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My Story of Overcoming Binge Eating and Negative Body Image to Achieve True Health

“I couldn’t allow myself to be happy. Even at my lowest weight (which is considered “underweight”), I hated who I saw in the mirror. It was never enough and it would never be enough because my actual body wasn’t the problem. I would never feel worthy until I gave that feeling of worthiness to myself. I always felt I was never enough. I was always anxious and nervous about food.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Alana Van Der Sluys and I’m a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, TEDx speaker, eating disorder survivor, and the founder of Freedom with Food and Fitness. 

I am dedicated to empowering women to heal their relationship with food and their bodies to step into their potential, take up space, and pursue true health! 

I currently host the Finally Free Podcast, and my debut book– Freedom with Food and Fitness: How Intuitive Eating is the Key to Becoming Your Happiest, Healthiest Self–will be released with Urano World USA on November 7, 2023.

I am a contributing writer for several national publications, including the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) and Best Holistic Life Magazine. I was also, most recently, a panelist and speaker for the Speak Up Women’s Conference in April 2023. 

Aside from this business, which is my life’s passion, I’m also a high school English and journalism teacher in New Jersey, living at home with my son, Archer; my husband, Scott; and our fur baby feline, Captain Oats. I’m a lover of reading, writing, taking long walks with a podcast in my ear, and Stranger Things!

For the first time in a long time, I feel fulfilled in my life because of my journey to eating disorder recovery, I’ve realized that happiness is not a destination, a goal weight, or an accolade; it’s a chosen present state of mind. Whatever is happening around me, I chose to see the good, or at the very least, choose to see a lesson I can take out of the “bad.”

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My struggle was undiagnosed eating disorders: binge eating disorder (restricting food with subsequent periods of overeating), body dysmorphic disorder (fixating on a minor or perceived body flaw), and orthorexia (an obsession with “clean eating”), specifically.  

These struggles were private, and shameful and went under the radar of my loved ones for seven years. It took just about as long to recover, thanks to a philosophy I now teach other women about, intuitive eating. 

My struggles with eating disorders, I came to find, had actually nothing to do with my actual body size or shape or my relationship with food. It had to do with my socialized belief that thinness was more attractive and that I needed to be attractive in order to be worthy.

I had an unhealthy reliance on the validations of others for my worthiness, something I learned in childhood. I was also a perfectionist as a way to protect myself from criticism, and again, in my mind, being thin meant your life was closer to perfect. 

My eating disorders started “innocent” enough as “watching what I ate” and counting calories. Over time, though, it developed into obsessively counting calories, anxiety around social gatherings that included food, body checking for hours a day, my hair falling out, and my cholesterol skyrocketing, among other things. All I could think about was food and what the number on the scale would be the next day.

This struggle ended up taking over all parts of my life, not just my eating and exercise habits. I wasn’t present with loved ones, I couldn’t concentrate in school and I couldn’t enjoy sex. It was every part of my life that suffered. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

I couldn’t allow myself to be happy. Even at my lowest weight (which is considered “underweight”), I hated who I saw in the mirror. It was never enough and it would never be enough because my actual body wasn’t the problem. I would never feel worthy until I gave that feeling of worthiness to myself. I always felt I was never enough. I was always anxious and nervous about food. 

People would either tell me I looked too skinny, which would always fuel my disorder, or they would compliment my thinness and ask me for advice, which again, only fueled and validated my disorder. I tried to hide it under the guise of “health and fitness” and a “wellness lifestyle” but it had become an unhealthy obsession: body, mind, and spirit.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

One light bulb moment for me was reading a blog post by a blogger who I looked up to that was all about her diagnosis of hypothalamic amenorrhea.

To me, she had the perfect life, husband, body, etc. And now she was telling the world she was an unhealthy weight and lost her menstrual cycle, finding it hard to conceive. I wanted a family one day and the post scared me; it made me realize I could be doing major harm to my body. 

I started listening to podcasts and reading books about intuitive eating. I dove into the work I needed to do to heal myself. I had to come to terms with my body was going to look however it was meant to, unless I wanted to fight against it for the rest of my life, all for some superficial ideal. 

The changes I made were almost exclusively the result of my actions. We can’t control our circumstances but we can always control how we respond to them. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

The first thing I would do is learn about intuitive eating. Learn everything you can through podcasts, social media, books, etc. But I would also recommend doing something I didn’t: get professional support in the form of an intuitive eating coach; bonus points for finding one who has also suffered through similar issues with food and their bodies. 

For seven years, I denied myself professional support because I thought I couldn’t afford it, that I could do it on my own, and that it was shameful to need help. All these thoughts were thought errors coming from a scarcity mindset.

Your health–true health, not diet culture health–is the most important thing and to not make it a top priority is a mistake, one I personally made. You can afford what you make a priority. You don’t need to be ashamed of needing help. We all need help in one way or another.

Connect with people who have walked the journey before and make friends with like-minded individuals who have the same struggles and goals as you. Don’t do it alone. 

Another very tangible piece of advice is learning that your thoughts create your emotions which drive your actions. I’ve created a playoff this cognitive behavioral therapy model called Chill the F*ck Out (Circumstance, Thought, Feeling, Outcome).

You can also use it backwards as a goal-setting activity. If you know what you want the outcome to be, what feelings do you need to generate in order to inspire you to create that outcome, and what thoughts would you need to feel in order to generate those emotions? 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

It took me a while to be brave enough to start my business because I would essentially have to tell the entire world I had an eating disorder, but I got over it because people need to hear this message.

People need to feel not alone and not crazy for thinking and behaving the way they do around food. It’s not their fault and they’re not broken. They just need strategy and support. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I said this before but get expert support. You can afford it, but you have to make it a priority. You will not fail. Failure doesn’t exist unless you give up completely.

Be vulnerable enough to say you have a problem and surround yourself with people who “get it.”  Don’t put it off thinking it’s going to get better on its own.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about me, grab some free resources, or learn how to work with me as your intuitive eating and body image coach here: 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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