Meet our next real story guest, Tanya.
Tanya has suffered from disordered eating and various eating disorders her entire life. From the pressures of dance classes at the young age of 5, to the influence of her all-girls schooling, Tanya's story is unfortunately relatable, but her recovery is inspiring.
Join Lyndi as she explores Tanya's journey from restrictive eating and excessive exercise to bingeing during her teenage years, and her path to recovery through Lyndi’s Keep It Real program.
They chat about how recognising and validating your own emotions can help cope with difficult days, and how a compassionate approach to oneself is crucial when dealing with disordered eating.
Tanya reveals her ultimate source of inspiration: her four-year-old daughter. As a single mother, Tanya is determined to rebuild her relationship with food and her body, becoming a healthy role model for her child.
This conversation serves as a reminder to anyone struggling with disordered eating: recovery is possible, and it's never too late to embark on a journey of healing and self-acceptance.
💜 Want help with binge or emotional eating? You'll get a lot of value from Lyndi's FREE 5-day course, in which she teaches you strategies that helped her to skip the cravings and feel in control around food. The course will be delivered via email straight into your inbox.
Oh, hey everyone, and welcome to today's episode of the No Wellness Wankery podcast. I am your host, Lyndi Cohen, dietitian nutritionist and hater of all wellness wankery, and today I am joined by a special guest. I'm gonna introduce you to Tanya, and she's got to share her story with us, and hopefully, by sharing her story, you're gonna learn something as well. So welcome to the podcast, tanya.Tanya:
Thank you so much for having me, Lindi. This is really exciting.Lyndi:
I'm excited to have you here. I did a call out asking for people to come forward to who are willing to share their stories, to have a free online consultation with me, and in that you sent a beautiful story about where you've been and you talked about how you feel like you've had an eating disorder in one form throughout your entire life. Can you explain? when did this all start?Tanya:
I would say it started from a very young age, being a very active kid. I wanted to do the whole ballerina thing and be a dancer and that industry is rife with looking the right way and being a certain body type and I would say it really kicked off from then, just noticing that other girls in my class had different bodies and were treated differently. Yeah, i'm talking like five or six years old.Lyndi:
It's so young and I feel like that story really feels quite familiar to mine as well, and there is so much pressure if you've ever been in a dance world or it's simply the fact of looking in the mirror for that long. But we're realizing that research showed that girls become aware that they're thin is the ideal from the age of five. What happened from there on?Tanya:
From there, i think, i went to an old girls school and it is pretty brutal. You are among other girls where thin is best. If you are putting on weight, it is spoken about, you're teased, you're bullied. You immediately try to do something about it. You notice what other people are eating. You try and adapt and account for it and somehow the older sisters play a role. They're telling us information on how we can lose weight and that's accepted. I'm a woman in her 40s, so the aerobic zero was rife Trying to do as many exercises as you can and focus on I need a flatter tummy, so doing sit-ups and doing everything you can to have that very 80s sleek heroine, chic looking body.Lyndi:
Was eating less and dieting, encouraged by the people around you, your family, beyond your sisters.Tanya:
Yes and no. I think I was pretty lucky in that regard that I didn't necessarily see the women in my family dieting, but weight was always a topic of conversation. As a child I was allowed to eat whatever, and I think I was lucky that I wasn't put on a diet at a young age because I was quite thin, but that didn't mean that I didn't think I was overweight or needed to lose weight. I almost regulated myself from external influences rather than my family. I'm very lucky I had a very supportive family.Lyndi:
It does really make a difference What you're saying to those kids, and you now have a four-year-old daughter.Tanya:
yes, i feel like she's lucky that you are doing this work that you're doing now.Tanya:
Yeah, but do you know, what influence you can't stop is those other kids at daycare. She came home the other day and said mom, i'm fat and she's not getting it from me. We don't talk about fat as a word in my house. We don't talk about we often embrace different body types and we talk about how beautiful all bodies are, and that was really hard to hear her say that and not have a big reaction and be like what do you mean? what's what's fat? I just have to take the information in and, oh, that's interesting. How did you hear about that? Someone at daycare that you know it's out there, she's four years old and these conversations are happening with little four-year-olds.Lyndi:
It's wild and it's incredibly young to be happening and I but I think this is sadly the norm and this is what's happening To have you then buffer that at home. I think that's the most impressive thing that you can do. I've always had this question from parents when they go. well, my child comes up to me and says am I pretty? Do you like my body? All these kinds of questions and I think we can go. I don't know how to respond to that. I always think a really nice response to it is I think you're really pretty, but it's the least impressive thing about you. I love the way that you engage with other people. I think you have such a talent for dancing, i think and you go through all the other qualities, and because we can't lie to our kids and tell them that being slimmer, being prettier, being these things, it does give an advantage in life and that's a sad reality. so I don't think we can lie to our kids and say that, but I think De-emphasizing how big a deal it is can be helpful, absolutely. Take me back to you as a child. So here you were, restricting what you were eating, trying to count calories perhaps and where did it end up going?Tanya:
Yeah, i think. Look, you know, high school was probably the hardest, when all sorts of other influences came into play binge eating, anorexia, massive restrictions, taking particular laxative tablets to help you flush what was in your system out. That was rife And gave me a very disordered view of food and how I view myself, and I would say since high school I've been on some sort of diet or restriction my whole life.Lyndi:
Did you know you had an eating disorder back in high school?Tanya:
Yeah, yeah. It was almost cool to kind of be part of the crew. Like, how many times did you throw up today? What did you eat, what didn't you eat? You know they were massive topics of conversation.Lyndi:
At what point did you decide that you didn't want to have an eating disorder or have disordered eating anymore?Tanya:
It's a tricky question because I think in my 20s I became health obsessed. So I kind of swung the other way and thought I am just being healthy. I started to try to teach myself nutrition and was just grabbing every book I could possibly find to teach myself nutrition And it kind of gave me another disordered view of eating because suddenly I had the research and the tools to like tell me, hey, this is the healthy way to eat. But it sent me the other way. I think I became quite obsessed with healthy eating and quite obsessed with green smoothies and having that for breakfast and still restricting myself on a way, but with healthy foods. So it's been a long journey.Lyndi:
At any point during any of these phases, did you ever reach a point where you thought I like my body at this point?Tanya:
Yeah, i would say it's an interesting question. Actually, i think I have lacked my body on and off over time, but it's really ever since I've had a child and found your resources that I've really come to accept my body at a deeper level and to really understand that my size doesn't matter, that it's more about how I feel about myself and how I view the world that counts. It's been tough I won't say it's been woke up one day and started thinking that way and I definitely catch myself looking at old photos and slipping backwards. But I just have a lot more love and understanding of that younger self and what she went through.Lyndi:
Are there any strategies that you use that you actively use when you notice that negative body image talk coming in, that you pull on? that you've found helpful?Tanya:
Yeah, take a deep breath, remember that probably in that photo you probably didn't feel great because I can tell you, i look back at photos and, yes, i might have been thin and in a really tight dress and looking great as I look back, but I still thought I felt fat and I still felt miserable and unhappy in my body. That person just needed love and support and acknowledgement that your body, no matter what size, is okay.Lyndi:
You sound like you have such a good awareness of when you notice that negative body image talk coming in and you're able to counteract it pretty quickly these days, and we're not going to keep having that conversation and perhaps distract yourself with something else.Tanya:
I don't think it's necessarily about distracting yourself. I think you need to allow the thought to come to your head and see if there's any other triggers happening around you that might be causing you to feel like this. I often find that these thoughts come at low points, when I'm having a hard day, when it's tantrum number 653 for the day. I'm a single parent, so it's just me. They're tough days. That's when it really catches me unawares and it can be really hard to come back from, when you're already feeling quite battled. You just need to kind the sensations with yourself. I think is just key.Lyndi:
Almost realizing. It's been a really tough day. That's probably contributing to me beating myself up. Right now Let's talk about recovery. What age do you feel like you are getting quite interested in nutrition and health. Just give me a timeline here.Tanya:
Two or three years ago at my lowest point is when I really started to, i realized I needed different tools because what I was doing didn't work, and that's when I came across a lot of your programs and Keep It Real, in particular, really helped me. I remember asking you a question because I used to think that I was eating out of boredom during COVID and working from home, and you had a beautiful response to me And I look back now and I realized that I wasn't eating out of boredom, i was eating out of all the emotions I was feeling at this low point And, yeah, i think new perspectives and tools can just help you.Lyndi:
Isn't it the truth that food is a way to cope with hard emotions? It's a way to numb out things that feel too tough. It's one of the coping strategies. And I think what's happened is, when you go through your life dieting and it becomes like a turbulent relationship of food, the ability for food to soothe becomes so much greater because the reward you get from when you have it is so intense. As you start to reduce those food rules, you reduce the power food has, so it doesn't feel as big of a reward to have, say, something like an ice cream, because you know anytime you want ice cream you can have it. So that when you do get emotional and you have the ice cream, sure there is always a degree of soothing, but it doesn't. You know, it's not that intense soothing that it once had and there is a satiation point, whereas when you're going from the mindset of this food's bad, i shouldn't be having it, then you binge eat on it. It's simultaneously soothing and it simultaneously leaves you in a worse state, and I think it's kind of important just to realize that food is a way to numb and block out difficult emotions. What was it for you that changed your relationship with binge eating?Tanya:
I had to acknowledge that I was having a hard time. I was in a lot of denial about how I was feeling and I really needed to have a hard look at my life. I had had a lot going on and I just realized this wasn't sustainable. I had a little kid to look after and to focus on and it was really important that I was present and demonstrating and being a great role model for her, and I would really. You know, she's the main reason why I really reevaluated what I was doing.Lyndi:
I feel like that's such brilliant motivation. Oh, i am, isn't it? just because I think I don't know how what your parents were like, but certainly for myself, i was raised in a family where my mum had been given a whole bunch of diet rules from her mother, handing down diet rules between generation and generation, and I love this idea that that stops with us, with our generation, and perhaps you're like me and Tanya, if you're listening, and you've gone through a whole bunch of disordered eating. I think our work right now is to create a healthy relationship with food and our bodies for ourselves, and I think our kids are going to benefit from that hugely, simply by being around us and noticing that. I think that's one of the things you're working on still at the moment, even though you've come a really long way in two years. Can you tell us a bit about where you've come from in the last two years? what changes you've seen?Tanya:
Yeah, i will say. I have a toddler with a fussy eating problem, so that's a tricky one to navigate. But as I'm healing myself and my journey with food, my daughter and I will prepare food in the kitchen together which she most likely won't eat, but at least she gets little tastes of different types of food sometimes, which is a massive win which you always still try to downplay, don't you? Yeah, so now it's just about crowding all those vegetables and fruits in. We eat seasonally. We have a start of a new veggie garden, so it's taking her out and picking the food. I might get a little taste of a bit of kale from her. She picks it from the bush. And also, i think the big thing for me was always you have to finish your plate, so I never ask her to finish her plate. All she has to say to me is my tummy is full and I'm done. And even if she has eaten like a sparrow and had a minuscule amount of food, i acknowledge her full state of her stomach. I don't throw the food out. Now, that was a rookie error I used to make In the earlier days. I put a cover on it and when the inevitable question of I'm still hungry comes up, there's still some food there for her to eat. But yeah, i think that journey has just been. Also, you know, acceptance of yourself and finding those right meals that the two of you can eat together.Lyndi:
If us. eating is incredibly hard and it's incredibly frustrating when you go to all the effort to prepare something that you consider to be balanced and nutritious and then they end up eating something that you just think that's subpar, especially if you've got a history of disordered eating because, as you say, you kind of had tendencies of orthorexia nervosa that you touched on before. which is this preoccupation that foods need to be particularly healthy? And I speak to a lot of parents and we have this idea that food has to tick a lot of boxes. I prepare my son's bento boxes and I tell you what. they are loaded with colours. and when I think back to what I ate as a kid, i ate like butter on white bread with dungarees which are like little biscuits, a little bit of cheese, maybe it was very white. And fundamentally, i think the pressure we've been put under as parents has become so great to get all the nutrients all the time and tick all the boxes. And when it comes to kids, they have very high energy requirements and that's really what the priority is to give them. So if they say they're hungry, giving them something that they are willing to eat I think is a very important thing And at some point kind of letting go of the idea of how we think they should eat. Luckily, the nutrients that we find in fruit are pretty much the exact same that we find in vegetables. So if she's willing to have her fruit two serves a day for our little kids then that's one way to get it in. Tell me about exercise Where are you at with moving your body?Tanya:
This is a tough one Walking. Thank you to you. Actually, i used to really think I needed to punish my body, and exercise was punishment and sweat is fat. Crying was like a big one in my head, and as soon as I got a hold of your program and started thinking about that, you used to talk about your mental health walks, and I have always been a big walker. I walk every day, sometimes twice a day if I can, and the minute I relabeled it in my mind from a walk to keep fit or to exercise to my mental health walk was a glorious day. It just actually stopped serving a purpose of that whole exercise mentality of trying to lose weight into actually this is exercise for my brain. This is my mental fitness. This is what I need every day to feel like a human being. And yeah, it's yeah amazing change and just attitude. Other than that, though, it's been really hard. I, as a single parent, i am struggling with the time. I have a lot of rules around exercising my head. Like I'm a class girl. I need to go into a community of people, be around other people exercising and make some new friends, and a lot of the gyms just don't have classes at a time that works for a single parent, and so I think I'm at that point where I'm really making it a bit of an excuse as well. But I really need to work on it, because I need to move my body more.Lyndi:
It's an interesting idea, isn't it? Because I think it's kind of that idea of having a perfect vision of what exercise looks like. It's going to a class, it's socialising, it's fun. It's an hour and a half back and forth process. However, i think any exercise done is always better than perfect. So I don't know whether you are the kind of person who, let's say, it sounds like you want to build more strength at this moment. You're going. Okay, i'm ready for that next level of intensity. Perhaps if you're open to the idea of laying down your mat on your in your room. I mean, it's currently something that I'm doing and I never thought I'd become this person who would be so self motivated enough to go. I'm just going to go and do 20 minutes of Pilates in my whatever time I can squeeze in, And, yes, i'd love to go to a class. I can't wait to go back to a class, But for now, in this season of my life when I've got a little baby, it's just not possible to run out. I have to stay in the house And I think for me I tell myself is done is absolutely better than perfect, and it can just be 10 minutes, it can be 20 minutes, it can be whatever you wanted to be, but the alternative is not exercising at all.Tanya:
Yeah, I know what is that. I just talk myself out of it. I don't know what it is. I just make an excuse oh, I need to keep working, or I should get dinner started, or I should do 6 million other reasons except just stop and exercise. Now I always feel better after it. I know 100%.Lyndi:
And if you had it in your diary when you go to an exercise class and you booked in and all that stuff, you would turn up, wouldn't you?Tanya:
I would Yeah, because there's a schedule and there's a time for yourself.Lyndi:
One of the things that I think you could try, if you're interested, is you have a set time that you exercise and this is when I exercise And, as a result, you put it in your calendar and it's a daily invite to yourself. It could be at 9.30, once you've dropped her off a daycare and you feel like you've got that time. It could be a lunchtime thing, but it goes in your diary and it's a daily thing that you just go. This is the time that I have allotted. As a result, i don't schedule things over that time. That is just the time when I get it done. It could be one more step to helping you actually put it, make sure it gets done.Tanya:
Yeah, no, I haven't tried that. I'm going to try that.Lyndi:
And I do sometimes kind of wonder. For each person it's different, but in my mind I like the daily 20 minutes. It equals three hours in the week, so it's equivalent to going to three exercise classes, but I find it so much more doable. So if I miss a day, whatever, i know that the next day I get back into it. I don't have to try and do all this math. I can't explain it, but it might be something to kind of consider whether or not it's a way to do it without taking it to the extreme. So it's not an hour every day, which I think would probably be a lot, but it's just a small amount of exercise and part of your mental health routine. Yeah, i like it. I'm definitely going to give that a go. It sounds like you're in a really great place, you know, considering where you've been years and perhaps decades of disordered eating and obsessing over what you were eating, to now be at this point where you're still imperfect because you're human but you're eating intuitively most of the time. You've found a form of exercise that you do to move your body with enjoyment. You're cooking food and sometimes it gets eaten and sometimes it doesn't. You sound to me like you're in an incredibly good place, and I think sometimes what is important is just to recognize how incredibly far you've come and that sometimes we see ourselves as a constant work in progress. And what if, in a way, you've arrived, you're never going to get to a point where all these problems are kind of solved? But if you think about all these huge changes you've made, you're in an incredible space right now And maybe it's worthwhile just taking stock of the fact that you have all this freedom around food you never had. What advice would you give to someone who was in the throes of disordered eating that you wish someone had told you when you were younger?Tanya:
Just be kind to yourself. I think it's actually really hard. The inner critic is really loud and that voice can be really overwhelming And it's actually not real, that inner critic in a voice. If that voice was talking to you as a person, you wouldn't stand for it. But we allow these negative thoughts in our heads and they live rent free And I think a lot of people have different tools for coping in their difficult situations. But I think the one tool that would really help is just to have kindness and compassion and to really reevaluate that inner critic.Lyndi:
This all makes me think of this idea of being okay with good enough. I always come back to it. It's the challenge we have in challenging that perfectionist. There's an idea from the Stoics that says a king who has an entire kingdom will always feel like he doesn't have enough if he doesn't decide that he has enough. And so at some point there has to be a decision where we say where I am imperfect and this is good enough, and I would like to change, but I'm still good enough, and I'd like to make these improvements to my health, but I am already good enough. and that is the constant work, isn't it, tanya? thank you so much for chatting with me. I really appreciate your time.