Author Archives: Leora Fulvio

Intuitive Eating Will Make You Skinny and Other Myths

This was a guest post that I originally wrote for the wonderful and supportive blog from the  BingeBehavior Community.

 intuitive eating to get skinny

He stood on the scale with wide, nervous eyes as the doctor shook her head and tsk tsked.

“He’s overweight,” she told me, “you need to put your cat on a diet.”

“But I don’t believe in diets,” I told her.

“Well how much do you feed him?”

“I don’t know, I just put food in his bowl. He eats it when he’s hungry and walks away from it when he’s satisfied… we believe in intuitive eating in my house, my cat practices it too.”

“No,” she told me, “you can’t do that, he gets a set amount and a set time to eat, he can’t just graze all day, obesity is no good for a cat.”

I know that what she was saying was true.  My brother, a veterinarian warned and warned and warned my parents about overfeeding their cats and he is now lassoed with their insulin dependent cat Creamsicle when they couldn’t manage his diabetes.  Let’s move past the irony of a diabetic cat named Creamsicle.

I thought about it for a while.  Cats are natural hunters.  They spend their days outside looking for small birds and rodents and then they kill and eat them.  A domestic lifestyle, though lovely, is not their physiologically natural state, so it would make sense that their bodies tend not to do as well on a steady diet of processed food at their beck and call.

So what does my cat’s woes have to do with the price of wine in Napa? Well, a lot.

See, I’ve been seeing a lot of people out there promising you that when you learn intuitive eating and mindful eating, that you will lose weight or even some people make the promise that you will be like your “naturally skinny friends”.

Let’s dissect Intuitive eating and Mindful eating for a moment. Intuitive eating is following the natural instincts of your body to eat when you are hungry and to stop when you are satisfied. It is about listening to your body and giving it what it needs. Mindful eating is the practice that you take on to become an intuitive eater.  However, eating is a survival mechanism.

Let’s go back to caveman times, as they like to discuss in certain food cult circles, and acknowledge that our instincts are designed to grab as much food as we can when it is scarce.  Cavemen didn’t have pantries or supermarkets so they spent much of their days hunting and gathering in case there was a famine or a long winter or disease killing off the food supply.  The instinct would be to grab onto and eat as much food as they possibly could in a sitting, lest it be eaten by someone else or another animal.

So here is where things get confusing, our intuitive eating also follows a pattern of bingeing.  Yes. Binge eating is intuitive but, as I stated above, the bingeing happened when the food supply was greatly diminished; it was a survival mechanism.

We have evolved greatly past the days of hunter/gatherer societies.  Cavemen didn’t have apps on their iPhones to order dinner and cavemen didn’t have mothers telling them to go on diets. They lived in a completely alternate reality and so we can’t expect to live or eat like them.

So let’s talk about intuitive eating.

You probably started out as an intuitive eater, you ate what you wanted when you wanted without too much thought on the matter – until the first time someone called attention to your weight.

Maybe you were 14, maybe you were 4, but someone said you were chubby or you could stand to lose a few and so you went on your first diet, or someone put you on your first diet.  Your intuitive sense told you that you would be deprived of food and so you binged in secret and this became a perpetuating cycle of bingeing and restricting.

What would have happened if you never went on that first diet? What would happen if you ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were satisfied. Would you be skinny?  Maybe or maybe not.  You would probably be a weight that was right for you, and that perhaps is not skinny. Your natural weight might just be a little thicker, or little softer, or a little rounder.

That’s why it makes me crazy when I hear, “Your naturally skinny friends can eat whatever they want whenever they want because they are intuitive eaters.   They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied.”

It’s not true. My naturally skinny friends can eat whatever they want because they are naturally skinny. It’s just their body type.

I remember my friend Pam visiting me for long weekends when we were in our 20s. She was always so much thinner than I, yet she was always hungry and ate so much more than me.  To my spinach salad with chopped eggs and chicken with a light vinaigrette, she’d order a giant falafel with french fries stuffed in it. Later in the afternoon, she would bring out chocolate and red wine to snack on.  She’d never been on a diet.  She loved food and indulged in it and it didn’t make her fat.

So what does any of this have to do with intuitive eating? I think we have to reacquaint ourselves with true intuitive eating.

Remember, intuitive eating is the practice of eating what your body needs as informed by your practice of mindful eating.  Mindful eating is noticing your body’s need for foods, your hunger and satiety and your body’s physical reactions to certain types of food.  As you become more mindful and understanding about your needs, you hone your intuition about food.

It’s a practice.  It’s not easy because we are born with an internalized instinct to binge when food becomes scarce.  But food is no longer scarce, so we are teaching ourselves to evolve with the world around us.

But make no mistake, mindfulness and intuitive eating won’t make you skinnyunless you are naturally skinny, and we are not all naturally skinny.

Maybe French women don’t get fat because they are French.  My roots are mostly Austrian and Russian and most of the women in my family are shaped in the same way.  We’re short and petite with wide hips.; close to the ground so we can squat down and birth those babies, then get back to work on the farm.

My friend Pam, remember her, the one who eats falafel and wine and chocolate all day?  She’s all Italian. Have you ever been to Rome? Most of the women there are petite and they eat spaghetti and gelato and wine all day!

We’ve discussed what mindfulness and intuitive eating won’t do for you, so what will it do for you? 

The very first thing it will do is inform you to stop any restrictive diet that you’ve been on.  You will then begin the practice of mindful eating.

You will begin to slow down and check in with your body, a lot.  And this doesn’t come naturally.  It’s a practice, just like meditation.  You begin to learn what your body likes and what your body reacts poorly to and you maintain the practice of honoring your body with those pieces of information. That’s how intuitive eating becomes part of your makeup. You remember that food is plentiful and that you can make choices based on what your body actually needs, not choices based on what other people tell you your body needs.

When you are eating intuitively, your body will most likely settle into a place that is healthy for your body.

This might be different than what the BMI says is healthy but you know when you are healthy. Can you sleep? Do you have energy? Can you find enjoyable movement? Can you enjoy your life? Are you happy?

What you can really gain by practicing mindful eating and learning intuitive eating is a deep sense of emotional peace around food and your body. 

Imagine what it would be like to feel at ease in that way. No fighting, no debates in your head, no stress about what you are eating.

Wouldn’t it be nice to feed your body in a way that feels nourishing and a way where you feel comfortable in your body?  That’s where the mindfulness comes in.  This is where we honor our bodies, no matter what size, what shape, we lavish our bodies with attention and affection. Then we ask our bodies what they need.

We eat some tomatoes and then we have a bellyache.  Notice it.  Make a mental note that “tomatoes might be too acidic on my belly for awhile”. Your unconscious takes that note and you notice that you are intuitively avoiding the tomatoes in your salad.

Intuitive eating will not make you skinny, nor will it make you taller because skinny is a body type. Some of us are skinny; in America most of us are not.   Unfortunately, not being skinny because it is the American ideal has pushed us into a world of dieting and bingeing (because that’s the instinctual result of dieting).

Mindfulness practice will give you the awareness of your body’s needs, it will not fulfill what the world around you says your body should look like. Integrate mindfulness to help yourself become more intuitive about what you need.

Intuitive eating will make your body feel better because you will be more aware of what you need and what you don’t need. It will give you the sense that you don’t need to grab food and run away. You can be present for yourself and for the world around you.  It will help you find a place of calm that you hadn’t had before.

Friday Q &A-How do I know If I’m a Binge Eater?

do i have binge eating disorder?Our question today comes from K.

Question:

Good day

How do I know if I’m a binge eater, or just an emotional eater or whether its just some sort of pattern that I have?I work in the mornings and usually eat two rusks with a fruit and yogurt or provitas with cheese and marmite on it, and eat a lot of small meals every hour or so….. but in the afternoons at home, especially after 3 and 4 in the afternoons I’ll eat EVERYTHING that is available to eat….

Is it just because I’m home and studying or is it a binge eating disorder?

Whenever there is a packet of chips for example, I’ll almost never have left overs, and if I do it will only be to give my husband a taste, but if its in the house, it has to be eaten. I’ll even eat chocolates and chips and strawberries and cream all at once, just to get them into my mouth and not leave them in the fridge for days.

I am very overweight and are Insulin resistant and on pills. I’m down from 3/4 sugars in my tea to 1 sugar, which is great but still struggling to get the weight down due to mostly afternoon ‘binging’ if that is what it is.

I have some sort of control in the mornings, and every day try to do the healthier lifestyle, but after 3 I don’t care about healty or not and just want to eat, whether fruit, nuts, leftover food, popcorn whatever there is to indulge in. I’m just not sure whether it IS binge eating, or maybe just a normal eating disorder, mind thing or just a very bad habit.

Thank you,

K,

Thank you so very much for your note. The DSM criteria for Binge Eating Disorder is:

  • Each binge consists of eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances, and is accompanied by a feeling of loss of control (i.e. they feel that they cannot stop eating and cannot control what they are eating and how much they are eating).
  • Anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 calories are consumed within a binge sitting.[7]
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least twice a week for 6 months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of appropriate compensatory behavior and does not occur exclusively during the course Bulimia Nervosa or Anorexia Nervosa.
  • The person is seriously worried about the binge eating.

Also, an individual must have 3 or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feels disgusted, depressed, or guilty after binge eating.
  • Eats an unusually large amount of food at one time, far more than a regular person would eat.
  • Eats much more quickly during binge episodes than during normal eating episodes.
  • Eats until physically uncomfortable and nauseated due to the amount of food consumed.
  • Eats when bored or depressed
  • Eats large amounts of food even when not really hungry.
  • Often eats alone during periods of normal eating, owing to feelings of embarrassment about food.

So, given the behavioral criteria, I would say that you would qualify for BED.  You didn’t say how you feel about your afternoon binges. Do you feel depressed afterward? Do you have feelings of guilt and shame? Do you feel anxious about the binges?

I’m sorry that your binges are affecting your physical health.

I think we have to look and see what’s happening to you in the afternoon. Are you tired? Do you need a nap? Is that why you are binge eating? Are you procrastinating doing work? Do you need to get out of the house in the afternoon?

I do have some tips for you to help with the afternoon binge eating.

1. You say that if there is food in your house, it has to be eaten. In early recovery, it’s important to make your house a safe zone. Just sit down with your husband, look through your cabinets and make your house a safe zone. Get binge foods out of your house. If you were recovering from cocaine addiction, there wouldn’t be piles of cocaine all over your counters. When you have BED, food is your drug, so it’s okay to keep yourself safe from it for a little while.  Once you are feeling stronger in your recovery, you can certainly reintroduce these foods into your house and see what works for you.

2. Get out of your house in the afternoon. Are you home all afternoon studying? Maybe you need some fresh air, or perhaps it might be better to study in a safe place, not a cafe, but a library.

3. Are you eating because you are procrastinating? If so, please do read this post to get some ideas on how to stop procrastinating.

4. Do get yourself to a support group, or support forum for binge eating or seek out therapy or coaching to help you through this. Binge eating is not a life sentence and recovery is possible.

Please do add a note in the comments if you have more questions about this.

Warmly,

Leora

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started. 

Robin Williams you are Already Missed

 

I cried when I read the news about Robin Williams last night. Not a little, but a lot. I sobbed and I sobbed and I sobbed. I just felt so sad about depression. About someone who had such a life dedicated to recovery was suffering with so many demons inside. Here is someone who had everything, who had been in recovery for years, who was known here in San Francisco to often be seen at the Dry Dock going to an AA meeting, known for sponsoring people. He was online at the Red Cross on 9/11 to donate blood just like any of us. He had a big beautiful house, all the money and success he could ever want and was loved by the public. I think that it goes to show you that no matter what you have (or people think you have) on the outside, maintaining inner peace is an inside job. It doesn’t come from wealth or success or anything we can achieve outside ourselves. He was clearly battling some nasty demons and he lost. It’s so sad and reminds us that you never know what someone else is going through. Jealousy, envy, and believing that someone has it better than you is an exercise in futility, because again, you never know. Happiness is an inside job and can’t be reached by losing weight, gaining money, or finding the love of your life. Oh sure, all those things are nice, but turning inside is the way toward true peace.

Friday Q & A- Help I’m addicted to sugar! How can I stop eating sugar?

sugar addictionThis comes to us from a reader in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Q- So I’m pretty sure that I’m a sugar addict. I’ve been in treatment for years to deal with my eating disorder. It started as anorexia when I was in high school. Spun into bulimia when I was in college. When I was 22, I went into  rehab for my eating disorder where all sugar was off limits. When I got out of treatment, I stayed off of sugar for like 4 years. For the past year and a half, I’ve been eating sugar again, and not in a healthy way. I’ve been bingeing on it. I’m not purging, which is great, but every time I try to get back off sugar, I last for like maybe 2 or 3 days, then I’ll have an insane binge. I want to quit again for good. My current therapist says that sugar addiction is a myth and wants me to learn to eat it in moderation. But I can’t! I really can’t. And I definitely feel better when I’m off sugar. When I’m eating sugar, my head is foggy, I’m bloated and tired, I think about it all the time, where to get it, what I’m going to do with it, how to stop eating it,  my skin breaks out, and I’m lethargic. When I’m off sugar, I’m calmer, more relaxed, more focused and happier. Do you think that sugar addiction real?  How can I give up sugar once and for all? -Rebecca

Answer:  Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for your question and I want to tell you that there is no easy answer to this. I understand your therapist’s perspective on this.  Many eating disorder treatment programs shun the addiction model and believe that restricting particular foods is what leads to bingeing, purging, and anorexia. Many programs will even take patients out for dinner as part of treatment and have them order dessert to learn to integrate sweets in a healthy and moderate way.   However, the 12-step model of recovery does believe in the addiction model and programs like OA will support abstinence not just from a behavior, but also from a particular substance (sugar, white flour, etc.)  The recovery community is at odds as to which model to follow.  There have been many studies done,  but there has been no consensus on whether sugar addiction is real or not.

That being said,  there is evidence of sugar addiction.  In a 2003 study published in Brain Briefings, it was found that rats exhibited identical behaviors toward sugar that follow the addiction model in humans, which are bingeing, withdrawal and craving.  They doubled their intake and began bingeing on it after having it restricted from them, which of course it what happens to people when they diet and restrict calories then come in contact with lots of candy, ice cream or baked goods. According to Takash Yamamoto, in his  May 2003 study “Brain mechanisms of sweetness and palatability of sugars” published in Nutrition Reviews, Sugar and the taste of sweet stimulate the brain by activating beta endorphin receptor sites, which are the same chemicals activated by heroin and morphine. However, a literature review published in 2010,  in Clinical Nutrition Journal states that there is no support  that sugar may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders.

So, although there’s no real consensus from the scientific community, in your email you state When I’m eating sugar, my head is foggy, I’m bloated and tired, I think about it all the time, where to get it, what I’m going to do with it, how to stop eating it..  That statement alone can describe someone dealing with a crippling addiction.  So, is sugar addiction real? I think that for you it certainly feels real.

So that brings us to another question, do you have to give up sugar completely? I am always hesitant to go for the all-or-nothing approach. I do like to encourage people to learn to eat sugar moderately. Sometimes I’ll have someone bring in their binge food to the office and eat it slowly, very slowly to see what comes up for them emotionally when they eat that food. We then discuss it, and as they s-l-o-w-l-y eat the food, they begin to take the power away from it and reclaim their own power. They then make a plan as to how they will eat the rest of the night and what they will do to take care of themselves. This act of eating sugar in a contemplative way, without the fury and the madness, and then walking away from it, can change your belief about yourself around it. If you can physically walk away from it, even once, then the addiction is broken. Then you know that you have the power, not the sugar.   That’s an exercise in mindfulness.

But it is true that some people find avoiding sugar altogether much easier than using mindfulness to gain power over the sugar. And it’s true, it’s a practice.  But it is possible to find peace around sugar whether you decide to give it up completely or to find some moderation with it.  Below is a list I created to help you to give up sugar if that’s what you would truly like to do.

How to Give Up Sugar

1.)Eat fruit! Your body needs glucose. Some anti-sugar advocates will say that you need nothing but meat. Even our first food, breast milk is very, very sweet. We need glucose to give us energy, rebuild our cells and keep us going. Don’t eschew fruit in attempts to let go of sugar.

2.)Take it one day at a time. Don’t say, “I am giving up sugar forever,” say “I won’t eat sugar just for today.”

3.)Don’t be all-or-nothing about it. Just because you eat one cookie, that doesn’t mean that your body has to continue on a sugar binge. You can choose to make the next thing that you put in your mouth be something healthy, or nothing at all for a few hours until you’re ready for your next meal.

4.)Meditate! Try hypnosis for sugar addiction.

5.)Try to get more healthy fats into your diet. By adding Omega-3 fatty acids, or olive oil to your salads, or even a teaspoon of extra virgin coconut oil, you might find that your cravings decrease.

6.)Try supplements:

B-Vitamins help regulate serotonin levels to elevate mood and decrease binge episodes

Chromium 200 mcg per day – when needed for sugar cravings. Helps insulin to get into your cells to regulate glucose so that your hormones stop sending messages to your brain that you need more sugar.

Manganese- 10 Mg per day helps the transport and metabolism of glucose. It stabilizes blood sugar to reduce sugar cravings

Magnesium- 500 mg per day- calms the body and the brain while stabilizing glucose levels which can wildly fluctuate when a person is bingeing on sugar. When magnesium levels are stable, cravings decrease.

Zinc- 15mg- per day- helps to regulate appetite

5-HTP- 200 mg per day in the evening- or whenever you have the urge to binge. The precursor to serotonin will  suppress your appetite and relax you to take the anxiety away from the binge.

L-Glutamine- 500 mg when needed no more than 3 times per day. When you are having a strong sugar craving, take 500 mg of L-Glutamine or open a capsule and put the powder on your tongue. L-glutamine is an amino acid that is converted into food for the brain.

7.)Stabilize your blood sugar by eating protein with every meal and eating bits of protein between meals. When you’re not having blood sugar dips, your body won’t crave sugar.

8.)Drink teas, like peppermint or chamomile when you’re having a sugar craving.

9.)Get support. Consider joining a group like Overeaters Anonymous to help you get through.

10.)Use fruit like raisins and bananas and spices like cinnamon and cloves to “sweeten” things like plain yogurt or oatmeal.

Thank you for your question, and I hope that this has been helpful.

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

I ate a Doughnut for Breakfast Today

how to find balance with foodI ate a donut for breakfast today. It was weird. I don’t eat a lot of donuts. But this morning I wanted a donut. So I went and I and got one. And it was pretty good. It wasn’t the amazing thing that I thought it would be, but it was good. I wonder why it wasn’t so amazing. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t prohibit it and tell myself that I couldn’t have it, then get into a battle where my compulsive self finally took over and just bought it and sat in a dark corner and forbiddenly ate it.  No, it wasn’t that high pleasure of “sooooo good” that comes with anguish and emotion and stress and relief after winning or losing a battle with desire and food. It was good. It was a doughnut. Nothing more. Nothing worth life or death or orgasmic  or thinking about too much about. It was just a doughnut. Without any emotion tied to it. And so, it was fine. It was a freaking doughnut.

And then at lunch, I had some avocado and turkey slices over a bed of spinach, because that’s what I wanted.

But it was weird. And this is what was so weird about it. About 15 years ago, if I’d gotten a doughnut for breakfast, it wouldn’t just be a doughnut. It would have been an emotional event. I would have fought with myself and fought with myself and fought with myself about it. I would have asked myself what I was really feeling, why did I want this doughnut? What was I really hungry for? And I would agonize and try to keep myself from eating the doughnut and this war would last for awhile. And if I gave in and ate the doughnut, I would be so angry at myself. And then lunch would be something equally devoid of nutrition, like a bagel or a piece of cake. And dinner would be a giant bowl of pasta and bread.  Because I felt that one “indiscretion” with food ruined the day and it would then be filled with foods that made my body feel unfed and uncomfortable.

I would be so anxious that if I had a doughnut in the morning that it would set the tone for the day that it would.

But today, I ate a doughnut without a whole lot of self protesting. Because I knew that just because I had one doughnut, it didn’t mean that I had to spend the day eating food that made me feel bad. I knew that the doughnut (which isn’t an ideal breakfast, let’s face it) was not going to throw me off balance and that I could balance it out with a healthy lunch. And I did. And I did it without thinking about it too much.

I thought that I would mention it because today I noticed that my body and my mind were so integrated with intuitive action around food that I was no longer trapped thinking about it all the time. Eating the doughnut for breakfast and eating the salad for lunch both just happened because it was what my body asked for.  People ask me if you can ever truly be cured of your food issues and not have to think about it constantly for the rest of your life.  My answer to that is yes. There will come a time when you can eat a doughnut for breakfast. There will come a time when eating a doughnut for breakfast won’t mean that you are having a “bad day with food,” or that you are undisciplined or bad. There will come a day when  doughnut (or any other “forbidden food”) doesn’t taste like the most amazing thing on earth, that it just tastes “okay,” because food is no longer the center of your universe. Recovery is possible and full recovery, where you are just eating without worrying too much about it, is completely possible.

It’s okay to eat a doughnut sometimes, when you are on the other side of recovery for your food issues, eating a “trigger food,” becomes possible because it won’t set you off because you will be in a place where you have balance with food.

balance.

 

STRESS EATING!!!!!!!!!

Family Vacations lead to binge eatingI have a friend who has some pretty severe issues with food. We discuss them sometimes, but she is my friend, not my client. She has her own therapist to talk through these issues with and so we don’t discuss these things too often.  This friend, I’m going to call her Angela, is an amazing, beautiful woman who struggles horribly with both depression and anxiety.  Though she has been in therapy for a very long time, her main coping mechanism to deal with her pain is compulsive eating.

Last weekend, we had the occasion to go out of town together with several other friends.  It was great fun, but came with all the stresses that come when four couples spend a weekend in a cabin with 7 children ages 0-6.  On Saturday night, after all the kids had gone to bed, and most of the other adults had gone to sleep, Angela and I and our husbands sat in the dining room talking.  We’d all had a great dinner that we all cooked together, and we were just sitting and relaxing and talking.

But Angela couldn’t seem to get comfortable. She had a graham cracker. Then she had a graham cracker with peanut butter, then she went in for some chips, then she went in for some bowls of cereal. And every time she finished something, she got up and grabbed something else. I recognized immediately that she was stuck doing some stress eating that was unconsciously heading toward bingeing. I knew what she was going through. I’d been there a million times before, that feeling that you just can’t get to that invisible itch. You keep feeling it and feeling it and you try and try and try to scratch it, but it’s just slightly out of reach. I knew she was anxious and I knew she couldn’t get comfortable, and I knew that she and her husband were having some issues, and I knew that she was using food to help her calm down. I didn’t want to say anything and draw attention to what she was doing as both my husband and her husband were there and it wasn’t my place. But we were also all right there with her during her binge. Finally she turns around in this desperate plea and said, “What should I eat? I don’t know what to eat! I keep eating and eating and I can’t get full!” And there it was.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t get full, it was that she couldn’t calm down, and she was using food to help herself relax. But I didn’t say that, I didn’t tell her that she didn’t need to be full, she just needed to be satisfied. The look of desperation and angst in her eyes cut right into me. I knew she was asking me what to do, and that she was asking for help. I said, “maybe get a glass of water and try to sit down and relax for 10 or 15 minutes, then check in with your body and see what it needs?” Her husband said, “yes, that’s what you should do,” and she nodded and sat.  We all went to sleep shortly after and the issue of food wasn’t brought up again. However, I’ve not been able to get the incident out of my mind. I’d seen my friend right in the middle of her compulsion and I felt powerless to stop it, yet I felt that I shouldn’t sit idly by and watch her continue to engage in this destructive episode she was having. And it wasn’t because I was having judgment about what and how much she was eating- I was feeling so empathic to what she was going through- the pain she was in, the feeling that she just. couldn’t. get. enough. food. in. quick. enough. She couldn’t and she finally turned around in desperation saying, “HELP ME! WHY WON’T SOMEONE HELP ME!?”

What I wish I had done in that moment, was put my arm around her and said, “I know what you’re feeling, I’ve had these times before when I felt like I couldn’t get full, no matter what I ate, it sucks. But I know that I when I get like that, I’m just trying to eat away the stress. The food isn’t going to help, no matter how much you eat you’re not going to be full, you’re confusing hunger with anxiety.  When I get into these frenzied eating patterns, I utilize HALT. Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Can you talk? Do you want to sit down and talk? I’ll support you no matter what you want or need, but I’m here to talk.” Maybe it would have been different if both our husbands weren’t there. It was definitely not the right venue for a deep heartfelt discussion of her innermost feelings. But it’s what I wish I could have done. Not tried to stop her, but helped her find some alternate solutions to her problem of not being able to get full.

I’ve thought a lot about how my clients’ friends and families should talk to them when they catch them in their disorders. We do couples and family therapy on it all the time. But I’ve never quite meditated on what to do when it’s my own family or friend…

Always a learning process for all of us.

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.

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.”