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How New Year’s Resolutions Can Hurt Your Recovery

How New Year’s Resolutions Can Hurt Your Recovery

Every January we are bombarded with the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, often having to do with diet and exercise. For a person recovering from an eating disorder, this can be really challenging.

4 Steps For Family Meals During Eating Disorder Recovery

4 Steps For Family Meals During Eating Disorder Recovery

Many people with eating disorders have spouses and children. So when they are trying to figure out what to eat themselves, they are often also having to figure out what to feed their family.   

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. 

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.

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.

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.