*Please note that this blog contains images that may be triggering to some. The information contained in this blog is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or disorder. If you or someone you care about has struggled or is struggling with an eating disorder, we encourage you to reach out for help. Explore resources, information, and more by visiting the National Eating Disorders Association website.
ABOUT ELAINA RIPEPI
Diagnosed with Anorexia as a teen, Elaina Ripepi found strength on her health journey with the help of Whole30 and utilizing a multi-faceted approach to eating disorder recovery. While recovery certainly hasn't been linear, Elaina shares with us how Whole30, along with therapy and other recovery tools, helped her regain strength, build confidence, and stop fearing food. She's talking about moving away from perfectionism and finding personal balance in life and in nutrition. Read on to discover tools you can use toward your own balanced life.
"The Whole30 also taught me how to savor and enjoy food in my Food Freedom life. No longer do I have feelings of guilt around eating my grandma’s homemade bread or other foods that I personally choose as “worth it” foods."
THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SHARE WITH US, COACH ELAINA. SO, LET'S JUST JUMP RIGHT IN! WE WANT TO KNOW JUST HOW YOUR WHOLE30 JOURNEY BEGAN AND HOW YOU DECIDED TO ULTIMATELY BECOME A WHOLE30 COACH.
10 years ago, I was diagnosed with anorexia. Ever since my diagnosis and recovery from anorexia, I have been a slave to food and struggled with balance—that is, until I was introduced to the Whole30. My perception of food quickly changed for the better after reading “It Starts with Food”. Through the Whole30, I have created a better relationship with food and have found balance.
Above are pictures from my freshmen year of high school. I went from the strong, healthy girl on the left (in purple) to the anorexic, depressed, sunken-eyed girl in the right two pictures within 2 months.
We are so amazed at your transformation which sounds like have been so much more than physical. So, what made you want to become a Whole30 Certified Coach?
I became a Whole30 Coach because I am passionate about health/wellness and helping others reach their goals. I want to help others struggling with disordered eating or those with unhealthy relationships with food. I also work full time and I understand how difficult it can be to take care of yourself when you work 40+ hours a week. I became a coach to provide the resources, support, tips, and motivation to people with busy lifestyles!
You mentioned you read “It Starts With Food.” How did this help set the framework for your first Whole30?
Before being introduced to Whole30, I saw food as “good” vs. “bad”. When I ate a food I viewed as “bad” (Example: a cookie or a DQ Blizzard), I felt guilty. This guilt wasn’t just a feeling that went away within a couple of minutes, this guilt was debilitating. “It Starts With Food” taught me the science behind how our body digests food and how that can impact us hormonally, psychologically, physically, etc. For the first time, I found myself looking for evidence and reason behind the food I chose to put in my mouth. Reading “It Starts With Food” was full of “ah-hah” moments for me. It taught me why certain foods cause overeating and others can impact your mood and energy levels. I used this framework to help guide my Whole30 journey and used the science to ground me when my disordered thoughts came up!
How did your approach to your disordered eating through therapy, nutrition, and Whole30, change the way you thought about and related to food?
I started seeing a therapist right around the time I started my first Whole30. My first several visits to the therapist were focused around talking through my past. These sessions were raw and emotional. I knew that in order to get the help I needed, I had to be 100% open and honest with my therapist. We talked through topics such as feelings of guilt around food, fear of social situations involving foods, stress eating, and self-image. My therapist gave me the tools to succeed but it was up to me to practice them in everyday life. Practicing the techniques wasn’t easy. It takes a LOT of effort and is mentally draining. Some weeks I wouldn’t make much progress but other weeks, I was leaps and bounds further ahead! As far as Whole30 goes, my therapist was nervous about me trying the reset. She thought it would be triggering because of it being restrictive. Throughout the 30 days, we met each week and talked about where I was at, how I was feeling, how much I was eating, and what I was eating. Having my therapist through my first Whole30 was critical to my success. The Whole30 was the first time in years that I had ate a significant amount of fat and it was very triggering. Talking it through with a professional changed my perspective and mindset around eating fat. The Whole30 itself helped improve my hormone function and I had more energy, increased willpower, and felt generally happier. The Whole30 also taught me how to savor and enjoy food in my Food Freedom life. No longer do I have feelings of guilt around eating my grandma’s homemade bread or other foods that I personally choose as “worth it” foods.
To give some perspective of how far I’ve come in 1 year of seeing a therapist and cleaning up my diet-- I have stopped taking anxiety/depression meds, I have stopped binge eating in the middle of the night, I am happier and less moody, and I’m confident in my decisions around food!
This is me in October of this year running my first Spartan Super (10 Miles). As you can tell, I really enjoy running. When I was anorexic, I wasn’t allowed to exercise for over a year. Today, I am grateful for my health, strength, and opportunity to complete obstacle races with friends.
We’re huge advocates for prioritizing progress over complete perfection when it comes to making dietary changes. Was getting away from perfectionism hard for you in the beginning?
YES! Oh my goodness, this was a definite battle for me. When I was anorexic, I would count calories and obsess over how much I ate. I always made sure I ate less calories than I burned during my workout that day (hence how I lost so much weight so quickly). When I was recovering, I was required to write down everything I ate, how much, and at what time of day. I’ve always had a “calorie counting” mindset; however, with the Whole30, there is no calorie counting. At the beginning this was really tough for me. Part of me wanted to weigh out my meat and count the number of almonds I ate, but I had to remind myself every day that my main goal was to improve my relationship with food. I knew deep down that counting calories would negate any progress I was trying to make. After not counting calories for awhile, I started to feel more energized and less emotionally drained on a day to day basis. I found myself enjoying meals with friends again and spending a lot less time focusing on the food at the table. Although I made progress with calorie counting, some days I would obsess over completing the “perfect” Whole30. I would feel guilty for eating 3 pieces of fruit in a day. Once again, I had to reframe the situation and acknowledge the progress I was making. If you find yourself aiming for the “perfect” Whole30, keep in mind that there is no such thing. As long as you’re following the rules and making progress in your journey, you are on track!!!
You talked about how important BALANCE is to your approach to food and life. Can you explain more about this philosophy?
Balanced living is this idea of figuring out how to be happy and healthy in the midst of life’s stresses. And most importantly, figuring out what works for YOU. We all have basic requirements and necessities we need to meet to survive. We need food on the table and the money to keep a roof over our head. But there comes a time where we need to realize that life isn’t just about money or how you look in the mirror. Life is about laughter, experience, connections, and happiness. Having a balanced life requires that you identify what you value most and make sure that you make time for it. For example, I believe in the importance of work/life balance because I value my personal time. I have a full time job and I work hard while I’m at work, but as soon as I step out of that building, I don’t think about work until the next day. I don’t have work email on my phone and I don’t bring home my laptop. I understand that this may impact my ability to grow vertically within the company; however, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make to be able to have time to do the things I enjoy such as cooking, exercising, or playing with my dog. Creating a balanced life takes time and sometimes can be hard depending on life’s challenges. I encourage you to take a step towards balanced living! Find a dog walker for 3 days a week or a teenager to cut your grass so that you can spend that time living!
What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to renegotiate their relationship with food?
My best advice for someone struggling with an eating disorder is to start regularly seeing a therapist. I used to feel ashamed about the thoughts I had in my head around food and I thought I was the only one. A therapist can give you outside perspective and will listen to you talk about your feelings towards food/ self-image. A therapist will not only listen, but they will understand where you’re coming from and help you address the negative thoughts. If you choose to see a therapist, the first professional you see may not be the right fit and that is OK. I recommend starting with a search on your health insurance website for a therapist. Then, once you have a list of therapists in your area, Google search each one and look for their specialties. I recommend finding someone who focuses on body image and disordered eating. Also, how frequent you visit with them is important too. I see my therapist once a week most of the time; however, if life gets busy, I will move it to every other week. Once you start seeing a professional, you’ll start to fill your toolbox with tools. You will learn how to handle triggering situations and how to navigate conversations with others. You will become more confident in who you are as an individual and begin to make progress in your everyday life!
I actually recommend seeing a therapist to anyone and everyone. Confiding in someone that has a third person point of view is very powerful. My therapist has not only helped me with my disordered eating, but she also has helped with work, life stress, and relationship issues. Professionals offer perspective that is not biased and is based on their past experiences both professionally and personally. My best advice towards improving your relationship with food is finding professional help.
This is my sister and I at my cousins wedding in May 2018. My sister has been my rock throughout this journey. I have always admired her and looked up to her. She was the one who originally sparked my interest in health and wellness and she supports me when I need it most!
As a coach, how would you suggest someone be successful with Whole30?
Preparation and support are key.
- Preparation will look different for everyone. If you travel a lot for work, you’ll need to know what convenience foods you can bring on the go with you and what you can order at business dinners. If you’re a busy working momma, you’ll need to find recipes you can make for your whole family. A lot of the time, we think of preparation as physical actions such as grocery shopping and meal prepping. We forget to prepare mentally and I strongly believe this is just as important as the physical preparation. What do I mean by mentally prepare? You need to think ahead and plan for situations that may occur over the next 30 days. What will you do when your coworker bring your favorite homemade cookies to the office? How will you handle this idea of “perfectionism” that we talked about earlier in this post? Will fat be a trigger for you? Addressing thoughts and situations like this ahead of time will help you be better prepared in the moment.
- Support is also critical to your success. You’re about to take on a new lifestyle for the next 30 days. This isn’t going to be easy and it is important that you can gain the support of those around you. You may find the courage to start conversations with your coworkers or perhaps you stick with your roommates or significant others. Find people who believe in you and your goals. Make sure they understand where you’re coming from and give them examples of how they can support you throughout the journey.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our Model Meals and Whole30 community?
- Be patient. Remember that life is about the journey, not the destination. If you have goals for yourself whether they be physical, mental, professional, or personal; keep in mind that everything takes time and don’t forget to enjoy life along the way.
- You’re not alone. Wherever you’re at in life, you’re not alone. If you’re a working mom with 3 kids, you are not alone. If you’re a full time employee working a lot of overtime, you are not alone. I cannot stress this enough. When I was struggling 10 years ago with my anorexia, I thought I was alone. But in reality, I had the biggest team of support cheering me on from the sidelines, waiting for me to accept their help! Realize that you’re not alone and accept help from those around you who are there to support you.
- If you, yourself, or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, do not wait to get professional help. You may think that you can heal yourself or help your friend, but that is not always the case. A professional can provide the resources, education, encouragement, and the support needed to overcome the mental illness.
Elaina, you've been so transparent and vulnerable with us and we appreciate your honesty about the ups and downs that recovering from any type of disordered eating can bring. Thank you so much for sharing your Whole30 journey and experience with us and our community!
Stay connected with Elaina by following her on Instagram @DiscoverBalance_ and by checking out her website at www.Discoverbalancedliving.com
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