You may be living with or in recovery from an eating disorder or maybe you just know what its like to experience body shame with the diet culture we live in. Spring and Summer can be a trigger to restrictive urges, body comparisons and self-judgement. Learn 3 tools to strengthen your body image this Summer.
At times, all of us have eaten a bit, or a lot more than is comfortable in our bodies. Holidays, celebrations or sometimes mindless eating in front of the TV can leave us feeling overly full. For some, this way of eating is more common and happens more frequently than we’d like. The new DSM-V, the Psychiatric Association’s manual on diagnosis, has created a diagnosis under the eating disorder umbrella called Binge Eating Disorder or BED. Whether you meet the criteria for this disorder, for bulimia, anorexia, or you just find yourself overly stuffed at times, these tools can be helpful:
1. Notice what types of foods you’re binging on and write them down.
It helps to look at your behavioral patterns. Some people find themselves eating excessive sweets, some are more geared towards fats or starches. Some people with emotional eating tendencies excessively eat any kind of meal including vegetables. See if you can find a pattern in your binge choices.
2. Notice what you DON’T binge on.
Are there any types of foods that you’d never consider in a binge or never feel the need to over-eat? In a recent session, a client was relaying the guilt and shame he felt after a binge. He reported that he doesn’t usually allow pastries in the house, but was feeling strong recently and thought it’d be okay. He found himself finishing off the pastries he had in one sitting. Upon further investigation into what foods he was allowing himself to eat regularly, the client determined that he felt very satisfied when he ate waffles and allowed himself to eat waffles multiple times per week. I asked him if he ever binges on waffles. He was shocked when he thought about it and said that – no – he never binges on waffles. Ok, great, so there’s no waffle binging going on, but how does that help? Follow me here.
3. Take a look at what you ‘allow’ yourself to eat regularly.
What foods do you consider safe? In an attempt to be healthy, lose weight, or just get control over your food choices, you may be very rigid or restrictive about what you allow yourself to eat on a regular basis. Perhaps your choices look benign enough like chicken and veggies multiple times per week. Write down what you’ve eaten over the past 3 days to 1 week or track your food for a week. What do you notice?
4. What is missing from your regular eating habits?
Take those same meal journals and notice what you don’t have there. If we consider all the food groups: protein, fat, starch, veggies, fruits and dairy – are there any food groups missing? Are there lots of repeated meals without much variety?
Now I know this might seem completely insane and a bit scary, but HERE’S THE KEY to quit binging. Ready?
5. Allow yourself to eat the foods you binge on.
Try adding a portion or 2 of the foods you don’t allow yourself to eat and some of the most common foods you binge on to your regular meal schedule. I know this might seem counter-intuitive. Our society tells us to resist, have discipline, diet harder, avoid sugars and carbs and fats and this may be the only voice you’ve ever heard that encourages these things, but just give it a try for a month or even a week and see what happens. If you are on the anti-carb kick, but then you find yourself binging on carbs, try adding a normal amount of carbs to each meal and see what your body craves after a while.
Here’s the rub – We are creatures of desire.
Food is part of life! It’s nourishing and delicious and sensual. When we restrict ourselves from eating foods we love, we may lose weight in the short run, but this does not happen without consequence. Our animalistic nature, our Id, it craves pleasure and passion and vigor. If we force ourselves to live inside a rigid box of rules around food and body, we will always desire to break free and stepping outside of that box causes immense shame and fear. I am not telling you to overeat or teaching you how to binge differently, but what I am suggesting is that you try to take the power out of the foods that haunt you.
If you regularly binge on entire cartons of ice cream, see what happens when you have a cup every night for a week. What emotions come up when you eat it? Can you journal about them and bring them into your therapist? What do you find yourself craving after that week of glorious freedom with ice cream?
If you live near The Main Line of Philadelphia or West Chester and want to learn more about binging and how to quit, or you’re not sure where to find support for your feelings around food, you’re not alone. Please feel free to contact me at 610.314.8402 – I’d be happy to help you find support.
I know, I know, it sounds TERRIFYING! Yes, I'm serious - you will not die from eating food in a restaurant ... I PROMISE! It might FEEL like you'll die, it might seem like you'll gain a hundred pounds just from eating the food that is cooked for you back in that kitchen you can't see.
As my friend and colleague, Natalie says, "there aren't calorie ninja's back in the kitchen adding calories to your food"! I understand the fear - I get that allowing somebody else to prepare your food is giving up control in a way that might not feel safe for you just yet. Here's the rub, though - even though it might be hard to admit, I KNOW you want to be able to participate in experiences that involve food. You WANT to be social. You want to hang with your friends while they get frozen yogurt or try the food at the new cafe. You want to live your life again... it's just that ED forbids it. Here are some helpful tips for you to get more comfortable with dining out:
When you find yourself feeling fear about eating in a restaurant, it's sort of like a phobia - a very heightened anxiety around something specific. The way to deal with and cure this type of phobia is through exposure - WITHOUT - re-traumatizing yourself. So you don't want to push yourself to take it all on without practicing and getting comfortable with various aspects of it first.
You might want to enlist the help of your therapist, friend or family member. Tell them some food options that you consider safe. Start small.
It's better to have success with something less challenging than to get overwhelmed with something scarier.
Your support team member could either get you food from a restaurant or give you food that they made without you present. Or if you need to start even smaller, you could watch them make your meal so you know it's safe. Eat with them. Notice your feelings. Use anxiety reduction and grounding techniques. Keep breathing and do your best. Keep practicing this step until your anxiety stays below a 7 on a 0-10 scale with 10 being the worst anxiety you've felt and 0 being no anxiety at all.
Increase the challenge slowly
Once you get comfortable with eating meals made by others, up the ante. If you're still not ready for restaurant dining, try getting take-out or try eating foods you didn't see being prepared. Use an affirmation like "This food is safe and nourishing; I am safe and I can eat this food". Make sure you start off each experience with some breathing and relaxing techniques so that you don't associate fear with the experience.
If noise bothers you, choose a restaurant that's quieter or a time of day that's less intense like lunch. See if you can get a table that's against a wall, in a corner or in a quieter area of the restaurant. This reduces over-stimulation and feelings of vulnerability.
Have a plan
In earlier recovery, it's helpful to have a plan. If you know which restaurant you'll be going to, look up their menu online. Work with your therapist or dietician to determine which menu item you'll be selecting. Most restaurants have portions that are significantly larger than the exchanges on your meal plan. If this is the case, you could anticipate eating half the meal. One tip is to ask for a to-go box at the beginning of the meal so that you can put half away for later and just focus on what's on your plate.
Go with someone supportive
This experience is hard enough, don't add to it by going with someone who doesn't "get it" or tries to sabotage your recovery. Some therapists or dietitians will conduct sessions at the restaurant with you so that you can talk through it as it's happening. If that's not an option, or you're ready for the next step, choose a member of your support group who understands your recovery. Let them know the plan beforehand and maybe come up with a code word in case you need to abandon the mission.
Remember to breathe
Keep taking those deep belly breaths and know that this is just one meal. One meal won't make you fat. If you notice yourself starting to get overwhelmed or anxious, just come back to your breath. While you're eating, try to focus the conversation on something else like the weather, the new movie just out or anything fun. Take a sip of water, feel your feet. You got this!!
Do's and Don'ts:
- Keep the conversation light
- Have some topics in mind to talk about while you're eating
- Get the food down
- Chew thoroughly
- Focus on the conversation, the beautiful setting or anything but the food and body
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Stay at the table for the entirety of the meal
- Set your pace to about 30 minutes to complete your meal
- Count the calories
- Compare your dish to anyone else's
- Body check while you're at the table
- Talk about food, weight, exercise or anything triggering while you're at the table
Keep your eye on the prize!
This experience is not just about today or next week. You are engaging in this exercise so that you can enjoy your life - so that you can HAVE a life! Spending all your time in isolation, feeling lonely, not participating in social events is no way to live. Remember that you are doing this so that you can be happy and free of your eating disorder.
One day at a time
One meal at a time
One bite at a time
You CAN recover!! Recovery from an eating disorder is not a linear process. It goes all over the place, it's messy at times and sometimes you need to take 5 steps backward so that you can get good 2 steps forwards. Even one success is worth celebrating, so give yourself credit for EVERYTHING you do right.
If you're still feeling anxious about dining out and you'd like some support, I'd be happy to schedule a time to help you reach your goals. Contact me now at 610.314.8402 to learn more about how to dine out with an eating disorder. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who is looking for help with eating and body issues.
Good luck and enjoy!!
If you have any questions or need support, please feel free to call me at 610.314.8402 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.
Please comment below and tell us your story!
Holidays may be happy and exciting for some of us and for some, they are also very stressful. Food is definitely a big deal during the holiday season for most people. Gym memberships go up afterward, people are often found dieting or “cheating” on their diets. Some binge, some restrict, some over-eat and some fall apart. I’d like to help you find a bit of peace from my corner of the world during this time when Christmas is fast approaching. If you haven’t already read them, check out some free tips on normal eating, getting grounded, reducing anxiety, navigating the grocery store… They should prove useful for you as well.
Here are some tips specific to Christmas:
1. Create an intention for this holiday
Remember that Christmas can be about celebrating spirituality. It can be about enjoying family or giving. It can be about service, love, bundling up on a cold day or anything you want it to be!
What would you LIKE your intention to be for Christmas this year?
Find a purpose and go for it. If your purpose is about service, think about how you’d like to be of service. It could be as simple as helping to set up or clean up the party. You could help the less fortunate through a soup kitchen or donating gifts to children who need them. If you’d like your purpose to be about reading a great book and drinking tea, then go for it! Any intention you’d like for Christmas is yours to have!
2. Get Grounded:
BEFORE you leave your house. Think about what grounds you? Do something that feels very grounding for you and set an intention to keep checking in with yourself during the day. One of my favorite ways to get grounded is to ask myself
“Where are your feet?”
– then look down at them; wiggle my toes, feel my feet on the floor or in my shoes. When I do that, I can rest assured that right here, in this moment, I am safe. In this moment, where my feet are, I am okay. Here are some other examples of grounding activities:
- Prayer and meditation
- Aromatherapy: earthy smells like cedar, bergamot, and pine can be particularly grounding
- Coloring mandala’s or other coloring
- Going for a walk
- Make a list: of anxieties, gratitude’s or plans, etc.
- Have a bit of a plan for the day – perhaps write it down in the morning.
3. Create Foods You Love
Try a new recipe you've been thinking about. Bring safe foods for you to the event you go to so that you have at least one option while you're there.
4. Don't Push Yourself
This is not the time for major challenge meals. While I encourage you to taste some of every food you're interested in, if you know that a certain food will completely set you off, just avoid it for now. Challenge meals are best done with the support of a therapist or a support community. You can practice eating challenge meals until they're no longer as challenging. Once you've accomplished taking the power out of the challenging foods, THEN you can incorporate them into your holiday festivities. In this instance, it might be better to be safe than sorry - don't push yourself so hard that you find yourself wanting to act out in a binge-purge cycle. Support yourself in enjoying Christmas as much as possible rather than pushing yourself into discomfort.
5. Contain the food
Do your best to eat meals at the normal times you usually eat them. So instead of skipping breakfast and going to Christmas hungry, eat your normal breakfast.
When you get to your event, check into your hunger cues.
On a scale of 0-10, with zero being extremely starving, 5 is having a light sense of satisfaction – being neither hungry nor full and ten being the most stuffed you’ve ever experienced. How hungry are you? Aim for letting yourself empty out to a 2-3 before eating a meal. See if you can stop eating at a 5-7.
Once you are hungry, rather than grazing on all the different foods, make a plate.
Allow yourself to put at least a little bit of each food you love on the plate or foods you’d like to try.
Skip the foods that don’t interest you much. Sit down and really savor the foods you chose. Check in with your hunger and satiety signals a few times while you eat your plate. Once you are satisfied, tell yourself that you can have more when you are hungry again and follow through. Making a practice of using hunger and satiety cues is extremely helpful in finding balance with food.
6. Keep Your Boundaries
People tend to project their OWN food and body issues onto others’. So if you notice yourself engaged in a conversation with someone who’s trying to talk you in or out of eating or commenting on your body, take a step back.
Check in with yourself and see what YOU NEED, rather than what this person is trying to get you to do.
Saying you need to use the bathroom is always an easy out to give yourself some time and space to check back in with yourself and get grounded. Take some deep breaths, splash some water on your face and ask yourself what you need in that moment to take care of yourself before you leave the bathroom. Here are some examples of things you can say to people who are pushing you:
- “No, thank you”
- “I’m okay right now”
- “Yes, I’m going to enjoy this food right now”
- “I’m not hungry”
- “I’ll let you know when I’m ready for ...”
- “I’d rather not discuss my body with you”
Practice saying these boundaries out loud BEFORE the holiday, so that when you’re in the moment, they flow easily and effortlessly.
7. Ask for Help
Enlist a member of your support group to be ‘Holiday Buddies’ to practice what I call ‘Book Ending’: Have a few agreed upon times you with check-in with one another throughout the day – perhaps before, during and after. You could plan to call or text one another to report how things are going. If you don’t hear from your buddy, shoot them a text to see what’s going on. In this way, you have another person who has your best interest in mind to be accountable to. This practice is also helpful in getting your mind off yourself and your own difficulties.
Remember that Christmas is only one day out of the year. Breathe into the gifts you receive whether they are material or spiritual, gratitude or emotions - breathe into this experience of life and know that you can get through this. You don't need to be perfect and neither does your holiday. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, focus on your breath. Remember you can start your day over at any time.
I hope you've found these Christmas tips helpful. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, please feel free to give me a call at 610.314.8402 - I'd be happy to help.
Merry Christmas from Tiffany Spilove Psychotherapy in West Chester, Pa!
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