eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · habits · Happy New Year! · holidays · new year's resolutions · overeating

Still Recovering From Holiday Overeating? Here’s what I’m doing next.

CW: Discusses disordered eating habits and negative self-talk.

Continuing with my normal life.

No, seriously. The moment the celebrations are over and I feel like, “hmm, maybe it’s time to eat fewer cookies, get a little more sleep and find that gym membership card again,” then I’ll just take one thing and do what is normal for me. I’m not going to ramp up, push hard, or go strong. It is not time to atone, make up for, or negate.

I’m just going to let myself fall back naturally into my old routines. It might take a few days, or a week, or whatever, but I’ll find them again. The key is to not spend my time wallowing in guilt or blaming myself in anger. The more emotion I put behind the transition, the harder it is.

I know because I’ve been there before, and not just at the holidays. You see, for nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve dealt with compulsive overeating. I stole food and hid it in my room as a little girl. As a teen, I would spend my allowance on donuts and pastries that I would eat while walking home from school. I managed my emotions, my sense of loneliness and isolation, depression, traumatic experiences and their aftermaths with food.

I have spent the better part of the last decade extricating myself from these patterns, and while I can’t say I will never overeat unintentionally again, I can say it occurs less and less frequently.

One of the most powerful tools that helped me was to learn to remove emotions from my observations of these patterns and to switch my internal talk to neutral observations. “Why was I so stupid and ate all that cake again?!” has become “I have eaten more cake than I planned on eating.”

I don’t immediately go into damage control mode. I don’t promise to eat only a salad for dinner that night or swear off cake for the rest of the week. I don’t immediately go out for a run or plan a brutal lifting session. I try to just notice it and move on.

I think the noticing is important, although I haven’t read this anywhere else. My friends who are chronic dieters often seem to do a “I’m eating whatever I want, I don’t care” move and then use that as a way to “ignore” what they are overeating. From what I’ve observed on the outside, this seems to backfire as shame and guilt in the long run. It looks like the act of pretending one doesn’t care builds up increased levels of emotional connection to choices rather than diminishing them.

So, the first step isn’t to pretend I am neutral, but to acknowledge the feelings and the choices and consciously rewrite the observation into a neutral statement. “I care about how much I’m eating and I’m going to eat this cookie anyway” is a much more powerful sentiment than trying to convince myself that I don’t care when I actually do.

Then, when I’m ready to make a different choice–the party is over, I’m not out to brunch with friends, I’m back from vacation, and it’s just another meal–I do whatever I would normally do. The only exception is if I really, truly, just don’t feel like it. If my “usual” is dessert after lunch and dinner, but today I’d rather start with a piece of fruit at lunch, then I eat it. But I have to be honest with myself–it doesn’t work to try to convince myself that I should only want a piece of fruit. And this goes for the other direction as well–if my “usual” is a piece of fruit and I really want dessert, I have to be honest with myself about that, too. Again, the act of trying to convince myself creates too high of stakes and too much emotion. So, I have a serving of what I really want while practicing being neutral, and then I get back to my normal routine.

This works with other habits and routines I’m trying to get back to, too. Stopped going to the gym? Letting myself stay up too late? Need to call my parents more often? I observe it. And then allow myself to do one thing that I used to do that helped me maintain that behavior in the past. I only commit to trying ONE thing. It may be as small as putting it on my calendar or packing my gym bag. I break the inertia, do that one thing and observe it without judgement. And then try again.

And before too long, it will be just another day.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found practicing neutral observations, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

body image · diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · food · sports nutrition

Intuitive eating — beyond sports nutrition

Image description: a single fresh strawberry with leaf still attached to the top.

As long time readers may know, I am a big fan when it comes to intuitive eating. I’ve written about it lots, including this post “Intuitive Eating: What It Is and Why I Love It.” So I was excited to see an article in Outside online singing its praises as the “ultimate anti-diet.”

Not everyone around here is sold on intuitive eating. Sam has written about her four worries about intuitive eating. I agree that it’s not a cure all that works for everyone. And as Sam says, it depends what you mean by “works.” She puts it like this: “I don’t mean weight, that’s for sure. I mean if you eat this way are you, on reflection, happy with the food choices you’re making? Are you leading a life you enjoy? Are you meeting your own food goals around nutrition? Do you have energy to do the things you love? “

For me, it goes back to the anti-diet idea outlined in the Outside article. Dieting breeds obsession. As someone with a history of chronic dieting and disordered eating, intuitive eating has freed me from that. It took awhile (see my post, “It only took 27 years but now I’m a bona fide intuitive eater”), but as an intuitive eater I am way more well-adjusted about food than I ever was before. Intuitive eating is more a response to chronic dieting. Granted, it may not work for everyone, but it does work for some.

In my reply (in the comments) to Sam’s worries, I said the following:

…many people who are drawn to this approach are dealing with a more psychologically deep set of attitudes and behaviours around food that, if they can get to intuitive eating, they can be free of. It works for me because for the first time in my life I do not obsess about food every waking moment. I don’t panic when I am at an event with a buffet table. I don’t hate myself when I take a brownie. I don’t gorge myself beyond full because I can’t figure out when I’ve eaten enough. And I don’t go to bed every night full of regret over what I ate that day (and it’s not because I’m always making “healthy” choices) and wake up in the morning planning my meals and snacks to the last unrealistic detail. I can also go hungry without panicking and recognize that’s okay. And that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no food around, but there may be no food that will do and I would rather wait. It’s okay to subject any approach that doesn’t work for you to criticism. That is what we as philosophers do. But for myself, who has a history of extremely messed up thinking about food and of disordered eating, it’s been an absolute life saver that’s taken me 27 years to reach. I don’t have perfect hunger signals, but being in touch with my hunger feels more like a hard won battle than a privilege at this point.

That’s why it’s inaccurate to say it’s only about listening to your body. As Christine Byrne, author of the article in Outside notes, there are lots of dimensions to intuitive eating besides “listen to your body.” On its own, for all sorts of reasons, “listen to your body” isn’t helpful advice. Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of the 1995 book Intuitive Eating, identified a number of other features of intuitive eating, including the idea of challenging the food police (whether they’re other people or live in your head) and no longer moralizing food (it’s not good or evil).

Byrne also talks about the importance of a nuanced approach. A dietician interviewed for the article, Heather Caplan, comments: “For the purpose of sports nutrition, I’ll often have someone eat when they’re not hungry, before or after a hard workout,” Caplan says. “Not everyone feels like eating at 6 A.M., I identify with that. But I also identify with not eating and being hungry 15 minutes into a run.” Instead of honoring hunger, think of it as figuring out how food makes your body feel in different situations and honoring those feelings. If eating when you’re not hungry helps fuel a better workout or minimize post-workout soreness, it’s a good choice.”

A good choice serves your workouts and helps you with recovery. It’s not only about hunger signals.

I like how Byrne puts it: “Ultimately, intuitive eating is a way to make sure your needs are being met. What separates intuitive eating from traditional diets is that it’s 100 percent flexible—it can (and will) look different for everyone.”

That’s what makes it the opposite of dieting. Dieting is not about meeting our needs. Dieting isn’t flexible. The hallmark of a fad diet is that it looks the same for everyone.

If you’ve been avoiding intuitive eating because you worry that it seems not to fit with the nutritional needs of your sports activities, then thinking of it as a way to make sure your needs are being met might offer a new angle on it. My guess is that if you do not struggle or have not struggled with dieting, where food is an all-consuming mental obsession, then you really have no reason to feel drawn to this approach. But if chronic dieting of that kind is a thing in your history, then intuitive eating in all of its dimensions is an attractive alternative that can help bring some peace to your vexed relationship with food and your body. At least that is how it worked for me.

Does intuitive eating have any appeal for you?

diets · eating · eating disorders · weight loss · weight stigma

Losing My (Diet) Religion (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

(This post discusses disordered eating. Please be aware it may be triggering for some.)

 Eating issues began when I was ten. There were two contributing factors. The first was that I was pre-puberty, a time when many children put on additional weight. The second was related to my mother’s health. She died at fifty-eight of early onset Alzheimer’s. It was when I was about ten that her behaviour began to change. Looking back on it now, I realize that this was also the time I began to binge-eat. I clearly remember ketchup and mustard sandwiches on white bread. Yuck!

My parents were older and came from a generation that had survived the depression of the thirties and the Second World War. Not wasting and will power were considered virtues; a lack of frugality or will power was a moral failing. Fat people were considered to be lazy, gluttons with no will power. My dad loved me and wanted the best for me. We were close until he died at ninety-four. He was a great role model and still is. Having said that, family and friends believed that teasing was a good way to correct behaviour. How well I remember, “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach,” when I didn’t finish the food on my plate. Unfortunately, that hurt my feelings; hurting my feelings makes me mad. Thinking, “I’ll show you,” I would eat everything up even if they said I didn’t have to. And the boys that called me names, I ran them to ground and sat on them until they apologized.

For a girl, being fat could be limiting. It didn’t matter how smart you were, how funny or caring you were, you weren’t going to get a good job or a husband who would take care of you if you were fat. So, at about twelve I got on the diet roller coaster. I stayed on it for well over fifty years. It eroded my confidence and sense of self-worth. I was never good enough, strong enough; I was not perfect and it was all my fault. When I was thin, I worried about getting fat; when I was fat, I was anxious and depressed because clearly I was lacking in will power. Eating compulsively was my punishment. It made things worse and I knew it.

I never had trouble losing weight, just keeping it off. I used food in times of stress, knowing that I could lose it when the latest crisis passed. I didn’t know that genetics determines most of your weight range, that only about two percent of people who lose weight are able to keep it off permanently, and that when you begin to gain weight again your body adds a bit more because dieting puts your body into starvation mode. In January 2015 I decided it was time to lose weight again. I struggled and struggled. I couldn’t; I just couldn’t. I was overwhelmed with defeat and shame. I sat down on the bench in the gym, put my face in my hands and cried.

My trainer asked me what I intended to “do” about my situation. I mumbled that I guessed I’d get a therapist to recommend something.  She said not to worry and the next morning my inbox had an email with the contact information for the CMHA Eating Disorders program. I called.

When I met with the nurse, she asked me if I could accept myself as I was if my body stayed the same. My response was, “Absolutely not!” Getting rid of the diet mentality wasn’t easy.

As the introductory workshop wore on, I realized that I had in the recesses of my mind the idea that I was still looking for weight loss. That was not going to work. So, I made the decision to go “all in.” I analysed how I used food, the mind traps I set for myself, and most importantly I examined why I was still allowing myself to be controlled by childhood beliefs about body size. Those were stereotypes of a past generation and they were wrong. I didn’t need to continue to judge and punish myself for not being someone else’s idea of perfect. I was not defined by my body; it is only a part of who I am.

Do I ever think of weight loss or body image? Occasionally, but dieting would cost me my freedom and mental health. I prefer to think about healthy eating and being fit. In the two years since I completed the program, my weight has stayed just above or below my last “set point” (where my body decided we were safe from famine).

The last day we were asked to reflect on completing the course, I wrote this: “I think I have come to peace with my body. Therefore, I am at peace with myself.”

Image description: A plaid pajama clad foot with bright blue toenails stepping on a bathroom scale.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

eating disorders · Guest Post · weight lifting

The Meditation of Weightlifting (Guest Post)

This is me at the Minnesota Open.  I am doing a clean and jerk.  

To talk about all the beneficial and amazing things weightlifting has given to me, it is necessary to talk about the not so great things that brought me there.  A bit of a perfect storm in my late 20s landed me in the dark and very scary depths of an eating disorder.  I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know how to get it.  I was very lucky to find and be admitted to a new intensive out-patient program in my area.  I was officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder.  Unofficially I was diagnosed with exercise anorexia and orthorexia, which are not diagnoses recognized by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM); therefore they are not “official” diagnoses. 

The behaviors I experienced (and sometimes still do) as part of disordered included assigning judgement to food, difficulties with body image, eating large amounts of food, exercising as a form of punishment, eliminating entire food groups, obsession with “good foods”, and a fear of not having food available.  This last one is fairly unique and part of the perfect storm I previously referenced.  I experienced extreme food insecurity for quite a few years, which can later lead to disordered eating. 

As I was working my way towards recovery I spent a lot of time in group and individual therapy.  There were certain patterns etched into my brain that needed to be broken.  On some days it was an all-out internal war, trying to create new healthier thoughts and behaviors.  Even now, in my late 40s, I still struggle and have little relapses that need to be righted.  I can recognize them more quickly and my tool box is much larger and much more easily accessed. 

Part of changing behaviors meant changing my relationship with food.  Nothing is off limits.  No food is a “bad” food and no food is a “good” food.  Food is fuel.  Food is fun.  Food is social.  I am a person who really likes food.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  For years I felt guilt about enjoying and eating food.  On the same note, exercise is not punishment.  It is not something I have to do because I ate food.  I don’t earn food by exercising.  I don’t do exercise activities I personally dislike. 

For years, therapists suggested yoga as a way for me to increase mindfulness.  I did yoga for years.  Guess what.  I don’t like yoga!  I finally figured that out and I don’t do it.  I do enjoy lots of sports.  I’ve been a runner, a cross-country skier, a martial artist, a swimmer, a biker…  The list could go on.  Recently I’ve found my sporting true love.  I am in love with Olympic weight lifting.  It is a release mentally and physically.  For me, it is meditative.  When I am lifting weights I rarely think of anything else.  I love to focus on all the nuances of the lift and the tiny adjustments I need to make in order to complete the best lift possible.  When the movement clicks, it is like magic.  The endorphins flow and I feel amazing.

There is a saying in lifting, “If the weight doesn’t scare you, it isn’t heavy enough.”  Honestly, the weight I am focusing on these days is how much weight is on the bar, not the weight on the scale.  I’ve learned to fuel my body so that I feel good.  This means having enough energy throughout the day and making sure I have good sources of fuel to keep me feeling healthy.  I know what works for me.  It may not work for others. 

In addition to finding weight lifting meditative and empowering I’ve also discovered a phenomenal group of supportive, body positive people.  When competing in Olympic Weightlifting one must wear a spandex weight lifting singlet, much like the ones wrestlers wear to compete.  I remember my first meet.  I had the singlet and it was under a lot of clothes.  I did my warmup.  I was standing in the line-up area feeling very anxious about getting down to the singlet.  All around me people of all sizes were shedding warm-up clothing and getting down to the business of singlet wearing.  I took a deep breath and off the clothes went.  Guess what?  No one said a word or raised an eyebrow.  As a matter of fact, after lifting I got nothing but a round of congratulations on my lifts.  As I have continued lifting I’ve meet men and women of all sizes who are nothing but supportive, uplifting and kind. 

I’ve used to be a person who literally hid at home eating food and didn’t go outside to exercise due to shame.  Now I go to the gym 5 days a week, but without feeling obligation or like it is punishment.  I go for the pure joy of it.  I’ve found my fitness love and I’ve found my fitness home.  Thanks to an amazing group of supportive athletes, a phenomenal coach (who took the time to learn about eating disorders) and gym mates I am free to be myself and be my best.   

Amy Lesher is a small business owner. She has owned a developmental/behavioral pediatric clinic for 10 years. When she is not running a business she spends her time lifting weights and attending CrossFit classes. She competes in Olympic weightlifting and holds the Minnesota state record for the Olympic lifting total in her division.

diets · eating · eating disorders · fitness · health · overeating · self care · tbt · weight loss

Metabolic Health Is a Feminist Issue #tbt

For #tbt posts I like to go back to the same month in a previous year. Today we go back six years, to February 28, 2013, when I posted about metabolic health. Reading posts from the early days helps me to see how far I’ve come since we started the blog over six years ago. In this post, I finally “got it” about why it’s important to eat enough.

Over the last few years, my thinking and practice has shifted completely. Rarely do I worry about “eating too much,” unless in the sense of eating to physical discomfort, which simply doesn’t feel good. I think my metabolism has recovered from any damage I did in my decades of chronic dieting with the weight loss-gain roller coaster that comes along with it. Besides the idea of Intuitive Eating, this concept of Metabolic Health really helped me get to where I am today. If that’s of interest to you, read on….

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

campfire[Note: I am by no means an expert on metabolic health. I hardly know anything about it. I just know it’s an idea with major liberatory potentialFor more information about it, check out some of the links below]

Recently, after blogging about the thigh gap and taking Go Kaleo‘s recommendation to read Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery 2, and then reading Caitlin’s post that reminded us that, hey, we actually need to eat, the penny finally dropped for me.

Yes! I finally understand that metabolic health is a big deal. Huge. Bigger than the next fad diet, bigger than any particular training program, bigger than aspiring to have ripped abs or a thigh gap.

After we posted about fitness models earlier in the month, we noticed some fascinating discussion on a figure competitors’ discussion boards about ways to train smarter with more calories. Sam drew…

View original post 1,140 more words

body image · eating · eating disorders · fitness

Corsets to help that eating disorder along…

Look what came through my newsfeed on Black Friday: “It’s not a corset, it’s shapewear! It’s made of the same stuff as gym leggings. Why? Well, it keeps you conscious of everything you’re eating, it holds you in & basically makes you feel amazing. Grab yours now in the “BLACK FRIDAY Meltdown”

MAKES YOU CONSCIOUS OF EVERYTHING YOU’RE EATING? That’s the line that caught my eye. 

I’ve written before about corsets for working out.  Not surprisingly I didn’t have much good to say. I ended by saying that I’m sticking with exercise clothes that don’t pinch at the waist, like my cycling bib shorts. I am a big fan of breathing. 

Corsets pose a difficult issue for feminists. See The Complicated Feminist Ethics Of Corsets And Waist Trainersand Can We Wear the Corset Trend and Still Be Feminists? and Fit to be tied: Is the controversial corset making a comeback?

My feminism and fashion students a few years ago were torn between “you do you”–it’s all about choice–and thinking it might be fun for sexy fetish wear. No one wanted to defend the corset for daily wear, not in front of the class anyway. What are the daily wear arguments? Some people just like the way they look. Others like the posture correcting effects. And finally, others thought they were a good way to control your appetite because there’s no room for food when everything is tucked in tight with a corset.

Now this ISN’T A CORSET (though I’ve got to say it looks like one). Note though the argument in its favour is food related. It makes you conscious of every bite you take.  Presumably the idea is that there’s no mindless munching. But my worry is that you also eat less. Sometimes that might be less than you need. 

What are your thoughts? What do you make of the diet related reasons to wear a “not-quite-corset”? 

body image · diets · eating disorders · fashion · fitness · Martha's Musings

We are more than a collection of parts

 

kyle-pham-648683-unsplash
Women being active and not worrying about thigh gap, or hip cleavage, or any other nonsense Photo by Kyle Pham on Unsplash

It’s tiring to be female in this world. I can only speak from a cis-perspective, of course, but it occurs to me, that howsoever you come to identify as a female, there is an endless list of things you must have or prevent if you are to present acceptably as female.

 

First it was thigh gap, that space between a woman’s thighs — the wider it is, the thinner and more desirable the women. Then it was the concave navel. Now we have a new one: hip cleavage, or what I knew as high cut underwear or swimsuit bottoms to show off the hip bones.

We are all familar with the term cleavage as associated with breasts. Plunging necklines in dresses are designed to show off cleavage. There are right ways and wrong ways to show off cleavage in the upper body.

Too much in the wrong way means you end up with sideboob reveals; too much in the right way means you may risk a wardrobe malfunction and subject unsuspecting bystanders to a glimpse of the “girls.” These days, the focus, and perhaps the parts in question, has shifted to the underboob (I can hardly wait to see if there is an upper boob!).

Regardless of the terminology, the prinicpal issue is that women continue to be divided into parts. Perhaps it’s the legs (although it and the toes had cleavage back in the day). Let’s not forget the butt or the breasts, with fashion dictating whether they were perky, ample, lean or sleek.

When I used to deliver media literacy sessions to high school students, we would talk about the techniques used to separate, disconnect, and isolate girls and women from their bodies. Instead of being seen as whole, unique individuals with our own kind of beauty, women and their bodies are broken into parts and given meaning and value by others.

The obsession with thinnness as a beauty standard has fueled anxieties and nurtured the development of eating disorders; sadly, girls and women continue to starve themselves to fit a largely artificial construct of “female” beauty.

In Canada, those of us who work in health promotion talk about the vitality message — eat well, be active, live smoke free, and support mental wellness. Being active offers tremendous health benefits and it makes me sad to see fitness being used negatively to coerce women into creating and maintaining a body shape that is not natural to them.

 

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Another picture of fabulous women not caring about articifial body constructs. Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

 

Focusing on hip cleavage is just another stick we use to bash away at ourselves. It’s a stick handed to us by the arbiters of fashion and trends (I keep meaning to ask, who died and made them the rulers of the universe?) and quite frankly, I’m tired of it all.

We need to rewrite the script and start talking positively, frequently, and loudly about all the good things we can with our bodies: how strong our legs are to drive our bikes and our feet on our runs; how powerful our arms are so we can lift, wheel, and strike; how big our chests can be to ensure we can take in the oxygen we need to keep going; how wide our hips can be to birth children or to cuddle them.

We are enough as we are. In fact, we always were. Let’s remember that.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.