intuitive eating

Binge Eating Disorder: Too Much Willpower?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) took a big step in 2013 when they released the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They included Binge Eating Disorder (BED) as a diagnosis for the first time. Thank goodness they did, as it is the most common eating disorder, more than three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined. Since 2013, folks have been able to seek treatment for BED and have their treatment covered by insurance.

When I talk to folks about BED, however, I find that there are a lot of misunderstandings around what it is. BED is not overeating, although overeating can happen in the context of BED. Overeating is honestly a very normal part of eating in general, and we all do it from time to time. BED is also not a lack of willpower, and it is not gluttony. BED is a serious psychological disorder that requires good, evidenced based treatment.

What is Binge Eating Disorder, then? BED, as defined by the APA, is characterized by eating large amounts of food in a discrete period of time AND a sense of lack of control during an eating episode.

I think that most people view anorexia and BED as two opposite ends of the spectrum. I’d like to take a moment emphasize here that you cannot ever tell how or how much people are eating by looking at body size.  People believe that folks with anorexia have too much control and folks with BED have too little. However, BED and anorexia actually share a lot of features. What the diagnosis in the DSM-5 fails to capture is that there is actually a restrictive component to BED. In fact, restriction, either mental or physical, is often what drives binge eating in the first place.

Many folks who come into my office with binge eating disorder describe their lack of control, their lack of willpower, their difficulty just “sticking to the plan.” They say they “know exactly what to do, so why can’t they just do it?” When I ask them what they know, they typically tell me about portion sizes, fruits and vegetables, “lifestyle changes,” exercise, and diets. In fact, they tell me that food and dieting are on their mind 50-90% of the time!

Almost everyone who comes into my office with BED has been on a diet. Or countless diets. Or they’ve attempted a “lifestyle change” (a diet in sheep’s clothing). Almost everyone feels extreme shame about their eating. In fact, my clients don’t lack willpower. It takes incredible willpower to continue to try another diet, go back to the gym and engage in boring or unbearable exercise, and deny themselves food they really like to eat. It takes incredible willpower to think about food for over half the day in an effort to stop bingeing.

Here’s why binge eating is directly correlated to restriction and so-called “willpower:”

Imagine you go on a diet. What do you feel first? Typically feelings of hope, euphoria. The first day goes really “well” (meaning that you’re being “good” at restricting). You imagine you can do this for awhile, it’s not that hard. A few days pass. You post a few things to social media about how you feel great. You get a week into your diet or lifestyle change, and you begin to feel hungry, tired, or deprived. You don’t get to enjoy Taco Tuesday with your friends because everyone else gets tacos and you get...boring food or no food at all or food that doesn’t actually taste good. You start to get cranky because you’re hungry. You start thinking about all the foods you actually want. And then all of a sudden, the pendulum swings and you find yourself in a binge, feeling out of control, wanting to eat everything. You believe that it is your own fault, your own willpower, or lack thereof, that is the problem.

And so most people say to me, why can’t I just STAY ON IT though??? When I want tacos on Taco Tuesday with my friends WHY CAN’T I SAY NO??

Listen to me: because your body does not know the difference between you going on a diet and going through a famine. Your body is carefully designed to make sure you do not starve (also, isn’t that wonderful?! Thanks body!) The fact that you salivate or start thinking about food as soon as you feel deprived is your brain and your body communicating together: Please please please don’t let her put us through starvation mode again.

There is literally no research that indicates diets work in the long term. To expect yourself to stay on something that pretty much everyone cannot stay on is a ridiculous standard. We keep pointing the finger at ourselves, when in reality we need to be pointing our fingers at the diet, the diet industry, and our cultural obsession with weight loss.

Healing from BED feels counter-intuitive because in order to end the restrict/binge cycle, one has to stop restricting. People feel terrified about this because they believe that if they stop restricting, take away their food rules, and allow themselves to eat what they want that they will only eat “bad” foods and never stop. In reality, ending restriction means actually trusting your body and it’s inherent cues to let you know what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, and when to stop instead of following an arbitrary plan designed by someone else. It also means stopping the shame cycle when a binge does occur, and refusing to put yourself on another diet.

Binge Eating Disorder often develops out of deprivation and rules that are arbitrary. Your body and mind are complex and wonderful and designed to make sure that you nourish yourself. You can trust your body. 

Warmly,

Chelsea

Tom Brady Doesn't Know What You Need

Photo by  Adrian Curiel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

I was half-listening to the news a few months ago while drinking my coffee, when someone started interviewing Tom Brady about his new book. Apparently, based on the interview, his book is about how much water he drinks and what types of foods he eats in order to achieve “longevity.” His book is a self-help book, so I assume that it is geared toward the general population.

And I sighed, again. I’m disappointed, irritated, and frustrated, again.

It seems like everywhere we turn, there is something or someone telling us what to eat, how much to eat, how to exercise, how much water to drink, what times to eat, what foods to avoid, what foods count as “superfoods,” blah blah blah, etc.

I mostly turn on the news  for background noise because it’s something my parents used to do in the mornings and it’s comforting for me to have it on. But over the past 10 years, as I have become more aware of how much anxiety and shame we have about food and our bodies, I can’t help but notice how often the NEWS brings up yet another boring diet conversation or promotes even more body shame.

It’s not just the news or TV, of course. I scroll through Instagram and find ads promoting diets and exercise, even though I have carefully curated my feed to be really body positive and fat affirming. I go to my own gym to enjoy a short run or weight lifting session, and hear both men and women discussing their diets, how much weight they’ve gained or lost, and how they plan on changing their bodies next. Somehow people still try to sell me Advocare or Shakeology products telling me that I will “feel so much better” and that I can “lose a little weight.” I try as best as possible to not rip my hair out as I gently remind people that I don’t believe in diet products that continue to focus on weight loss.

My point is that it seems like we can’t go anywhere in this world without being bombarded with celebrities, products, government programs, or our own friends pitching diets, “lifestyle changes,” and rules promising not only a change in our bodies but also happiness, “longevity,” and ultimate health.

So there are two things that I must remind you of:

  1. Your body does not need to change. You can accept it how it is, right here, right now. Period.

  2. Your body ALREADY KNOWS what it needs. You don’t need Tom Brady or Whole30 or Fitness Expert Susie to tell you what to do.

Many of my clients tell me that every single one of these conversations about diet and weight loss is incredibly triggering. They want to do the “right” thing to be healthy and to live a long life. And yet as we talk, they notice that these conversations contain contradictory information. Underneath that, when we really get down to it, they admit that there is such an allure to these diet and fitness programs because the promise is that they will finally have a body they feel comfortable in.

Unfortunately, there is no plan that works for someone else that will help you feel good in your own skin. There may be a temporary “high” from following a diet or program, but eventually it always fades.

Tom Brady is a specific person who has specific needs. He can promise “longevity” all he wants, but the reality is that he is a 40 year old football player with super athletic genes. You too are an individual, with your own personality, background, relationship with food, relationship to exercise, and oppression/trauma history. No diet, “lifestyle change,” or person can tell you how to care for your own body.

The good news is, your body can! The beautiful and wonderful thing about our bodies is that they have the wisdom to tell us when we are hungry, and when we are full. They have the wisdom to tell us that a little bit of stretching may feel nice, or curling up on the couch would really feel better. They have the wisdom to give us sensations such as butterflies or tears when we feel strong emotions so that we can take steps to care for ourselves.

You may not feel like your body has this wisdom, or right now you may not feel connected to it. That’s okay! It may take some time, risk-taking, compassion, and messing up in order to come to a place where you really trust your body. It’s a wonderful and difficult journey, and I encourage all of you to hop on it.

In the meantime, however, I encourage you to be wary of yet another self-help book or celebrity endorsed plan promising health, longevity, or a great body. Look at it critically. Explore your own experiences and wisdom about diets and exercise plans, and be honest with yourself. You are not Tom Brady, and neither am I. And let’s be doubly honest, we don’t need any more Tom Brady’s in this world, ok?

Surviving and Thriving During the Holidays: Let's Get Real About the Food

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It’s that time of year again. It seems that as soon as November rolls around, we get thrown into full on holiday mode.

I’m not sure what the holidays mean or signify for you. Sometimes it means spending time with family and friends, enjoying delicious food, reveling in the lights and decorations, and cozying up by the fire. Unfortunately, that’s often not that case for a lot of people around the holidays. Even if you get to enjoy some part of “the holiday spirit” so to speak, most often I hear about how the holidays bring up painful memories, difficult experiences, and overwhelming anxiety.

Holidays sometimes mean dealing with pain surrounding family dynamics; experiencing burnout from throwing too many parties, buying too many gifts, and taking care of everyone around else;  longing for departed family members or friends; and of course, worrying about food.

I’ve already seen the barrage of articles and TV segments talking about what to eat at holiday parties, how to avoid holiday weight gain, how to cook things so that they are “healthy,” etc. etc.,  blah blah blah.

So, I want to get real about the holidays in a few blog posts.  I want to give you some perspective and ways to think about how you can best care for yourself during this season, survive the painful parts, and maybe even enjoy some of it (if accessible to you at this time).

Today, I want to get real about the food.

There are SO MANY holiday parties and gatherings. You have work parties, family gatherings, parties with friends and acquaintances, school parties, etc. There are holiday cookies galore, holiday desserts, appetizers, beautiful spreads of warm yummy food. There are leftovers and favorites.

Here are my 10 best tips for dealing with these holiday gatherings, decreasing panic around food, and actually enjoying yourself:

#1: Legalize ALL the food

I can’t say this enough: ALL FOOD IS GOOD FOOD. This means that ALL HOLIDAY FOOD IS GOOD FOOD!  You don’t have to follow any rules this holiday season. You don’t have to eat “healthy.” You don’t have to watch your weight. You don’t have to buckle down and watch every bite. You don’t have to make “healthier” versions of food you actually like. You can eat holiday food. You have my permission. No food is good or bad.

When we put food in categories such as “healthy” and “unhealthy” or “good” and “bad” we create a dangerous deprivation zone. The wonderful and powerful thing about our bodies and minds is that when we are deprived, we are driven, well, to not be deprived.  Our minds start dispensing unrelenting thoughts about food. The entire menu starts to look good. We experience increased hunger, and our bodies actually help us binge so that we aren't deprived. This isn't a "willpower" thing. Our incredible bodies are trying to protect us from restriction and deprivation! 

When we make food illegal, we become panicked, resentful, and hungry. Food is not illegal. Food is not a moral issue. Food is not “sinful.” Food is just food, so consider reevaluating your laws about it.

#2 Let go of shame and guilt surrounding what you eat, no matter how much you eat

If shaming ourselves worked to help us change, I believe we would all be perfect human specimens. So many of my clients tell me how much they beat themselves up after eating a particular food, or after they have eaten a certain amount of food. The problem is that shaming ourselves, beating ourselves up, or telling ourselves how we’ve messed up doesn’t really help us develop a friendly relationship with ourselves and food. Consider how you can let go of that shame spiral following eating. What is your compassionate response to yourself?

#3 Expect to overeat sometimes

This is true all the time, but maybe more true around the holidays. Overeating is a part of normal eating! Feeding ourselves in a way that is intuitive, loving, and kind is not a perfect science and sometimes we’ll feel too full. Trust that your body is very capable of recalibrating, and that it will get hungry again. You don’t have to control that.

#4 Watch your self-talk

I often ask my clients what they say to themselves before, during and after they eat. What I most frequently hear is comments such as “I shouldn’t be eating this.” “I need to choose something ‘healthy.” “I’ve been so bad today.”

I want you to try a few different phrases:

  • “I am hungry. What do I want to eat? What sounds good?”
  • “This food is SO delicious! I’m so glad I chose to eat it!”
  • “This food isn’t hitting the spot for me. What do I really want?”
  • “That meal was awesome! What else is going on today?”

#5 Eat regularly

Do not fall into the trap of restricting your food intake so you can eat more of the holiday meal later. This rarely works, and results in the dangerous deprivation zone mentioned in tip #1. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Eat snacks. And eat the holiday meal!

#6: If a food is calling to you, EAT IT!

In our culture, we seem to have such a penchant for taking the pleasure out of eating. We believe that if we want or crave a certain food (be it that yummy cheesecake or those creamy mashed potatoes) that we have to squash that desire. It's like saying "ok, you can enjoy your cake but not too much." I find that ridiculous. Food tastes good for a reason, and we are allowed to make full use of our taste buds. If you want that cookie, just eat that cookie. Enjoy the cookie, or the 2,3, 10 cookies. Taste the chocolate chips, the buttery texture, the crunch when you bite into it. Try saying to yourself “this cookie tastes SO good! Yummy!”

#7 If you have a special and yummy dish in mind that you had growing up, or one that you’re looking forward to, make sure you get it during the holidays.

This is a part of reclaiming pleasure when eating, and is a part of enjoying the holidays! Make sure this dish will be at a party or gathering, bring it yourself, or just make it for yourself on a Sunday afternoon! You don’t have to have a party to eat it. I strongly recommend avoiding trying to "make it healthier" either, unless switching the recipe will actually help it taste better to you. This is about relaxing and enjoying ALL the food the holidays have to offer.

#8: Remember, it’s about the food and it’s not about the food

Food is a wonderful part of the holiday season. Absolutely cherish that and enjoy it. And also remember that there may be wonderful conversations happening around you. Enjoy the party games. If the party sucks, leave the party. You get to choose what you enjoy and what no longer serves you.

#9: If you’re up to it, challenge diet talk and family commentary

When your Aunt Martha says that she “shouldn’t be eating this pumpkin pie” how do you respond? What if you told her simply that she SHOULD enjoy that cheesecake? What if you asked her politely to keep her opinions about food morality to herself? What if you told her any number of things that challenged the status quo?

Challenging diet talk and body talk at the holidays can be incredibly empowering and/or incredibly exhausting. Check-in with yourself, and see if you might be up for it. Know too that simply eating the food you want and refusing to engage in diet talk is quite challenging and empowering in of itself.

#10: Don’t go on a New Year’s Resolution Diet

You’ve heard it and seen it: “Ugh I’ve gained x amount of weight, and my New Year’s Resolution is to lose it!” Unfortunately, New Year’s Resolutions rarely result in lasting change. In addition, they create the “Last Supper Mentality.” Many of my clients describe this as a time where they eat everything and anything because they know they won’t be able to have it come January 1st. What if you knew that you could still have Pecan Pie on January 1st? And as much as you want? Let’s take the deprivation mindset out of our New Year, and maybe instead commit to treating ourselves with compassion, respect, and understanding.

My last reminder is this: it's totally okay if you gain weight during the holidays. Truly. It’s okay. Relax. Tune into your body, trust that it will settle where it needs to settle. Recalibrate, take a breath, and again, relax.