Making Peace With Our Reflection in The Mirror

Making Peace With Our Reflection in The Mirror

Is that any way to live, in disgust at the sight of your body? This is a question I asked myself for so long and is now the question I ask my clients who struggle with body image.  

Why Not Exercising For 8 Years Was The Best Decision I Ever Made in Eating Disorder Recovery.

Why Not Exercising For 8 Years Was The Best Decision I Ever Made in Eating Disorder Recovery.

I knew that engaging in something like exercise that I could ONLY associate with becoming smaller was not going to allow me to thrive in recovery.

How Much Protein Do I REALLY Need?

How Much Protein Do I REALLY Need?

Our diet-obsessed culture has hijacked protein and put it on a pedestal as a nutrient that will promote weight loss and help us eat less of those “bad” carbs and fats. The result has been fad diets that are high in protein. 

This is How You Can Become the CEO of Your Body (and Life)

This is How You Can Become the CEO of Your Body (and Life)

Reframing is an important part of therapy and can help one to look past what the eating disorder has shaped in terms of nutrition, body image, and exercise.

No, Carbs Aren’t Bad for You And Here Are 5 Reasons Why

Angie Viets - Katie Harvey - Carbs Are Not Bad For You

No, Carbs Aren’t Bad for You And Here Are 5 Reasons Why

Katy Harvey, RD

Photo by Ben Neale

At least once a day I’ll hear someone say something like:

“Carbs make you fat.”
“I shouldn’t eat that because it’s too high in carbs.”
“Sugar is so bad for you.”

Carbs are the current dietary scapegoat in our culture.

Scientists used to tell people that dietary fat was bad, so we started cutting fat out of our food supply. Then we realized that was terrible advice, and that there were many unfortunate health consequences of telling people to avoid it.

So now we’ve jumped to carbs being the food group that is demonized. And we’re seeing the same thing—that telling people to avoid an entire food group is making things worse, not better.

What happens when you tell yourself you shouldn’t eat something? Your brain immediately perceives the threat of deprivation and makes you want it even more. Ever heard of the “Don’t think about purple elephants” thing? (Now try not to think about purple elephants. I bet you can’t do it!)

It’s common for clients to tell me that they try to avoid carbs, only to find themselves eventually overeating or bingeing on high-carbohydrate foods.

Turns out your body is trying to tell you something in its desperation for carbs.

Reality is, no single food or nutrient is “bad” for us. In fact, by definition, a nutrient is something your body has to have. Too little or too much of any given nutrient can lead to symptoms of deficiency or excess - but the problem is the “too little” or “too much” - not the nutrient itself.

Let’s stop hating on carbs and embrace them instead!

Here are my top 5 reasons to love carbs

1. Carbs are your body’s favorite source of energy

For most people, consuming about 45-65% of your daily calories from carbs is ideal. Your body prefers to use carbs for energy (via your blood sugar - a type of carb!). Your blood sugar is the circulating energy delivered to cells. In the absence of enough carbs, your body can use protein or fat for energy, but it prefers not to because it has other priorities for those nutrients.

2. Your brain can only use glucose for energy

Glucose (your blood sugar) is the only type of energy that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Therefore, your brain can’t use protein or fat for energy. The brain alone burns about 400-500 calories (of carbohydrate) per day - that’s amazing!

 
 

3. Carbs taste good

There’s a reason we crave carbs – they taste good! This is a primitive way that our body is telling us we need them. Part of healthful eating is enjoying food that tastes good.

4. Carbohydrate-based foods contain other essential nutrients

Avoiding carbs means missing out on the other nutrients in those foods. For example, bread and cereals are an excellent source carbs, along with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin) and folate - things we don’t get in many other foods. Carbs can also provide a lot of fiber and potassium (especially starchy veggies like potatoes, and fruit).

5. Avoiding carbs makes you crave them more

Back to the purple elephant thing. Telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have something only enhances the desire for it. It also perpetuates the shame when you do eat those foods, and the distrust of yourself to be able to handle them.

Bottom line:

Carbs = energy = fuel = good for you

How can that be “bad?”

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Good and Bad Don't Apply to Eating

Karen R. Koenig - Good and Bad Don't Apply to Eating

Good and Bad Don't Apply to Eating

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW

Sometimes we can’t help overhearing conversations, especially when someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone, as if they’re alone in the room. That happened to me recently, and I was dumbstruck over what I was hearing. A man was telling someone about an upcoming doctor’s appointment and this is what I heard: “My doctor is going to be really mad at me because I’ve been really bad. I’m eating all the wrong things when I promised him I’d be good. Man, have I been bad.”

If I hadn’t seen that this speaker was a middle-age guy, I would have sworn I was listening to a child between 6 and 12. That’s the age when we’re often preoccupied with wishing to be good and fearing being bad. That’s the age when we don’t have a huge vocabulary and use words like “good” and “bad” because we don’t have better, more appropriate words readily available in our vocabulary.

At the same time as I felt sorry for this man who truly sounded fearful of what his doctor might say to him about his “bad” eating, I had several other thoughts and feelings as well. Why is this man so worried about what his doctor will think of him rather than feel disappointed in himself that he wasn’t eating more healthfully? Would his doctor actually use the word “bad,” as if he was talking to a kid misbehaving? If this man promised his doctor that he’d be “good,” what was the purpose of such a promise? And what did the doctor say to his patient promising something?

Two intense feelings overshadowed all my others. I was angry that we’re still stuck in this good/bad food mentality which makes us feel and sound like children and gets us nowhere in feeding ourselves more nutritiously and intuitively. And, I was frightened that maybe doctors were fostering these beliefs and making a moral judgment on someone’s eating by implying goodness or badness. I couldn’t imagine doctors actually telling patients that they’re “good” or “bad,” but maybe I’m out of touch.  

I will keep repeating this message as long as I continue to hear these words applied to eating: Good and bad are moral terms. Eating a salad doesn’t make you good and eating cheesecake and Fritos doesn’t make you bad. How and what you feed yourself doesn’t make you more or less of a valuable person and says nothing about your integrity or ethics. Honesty, bravery, fair-mindedness, and loyalty are aspects of morality. Feeding yourself is a self-care and nutritional issue and, though you may treat yourself well or poorly, even that doesn’t make you a good or bad person.

So, could all of you who are reading this please take a pledge, on your own behalf and for the benefit of others, to avoid applying these words to your eating or fitness behaviors? And, if a health care provider uses them to describe you or your behavior based on your efforts in these arenas, please give them this blog to read and tell them about my new book, "Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers."

Karen R. Koenig, Angie Viets

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSWis an international, award-winning author of seven books on eating, weight and body image, a psychotherapist with 30 years of experience, a health educator, and a popular blogger. Her expertise is in eating psychology and helping over-eaters and binge-eaters improve their self-care and become “normal” eaters. She lives and practices in Sarasota, Florida.
Visit her website

Sleep: An Essential Yet Overlooked Component of Recovery?

If you’re not getting enough high-quality sleep then you are missing out on a huge component of recovery.

Our culture has a funny attitude towards sleep. We love it (because it feels good!) but we also act like it’s a weakness. People boast about how they only need 4 hours of sleep to function as if that’s a noble thing. You don’t hear anyone bragging about how they make sure to get a solid 9 hours of sleep every night. It’s seen as “indulgent” or “lazy.”  

Is it lazy to have lower levels of inflammation in your body?
Is it lazy to be more productive at work?
Is it lazy to retain information when you’re studying?
Is it lazy to lower your risk of cancer and Alzheimer's disease?
Is it lazy to let your body repair itself and increase your muscle strength?
Is it lazy to be more creative?

I don’t think so. Sleep does all of these things.  

The irony is that people who don’t sleep often make it sound like they’re using their “extra” waking hours doing “productive” things like working or exercising. What they aren’t acknowledging is that they’re shooting themselves in the foot because the things they are trying to accomplish are infinitely harder without proper sleep.

What does any of this have to do with eating disorder recovery?  

Everything.

The initial phase of recovery involves stabilizing the eating disorder behaviors and restoring physical health. Even if you can’t see or feel it, your body has internal repairs to do from being inadequately nourished. This is true whether you have anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or anything in between.  

The recipe for these repairs is nutrition + sleep. The repairs require the substrate of food and lots of sleep. In fact, when you're sleeping is when the actual action happens. There is a shift in your hormones when you are in deep sleep that promotes growth and repair.  

Our best shot at deep sleep happens between 10 pm and 2 am. That’s when humans naturally fall into the deepest sleep based on our circadian rhythm and the earth’s light and darkness patterns.  

Tips for getting great sleep

  • Have a bedtime routine - Create a routine that lets your brain and body know that you are winding down and getting ready to sleep.  
  • Go to bed at a consistent time each night - Your body needs to have a predictable bed time to make falling asleep easy. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even weekends.  Sleeping in will throw off your bedtime schedule the next night.
  • Have a fluid curfew - Cut yourself off liquids about 2 hours before bed time to give your bladder plenty of time to empty before bed. We don’t want you waking up because you have to pee.
  • While you’re at it, have a caffeine curfew too - Everyone’s body processes caffeine at different rates. Regardless, caffeine stays in our system for hours and even if you don’t feel the buzz, it can still be impacting your sleep. A good rule of thumb is to cut yourself off no later than 2 pm.  I personally have been shooting for noon as my cutoff time.
  • Avoid screens in the bedroom - The glow from your TV, cell phone, tablet or computer makes your brain think that it’s light outside. And light = awake. It interferes with your body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that is higher at night and helps us sleep. And don’t think that taking a melatonin supplement will counteract it because it doesn’t. Your body gets desensitized to the melatonin supplements after a while anyway. Try reading a fiction book before bed - something that gets you out of your own head and doesn’t have you thinking too hard.
  • Keep your room dark and cool - We sleep best when there is no light (not even a night light), and when our environment is cool. In fact, studies have shown that the optimal sleep temperature for humans is 62-68 degrees F. That’s pretty chilly to a lot of people - and if you are struggling with body temperature regulation due to the eating disorder, you may need it a little warmer than this.  

There are tons more things you can do to help yourself sleep better, but these tips are a great place to start. If you are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, talk to your treatment providers and they can help you figure out what’s going on. It’s common for people with eating disorders to also struggle with anxiety or insomnia, and there are lots of things that can be done to help with that. 

Give yourself the gift of great sleep. You’ll be shocked at how much better you feel. 

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall Mirror, Am I Hypocrite After All?

Angie viets - mirror mirror on the wall - eating disorder recovery

One of the biggest reasons I love my job is the amazing people I work with and the opportunity to build relationships with them. Their trust in me as their dietitian is that I not only talk the talk, but I also walk the walk. Many times in my career, statements that I have made to my clients have come back to gnaw in my ear like a pesky gnat. Humble pie can be a hard slice to swallow, but if I am going to be authentic to these incredible yet vulnerable people I MUST do the same as I tell them.

I have always prided myself on how resilient and tough I thought I was. However, if I speak honestly, these two traits are not what they used to be. As a collegiate athlete, I had the energy of a three-year-old on a Halloween candy high and a pain threshold so high that I was up hours after having an emergency c-section because I was determined to be with my baby as much as possible even if my legs were like wet noodles. Now I find myself scheduling power naps so I can function at the end of the day and the slightest possibility of a cold has me trading in my Chardonnay for Emergen-c cocktails because, well, who has time to be sick?

The biggest test of all is now my role as a mother. As independent as we believe these little humans to be, they are also absorbing everything we do so they can model it. As a mother of a young daughter, it breaks my heart to see and hear the societal messages she will grow up with.

Things to keep in mind as you go about your day, unaware that impressionable little ears may be listening:

  • When we get ready in the morning, are we mirroring a woman that is confident in herself – not based on how her outfit looks, but rather by how she is preparing to tackle that day?
  • When you step on the scale, are you giving the impression that the little “hunk” of metal is a grade of who you are?
  • When you are on your “diet,” are you giving the impression that you are not enough and you need to change?
  • When we tell our kids to go outside and run around to get their energy out, what do you think they associate with when you say, “I have to go run to burn off this ice cream?”
  • Do we walk proudly as we are responsible for bringing these amazing people into the world, or do we crawl into a shell so we may not see the amazing blessings that have come our way?

I often wonder if God has possibly put a time line on those youthful traits that I once admired so that I may slow down and enjoy the day with more diligence. Perhaps making myself more aware of pain so that I actually pay attention to what is hurting me? If I could mirror anything to my daughter, my friends, my clients and the world it would be that we need no explanations for who we. Just take me as I am and allow for grace, as I am guaranteed to make some mistakes!

Angie Viets - Rebecca McConville

Rebecca McConville, MS, RD, LD, CSSD is a Master’s Level Registered Dietitian & a Board Certified Sports Specialist. She specializes in the treatment of anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating & exercise addiction. She also treats the female athlete triad & athlete-associated disordered eating. Becca understands that the drive for peak performance may lead to disordered eating. Her goal is to help you fuel your body, so that you can fuel your life! Visit her website.

How Yoga Can Help You Return to Your Senses in Eating Disorder Recovery

 Photo Credit:  Marion Michele

Photo Credit: Marion Michele

I was 18, pulled from my sophomore year of college, and on my way to inpatient treatment for the first time. I sat in the backseat of the car, curled up in my mother’s arms, cold, weak, and desperately afraid.

I have one distinct memory from that ride to Philadelphia: driving past the old Nabisco factory, which, until it closed in 2015, had filled the entire neighborhood for decades with the smell of sugar cookies. As a child, that smell and the cookies the factory produced were mouthwatering. A source of pure joy. An innocent pleasure. That day the sweetness in the air was a cruel joke. I couldn't bear it. I rocked in panic, my throat closed, I moaned, cried, and buried my face as deep into my mother’s side as I possibly could.

That was the first time my sense of smell had been so intensely stimulated in a while, and it petrified me. Starvation had numbed me and compromised my senses. The fear of smells and tastes were paralyzing. My vision was blurry, and I could only hear my eating disorder voice. All other sounds were muffled in the background.

It’s only through looking back on that memory 20 years later, that I understand how anorexia literally desensitized me. As we all know, our eating disorders serve a precise function: to protect. Along the descent into eating disorder hell, protection turns into destruction, leaving us isolated in the torment.

We hollow out physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Sensation is unwelcome. Feeling is not the point.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas - Yoga Helps Return to Your Body

In my experience, the healing process from an eating disorder is a tumultuous effort of learning how to “sense” again—how to sense hunger cues, emotions, our bodies, our intuition, and how we feel in relationships. It’s also a return to our literal senses, sensations, and sensory experiences. In many ways, this aspect of healing—returning to our senses—is what resuscitates our souls by bringing color, textures, and richness back into our lives.

How do we go from numb to sensory human beings?

I find it to be an ongoing process that requires support, patience, and resilience. In my healing, yoga has helped me return to my senses in profound ways. For me, yoga is a safe place to learn how to feel and name sensations that happen in my body. In half pigeon pose I sense an intense stretch in my hip, in forward folds I feel discomfort in my hamstrings, and in triangle pose I notice the sensation of expansion. The more I have become comfortable identifying, naming, and sitting with physical sensations that arise in my body, the easier and more natural it becomes to name and feel emotions, even the painful ones.

The practice of naming physical sensations can be applied to other activities as well. My advice is to find an activity that you enjoy and take stock every so often of what you feel and where you feel it. Name the sensation. Become familiar with it. Observe it. This skill will become useful for naming emotions and experiencing them versus turning to symptoms to banish them.

I recognize that naming sensations in our bodies can aggravate or cause turmoil around body image. Even so, healing requires we name those feelings too. Part of regaining our senses is also knowing and defining our limits. Trust your instincts around when and how often to practice identifying sensations.

Like all aspects of healing, returning to our senses is also a process.

Yoga has also helped me develop my sense of sight. Before I used to stare down food like I would an enemy. Or I'd avert my eyes, turn away from what was fearful. In yoga, we often talk about keeping the eyes soft to embody a sense of ease and calm. I’ve noticed that when my eyes are soft (meaning I am not scrunching up my forehead to fiercely concentrate), my thoughts are kinder. I judge, berate, and demand less. I am more open to the sensory experience of the pose and less concerned about controlling the outcome.

Applying soft eyes in difficult life moments has often made the difference between making a positive choice versus an unhealthy one. Soft eyes have also helped me to stand in front of the mirror and see myself from all angles with compassion.

On a final note, as I recall the Nabisco factory and the difficulty it caused me that day, I can’t help but smile when I imagine how happy the smell would make my two little girls, how much it would light them up, and how they would beg me to stop for cookies. Children have the most beautiful relationship with their senses; automatic, curious, simple, and joyful. Little ones represent the model of what’s possible for all things good. They remind me how much more fun sensational is than numb.

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder Recovery. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as several influential online publications.  Connect with Jennifer.

Just Eat the Damn Cupcake

 Photo Credit:  Joseph Gonzalez

Photo Credit: Joseph Gonzalez

It seems we have entered an era where eating a cupcake is either as provocative as Christian Grey or as rebellious to culture norms as Lady Gaga. When did food become so powerful that it now is assigned a moral value: bad vs good, healthy vs unhealthy, clean vs unclean?

Some have described this constraint as willpower, however, willpower is defined as control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. Impulses are a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act; willpower can be disrupted by emotions and depleted over time. Does this sound like energy that should be devoted to making decisions such as whether to eat a cupcake?

I bet you're thinking, I can't get the damn cupcake out of my head now. The brain has taken over and the brain always wins! So, let’s go back to the whole Christian Grey fascination. This has been labeled the "Ironic process therapy" or, as I call it in my practice, "the bad boy effect," which is the psychological process where deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface. So whether you're trying to avoid thinking about a cupcake because you think it is "unhealthy" or staying away from Mr. Grey since your girlfriends tell you he is nothing but trouble, you now have ignited your brain to hyper focus on both.

This process is worsened by stress and can eventually lead one to have more immoral out-of-character thoughts. Insert a clip of Miranda on Sex & the City here – the episode where she tries to avoid eating cake she has in her apartment by pitching it into the trash, only to later be at her wit's end diving back into the trash inhaling cake in a binged manner.

Although avoiding relationships with characters such as Mr. Grey are likely in your best interests, why can't there be a healthy relationship with delights such as cupcakes? This has led me to ditch diet mentality that strives off imbalance and join the Intuitive Eating movement. Intuitive Eating believes in the power of neutralizing all foods' meaning – not assigning moral value to one food over another. Yes, this means cupcakes and quinoa should be considered equal. This does not mean they necessarily have the same nutritional value, but like many struggling with perfectionism, culture has now decided that diets are the new thing to perfect.

For those of you not familiar with Intuitive Eating, following are the key principles:

  • Reject the Diet Mentality
  • Honor your Hunger
  • Make Peace with Food
  • Challenge the Food Police
  • Respect your Fullness
  • Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  • Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
  • Respect your Body

These principles incorporate choosing foods – not only by taste – but also by prioritizing how it nourishes your body. I love a great cupcake (personal favorite is Gigi cookie dough), yet if I had it daily it would not provide the same satisfaction and likely not appease my hunger.

So, the next time you really want a cupcake, put the children to bed, take a deep breath, put Fifty Shades on the screen and ENJOY!

Angie Viets - Rebecca McConville

Rebecca McConville, MS, RD, LD, CSSD is a Master’s Level Registered Dietitian & a Board Certified Sports Specialist. She specializes in the treatment of anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating & exercise addiction. She also treats the female athlete triad & athlete-associated disordered eating. Becca understands that the drive for peak performance may lead to disordered eating. Her goal is to help you fuel your body, so that you can fuel your life! Visit her website.

What to Do When Your Eating Disorder Throws a Tantrum?

 Photo Credit:  J  ulian Santa Ana

Photo Credit: Julian Santa Ana

Does the eating disorder ever kick and scream inside your head, demanding that you obey and making you feel like crap if you don’t?  

It’s like living with a toddler in your head.

This rings even truer for me now that I have an actual toddler who is throwing tantrums.  During a recent tantrum, I was sitting there thinking about what to do and it went something like this:

-What is he upset about?
-Can something be done to help?
-Should I give him what he wants, or should I set a boundary and say no?
-This is really hard.  
-I notice that my body is really activated right now - my heart is beating faster, my stomach hurts, and I just want to spring into action.
-I am feeling angry, frustrated, helpless and sad.  
-This is totally like when the ED throws a tantrum!

The short vs. long-term dilemma

When the eating disorder throws a tantrum, you basically have 2 options: 

a) You could give in to the eating disorder's demands and quiet the voice now.  

b) You could say no to the eating disorder and suffer the wrath of those loud thoughts, and probably feel crummy about yourself for a while.  

The problem with choice “a” is that by giving in you have reinforced the behavior. It’s like buying the tantruming kid the toy he’s pleading for. The message conveyed is that throwing a tantrum gets him what he wants. Same thing with the eating disorder. By giving in you have reinforced that neural pathway, which becomes more and more automatic over time.  

The challenge with choice “b” is that it’s going to be difficult right now. And that’s really hard.  Just like when my son tantrums, it’s painful as a mother to watch your child cry and feel upset.  But I know that in the long-run he’s better off with the boundaries. It teaches him to work through the discomfort, rather than expecting to always get his way.  

An important point

What you are doing when you choose to tell the eating disorder no – in the face of a tantrum – is very important.  

You are showing yourself that you CAN work through the discomfort.  

You are also showing yourself that you CAN stay the course in recovery, even (especially) when the eating disorder doesn’t want you to.  

Ultimately this is what it takes to recover. Those boundaries are there to keep you safe. The eating disorder behaviors are self-destructive and at times dangerous. So even though the boundary doesn’t feel good in the moment, it is ultimately protective.  

How to take care of yourself while the eating disorder tantrums

It is important to give yourself lovingkindness while the eating disorder is throwing its tantrum.  

Start by noticing that the tantrum is happening and that you are actively making the choice to disobey the eating disorder.  

Give yourself compassion for how hard it is. You might tell yourself, This is really hard right now.  It sucks that I am going through this. I trust that it will eventually pass. In the meantime, I am going to be kind to myself, and firm against the eating disorder.

Be intentional about your next move. Make an empowered decision about what you are going to do in the face of the tantrum. For example, if the eating disorder is telling you to skip lunch, you could make a plan to eat lunch with a friend for accountability.  

Ride the wave. The tantrum will be like a wave that comes and goes. It might crest multiple times before it completely passes. You can’t prevent the waves from happening, but you can learn how to ride them. It may help to distract yourself with something kind or productive.  However, don’t forget to check back in with yourself later to make sure that the eating disorder isn’t being sneaky and working in other ways.  

You will find that with practice, your tantrum-resisting muscle will grow stronger. You will become more and more aware of when the tantrum is happening, and you’ll feel confident in your ability to respond in a way that is both firm and compassionate.  

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Learning to Trust Your Body Again

 Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Think about the eating-related thoughts that go through your mind on any given day:
“You shouldn’t eat that, it’s too high in sugar.”  
“You can’t be hungry already, it’s not time to eat for another 2 hours.”  
“That has waaaaay too many calories in it.  You don’t deserve to eat it.”  

Notice a common theme among them?  

It’s the overall distrust of your body and your appetite. The eating disorder makes you believe that your own body is working against you and that if you listened to its signals you’d be fat, unhealthy, and completely unworthy of love. Ouch, pretty harsh, huh?

As Geneen Roth, author of multiple books on compulsive overeating, dieting and body image, has said: 

"Your body is the vehicle for your spirit and your soul. It is the piece of the universe you've been given to tend, to care, to cherish. Without it, you couldn't sense or taste or touch or feel."

Why do so many of us distrust our appetites? We’ve been taught to believe that if we ate what we wanted we’d eat ourselves into oblivion. We’ve been taught to fear food and to fear our appetite. The “war on obesity” has become a war on our bodies. Fear of becoming fat has made us afraid of food and afraid of our desire for food.

Sarah’s story (name and details changed for privacy)

Sarah is a client who I first encountered well into her recovery. She was no longer starving herself or abusing her body with purging or excessive exercise. Yet she was still plagued by food and her body. “I never feel full when I try to eat normally. It’s as if I could just keep eating and eating,” she told me. “The only time I feel full is when I’ve binged and am stuffed, and then I feel so ashamed and guilty and disgusting that I want to purge. Those urges still come up sometimes.”  

Sarah was still disconnected from her body. Sure, she was eating at regular intervals throughout the day, but it still had very little to do with her actual appetite cues. It was more of a prescribed regimen for eating. Thus, she ate pretty much the same thing every day because she knew how it would make her feel, and she trusted that it was the “right” amount for her body to maintain its current weight. Any deviation from this made her anxious and uncomfortable, which made holidays and social gatherings hard. It was also hard when she had a food craving for something out of the norm.  

The rupture of trust

How does this distrust of the body happen? Usually, it starts in childhood or adolescence. We are born with a natural trust of our appetite - babies cry when they are hungry, and stop when they’ve had enough milk. Toddlers and small children tend to do the same with food.  

We can learn a lot from children when it comes to eating. They will eat when they are hungry, and will stop when they aren’t. The amount they eat will vary from day to day - some days they eat a ton, and other days hardly at all. That’s because they are tuned into their bodies and trust their body’s signals.  

At some point, however, well-meaning adults interfere. They start trying to control and dictate the child’s eating by saying things like, “Eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert,” or, “You don’t need all that sugar, it’s bad for you.”  

Yes, the adult is trying to help the child eat a balanced diet and to be healthy, but it’s backfiring. Because the underlying, unspoken message is that the child shouldn’t trust what their body has said. The appetite cues should be ignored and suppressed. Wanting something sweet is seen as bad, and the dessert must be “earned” through the holy grail of vegetables.  

Then look at the broader culture we live in, with terms like portion control, detox, gluten-free, dairy-free, fat-free, sugar-free…we’re afraid of food and afraid of our appetites for it.  

Fear-based eating is taking the joy out of food. We need to stop being so afraid of things like sugar, fat and salt. Reality is, they make food taste good. AND foods with sugar, fat and salt do still make a nutritional contribution to our diet. By definition, nutrients are something that the body must have, and sugar is just a carbohydrate, which is a macronutrient along with fat, and salt is an essential micronutrient. That’s how your body sees it when the food is digested and absorbed into your blood stream.  

Rebuilding trust with our body

It’s time to love food again, and to enjoy foods that taste good. Eating is a sensory experience, from the sight to the smell to the texture to the taste of the food. We experience eating with our whole body. And the food is literally the fuel that keeps us alive. Not something to be afraid of - something to be cherished!

The wise Ellyn Satter, a fellow dietitian and eating expert, has said: 

"Go to the table hungry, pay attention while eating, and stop when you are satisfied, knowing that you can come back and eat again when you are hungry later. Eating is meant to be enjoyable."

It takes time to repair and rebuild trust with ourselves. The eating disorder is invested in you distrusting your body and will continue to try and convince you of the ways in which you can’t trust yourself.  

As your True Self gets stronger and you gather more and more attuned eating experiences, you’ll start to see “proof” that your appetite can be trusted. As for Sarah, the client I mentioned earlier, she was able to do this. It took time, patience and persistence. Every eating experience was an opportunity to take a leap of faith that her body knew what it was doing and would guide her appropriately. Sure, sometimes she made mistakes, and sometimes she questioned if she really could trust her body, but over time she was able to see that her appetite was truly calibrated to her body’s needs.  

Some tips for rebuilding trust:

  • Have regular, consistent eating times throughout the day. Your body needs to know and trust that it will get fed again in a few hours. 
  • Keep snacks on hand in case you get hungry sooner than anticipated. Your body also needs to trust that you will feed it during those unexpected times that it gets hungry.
  • Include a wide variety of foods. Keeping food interesting and varied will help your body get all of its nutritional needs met, and it will help you feel satisfied by the variety of flavors and textures of the food.
  • Eat without distractions. Pay attention to your food, like a toddler intently eating and savoring the food off her plate. Paying attention to your food will also foster paying attention to your appetite, and you’ll more readily notice when you are feeling satisfied. 
  • Treat your body with compassion. You will make mistakes with eating. It’s a fact of life. Even normal eaters do it. You’ll sometimes under eat, and sometimes overeat. Notice this sensation without judgment, and give yourself compassion for the discomfort you are experiencing. Let your body guide you on what and when to eat again. 

Process, not perfection

There’s no such thing as perfect eating, so don’t even bother trying. Disappointing for you perfectionists out there, I know! But also potentially freeing? It allows you to experiment with your eating without judgment or fear of failure. Most importantly, it allows you to experience the joy of eating again while trusting that your body will guide you.

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.

Seriously, Let's End The War With Our Bodies

 Photo Credit:  Catherine McMahon

Photo Credit: Catherine McMahon

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Studies have shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their weight and 42% are actively trying to lose weight by dieting and/or exercising.¹'³ These strategies rarely produce lasting weight loss. In fact, the vast majority of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it - often plus some. This type of yo-yo dieting can be harmful to one’s health.⁴

So why do Americans keep putting themselves through the deprivation associated with dieting if it doesn’t work and is potentially harmful?  Perhaps a shift in mindset could break this cycle of “insanity.”

The Health At Every Size (HAES) approach argues that health is related to a person’s behaviors, not their weight.¹'² For example, a person can be “normal” weight and have high blood pressure, and a person can be “over” weight and have normal blood pressure. Interestingly, individuals classified as “overweight” based on their BMI live the longest, while those who are classified as “obese” have the same lifespan as “normal” weight individuals. Dieting has been associated with worsened physical and psychological outcomes, while HAES has been shown to improve them.  

Dieting Approach¹'²

  • Increased appetite
  • Frequent obsessive thoughts about food
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Emotional overeating
  • Weight loss followed by weight regain
  • Reduced self-esteem

HAES Approach¹'²

  • Intuitive eating
  • Improved psychological functioning
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Reduced overeating
  • Maintenance of set-point weight
  • Body acceptance and improved self-esteem

By focusing on health rather than weight, a person is able to break out of the cycle of dieting and care for their body in a loving and compassionate way. Dieting and trying to force the body to lose weight or look a certain way is the opposite of this. It is a way of fighting against the body. When a person cares for their body they treat it with kindness and respect — THIS is what HAES is all about.  

It’s ok if you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around this. After all, it goes against everything our society teaches us. It may even go against what your doctor tells you. The truth is, you CAN be healthy without focusing on your weight. When you are taking care of your body and engaging in healthful behaviors, your weight will land where it is genetically meant to, without you needing to control it. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and this genetic diversity in humans is not only biologically advantageous, but it is beautiful. It makes each of us unique in our own skin.  

Are you ready to end the war against your body? Are you ready for a mindset shift? If so, learn more about the HAES approach by visiting Linda Bacon's website and check out her resources.

References:

1. Provencher et al. Health-At-Every-Size and Eating Behaviors: 1-Year Follow-Up of a Size Acceptance Intervention.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009;109:1854-61.

2. Bacon L, Aphramor L.  Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.  Nutrition Journal. 2011;10:9.

3. NEDA Information and Referral Helpline. Statistics: Eating Disorders and their Precursors. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org. Accessed May 10, 2012.

4. Montani J-P, et al.  Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’ theory. International Journal of Obesity. 2006;30:S58-S66.

Katy Harvey, RD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) from Kansas City.  She has an outpatient private practice where she helps individuals heal their relationship with food, exercise and their body. She also blogs at Katy’s Blog.