have like soda and certain like types of, you know, like pop tarts or chips that my friends would have. And that’s actually why I had such a sweet tooth was because I was being restricted from these foods. Cause now like, I’m actually not a sweet tooth. I actually like salty foods more, but like anyway, it’s a whole other thing.

Ryann

That’s so interesting.

Elena

Yeah, yeah. But my mom, yeah, I don’t, really, my first memories are like when I wanted to start dieting and then we started dieting together. So I mean, I know now, because now that when I went through my process with my recovery, like my mom was kind of like going along, not, she wasn’t going along with me, but kind of in a way because she was like, oh, wow, like the stuff I was learning, she’s like, yeah, this is what I struggle with too. Like, I’ve always struggled with these issues. She didn’t struggle to necessarily the extent that I did where it was impacting so many areas of my life and getting so much further on the eating disorder spectrum.

But growing up as the chubby kid, always having this insane lack of self-worth based on her body, always feeling insecure in her body, trying a million different diets, obsessive with health, she had all those things. But I don’t know if she did a good job or because of hiding it. I think kids are sponges, so I’m sure it impacted me and I picked up on it whether I realized it or not. But I think she did a good job of not talking about her body that much, even though she would feel insecure about it. I think she wouldn’t talk about it. She was conscious of don’t do body talk. Her mom did that a lot, and I think she really wanted to change that, even though she wasn’t changing it in herself, if that makes sense.

Ryann

Gotcha. So when you got that comment from the doctor about needing to lose weight, how did she respond to that? Do you remember?

Elena

She was like, don’t worry, honey, you’re fine. Yeah, which is great.

Ryann

Yeah.

Elena

Because like, I have so many clients where their parents like, you need to lose weight right now, step on that scale, we’re getting you to Weight Watchers, we’re getting you on this diet, and like militantly putting them through diets. My mom did not do that. She was like, you’re okay, you’re fine. Like, you’ll be okay. And I was, like, there was nothing wrong with, everything was fine. Like maybe I could have integrated some healthier habits at the time, but you know, if somebody had just told me that, like, okay, maybe it would be, well, not even at that time, because I was active, I ate vegetables, like I still liked eating all foods, even though I liked, you know, I would eat my friends’ sweets when I was at their house and certain things that I didn’t have at home. At home, like, I liked all the food my mom cooked that was healthful and whatever. So yeah, it was really later on in high school when I was smoking cigarettes and drinking all the time and not moving my body at all and watching so much TV that I could have integrated healthier habits. But my BMI was normal at that time.

Ryann

Gotcha, yeah, oh my gosh. Well, that’s great for your mom that she didn’t mention anything there, that’s huge. So when you were going through the restrictive period, and in your story you mentioned, I had this moment where I felt like I was never able to lose weight and that left me feeling helpless. I know for me, I totally relate to that feeling of like, I am so helpless because I can’t lose weight. And like having my whole like, it didn’t matter how great anything else was because I couldn’t lose weight, like everything else was terrible. Like, tell me more about that for you.

Elena

Yeah, so I feel like I felt it at like two points in very different ways, which is interesting. Like that point before I like went through this transformation, this kind of what I would have called it like my fitness transformation or like when I lost the weight or whatever. Before that is when I was just kind of like yo-yoing between different diets, not sticking to any of them, but not having like these extreme emotional push and pulls and like restriction and binging to that level. That it was a, it was much, it was a lot of like body shame and just sadness of like sinking into shame as, um, have you read the book more than a body by Lexi and Lindsay Kite? It’s a really good book.

Ryann

I haven’t.

Elena

Okay. Well, anyways, it’s a great book. They say that sinking into shame is like one way that we deal with body image issues. And I think I was hiding, I was just kind of feeling really badly about myself as a person, like no one’s gonna like me, but I wasn’t really doing that much about it, like trying to restrict it. It was just kind of that feeling of like, I remember trying on clothes and just feeling like, you know, my body is just terrible. It’s not desirable. Like no one’s gonna like me and just feeling sadness about that. Yeah, and then after when I had lost the weight, it was more this like fear of like, if I don’t gain control, I’m gonna go back to where I was. That was a big part of it. And this is big for my clients who go through a pretty major weight loss, is I’m so terrified of going back to where I was. I do not wanna get back to that place. So it was more this fear, panic, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I need to get back. And I even, I resorted to some bulimic behavior at certain points, but I didn’t go too far down that road because I was like, if you do this, that means you have an eating disorder. So if you just don’t do this, then that means you don’t. Like, so wild. But —

Ryann

The justification, how did you manage that fear of after going through this transformation? Like, how did you navigate the fear of going back?

Elena

Yeah. So when I finally went through recovery, you mean, how did I navigate that fear?

Ryann

Yeah.

Elena

So I remember the dietitian I was working with at the time, the way that she kind of helped me with this was talking about like, you know, she had me reflecting on the black and white thinking aspect of it and how it was like, either you go back to where you were or you have to stay in this place of like, where it’s clearly not healthy, you’re not happy. It’s like, it’s not either one. I think now what I have more connection to is like how I help my clients through this and in retrospect how I would have talked to myself through it. And it’s really like what do you think going back means to you? And so like in my head it was like yes gaining weight and being back at that weight but also I’m going to be unhappy and sad in my body.

No one’s going to like me. I’m not going to I’m going to feel undesirable. I’m not going to be healthy because I thought somehow that I was like healthy. What I was doing was healthy. And so like really working through all of those things of why I’m so afraid to go back and what that means to me and what the actual purpose of recovery was. It was all about health and happiness and realizing that changing my body and restricting was actually not bringing me the happiness that I thought it was going to bring. Yes, I felt very good in how my body looked, but at the expense of literally everything else. So it wasn’t really truly bringing me happiness. It was just sacrificing feeling more body confidence, but then being very obsessive, afraid of losing it, and then my whole life was wrapped up in it.

So it was like, okay, it’s two trade-offs, but why is it that you can’t be happy or comfortable at your healthy body? Like, that doesn’t make sense. There’s something wrong with your brain, it’s not your body. Like, you should be able to feel comfortable and confident in your body’s healthy place. And you know that what you’re doing now is not healthy and you’re not healthy physically or mentally. And also acknowledging that mental health is physical health, like they’re one and the same and they impact each other. So just get to health. And if you can’t accept your body or love your body, feel confident there, then that’s something wrong with your mindset, obviously, because that doesn’t make sense. And you just need to, there are ways to heal from that.

Like it’s not just something’s wrong with your body and like you just need to change your body and that’s going to change the mindset. It’s not, it doesn’t work that way. So I think focusing on health and then realizing that there was deeper mindset issues that could be addressed and could, there are ways to change it, you know.

Ryann

Even that, that first question of what is going back mean to you? I mean, I think that that right there unpacks a lot, as you said, like, yes, it’s about the weight, but it’s so much more and then challenging what comes up for you. I think that that in the beginning, like, it’s so hard for us to shift our perspective. So in the beginning, we have to challenge as you were saying, like, is this really healthy? Like, what is my definition of healthy? What does that mean for me major? So along the lines of that, I would love to know from you, what did it take for you to get the binges under control, to get your period back, and to ultimately get to a state of recovery?

Elena

The biggest thing was, well, I would say the two biggest things in order for how I like physically recovered. And also like this contributed to the mental side of recovery too. But the two main things are were unconditional permission to rest. Now, getting to those places was very difficult because there were so much, I believe that, you know, restrictions happening physically, like you’re actually taking actions that are keeping your body from the nutrients and the calories that it needs, but also it’s very mental. Like, you could be eating enough, although they typically both are happening at the same time, but you could be eating enough, but you could still be having all these thoughts about how your body’s bad and it should change. And like these implicit food rules that are also contributing to that, not really giving yourself true permission.

Like you’re eating the food, but you’re telling yourself you’re a piece of shit for doing it. That’s not really giving yourself permission. So unconditional permission to eat and unconditional permission to rest. And the rest part was really important for me too, because like you were talking about, like exercise and food were very connected for me because it was all about changing my body. I did love, like I said, I found a love for exercise through lifting weights and even through the fitness journey generally. I even like cardio now and I like exercise. It makes me feel good. But at that point I was so burnt out on it because I had pushed my body over and over and over when it needed to rest, it needed to eat more, it was in a constant state of overtraining and under-recovered and I was burnt out on it. So none of the exercise, I didn’t want to do any of it.

Like none of it was actually making me feel energy or making me feel good. It was all about, I have to do this. And so when I gave myself unconditional permission to rest, it meant I literally did not want to do anything. I didn’t want to walk, I didn’t want to work out, I didn’t want to do any of it. And that was very scary. Cause I was like, I’m just going to, again, go back to where I was, not be an exerciser anymore, not be fit, I’m never going to want to go back. But really getting myself the permission to rest along with the permission to eat allowed me to disconnect. Like I have full permission even when I’m not working out. Cause if I didn’t do that, I would have just been in the mindset of, okay, I’m eating more, but it’s gonna turn to muscle or I’m burning it off.

So it’s okay that I’m eating this much. But then when a rest day came around, like I was an anxious mess around food. So both of those were really important for me to disconnect food from exercise and then also for my like nervous system to heal because with taking in those calories, that’s what allowed my period to come back is like my body got the message, okay, you have all these calories can be used for internal repair, repairing your digestion, repairing your reproduction, increasing your hunger hormones and normalizing your hunger hormones. And my binge just stopped pretty, my binge has stopped basically immediately because like I said, I was really ready to change. So like there wasn’t a need to like, like once I knew that I just had to eat whatever the hell I wanted, like no rules. I was like, all right, doing it. And I knew about like extreme hunger.

I knew that I was going to eat a lot. I was well prepped by the person I was working with. And I said, fine, you know, I trusted her. I really trusted her. And I gave myself the full permission, which many of my clients do not start with. They can’t start there. And that’s completely normal too. Like you need to start with like baby steps and uncovering everything in the fears is really difficult. So those two things were the biggest ones for me.

Ryann

The hardest. The hardest and the biggest.

Elena

Yeah, I know.

Ryann

100%.

Elena

It sounds so simple when I’m saying it. Like, yeah, just eat as much as you want, whatever you want and don’t exercise, unless you want to. Like, obviously, that’s the scariest thing when you’re in it.

Ryann

A hundred percent. I mean, I think too, just like reiterating the fact that you were ready. And I think that that is so important to kind of emphasize if, you know, you are struggling in this place of like, something isn’t changing, just asking, like, have I really been willing or what have I really done different? I know that that was a huge thing that I had to kind of look at myself in the mirror and be like, but Ryann, yes, you’ve done different diets, but have you actually done anything different?

Elena

Yeah, same for me. I was just doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Ryann

Insanity.

Ryann

I would love to know, as you moved into the bodybuilding world and the weight and getting into numbers. What helped you detach from numbers and quiet that just like automatic counting in your mind?

Elena

So it wasn’t, it didn’t start with not knowing the calories of things, it was not caring. Like I can eat 2000 calories in a meal. I can eat as many calories in a meal as I want to. So I could still tell you all the calories of everything me personally I mean, I think when you get into like OCD type like diagnosable OCD type things I think that becomes a different thing because you’re literally like you’re using the numbers and there’s obviously like a spectrum of all these things And I think these the you know OCD type tendencies come into disorder eating but like that’s a whole nother thing Like I’ve had clients who are working with therapists and need to address like, you know Obsessive compulsive tendencies where they become obsessive with numbers. So for me, I can know numbers and it’s about the fact that no matter the number, it literally doesn’t matter.

My body has the ultimate control over where it wants to be at its healthiest place. If I’m taking in food and my body’s in a place where it’s wanting to conserve more energy, it will suck up literally, we know this based on data, it will suck up more calories from the food, more nutrients and more calories from the food. It will burn, it will make me more sleepy, make me move less and be less animated, literally as a way of conserving the energy. If I eat more and it’s more than my body needs, the opposite can happen. I can start burning more calories. And obviously, set point theory, that’s kind of what I’m getting into, is complex, but I think knowing that having ultimate trust in my body, that I can know the calories of everything, but it doesn’t matter if I eat 5,000 calories in a day, if I eat 2,000 calories in a day, it’s all neutral. It’s just if I’m eating based off my hunger and my satisfaction, that is what really matters.

Ryann

Something that I just want to ask, I know the answer, but I just want to ask so that those listeners can hear it. Do you still get the urge to binge?

Elena

No.

Ryann

Why?

Elena

Because I don’t restrict and I give myself full permission to eat.

Ryann

I think that’s so important to emphasize because I know in the beginning of recovery, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, it feels like, how am I going to manage this forever? Like I can do it sometimes, but I can’t imagine like white knuckling it through these binge urges for the rest of my life and recognizing, wait, no, but when you go through recovery, those actually go away.

Elena

Yeah, I have a big pet peeve for all different types of binge approaches that are just purely focused on riding out the urge. Like it makes it makes me so mad actually, because these are the things that I was reading that were really solidifying this to me that like, why can’t you do this? Like this is all literally about self control, you just need to learn how to have enough mindfulness, quote-unquote, to ride out the urge to binge, which is like a disgusting way to use mindfulness, too, in my opinion, because mindfulness can be used in such great ways for disordered eating recovery, but yeah, it’s just, why are we not looking at why are you getting an urge to binge?

Yes, there are like our emotional regulation factors that come in, and I know you talk about this with your clients, you talk about this on your page, but it’s not just that. It’s not just that you’re going to food for comfort or this is just a habit. Why did this start? Like literally, why did this start? Do you think that this is just everybody who, like, it goes into so much like food addiction and like I could talk for hours about it, but yeah, it’s, it grinds my gears.

Ryann

I feel you. So the last thing I just, to wrap things up, I could literally talk to you forever. I feel like we’re the same human. For anybody who is in the other side right now, who is struggling with binge eating, but is afraid of recovery, feels hopeless, what do you think they need to hear?

Elena

My biggest thing is always to zoom out. Like zoom out and look at the overall context of your life. And like, look, think about, put yourself in the shoes of you at the end of your life. Put yourself in the shoes of like, you know, what if you were to have a kid or if you do have kids, what would you want for that person? And like, really think about, if you continue the way that you’re, the way, the path that you’re going on, are you going to, like, I have a strong fear of death, which obviously we all do as humans, but I feel like it’s a big issue for me and I’ve struggled with it throughout my life. And I know type A perfectionist type personalities, we want to optimize our time, we want to maximize our time. We want to waste no time.

You are wasting time by continuing to live a life that’s consumed by food in your body. So know that like as much as you think that gaining weight is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you, like really think about that and ponder on the fact that you don’t have ultimate control over how your body wants to look. And you need to accept that. Your body has a way that it, a kind of a natural weight range that it likes to be at. And as much as you want to try to control that, ultimately you have control over behaviors and healthy behaviors for yourself to take care of your mental and physical health. But your body’s gonna kind of do what it needs to do.

If you’re not feeding it enough, maybe your period will become irregular. Maybe you’ll think constantly about food or maybe you’ll binge eat. It’s gonna come up in some way, shape, or form. And there’s a grief that happens with that. It’s okay to grieve that and feel sad about that, but also you can be so much happier when you just accept reality and live life according to more than just food in your body. And that’s the point of zooming out and looking to the end of your life and really thinking about what you’re gonna change. And then knowing what Ryann said about you are doing the same thing over and over again. You need to accept that too. Like really look at that and do an inventory of that.

Ryann

So freaking powerful. So because this is the Food Freedom Lab, I want to know what does food freedom mean to you?

Elena

It means completely trusting my body and not having my relationship to food hold me back from any experience in life. Like food is just food. It’s not a thing. There’s no anxiety or fear around it. Yeah, that’s what it means to me.

Ryann

So beautiful. Elena, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and being vulnerable and opening up. I so appreciate it. Where can everybody find you to connect with you and learn from you? Tell us all the goods.

Elena

You can find me at the binge eating dietician on Instagram. There’s like dots between each word. But if you just look up the binge eating dietitian, and you’ll see Elena pop up. And that’s me. I’m also on Tiktok, the binge eating dietitian. And I have a podcast, which is the binge eating dietitian podcast.

Ryann

I’ll have all those links below. Thank you so much.

Elena

You’re welcome. Thank you.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.