Last month’s column with resident dietician, Alexandra Reed, touched on disordered eating, and in response, we received even more questions from readers on that same subject, as well as the recovery process. It’s a loaded, often overwhelming issue. And it’s not the only one many women are dealing with when it comes to their relationship with food and eating.
The questions below also cover the connection between hunger and emotions, the prevalent desire to associate healthiness with weight, and the dangers of dieting.
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How can I stop being hungry ALL THE DAMN TIME? I feel like my stomach is a black hole, no matter how much protein and fiber I consume.-Everhungry
Ugh, I feel ya. First, there are two types of hunger: mental and physical. To sort the difference, physical hunger is when your body is asking for food for survival. Our bodies are smart and will bug us if they’re freaking out about our well-being, a.k.a our stomach growling (usually in the middle of a meeting when everything’s quiet).
For most of us, hunger isn’t about an empty stomach. Most of us are trying to get a handle on mental hunger, which is a “feeling” that can be triggered by external stimulus.
Example: There are many times I just finished lunch, but if a co-worker pulls out a snack, I start to think, “Mmm hmm, I might need a little of that, #sharingiscaring.” I am not even close to physically hungry, but next thing I know, my mind is on snacks and I’m “hungry.”
Since you are no doubt a busy individual, you probably haven’t noticed the frequent triggers; you just know that you’re hungry. Give yourself a chance to look at what your mental hunger triggers are around you everyday. Start thinking about the big picture behind your hunger. Are you passing by a snack tray in the break room? Are your co-workers snacking, therefore making you feel like you should be eating, too? Are you stressed at the same time you’re hunting down a snack?
Also, consider how well your food mentally satisfies you. Meals are meant to fill us up, while snacks hold us over until the next meal. The more “snack-like” your food is, the more quickly you might become mentally hungry. We have all trained our brain to know the difference between a snack and meal, so if you are grazer and consume a lot of snacks, you might notice you’re always looking for more.
Regardless of the amount of protein or fat in your food, your brain always has the upper hand. This is where mindfulness can be a huge tool and help you slow down and allow your brain the time to appreciate all the good food you are fueling it with.
I am a 47-year-old woman who’s been overweight to some degree for most of my life. I am at a high weight for me, and despite championing “healthy eating at every size,” I would feel more comfortable in my body at a lower weight (still overweight, but less aches and pains, more clothing choices). I cannot bear the idea of a restrictive diet (and I’ve done them all), but I don’t what to do.-Weight Wonderin’
You are definitely not alone in how you are feeling. I’m so happy to hear you’re ready to make peace with food and love your body, but as you know, struggling with the remnants of “diet mentality” and basing health on weight has lasting effects. In fact, a lot of my clients who have been in your shoes found that perceived comfort in a past size was due to a variety reasons outside of weight.
Digging deeper, we find that the time of being “that size” is, by pure coincidence, associated with times of less stress, good memories, or other times we look back on positively. We often associate “good times” with the past right? We are constantly trying to remove ourselves from the present, feeling as if our past and future selves always seem to have the better time. But it’s about embrace of the present self and giving yourself more love.
So, for next steps….do you mind if I give you some reading? I promise, there won’t be a pop quiz.
First, check out the book by Rebecca Sritchfield, Body Kindness—an incredible introduction to treating your body with compassion rather than shame and guilt. She walks you through shifting your health considerations from just weight and appearance. It’s so incredibly helpful to get away from all the pressure we are under to diet and strive for this imagined ideal of a perfect body. Your body, embraced with love and kindness, is perfect. Also, for a little inspo, check out her empowering “smash the scale” exercise from her most recent body kindness retreat.
Also, I suggest reading more about intuitive eating, since it gives you the tools to steer food decisions away from weight. This mentality will help you stay away from the dieting cycle, which doesn’t work, as you say. You can read more in the original Intuitive Eating Bookand take action steps by utilizing the incredible workbook.
And most importantly, reach out to a certified intuitive eating counselor near you. Finally, just a reminder: You look good, girlfriend.
My partner is very supportive and amazing. He knows about my darkness—mainly that I’ve had an eating disorder since I was eight, and my mother taught me how to throw up after meals. Recently we have switched to the ketogenic lifestyle, and I’m seeing improvements. But he won’t let me weigh myself no matter how much I beg. Last night, I had a nightmare that I weighed 450 pounds and it was because I hadn’t been checking, restricting, or purging, and I woke up furious at him. How do I get over this? What’s wrong with me?-Wrestling With Waking
First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. You are a badass and don’t you forget it!
I can sense your partner’s caring and support. BUT, just as we discussed in last’s month’s “Ask a Dietician,” loved ones can unfortunately end up doing more harm than good when trying to help with eating disorder recovery. They are not professionals, and do not understand how to aid with your triggers. It certainly sounds like his involvement is adding pressure to the situation.
It’s much like a wave: The pressure is building, but it will subside soon. Ride this out, keep the scale out of the house, and definitely talk about this with a trained professional. Or join a support group for advice from others who have also dealt with this same issue. (If you need a treatment referral in your area, use the link below to find help.)
I want to address the mention of the “ketogenic lifestyle.” Be mindful of how your eating disorder interacts with this new lifestyle. This precaution isn’t isolated to ketogenic eating; this applies to any diet or lifestyle with food rules, restriction, and demonization. Eating disorders can integrate easily in principles of diets, convincing you there are “good” and “bad” foods.
I know adopting a diet starts as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but this can make recovery even more difficult. Do not hesitate to separate yourself from the lifestyle if you feel it’s the best thing for your recovery.
To find a treatment referral in your area, you can call NEDA at 1-800-931-2237 or go to their website, and click on the “Find Help and Support” tab and then “Treatment.” For support groups, click on “Support Groups” under the “Find Help” and “Support” tab.