Having struggled with disordered eating for most of her life, Ballito mom Kelly Pretorius is currently training to become a recovery coach. She tells us how she worked through her own issues and why she hopes to help others in a similar situation.
With her warm smile and friendly nature, Kelly makes those around her feel immediately at ease. A dedicated wife, mom and step-mom, she has lived in Ballito for the last five years and has fallen in love with life on the North Coast. As part of her training to qualify as a recovery coach, her work encompasses addiction recovery, addiction supporter recovery and eating disorder recovery. She is also doing a counselling course through Grace Family Church. “I feel as though I didn’t go through my life experiences to keep them hidden,” she says. “I can use them to help others in the same or similar situations.”
This desire to help others stems from her own experiences. “I can’t really remember a time when there wasn’t a part of me that I disliked and wanted to change,” she admits. “From my teenage years and up, my self-esteem has been pretty rock bottom. For most of my life, my worth has been tied to my looks.”
Kelly says she has tried anything and everything to lose weight over the years, from restricting food and over-exercising to taking pills and trying fad diets. “As time went on and I never reached the unrealistically high expectations I had for myself, I got more extreme and resorted to abusing laxatives and then moved onto purging my food after I had eaten. This went on secretly for years.”
When she inevitably put on weight after each new diet, Kelly said she felt like a complete failure. “It took me some time to realise that I was trying to fix a body that was never broken. I was sucked into self-objectification and spent so much time hating myself and I really lost who I was.”
The good news, says Kelly, is that more people are willing to share their experience than ever before. “The topic is no longer taboo, so it’s much easier to get help for it,” she explains. “The resources available online and the books you can get now are fantastic and are written by people who have been there. I think that knowing the science behind our body’s response to dieting has helped me realise that it is not a lack of willpower or laziness that causes us to continue to ‘fail’ at dieting.”
When it comes to recovery, support is essential. “It’s vital for us to surround ourselves with an environment that fosters acceptance and body neutrality,” says Kelly. “When we are around people who discuss diets, weight and the calories in the cake we are about to eat for example, we need to let them know that it’s quite triggering for us. My husband is very supportive and I have kept him in the loop with things that help and don’t help me.”
Kelly believes it’s sometimes necessary to have difficult conversations with people, and that it’s important to learn to eat in a balanced way without starving or bingeing. “We need to teach ourselves what’s best for our bodies – not the Instagram influencers we follow or the articles we read. When family members or friends comment on our food choices, it makes us doubt ourselves and stalls our progress. Sometimes these hard conversations may encourage others to see their own body issues or distorted eating patterns and this really could have a ripple effect on the culture we live in.”
For Kelly, one of the most important reasons for working on her own attitudes to food is the fact that she is a mother. “I am determined to teach my kids, especially my daughters, to be resilient and respectful of their bodies. I want them to know that they are more than their looks or their body. This starts at home with all my family members and friends being on the same page.”
Now, on a journey to more balanced eating and a commitment to healing her relationship with her body, Kelly is more mindful of the social media she views and shares. She also exercises because she loves it, rather than because she feels she must. She actively removes herself from conversations about dieting and weight loss. “I know the damage it does to my self-acceptance journey,” she explains. “Understanding that we are not broken and that recovery is possible, is massive and hugely encouraging.”
DO YOU NEED HELP?
Just because you haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder, doesn’t mean your eating habits aren’t disordered, says Kelly. She encourages others to ask themselves these questions, and to seek help if the answers are mostly ‘yes’:
-Do you diet often?
-Do you restrict your food?
-Does that restriction result in you spending your evenings or weekends binging?
-Do you avoid food groups for fear of putting on weight?
-Are you preoccupied with your body, size and shape?
-Do you over-exercise to ‘earn’ the food you eat?
-Do you skip meals to reduce your food intake?
-Do you drink water or coffee when you are, in fact, actually hungry?
-Do you weigh yourself almost every day?
-Does your mood depend on what that number on the scale is?
-Do you feel guilty after eating so-called ‘bad’ foods?
-Do you have strict food rules?
-Does the thought of putting on weight make you anxious?
-Do you avoid going out or taking part in activities when you feel bad about your body?
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