Tag Archives: eating disorders

Why diets don’t work

We’ve all heard that “diets don’t work,” but do you know why? First let’s go over the definition of diet.

Dieting is any eating habit that involves the restriction or elimination of nutrients and/or the control, counting, and restriction of calories. Point systems are diets because the program has pre-restricted the calories for you; these are counted calories disguised as point values.

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Here’s why diets don’t work.

Metabolism Damage

When you restrict calories and nutrients you lose weight. This is why diets are so attractive on the surface and seem like they work. The problem is that internally your body goes into “deprivation mode,” craving the nutrients it’s missing and slowing the metabolism way down so as to store energy for crucial functions, such as fueling your heart and brain. When you “give in” to those cravings, the metabolism is slow to use the energy– one because it’s sluggish and two your body naturally wants to use the energy sparingly since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get those nutrients again. Often you won’t feel good eating something of which you’ve deprived yourself (like sugar or bread) thus blaming the food,  when really it’s your body not responding well because it’s broken.

When I went through the re-feeding process during anorexia recovery, I felt physically ill for about eight weeks while my metabolism re-learned how to accept and process nutrients again. It was another several months before my body found homeostasis.

Yo-yo dieting or chronic dieting puts the body in constant deprivation mode (also called starvation mode) and gives the body no semblance of normal. It can’t settle into a homeostasis where the flow of nutrients to body function is rhythmic and natural. Instead, dieting trains the body to reserve the nutrients and keep the metabolism slow so as to store energy for internal functions. Simply speaking, you hold on to the weight. The body isn’t sure when it’s going to get those nutrients again and it has systems and processes to run, so it’s going to store calories and use them wisely.

Here’s a replicated visual my eating disorder therapist showed me

 

Person A and Person B are both born at the same time. As they grow, they gain weight accordingly. Person A doesn’t diet at all, and over time her body settles into a consistent weight with minor (and natural) fluctuations.

Person B begins dieting and her weight drops. Each dip in the graph represents a diet with a corresponding weight drop. After each diet, though, her weight goes back up, increasing just a little more each time and never finding a consistent stability.

At the end of life, person B dies not only at a higher weight than non-dieter A but also at a higher weight than what her original weight before she started dieting.  If you are a dieter, have you sometimes noticed when the weight comes back, it’s often just a little more than the last time you put the weight back on? It’s not because you are a bad person who has a problem with self control. It’s because your body is trying to protect you, trained to operate in deprivation mode and with a broken metabolism.

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Distorted Body Cues

Dieting forces you to go against your body’s natural cues. When you’re hungry a diet will keep you confined from feeding your body what it needs. Diets say:

a) You can’t eat because it isn’t time.

b) You can’t eat the thing you are craving because it’s “bad.”

c) You can’t eat the amount you need because it’s “too much.”

The body and brain become confused.

Body says: “I’m hungry. I need (crave) a plate of meaty pasta and a slice of cherry pie. Pasta will give me long-term fuel; the meat will give me stamina; the cherry pie will give me the quick spark and pleasure to start the refueling process for all systems.”

Brain says: “Nope. You’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet. You’re getting a chicken salad with no cheese and a sugar-free flavored water. You need better discipline. Cherry pie? What are thinking, fatty?”

Body says: “Hmm? Okay, so you’re giving me fiber, water, and a tiny bit of protein. I’ll do my best but don’t be surprised when I’m sluggish and you’re cranky.”

Binge eating happens when we’re in deprivation mode because the body is so desperate for nutrients we’re not paying attention to when the body says “Enough!”  Confused hunger and fullness cues become normal.

Some people experience the opposite problem where it seems like it takes more food to get full and that’s because the brain isn’t tuned in with what fullness actually feels like for their body. There are a plethora of reasons why some people eat more than they need (emotions, distractions, strict rules such as “must eat everything on my plate,” distorted view of portion sizes, etc.)

The bottom line is this: Dieting goes against your body’s natural biology. Your body knows what weight it wants to be, when it’s hungry, when it’s full, and what food it needs. It gives you all the cues to let you know what you need.

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It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

If you are in the midst of a vicious dieting cycle or considering dieting at all, I encourage you to learn more from the book shown on the left here (not an affiliate link, nor am I affiliated with the authors in any way). It was introduced to me my first week of recovery, though it took  me months to learn how to apply it because I was so disordered in my habits and beliefs. Everyone at any size can find their homeostasis again, including you. No more diets, okay? You’re life is way too valuable and diets aren’t worth the sacrifice. <3

 

What anorexia recovery looks like 2 years later

Eating disorder recovery during the holidays feels like swimming against the current. Pushing against the flow of people, friends, and family who all ride the desires of wanting and striving to eat better and live in better bodies.

The triggers at the holidays are exhausting for me. When I first entered anorexia recovery in 2014, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were excruciating because I was in the re-feeding phase. My body was learning how to accept and process food again, so I spent 12 weeks feeling swollen and ill. In 2015, I was focused on figuring out which holiday foods I loved, getting them on my plate, and noticing how I felt: “Am I hungry? Am I full? Do I like this turkey? Do I actually not like green bean casserole or am I just scared of it? Do I want some more mashed potatoes?Did I enjoy that gluten free pumpkin pie?”

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This year, the food was easy. I know what I love. I am confident in the kitchen (borderline showing off my culinary skills), and I am publicly outspoken about there being no rules around food. A giant spread of good eats splayed in front of me causes no angst and I feel freedom to eat.

Yet the eating disorder that lives in my brain is pounding on the walls. I’ve written and talked about and advocated for food and body love all year long; I am learning, expressing, living and enjoying the freedom to eat and move intuitively without being bound by the rules and expectations of cultural norms. But the people with whom I share the holidays–from the friends in my Facebook feed to the family members sitting across from me at the dinner table do not feel freedom to eat and verbalize judgement of their bodies, the food on their plates, and the food being served. Constant chatter about pre-meal workouts, post-holiday cleanses, new year bodies, new and improved eating grows louder as the new year creeps closer.

The triggers are everywhere and it takes copious energy to remain strong against the flow of old thought and behavior patterns because they align with the current cultural… well, current. The eating disorder in my brain is casting doubt on everything I’ve learned in my two years of recovery. I know the truth about calories, food, and how the body works. I understand and believe the power my body has to be healthy without the need to control it. However, the old feelings of wanting to “just not eat” are strong; insecurities about my body shape and flaws are rising to the surface.

The thing about anorexia recovery, though, is I know too much now. Recovery has opened my eyes to what happens biologically and mentally to my body when I starve. To blatantly skip meals or snacks would be like running a red light on purpose. On the other hand the eating disorder is a sneaky  because it argues that I don’t have to skip eating altogether, I could just little by little put less on my plate or not eat every bite. It tells me that even though my stomach is growling, I’m actually not that hungry so eating less is okay.

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I can’t control the anorexia voice; it just sort of inserts its opinions into my life without invitation. I can recognize it, though, and use my healthy voice to respond. I’ve worked hard the last two years to find and grow that healthy voice, and it has served me (and maybe you) well this holiday season. The following posts were born from that healthy voice as I was coping with triggers:

Why you’ll enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year

You’re already in shape

What is self-love?

Resolution Revolution

What does healthy mean?

You guys, I’m tired. Each of these posts is me swimming against the current, and it takes lots of mental and emotional energy. Recovery has made me better, no doubt. At the same time, I am only two years into healing from a disease I’ve had for over 13 years. This is what recovery looks like for me. I’m doing awesome while at the same time living with the reality of an ongoing process of a mental illness.

 

What does healthy mean?

Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already.  Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.”  Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.

If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.

I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear.  Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning.  When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.

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There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.

Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”

I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.

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Practically speaking, healthy is:

  • being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
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  • knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
  • eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
  • listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
  • understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
  • accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
  • appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
  • wearing clothes that fit me today.
  • resting when my body is tired.
  • challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
  • feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
  • coping with life using tools that are right for me.
  • respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
  • honoring the need for self care.

Healthy is not:

  • counting calories.
  • restricting/omitting food groups.
  • watching what I eat.
  • idolizing greens and protein.
  • demonizing carbs and fat.
  • controlling portions.
  • regimenting exercise.
  • burning more calories than I eat.
  • judging food as “good” or “bad.”
  • fitting into a particular size.
  • reaching a goal weight.
  • ignoring hunger or fullness.
  • demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
  • shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
  • disrespecting my body’s call for rest.

What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for. 

How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.

What does healthy mean to you?

The Mundane-ness of Mental Illness

I’m annoyed with my mental illness. I’ve been trucking along in anorexia recovery for about a year and a half now. I’ve worked really hard to get better, re-feeding my body, re-learning how to listen to and oblige my body cues for food, rest, and movement, digging under the thick layers of pain and distorted beliefs to root out the truth, and traversing through an emotional healing journey with my dad.  I’m better, and sometimes I even feel like I am all better.

Until a random trigger crops up out of no where and rolls around my brain like a pebble in my shoe. I don’t know where the pebble came from, and when I try to shake out the pebble to get on with my life, I realize the damn thing is still in my shoe.

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My mom graduated from Linfield College this past Sunday. It was a challenging and exhilarating six-year feat that my mom conquered with graceful (and coffee-fueled) perseverance. We took lots of pictures, one of which was this sweet shot of my brother, Carl, my  mom, dad, and me:

 

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I love this picture. I hate this picture. The joy and pride and love we have as a family and for my mom is real. Genuine. My heart is happy and warm when I look at this photo as a whole portrait.

But my brain, which has wonky wiring that I’m working hard to reprogram, is spewing all sorts of terrible lies about how I look in this picture. It has triggered up the volume on my eating disorder voice.

You need to know that I hate writing about this and didn’t want to because I am feeling a lot of shame for feeling how I feel. But in an effort to help you (and me) understand the eating disorder, I need to unpack this fresh, real-life moment inside the illness. Because I thought I was better. And I am, but I still have this pebble rolling around in my life called anorexia.

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The eating disorder tells me that in this picture:

  • I look fat and mis-shapen
  • I haven’t been paying attention to my eating
  • I can’t trust my body to intuitive eating
  • I am a fraud with all this intuitive eating shit
  • This body happened without my knowing, without my control
  • I need to lose weight

Shame is telling me:

  • I’m selfish for focusing on myself when it’s my mom’s big day
  • No one wants to hear about my disorder because it’s boring and getting mundane
  • I have become complacent in my recovery
  • Why can’t I just be better already?
  • It’s ridiculous to let an innocent picture trigger me into a tailspin

I spent Sunday fighting the urge to restrict and battling the voice that told me I was weak when I did eat. Monday I tried to work out my anxiety through yoga and running… swearing I wasn’t running to work out my body but to work out my angst and find my healthy voice. I was able to grasp on to enough positive truth to propel me through a good date-day with my husband, who, by the way, was at a loss as to how to help me. He thought I was fine too; this trigger sent us both flailing.

Thankfully I had therapy yesterday, and while my coping strategy with yoga and running worked okay temporarily, my therapist helped me see how the eating disorder manipulated running into a “healthy” choice when my actual healthy self had already questioned the choice as a healthy solution.

“I wonder,” said Tamara, “how things might have been different if instead of running or doing yoga to get rid of the ‘yuck’ you were feeling, you would have… what?”

“Sat in it,” I filled in the blank.

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Sometimes in my illness I try to run away from it. Literally, I guess. When I feel bad, I don’t want to feel bad so I do things to distract or feel better… like running and yoga and cleaning and organizing and even cooking. It’s me trying to “shake out the pebble”– to shake off the shame and shake out the eating disorder. Please understand these activities are perfectly fine when I do them from a healthy space. But when doing them in response to trigger, none of these activities are helpful and can just feed my disorder.

It isn’t until I sit down, still, and let myself feel–usually in prayer–that I uncover what is really going on–why the trigger was such a trigger. I have to take the pebble out with my hands, examine it, figure out where it came from, and decide what to do with it. The process is hard, and after a year and a half of being in recovery… doing this so. many. times., sitting in my feelings feels mundane and annoying because I think I should be all better now. I am better. And what I am going through right now is also normal in recovery. I’m not sick but I’m also not all better. There is no clear box for me to stand in, and I suppose that’s also annoying since I like things organized in their own little boxes.

I don’t have a neat ending to this post. I haven’t yet sat still. I’m fidgety and anxious today, struggling to keep in touch with my body cues. I haven’t approached God yet, and I don’t know why. I usually run to Him first, but I think I am afraid. My brain tells me God is going to tell me I am selfish and self-centered or that I have done something wrong. This trigger is my fault. My heart knows these are lies, but the illness makes me uncertain, and the illness is really loud right now.

 

Anorexia Recovery: How food changed for my kids

The best intuitive eaters on the planet are kids. My job as a mom is to protect my children’s innate ability to feed themselves well. I wasn’t very good at this until the last year and a half while going through eating disorder recovery. It turns out that anorexia not only affected me, but also my children because I was super controlling of their food and portions. I watched their sugar, fat, and carb intakes; was hyper aware of fruit and veggie consumption; had strict rules about treats; managed snacks; and controlled how much/little food went on to their plates.

That was a lot of work, and really, in the scheme of culture totally normal for a parent wanting their kids to eat healthy. However, it caused stress at meal times. My kids weren’t good eaters–picky, whiny, and adverse to trying new things; everyone seemed hungry all the time;

When I went into eating disorder recovery, I had to relearn how to feed my family and reteach my kids what it really means to eat well. We follow the Ellen Satter Institute principles, which center on getting kids back to their intuitive ability to eat. Do kids need structure? Yes. Do they need to be hyper controlled? No. The nutshell of how this works:

~ Parents choose what and when kids eat

~ Kids choose if and how much/little they’ll eat.

As a mom I had to learn how to:

  1. Give my kids lots of choices of all the nutrients (including sugar, fat and carbs)
  2. Pull back on controlling what my kids put on their plates
  3. Teach my kids how to tune in with their bodies

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What this looks like in our house

We have zero food rules. All nutrients are treated equal, which means ice cream, cookies, and treats have equal value as fruit, veggies, and whole grains. When we don’t put food on a pedestal to be earned or treated as the holy grail of all things yummy, the interest and desire to eat the treats becomes more even keel.

There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food nor “healthy” and “unhealthy.” We have play food and serious food–all of it good and healthy if our bodies are hungry and asking for them.

We have a zero-pressure environment at meal times. All the choices are put on the table  and then we tune in with our bodies. “What sounds good? Maybe start with a little and see how you feel–if you want more, have more. If you don’t like it, that’s okay. Maybe try a different choice on the table.”

No one has to eat everything on their plate. You don’t have to  try anything if you don’t want to; you can try everything if you want to. Decide what sounds good to you and eat that. If a plate of cookies sounds good… go for it. If your body doesn’t feel good later, we’ll talk about it and see if maybe next time we try less cookies in combo with another choice like chicken or fruit. Maybe our body would like that better.

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What mealtimes look like

Breakfast:

Eat whatever sounds good. Sean typically eats toaster waffles w/syrup or peanut butter; sometimes he’ll have an egg too, if he’s in the mood.

Haley usually eats one or more of the following with a bowl of chocolate ice cream on the side:

  • 1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Leftovers from dinner
  • Bagel and cream cheese
  • Bacon if it’s freshly cooked

Yeah. That’s right. Sometimes her breakfast is a bowl of ice cream with bacon on the side. Crazy? From a cultural perspective, yes. Biologically speaking, though, her body is reading and absorbing fat, calcium, Vitamin D, sugar and protein–all necessary nutrients to get her metabolism and brain up and running in the morning.

Lunch

Both kidlets get an apportioned amount of dollars  per month in their hot-lunch account. Each day they pick what sounds good–either the hot lunch choice, as per the monthly menu hanging in our kitchen, or whatever sounds good for home lunch. Home lunch will range from dinner leftovers to mac and cheese to a bologna sandwich. They make their own lunches with minor assistance from me. Once in a great while, depending on what’s happening, I will make lunch for them and they are over the moon.

Since ditching the food rules, the kids choose home lunch more often than hot lunch (averaging hot lunch about twice per week).

Snacks

We have a snack shelf in our pantry. They pack their home lunches from that shelf and have free access to the shelf whenever their bodies say “I’m hungry.” After school, they do have to have their snack eaten by 4:15 so they have appetites for dinner later.

I try to keep a bowl of “easy fruit” on the table at all times– grapes, cherries, blueberries–which I refresh every couple of days. Sometimes I switch to carrots, olives, cherry tomatoes. The whole family will graze on these as we’re coming and going through out the week.

Every night we have an optional “last snack of the day” between 8 and 9pm. Sometimes this is something as simple as string cheese or something off the snack shelf or it could be  more involved, like a hot dog or quesadilla. It just depends on the activity we had during the evening. No one needs to go to bed hungry, and, in fact, we find we sleep better when our bodies have fuel for the work it does while we sleep.

Dinner

Dinnertime is where intuitive eating really takes charge. Lots of choices and no pressure. Here’s a visual of what last week’s dinners looked like:

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Monday: Pizza Chicken; arugula salad with the toppings (mandarin oranges, strawberries) separate in case someone wanted fruit but no lettuce; whipped cream (for the strawberries if you want); Go-gurt, Jello, and chocolate pudding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday: My husband cooked Steak & Veggie Kabobs; rice; arugula salad with tomatoes; sliced strawberries. Not much else for choices that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday: Broccoli Chicken; rice; baked beans, leftover popcorn from snack time; applesauce; cheese and crackers. This night was a total jackpot on the choices! Haley sampled a little of everything; Sean loaded up on cheese and crackers, baked beans, and a little broccoli chicken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thursday: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup; grilled cheese sandwiches; grapes; cherries; pickles. There was also ice cream, but I kept that in the freezer with expressed permission to grab some if desired. Sean’s baseball game had been cancelled due to rain, so we had a rare night at home! I took full advantage of the time by making something a little more time consuming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Friday: Sloppy Joes; ABC Salad (arugula, bacon, and cheddar cheese); grapes ‘n’ strawberry salad; Spongebob Squarepants fruit snacks; Chips Ahoy. Need I say more here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday: Pizza night! Forgot to take a picture.

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Sunday: Spaghetti Mac w/cheese; chocolate pudding; Jello; grapes and cherries; Go-gurt. I was running low on groceries that day and kind of made up the pasta dish. It was essentially elbow macaroni with meat sauce and shredded cheddar.

It took several months to find a new rhythm and sometimes we run into hiccups if our routine is thrown off, but removing the rigidity and rules (yet still keeping structure) has changed my kids for the better! They eat a variety of foods, including trying more new things; meal times are fun and relaxed; there’s no more begging for treats and snacks; they’re learning how to listen and respond to their own bodies. Now that they’ve reconnected to their intuition, food is fun, nourishing, and enjoyable as it was meant to be!