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.
Your breath is both a complicated and conveniently simple process that weaves together the communication between your body and mind. Linked to your nervous system, your breath has the capabilities of keeping you alive, soothing your body and mind and increasing energy. Your breath holds a wealth of resources for you. All you have to do is attend to it. Here’s some ways to access its usefulness.
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 have a dear friend out in California, her name is Ashly. We met while we were both working at an eating disorder recovery facility together. She's beautiful and successful and she'd shared bits and pieces of this story with me when we worked together. I was always so touched by the raw emotion attached to her story. I asked her if she'd be willing to write her recovery story for my blog and she so kindly agreed. I am in awe of the bravery, honesty and eloquence she put into writing this. Ashly, you truly are a recovery warrior, thank you for allowing me to share your story here:
It’s been almost 10 years to the day (March 7th, 2007) when I first sought help for my eating disorder. I had just turned 21. I had always looked forward to my 21st birthday (as most teenagers do), but it wasn’t exactly the greatest birthday ever. My family took me out to a nice Asian restaurant, decorated with orchids, candles and plush, red velvet booths. My dad ordered expensive champagne that I pretended to drink. I spent most of dinner in the bathroom so I wouldn’t have to look at or smell the food. I got dressed up that night for the first time in a while… black satin pants, white tank top, make-up and high heels. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror thinking how ridiculous I looked. What had happened to me? Why couldn’t I just be happy and normal? I went home that night and sobbed into my pillow. I had no friends, no job, no one I would let anywhere near me. I had dumped my boyfriend right before New Year’s, only because he was worried about me and wanted me to seek help. He had even given me a diamond ring months before – which I swiftly pulled off my left hand and flung it at him while he begged me to get better. I remember him telling me that he had no idea what had happened to me – but I was scaring him. I had joined him and his family on a ski trip weeks before, and looking back, I scare myself. I skied as long and hard as I could everyday, not because I loved it, but because I needed to burn the most calories possible. I wouldn’t go near his mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls, eating a diet bar instead. We’d go out to dinner to fabulous restaurants, and I’d always special order the same thing – and eat exactly half. We’d return to the cabin to watch a movie at night, and I’d sneak off to the bedroom where I’d hide in the closet to do as many crunches as I could stand. My boyfriend caught me one night, and the disappointed look on his face made me so angry. When did I turn into this cold, shell of a person? I loved him more than anything – yet he wasn’t enough for me to let go of my eating disorder.
When I think about how much wasted time I spent obsessing over food and weight, it makes me really sad to have lost those years. I’d spend hours (really, hours) in the grocery store studying every food label before a few chosen items made their way into my shopping cart. Everything had to meet a certain criteria: less than a certain number of calories, a certain ratio of fat and carbs, and no sugar. Protein was ok. For items that didn’t have a label, like produce, I’d Google the nutritional content on my phone. One day, I found this package of “seaweed pasta.” Growing up with an Italian mom and grandparents, pasta was a staple in our house – and I missed it terribly. The seaweed pasta had close to no nutritional value, so I gave it a try. I made a huge plate of it that night. It reminded me of something alien. It was slimy, a little crunchy, translucent and sticky. I topped it with this red Asian marinade since regular pasta sauce didn’t meet my standards, and it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten. I was able to have a few bites before the rest of it was flushed down the toilet. I actually felt a huge sense of accomplishment – I made something taste so badly that I couldn’t eat it. Gold star.
March 6th of 2007, I saw my boyfriend again for the first time since we had broken up. We went to a movie, and I couldn’t even tell you which one because I was too busy counting up all my calories for the day, figuring out what I could eat tomorrow, and how many hours of exercise I would need to burn off that handful of popcorn I just ate. After the movie we hugged goodbye, and I remembered how good it felt to be in his arms. I wiggled my way out of them because I wouldn’t allow myself to start crying. Once home, I ran a hot bath trying to get warm. I was constantly freezing. I put on every piece of warm pajama I owned and crawled into bed. My body hurt. My heart raced. My stomach felt like an endless empty pit. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my old life, old friends, old self. Where was this going? Was this my life now? I was just going to live day by day obsessing over calories, exercise and weight? I didn’t want to live that life. I was absolutely exhausted. I prayed to God that I would die in my sleep that night.
I felt something warm on my bare face and neck. I could hear birds singing. I slowly opened my eyes and saw the most beautiful shade of light filling my bedroom. My mind was quiet and it was peaceful as I lie in my soft bed. I sat up, feeling as though I had awoken from some sort of coma. I wasn’t thinking about food, my body, or anything else. I was simply enjoying the gorgeous Spring morning. I turned toward the side of the bed and swung my legs over. There was a mirror above my dresser directly across from me. I looked at myself and realized now is the time – I don’t want anorexia to be the rest of my life.
The following days, months, and years were filled with doctors appointments, therapy appointments, support groups and days when I didn’t believe I’d ever get better. It was really hard learning how to let go, and even harder actually doing it. Not even a year into my recovery, I met a boy at college and we started dating. He invited me to spend a week with him in Hawaii over the holidays. He was incredibly sweet, handsome, and shy around me. I had never been to Hawaii, and although I was terrified of losing control over my meals and exercise, I said yes anyway. I had only known him a month or so, but I nervously bought a plane ticket to meet him in Maui. He knew nothing about my struggle with ED. I packed all my “safe” food and had it in a bag under my airplane seat. As the plane started to descend, I could see the islands through the clouds and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was in complete awe. I grabbed my suitcase and walked off the plane excited to see my new crush, later realizing I left my bag of food under the seat. The relief I felt in that moment was overwhelming.
We spent the next week exploring Maui: snorkeling, hiking, surfing, swinging from jungle vines and finding hidden waterfalls. We ate fresh sushi, pineapple, bananas, and this incredible chocolate lava cake. Every. Single. Day. I wasn’t worried about my hair looking perfect or making sure my make-up stayed on. We lived that week in our bathing suits and tanned skin and I felt more beautiful than ever. He was sweet to me, and taught me that being your authentic self is the only path to true happiness. I let someone see me for who I really was, and I wasn’t rejected, abandoned or hurt. We shared the same bed the entire trip but always ended the night with just a kiss. I felt safe, protected, valued and respected. When it was time to head home, I had a true moment of sanity: After a week of having the most fun of my life, eating what my body wanted, and letting someone wonderful really see me, I was still O.K. I didn’t die, I wasn’t out of control, and I felt more like myself than I did in years. I truly believe that decision alone – a plane ticket to Maui – saved my life. Recovery was still hard and a process after this experience, but I learned - at my core - that I was worthy. Worthy of living a full life. In every sense of the word.
As I sit here proof reading this story, I can hear my toddler playing in the next room while my unborn baby moves in my tummy. I never thought I’d be here: a mom and a wife, with a career that I love. I feel incredibly lucky to be living without my eating disorder. Having the right support, sound guidance, and a professional who helped move me through the root causes of my eating disorder are what keeps me in recovery today. “We have the capacity to redraw the lines between our powerlessness and power. We’re altered by what hurts us, but with love and consciousness, with intention and forgiveness, we can become whole again.” – Cheryl Strayed
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!