Growing up, I was a gymnast and a dancer. I didn’t really give much thought to the food I was eating. I just ate what sounded good when I was hungry and stopped when I was satisfied. And eating was so EASY then! (Pssst - we’ve all been intuitive eaters at some point in our lives.) Then I started paying attention to weights and measurements as they were called off in front of everyone at my gymnastics and dance academy during competition and recital season. I noticed that I was on the “bigger” or “heavier” end of the spectrum. It was probably a good thing that I started to pull out of dance and gymnastics as my adolescence began.
After middle school, I had a big transition in my life when I transferred to a different high school than the rest of my friends would be going to. Gymnastics and dance were done, I barely knew anyone at my new school, and I was feeling pretty lost. I wound up getting involved in music and theater which brought with it some wonderful new experiences and friendships. However, I didn’t have the physical activity my body was used to. Over the years I gradually gained weight.
With my senior year approaching, and graduation pictures coming up, I became very focused on my size and shape. I was a perfectionist, and I had noticed that my body had changed without my permission. A family member whose opinion I valued above all else commented on my “starting to get a little heavy” in front of my older brothers and their friends, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. I wanted to crawl into the deepest, darkest hole I could find and never come out.
I decided that I wanted to get “healthy,” so I signed up at a local gym and started to change the way I ate. It started off ok. I exercised a few times a week. I stopped eating fast food every other day. But then a funny thing happened…suddenly nothing I was doing was good enough for my perfectionism. The voice that was repeating “you’re fat, you’re not good enough, don’t eat that!” got louder, and louder, and louder. Naturally, I thought that if I just exercised more and ate less that the eating disorder voice would quiet down. Unfortunately, it was just the opposite. People unknowingly encouraged and reinforced my unhealthy behaviors of restricting and over-exercising, lavishing me with compliments about how strong, good, pretty, tiny, disciplined I was. They saw me as a pillar of successful weight loss. That propelled me into the field of dietetics study that began at Michigan State University in my second year of college.
With more life transitions happening as I moved out of my parents’ house and on my own for the first time in my life, the need for control and perfection intensified. I was at this huge university, and I felt really alone trying to navigate campus, the city, the bus system, and all of my classes. The eating disorder served many purposes: familiarity, companionship, distraction, control, and achievement. Needless to say, behaviors worsened. But I thought I was doing really well. I had defied the odds. I lost weight and kept it off. I was on a mission to become a dietitian so I could help others focus on losing weight and being happy with themselves. I was getting closer to having my dietitian status, but I was nowhere near figuring out the “being happy with myself” part yet.
I graduated from MSU in 2005, at which time I decided to continue working with the university as a graduate teaching assistant as a break from working and going to school full time. By this time, I knew something had to change with my eating and exercise behaviors. My restricting had given way to a Jeckyl and Hyde type scenario where I was either being “good” by not eating and over-exercising, or I was being “bad” by giving in to the ever more powerful hunger cues that would lead me to binge eat on forbidden foods a couple of times a week.
I decided to take a course called Eating Disorder Treatment & Prevention at MSU to increase my awareness of symptoms and treatment strategies. It changed my life, quite literally. This course started me on a path to healing the eating disorder that had been raging inside me. I started to look at food, eating, and my body in a different way. I realized that the disordered behaviors weren’t going to bring me joy, or accomplishment, or control. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The eating disorder had stolen my joy, made school, work, and life so much harder, and enslaved me in my own body.
My decisions and behaviors isolated me from family, friends, and experiences which could have brought so much happiness into my life if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with my weight and shape to participate. I realized that the perfection I was after was a fallacy. It was unachievable. It made me a ticking time bomb, and it would kill me if I let it keep going. I finally started to make decisions that spit in the face of the eating disorder thoughts. I began to experience and appreciate my body and everything it could do for me. I started to focus more on the content of my character and living in line with my core values. I started to treat myself as if I were someone that I loved. It felt fake and contrived at first, but with practice it started to stick and I became a much happier person.
Over the years in my career I have also specialized in working with children with failure to thrive and extreme picky eating, especially during my three years with the Women, Infants, and Children program. I am also versed in dietary management for digestive dysfunction, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, blood glucose management, nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and other diagnoses. Now, I live a rich and meaningful life. I am able to spend my career helping others find peace with food, eating, and body. I am the mother of two sweet kids who challenge me in ways I never thought imaginable. I’m married to an amazing man who is supportive as the day is long. I lead group fitness classes promoting my philosophies about joyful movement and body acceptance. I appreciate all kinds of food. I also enjoy cooking and baking, and actually EATING the food I prepare. That said, I love to explore foods prepared by others. One of the things I most enjoy doing with my husband is to experience new foods and restaurants. We started a food journal years ago to take to new restaurants as a way to connect and challenge ourselves to get out there and try new food. We hope to one day start a blog to share our adventures in eating with others.
"My mission is to help you on a journey to wellness by improving your relationship with food, body, and eating so you can live your best life." - Allison Reed, RD