My full story
We all have a story, don’t we? For all of us, that is if you are human, our lives from a very young age are filled with challenges, obstacles, thoughts, trauma and events which shape us into the unique versions of who we are today. Sharing our stories with each other creates intimacy, connection and the feeling of belonging. I can imagine our ape-like ancestors sitting around newly discovered fire, using sounds and gestures to tell of the day’s events. Sort of like me when I try and speak Dutch or German.
I will continue writing about the various topics which shape d my life, but for today, I will tell only a little of the road I traveled to become a coach and why I chose this option. I've divided my story into sub sections. My motto is: Only read what you need. Bloggers tend to go on and on a little, I want you to cherry pick only the parts which you find interesting or is applicable to you. I've divided my story into sections, feel free to skip to what is relevant to you:
Weight Loss and disordered eating
Moving to another country
From a very young age, I remember feeling frustrated with not having answers. I felt like there must be something out there that I don't know of to help me deal with the stuff that I had to deal with. I started reading self help books at the age of 11 or 12 because I always had this insecure & anxious feeling hanging around me and I just wanted practical tools to feel better, immediately. Looking back now, I guess that insecure, anxious feeling came from my biological father who left at the age of 2 and I never saw him again. I have no recollection of him either, but from stories told by my 3 older sisters, grandmother and mother, the 2 years I was around before he left was filled with a lot of trauma and hurt. I am glad I missed it, nevertheless, this is one of things which shaped me.
At the age of 21, I married my high school not-so-sweetheart. We had already been dating since I was 15 years old and marriage, even at such young age, seemed like the logical next step, because of course logic is a good reason for getting married (note: that was sarcasm, look out for it in my writing). Our relationship had been filled with me being totally insecure and him not helping that feeling at all. Nevertheless I married the guy and a mere 6 months later was hit with a dead, cold and very stinky fish called infidelity. The marriage hadn't been great anyways. He had been "working" all the time and I cried a lot. I was anxious and scared. I felt insecure, as if something was wrong, which it was. I remember I was at my mom's place, crying and talking to her about how it sucked being married and how I don't know what is going on with, let's call him Jack-A, just for fun. I looked at my phone and had received a SMS, yes, you read right, SMS, do you remember those things? Anyways, the SMS read: "You should f*ing wake up, your husband is sleeping with someone else. He doesn't love you, he loves her. Are you f*ing stupid?" So kind, this person (sarcasm again). The messages went on and on about the details of my house, when the sheets had been changed, what was lying in the bathroom each day and that there is a button of the jean-pants of the other woman pinned to our dart board from when it fell off during passionate sex they were having.
I don't know what it feels like to have a heart attack, but that day it felt like I was having one. All the blood felt like it was draining from my body, my heart pounded, it felt like I was too small for my skin. I got up and walked around frantically, I felt EVERYTHING which was bad all at once. I felt like I was dying. My mom held me as I broke down and all I could think of was that button, pinned in plain sight and I had never noticed. I had to see it to believe it. I rushed home and sure as hell, there it was. I couldn't believe my eyes. I immediately called Jack-A and confronted him, he didn't deny or confirm it but he made no effort to try and comfort me or stop me from leaving. And so I left the same day. The "other woman", actually, also only a girl, 18 years old, was my friend, they worked together. I saw them together only a couple of days after I had moved out and they married not long after the divorced was finalized, had some kiddies, a whole happy family. Me, I stayed single for 6 years.
Yeah, so divorce. How did I overcome that as a emotionally unintelligent girl of 21 years old?
Before the divorce, I had been on a see-food diet, everything I saw, I ate, I wasn't a healthy weight for me. After the split, I put all my extra time and energy into becoming healthy. I lost weight, exercised and I looked and felt great. I received compliments daily on how I looked. I was totally proud of myself for achieving the weight loss and being so disciplined. Oh gosh, I was SO disciplined. I think that was one of they key things, I was disciplined and I exercised, it gave me a new sense of security. Something I could control. Of course, there were other things as well, I went to talk-therapy, I read a lot, partied hard and enjoyed being single for the first time in 7 years. All of this helped, but still. It probably took me 6 years to completely get over a 8 month marriage and maybe even longer to deal with all the fears which comes with being rejected, humiliated, disappointed, betrayed etc. etc. After a couple of years, I went to MLNP therapy, this is what I offer clients now too. This really helped me, more than the talking, counselling, exercising or anything else I had tried, to overcome some things for good. So my tools to survive divorce? Talk, therapy, exercise, healthy eating, taking care of yourself and MLMP.
When you experience trauma, such as divorce, you shouldn't make any big decisions for a at least a year after such experience. Simply because you are not functioning positively and I would also think it's logical that you don't make the decisions for the right reasons, as emotions and confusion, especially about who you are, clouds your thoughts and judgement. Be that as it may, from my point of view now, there is no such thing as a bad decision, it just simply is what it is. I had been experiencing some emotional abuse at work. My boss at the time was, in my opinion emotionally unstable. She was completely interesting. One day I would be the best thing since sliced bread and the next day she would shout and swear at me like I was something the cat dragged in. This was only slightly different for any of the other girls that worked there, but she had it in for me because I tend not to keep quiet when someone is being unreasonable.
With all the hurt I was carrying around from the divorce, this wasn't something I could cope with. I resigned and started to work for my mom. I had a Bachelor's degree in Sport Science and majored in things like Biochemistry, Human Physiology and Human Movement Studies and she ran an Accounting firm. I hated accounting, but I hated being abused more. It was probably a good decision at the time, because I was now in a safe place, where I could heal. I just added this to let you know, I've been through that as well...twice. I will write a bit more about this later, because there's a lot that went on here.
Obsession with weight & over training: Exercise and switching to a healthier lifestyle was my savior. Especially running and group training. It had given me a new identity, or given me back my real identity. Unfortunately, as it goes sometimes, this quickly turned into an obsession. It took me about 3 years to loose the excess weight I had and get to a healthy weight. But instead of maintaining and being happy I just kept going. I was so strong and fit. I could exercise for hours on end and I loved that feeling. In addition to this, I was cutting my food portions down to the bare minimum. I would try and 'motivate' myself to eat less and exercise more. I would play "games" like trying to see if I could eat only an Apple for the whole day whilst doing 3 hours of intense exercise. In addition to this I would fast once a week and on this fasting day push myself to go for a 10km run or do a double spinning class. I would try and see how long after my morning exercise session I could wait until eating. Once a week, I would do 3 consecutive group training classes. Advanced kick-boxing, spinning & boot camp. I partnered up with a running buddy who was naturally a great sportsman. He was running less than 5 min/km and I trained with him trying to keep up with not having eaten anything for hours. I did weight training with a personal trainer, pushing my small body to lift unbelievable amounts of weight. You might read this and think: "That's amazing" and if you are thinking that, YOU are wrong. But this is exactly the feedback I was getting (except for my family). People were admiring me for the types of behavior that results in a pretty body, but definitely not a healthy one. If I told someone proudly that I had only eaten 500 calories for the day and did 2 hours of exercised I would be admired and praised. I hate that about society. I wish we would stop that.
Meantime, back at the ranch, I wasn't coping with this amount of stress to my body at all. During my work day I would struggle to keep myself upright and awake. I was also suffering from extreme insomnia, sometimes only sleeping 1 hour before getting up to teach a double spinning class. My period had stopped and stayed away for years. I was moody, oh my gosh SO moody. I became obsessed with thinking about food, but at the same time felt guilty for "eating too much". I remember after one Christmas dinner, when I once again felt like I ate too much, I did a 1000 rep workout at 2am in the morning while everyone else was sleeping, because I felt so guilty for indulging a little, and by a little I mean I had some ice cream for desert. By now I was underweight, but very muscular and I just couldn't stop. I loved the exercise, I loved the fact that I had so much discipline and control and the fact that everyone thought I was amazing and looked amazing. I thrived on the daily loads of compliments I got everywhere I went. Random people coming up to me and telling me how amazing it is to watch me work out in the gym. Oh, society, we need help. Anyways, this was my choice. But I felt accepted and secure, for the first time in my life. I felt beautiful and happy, but there was a price to pay, I was sick. My body was shutting down.
The thing that eventually pushed me to go and see a nutritionist is not the insomnia, feeling tired all the time, feeling lightheaded, moodiness, no monthly cycle, nope, none of this was important. I was feeling frustrated about 2 things: Firstly, I wasn't loosing weight, no matter how hard I exercised and how little I ate and secondly my digestion was totally screwed up. The smells that came out of me...oh my, oh my, oh my, unbearable. The nutritionist I went to, thank God, told me that I have to eat more and gain some weight. The fact that I haven't had my period for years, was a big warning sign. I am sure you are wondering by this time how much I weighed, thinking it was like 40KG or something. I love giving my weights, because I love letting people know now, that weight is such a bad measure. At the time of feeling this bad, I weighed around 57KG. According to the oh so mighty tables we all measure ourselves against, this is right in the middle of a healthy weight and BMI for me, but it so clearly wasn't. Remember this, as this story doesn't end here.
So, did I start eating more and gaining weight? Well, not by choice. I would have never listened to the nutritionist, but fortunately, at the same time I met someone and we started dating. This was 6 years after my divorce. And with dating comes pizzas, skipped workouts, wine, fun, being cooked for and making out for hours leaving less time to obsess over exercise. I naturally gained a couple of needed kilos and started feeling so much better. My period returned, I had energy, my digestion settled down and I really physically felt great. I was coping with life again. Physically I was healthy, but mentally I was in a war.
I wasn't restricting anything from my diet, but we didn't go overboard either. My weight settled around 60KG, this felt healthy for my body, but not my mind.
Purging disorder (a little unknown eating disorder): I had always been a big fan of swimming against the stream. If everyone said that once you get married you gain "happy weight", I was determined to be the person who would not, under any circumstances, gain weight after marriage. No way Josè, I wasn't going to be that "weak". Pretty narrow minded of me huh? I guess I have had the symptoms of purging disorder long before it became a big player. Obsessing over food choices, restricting intake, guilt over food, eating & exercise as well as exercising more and more to compensate for indulging in something nice had been part of my life for a long time already, but I didn't see it as a big issue. When I started to gain some more "happy weight" after our engagement, I wasn't happy. I felt panicky and extremely guilty even after eating a healthy portion of healthy food. I always felt like I was eating too much and exercising too little, obviously, why else would I be gaining weight? After eating, I would feel physically nauseous, this was partly because of the high fat diet we had been on and partly because of my mental state around the weight gain. This is when I started vomiting after eating. I had done it before, but it was maybe a once every 2 years occurrence when I really felt bad after eating. I never needed to stimulate vomiting, I was able to just push the food out my stomach. And when I did, I felt better. Physically and mentally. At first this happened maybe once a month, then once every two weeks, once a week, until I was vomiting after every single meal. Sometimes even after I had a cup of coffee. The biggest irony to me is (for anyone who is still struggling) IT DOES NOT WORK!!! I got sucked in to an endless cycle of eating (not binge eating, just normal eating), guilt and hunger and didn't loose any weight. Sure, I wasn't gaining anymore, but what a price to pay for a couple of kilograms.
This went on for a couple of years. I remember one particular time, I was home alone and was ready to have breakfast. I reached for the tub of 10% Greek Yogurt and starting eating a couple of bites out of the tub. I put the tub back into the fridge and after a couple of minutes, I did the same. In the fridge, out the fridge, in the fridge, out the fridge, Eventually, I had eaten 3/4 of the tub. I continued eating, I just couldn't stop, it was like I had to have the creaminess, fat and reward that comes with eating it. And I had to finish it, I have this thing about emptying things, not good, lol! I finished the whole kilogram. If I did that today, I would just laugh it off and write it off as my treat for the week of something. Not that day. Oh my gosh, the guilt, the shame and disgust I felt is indescribable. Only people who suffer or have suffered from an eating disorder will fully understand and not judge. For everyone reading this which haven't experienced something like this: Please, please, please. Never judge. This person does have discipline, they are normal, they are not a pig or mentally ill. Many many eating disorders starts with dieting and restricting intake, this is where something goes wrong in your primitive brain, to the point where it just takes over and you cannot help yourself, and then, it becomes a habit and then you're in trouble.
Anyways, after this Yogurt episode, I obviously purged and purged and purged until I felt I had gotten rid of most of what I ate, but I felt like crap. No, I felt like the crap of a worm. I felt like a total loser. I was crying on the floor, alone at home, with no one to talk to, because nobody knew I had an eating disorder. I didn't want to be myself anymore, I hated this behavior, I hated the war-fare in my mind and I hated the feeling of being out of control and acting in a way that is harming my body and not nurturing it. I didn't want to be that person. I wanted to be a "I take care of myself" person. I had gone from a person who overcame divorce by taking care of herself and being healthy, to someone who was now engaging in continuous unhealthy, unnatural behavior. That day was a very low point for me.
Later that weekend I completely broke down and told my husband what I have been going through as I cried and expressed all the emotions which goes along with feeling like a total failure, helpless and hopeless. It felt like I was never going to overcome this. He held me and said he would help me, but of course I knew, I am really the only one who can help me.
Moving to another country
About a year after this break down I had, we moved from my home country South-Africa to the Netherlands. During this year, I've been getting a little better by controlling the purging behavior through discipline. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. By the time we moved, I was purging maybe once every 2-3 weeks, which was like a miracle to me in comparison to the 6 times a day it used to be. But it still wasn't gone. I wanted it to be gone.
Moving to another country comes with it's own challenges and excitement. I had never been to Europe before when we moved here. In fact, my 1st time out of South-Africa was a year before on a holiday trip to California, which was totally awesome. But moving to another country, that' something different. In all our wisdom we decided to sell the house we have been living in for about 4 years, sell our cars and donate, sell or give-away all of our things and only come with the allowed luggage of the airline, which was 46 kg per person. We came to the Netherlands because an opportunity was given to my hubby to do his PhD through the company he was working for at the best university in the world in his field. Not something you pass up when it come along. So we packed our 46 kg per person, my husband opting to bring along 30 kg of books like a good, little scientist and we left our home country. Now please, I do not say this lightly because boy, it was hard, a year and a half in and it's still sometimes hard. Missing family and friends and adapting to new culture and language wasn't child's play, not for me anyways.
So moving to the Netherlands meant that I had quit my job, (oh, I stuck it out in my mom's company and by the time we left I had been working there for 10 years!), left behind family and friends, got rid of all our things and house and was ready for a new adventure! A couple of years before the move I had started tiring of the job. I had worked myself up to project manager and was basically responsible for all the key clients for support, training and data-analysis. It's been enjoyable, but as I mentioned before, not exactly my passion. So my plan was to come to the Netherlands, start my own coaching business (which I had been educating myself for since a couple of years prior to the move) and start fresh. I wanted to make a difference, help people, educate them and equip them with tools for life, with tricks I have learned through my own journey. This is my passion. So am I doing it? Well, let's say, I am trying. It's been much harder than I thought it would be to make a whole new life here.
So what happened to the purging disorder? Well, once we settled in, my husband started working full time on his PhD and I stayed at home, taking various steps towards building my business, but this hardly filled my day. I was left with a lot of empty space in my day. I was used to consulting the whole day, travelling around to clients in my zippy little car, meeting people for lunches and coffees and solving problems the whole day long. Now my days were filled with just, nothing. Long, endless days with nothing that drives me, nowhere to be, no deadlines to reach, no-one to see. I don't have a car anymore, only a bicycle. Some days went by where I would greet my husband in the morning and the first time I spoke to someone again would be when he returned home about 12 hours later, multiple days like this. Sure I explored on my bike and there was also a lot of excitement around being in a new country, but mostly it was lonely and alone. So the purging got worse again. The purging was only a symptom of a deeper problem. A thinking problem. A problem where there was a constant war in thoughts about what I ate, how much of it, was it healthy, will I gain weight, how much exercise should I do on and on and on. The worse thoughts were about what I thought about myself. Nothing I did was ever good enough. I was always too fat, too lazy, should have done better or more or different, too sloppy, my hair isn't right, my nails, my face, me body. Insanity! This hamster wheel seems so boring to me now.
Before, I had work, family, friends, social activities, church, gym and more to fill my thoughts in addition to these food crazed and self hate thoughts. Now, this was all I had. Thoughts and thoughts. All day long. Almost nothing else. I realized that it's no use trying to stop purging through discipline. I would have to change my whole outlook on eating and exercise. This new identity I had created or found after my divorce had to change. I would have to change how I viewed weight, eating only certain foods and type and quantity of exercise. Firstly I would have to change what I believed and secondly I would have to break the habit. Both of these things are extremely difficult to do.
So what helped? To change my believes I had to get sound and proven and scientific evidence, that what I believed around food and exercise was wrong. This would be no easy task, because these were the exact same way I formed these believes to start with. I would also have to hear from other people, because I believe that a good combination of knowledge, wisdom and experience are the best way to find your way around a certain topic. Since I knew no one in the Netherlands, let alone someone who had overcome an eating disorder, I had to turn to other sources. By far, the things that helped met the most was:
1) This book: Health at every size. I am now a member of the ASDAH (Accosiation for Size, Diversity and Health) and proudly contribute to their cause. This book taught me that what we've been told about weight and size is very upside down. My conclusion and my mission is to teach woman that real health has much more to do with how you feel and think about yourself, than your size. And just because your size does not match the oh-so-mighty tables, does not mean you are undisciplined, unhealthy, crazy or generally a blob. Real health comes from loving yourself and cultivating good habits from a place of self love and not guilt and shame. We should all do this with what we eat, how we move, what we watch, what we choose to spend our time on and especially with what we think about ourselves and say about ourselves. Choose from a place of love, not guilt or shame.
2) Youtube video: Unfortunately I couldn't find the video on youtube again. I watched a lot of videos of people who overcame an eating disorder and also dis one of my own. But this once specific video she said that once she started eating pasta she couldn't stop and then she decided to just stop trying to stop. So this is exactly what I did. In two ways. If I started eating nuts or yogurt or bread (which was my non-stop munching foods) and I couldn't stop, I just didn't try anymore and afterwards, instead of running to the toilet to purge, I forgave myself for doing it. Obviously this wasn't a magic bullet. A lot of time I failed and purged, but then I immediately forgave myself for that too. So I basically practiced non stop self compassion. Everything that I labelled as "bad" or "good" before, I now just accepted and spoke nice words to myself even when doing "bad" things or thinking "bad" thoughts.
3) Yoga and meditation: I am not a yoga fan. I want to run and jump and sweat and feel my heart pounding and be out of breath when I exercise. I don't want to breathe deeply and make funny moves. Despite my feelings around it, I had learned a lot about the science behind yoga and meditation and I at least knew with my head, it's very, very valuable. So I found this video and also downloaded the Head space meditation app on my phone and started doing either one of these every day. Sometimes not all the way through, but I tried to do it every day. What this dis for me is to teach me how to silence my thoughts and to learn that just because I think something, doesn't make it part of my identity. With practice, I was able to separate my thoughts from my identity and to quiet my mind. Gradually over a year, the constant war-fare in my head ceased and I had peace for the first time in many, many years. I no longer think badly about myself or obsess about my weight or how I look. I still eat healthy and exercise regularly, but not from the same motivation as before.
4) No restrictions: The last thing I feel is very much worth mentioning and that certainly played a role during my recovery is the decision to not restrict anything from my diet anymore. I had always been on some kind of thing, some of it even healthy. I've done the low-fat, no-fat, low-carb, no-sugar, fasting, you-name-it thing. I've done it all. Through my interest in integrated health, I listened and read the pod casts and blogs of Chris Kresser. He recommends a Paleo template diet, meaning you eat mostly whole foods, which is good for you and healthy, but in addition to that you have a 80/20 rule, where 80% of the time you are eating these whole foods and 20% of the time you just eat whatever you want.. When I first let go of the restrictions in my diet, my rule was more 50/50. But this changed over time as I adjusted to this new way of making decisions from self love and realizing that if I do want to have a sandwich it's not forbidden, it's okay and I am allowed to have it any time that I want. Just that mental switch, that I can have any food I want, it's not a sin, made a world of difference. A lot of people fear if they make this mental switch, they will pig out and just eat cake all day long. I promise you it won't be like that. At first you might want to do that very often to compensate for years of deprivation. In my case I had been following a low-carb diet for years, meaning no bread and as I said before, I had extreme discipline. So when I say I didn't eat bread for years, I really mean it. So when I first let go of the restrictions, there were days where I ate ONLY bread, the whole day. I loved it! Because I love bread. But it was only temporary, gradually as I realized bread now forms part of my normal diet, I only eat it when I really feel like it, which is naturally every 2nd or 3rd day for me. Sometimes it's every day and that okay.
So...what is my life like now? Am I living the fairy tale as a person who has overcome "all" her obstacles and can be the super hero with endless power and resources and will save the world, one self-loving woman at a time? Uh...not exactly. I am still struggling to adjust to life in the Netherlands. I am still struggling to get my coaching business where I would like it to be. I recently fell pregnant, so I am dealing with constant nausea, hunger and exhaustion all the time. I miss my mom and 3 sisters to be part of my first pregnancy, so I am struggling with that. I can go on and on, but the point I am making is that, whilst writing about my failure in all these areas of life, while trying to convince people to use me as a coach to help them with their own challenges, might be business suicide, but it's also real. I am real. You are real. We are all in this together. If you find things hard, just know, my life, even as a coach, it not perfect. If you have trouble loving your body, so do I, even though I also play the role of personal trainer sometimes. Don't be stuck alone in your struggle. Skip the dinner out and use the money to get a coach or therapist or counselor or whatever works for you. Whatever you do, love yourself, take care of yourself. You are that important.