Monthly Archives: July 2014

Why Do We Really Diet?

Dieting hasn't made Kathy any happier, and she's been doing it for decades

Dieting hasn’t made Kathy any happier, and she’s been doing it for decades

The obvious answer is “to lose weight.”

But is that really, really true?  I don’t think it is.

Think about it, when do you start a diet?  Usually it’s after you’ve had a particularly bad day or week or month or you’ve seen a photo of yourself that you don’t like or someone makes a comment about your weight, or you’ve gone clothes shopping and things don’t fit the way you hoped they would, or you’ve broken up with someone…  Or anything that caused you to feel bad.  So, then you thought, “I’m going to start a diet on Monday…” and you chose the diet you were going to start, thought about what foods you were going to eat and were not going to eat and instantly you felt better.

Why? Why did the thought of going on a diet make you feel better?

Because in a time in your life when things around you felt totally out of control, this felt like a way that you could gain some control. And then you felt on top of things rather than underneath the weight of the world.

Dieting is a method that people use to feel as though they have some control. And how long does that last? Usually until you go out to eat or wind up at an event and think, “well just for tonight… then tomorrow I’m back on my diet.” And just like that, you’ve believe that you’ve lost control and you feel bad about yourself. Or worse, the diet controls you. You go out and rather than enjoying your time out, you feel obsessed with staying away from the food you want to eat and then you just can’t stop staring at other people’s food or thinking about what other people are eating or what they weigh or what you weigh.

Does any of this resonate for you?

So how do you gain control and feel better without using dieting? How do you get back on top when you feel that you are underneath the world?

A lot of it is about accepting the place that you are in without trying to make it go away. For example, “Oh, these jeans don’t fit me… I’m so fat, I need to go on a diet so I can fit into these jeans…”  Instead of that saying to yourself, “I’m going to find a pair of jeans that I am comfortable in and make me feel good, I’m not going to let these jeans dictate how I’m supposed to feel about myself and what I’m supposed to do with my time…”  or “I just broke up with my partner and I’m devastated… breakups are terrible and difficult and it’s okay for me to be in pain.”

Being in acceptance of your situation without trying to make the feelings go away is so empowering. It gives you permission to be in your life and be in your feelings without trying to avoid your life and avoid your feelings by dieting.

The next time you are tempted to start a diet, think about what you are trying to accomplish, what feeling are you trying to make go away? (Fat is not a feeling! It’s a description). Is it insecurity? Loneliness? Anger?

This doesn’t mean that you have to sit and dwell on feeling bad, but the irony is, when you accept what is, it makes space for change. Rejecting and not looking at what is real keeps you stuck in it.

I’m Really Impressed by The Blond Vegan

Courtesy of www.theblondevegan.com

Courtesy of www.theblondevegan.com

If you’ve been following eating disorder news or blogosphere foodies at all, you know the story about the blond vegan. If you don’t, I’ll give you a quick recap. A young woman, Jordan Younger, who has been a prolific instagrammer and blogger had spent a year photographing her beautiful vegan meals, her exercise feats, and her shopping trips.  Her photographs and eating became an obsession. Not just for her, but for her 70,000 instagram followers. Ms. Younger then began to get ill. She lost her period, became fatigued and her skin dried up. She then came to the conclusion that she had an eating disorder and despite the fact that she had close to 100k followers, decided to work on letting go on her obsessions and let go of Veganism. Holy fuck that’s brave.

 

The symptoms that are described are very typical of of anorexia.  Ms. Younger discusses having orthorexia, which is basically the obsession with healthy eating.

Her story is very close to my heart. As I describe in my book, I too was a vegan– for many, many years. My mother and I were both vegetarian from the time that I was 10 years old and then we became vegan when I was 20. My mom remained mostly vegan until she passed away when I was 28. It was then that I chose to begin  integrating new foods.  Were we orthorexic?  Mom was, I was more about trying to reject a whole bunch of foods in order to control my eating. I mean, I was smoking and drinking diet coke like it was going out of style. So, I probably wasn’t vegan for health or environmentally responsible reasons. But, having been a vegetarian/vegan for almost my whole life, 18 years, it was very difficult for me to change. It was my identity- both to myself and to others. I was pained about what I believed was contributing to the suffering of animals, I was depressed about wondering who I was.  But you know what, I wasn’t what my eating dictated I was. That wasn’t my identity. And that’s the problem with eating disorders, isn’t it? They become your identity to you. If you are anorexic this is who you believe you are. And everyone knows you as “tiny,” and you want to be that. You don’t want to change who you are to people. If you are bulimic- you have this secret identity, this huge secret that is so hard to let go of because what would you have when you were alone without your binges/purges?    It’s interesting how we allow the way we eat to give us identity and shape the way people see us. I mean, look at Gwenyth Paltrow and her whole Goop cult.  People become obsessed with the way they eat and then other people become obsessed with the way they eat.

Your identity isn’t what you eat or how you eat and it’s none of anyone else’s business.  Which is why I’m so impressed by Ms. Younger’s bravery.  She not only had to make a decision to change her eating to save her health (which is rough) she had to do it to a hundred thousand followers- people watching her and looking to her for guidance on how to be healthy. She did a great thing by admitting to all those people that she was not balanced. I think she will help many, many people who think that they have to be perfect. She made it alright to let go of an eating disorder.

Jordan, if you read this, I want you to know that I think you are so awesome. You have totally gotten the word out there that recovery is okay and possible. You sent an amazing message. You have done a great thing for the eating disorder recovery community. I’m so impressed! And I know that recovery is difficult, and changing and letting go of obsessions is extremely difficult. I hope that you have a great supportive community to support you through this transition.

What Causes Binge Eating Disorder?

diet concept. woman mouth sealed with duct tape with buns

Someone asked me yesterday why people have binge eating disorder,  as if there is one answer, she said, “is it trauma? or is it the media’s preoccupation with being thin? or what?”

Okay, so clearly there is no one answer, there are like 100 or one million reasons and they’re all mix and match. But let me tell you here the ones that I’ve come across most often: 

1. Backlash from dieting- A long time ago, somebody said that you were unacceptable. Maybe it was your Mom, maybe it was a teacher, or maybe in fifth grade, the boy you had a crush on said that you had a big butt, maybe in seventh grade your five best friends all decided that they didn’t like you anymore and you ate lunch all by yourself on a bench for the rest of the year and then everyone else followed suit and stopped talking to you. Maybe you couldn’t figure out why and so you blamed it on your body.  Whoever or whatever caused you to think that you were unacceptable, you blamed it on your body, and so you decided to do something to change it. You decided that if you lost weight, you couldn’t get hurt anymore. You could hide, be invisible. But one day, you went off your diet because there was a big piece of  birthday cake in front of you. And then, eating that birthday cake symbolized everything that was wrong with you. All the hurt, all the bad things everyone ever said about you. That birthday cake told you that you were going to be abandoned, alone, lonely for the rest of your life. And it was too much to take. So you ate more to make the pain go away. And then you hated yourself. And so you ate more. The next day you ate nothing. And you were hungry. But still you ate nothing. The day after that, you were so hungry that you ate 5 bowls of cereal for breakfast. Bam. There’s your Binge Eating Disorder. 

2. There was abuse– Someone, along the way, did something that hurt you. Hurt you so much in fact that you decided that you needed to hide. And so you covered yourself and protected yourself by eating and putting on weight. The weight kept you safe and the food kept you sane. It was your coping mechanism and the way that you protected yourself physically from being abused or hurt by people.

3. Depression– You weren’t the type to use alcohol when you were sad, and drugs weren’t your thing. But you could free-base sugar and snort lines of white flour like Grandmaster Flash. Food became your anesthesia, it became your prozac. Bingeing on starchy, sugary foods raised your generated a dopamine response  which lit up the pleasure center in your brain. But the dopamine signal regulated and you became depressed again and more concentrated sugar and processed carbohydrates were needed to make you happy, although ultimately, your depression got worse because you didn’t want to be binge eating. The cycle became vicious. 

4. Overstimulation- Used to be that food was hard to get. I don’t even mean back in the paleo times, I mean like, when your Mom was a girl. You went to the fish market for fish, the fruit stand for fruit and the butcher for meat. There wasn’t a bodega on every corner with cheap processed food for grabbing and eating on the run. Food became less food like and more chemically, addictive substances that your body became addicted to.  Food became so processed and so concentrated that it was no longer food, it was your chemical laden drug. Funyuns and Hohos got you high. You began going on benders and felt that you couldn’t stop. You were addicted to the chemicals and to the high. 

5. Perfectionism- You were trying to be perfect, look perfect, act perfect, eat perfect. And you did this perfectly… in front of everyone. But when you were home and alone, you just cracked. You had to stop being perfect even for a moment. You sat by yourself bingeing in peace and for a moment, you could drop that perfect facade. And it was a relief. 

Try not to clean your plate challenge

Clean Plate
I recently gave a challenge to one of my clients to try for one week to leave a little bit of food on her plate at each meal. It didn’t have to be a lot of food, she didn’t have to leave over half her meal, just a bit of food, like one last forkfull, just symbolically to not clean her plate. When I gave her the assignment, she said that she was extremely nervous and anxious even thinking about it. However, when I checked in with her after a week she said, “It’s going really well, it helps me not to be obsessive about whats on my plate & in also to stop eating past my full point…” so I’d say it was a successful exercise for her in dealing with her compulsive eating issues. Is there anyone who would like to try this challenge for a week? Leave over a bit of food on your plate for each meal. Then you can come on here or onto the facebook forum and say what it’s been like for you. Did it make you anxious? Upset? Empowered? If you are interested in joining in, please do!  This is an exercise in mindfulness, because most of us mindlessly clean our plates. They have lots of feelings about not, they don’t want to be wasteful, or their compulsive eating habits take over. What if you had to be mindful at every meal to leave some over? It might really start to change the compulsion around your behaviors.

How Potty Training is Like Recovery

recovery from binge eatingI read this article on NPR.org the other day that discusses how we change behaviors. The author of the article, Tania Lombrozo, a cognitive researcher at UC Berkeley poses the question, “Why don’t we do what we know we should be doing?” She discusses in terms of parenting why it is so difficult to integrate knowledge. But I was thinking of it in terms of recovery from binge eating, for instance many people ask the question “I know that I have certain tools that I can use when I’m about to binge, but why can’t I use them? I just go ahead and binge and then I get angry at myself…”

She writes, “…Kazdin and Rotella advocate what they call “reinforced practice” and “positive opposites.” In brief, you can encourage desired behaviors by repeatedly eliciting them (or their successive approximations) and reinforcing them as soon as they happen, and you can eliminate undesirable behaviors by reinforcing the positive behaviors you want to replace them with. (See, I wasn’t kidding about rats and levers.) Punishment in some forms has its time and its place, but it’s rarely effective, and it’s rarely the best choice…”

So what does that mean when we talk about how to stop binge eating?

I’ve heard many people say things like, “I feel like I’ve got it down and I’m doing well for a bit, then I lose it all and I’m right back where I started from.”

But you’re not. You are not right back where you started from. Celebrate your recovery, even moments of it. And don’t give the backslides much attention. Give yourself accolades and love and support. Honestly you will be happier and you will find recovery more exciting and fun.

Think of it like this, you are potty training your toddler. Every time she uses the potty, you jump up and down and hug her and kiss her and tell her that she is awesome. When she has an accident, you hug her and kiss her and tell her it’s okay and that she’ll just try again, you know she can do it, it just takes some practice.

vs.

You are potty training your toddler and she goes on the potty. You say “good, that’s what you should be doing.” No accolades, no celebration, nothing. Then she has an accident and you tell her she’s a loser and now the fact that she made on the potty yesterday means nothing. She’s back to square one. No potty for her, diapers forever.

We don’t do scenario number two obviously, we support our children and help them to succeed.  You were once that little toddler and you still have parts of you inside that feel 2 years old and need love, support, and encouragement.

So be kind to yourself when you backslide and celebrate yourself when you have one good day or one good meal or one good hour. Don’t think about forever, just consider the moment.

Instead of: “I have to do this every day for the rest of my life,”

Try: “today was a great day, I am great.”

Instead of: “I fucked up today, I’m nothing but a fuck up…”

Try: “I love myself and I had a hard day, tomorrow will be better. Tonight I need a little compassion, maybe curling up in a hot tub with a juicy novel, calm myself down a bit.”