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Italy & the Healing Power of Food

Guest post by Caitlin, who teaches on our B-LUXE Cowgirl Yoga retreats in Montana, and on our Yoga & Vineyard Tuscany retreat in Italy. She will lead a Body Empowerment for Tweens and their Moms workshop in Bozeman, Montana this summer, hosted by Big Sky Yoga Retreats. I admire her openness to sharing her journey through eating disorder recovery, and her authentic activism to inspire positive body image in women and girls. 

(Photo credit to Cheyenne Gil Photography for helping me break out of my shell in my new body and feel beautiful in #EDrecovery.)

One year ago, I would never have considered going to Italy…specifically because of the food. The amazing and beautiful buildings and history seemed nice, but knowing that I would “have to eat so much”  made me decline many vacations during my 15 years in the grip of eating disorders.

In December 2016, I was 110 pounds, fainting regularly, and sneaking to the bathroom at work, at home and in public to vomit whatever I ate for fear of losing control of my body. This was my reality for 15 years of my life, but it came to a head when I also started restricting my food intake. I lost 25 pounds in 2 months, and was inevitably sent to partial hospitalization treatment to get myself back on track.

Food was always my enemy for half of my life. I couldn’t go to the grocery store, cook for myself or even go out to eat with friends without having panic attacks. My diet consisted of plain cereal with 10 almonds for breakfast, maybe some lettuce for lunch and no dinner at all. When I did eat meals, I purged them within the hour.

Treatment was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Learning to eat, feel my body and be ok with its changes was excruciating, scary and enlightening. I was hospitalized from December 2016 to March 2017, and in May, the family I have been a part of for many years as their babysitter/nanny invited me to Italy with them. I planned out every minute I could in terms of eating and food and when I could purge every meal. I got off the plane, had one dinner and everything shifted.

In the US, food is “on the go”, fast, and “the enemy”. We restrict, feel the need to detox and burn off what we eat, and it has become accepted as normal language to comment on the things we eat as “bad” or how we need to compensate for them.

In Italy, I found healing, strength and a new view on food and eating, because everything that is familiar at home is the opposite; food is made from scratch, with care and with love. It takes hours to prepare and even more hours to eat. No one orders “just a salad”, and skipping the appetizer is unheard of. Food is respected, loved and used to nourish the body and feed the soul.

I came back from my first trip from Italy inspired and motivated in my eating disorder recovery journey. As soon as I came back, I knew I had to return.

Caitlin teaching yoga in Tuscany, October 2017.

When given the opportunity to teach on the Big Sky Yoga Retreats Tuscany adventure, I knew it was meant to be. My second trip to Italy solidified my idea that this was a place that loved, cherished and took TIME for their food, and I am so thankful for it. We ate food and drank wine nourished from root to table, met the animals that made the delicious cheese that accompanied our homemade pasta, and touched the olives that were pressed to make the oil we tasted on handmade bread.

Italy has inspired me to see food as not just something that I have to eat to survive. It has taught me that food is precious, sacred, and should be given the proper care and attention. Italy has been a huge part of my recovery from 15 years of eating disorders, and I hope than anyone suffering even a little bit (which seems to be most people these days) should experience the beauty, magic and healing of Italia.

Now, can we have a 3 hour lunch break like we do in Italy?