Posts tagged Disordered Eating
Understanding Disordered Eating and What It Means to Heal

Few people understand treatment and best practices when it comes to eating disorders — including health professionals. I know this as someone who works with eating disorders first-hand. But the same can also be said about disordered eating. 

In a culture that glamorizes eating disorder symptomatology (restriction, weight loss), it can be difficult, if not impossible, to separate which pieces belong to an eating disorder and which belong to diet culture. Fat-positive Ragen Chastain has previously said that we prescribe to fat people what we diagnose in thin people. And though fat people are also diagnosed with eating disorders including Anorexia Nervosa, this is pretty true. 

We may look aghast at an emaciated woman whose circulation is so poor her feet have turned purple and her face as sunken in, yet we feel it’s perfectly acceptable to encourage the same habits and behaviours in someone occupying a fat body, including semi-starvation and restriction, over-exercising, calorie counting, and the use of Bulimia-like medical devices. You know, the types of tactics used to entertain people on The Biggest Loser

Intuitive eating, health at every size, body positivity, holistic nutrition. What is disordered eating and what does it mean to heal from diet culture?

I’ll reserve the fact that we view the suffering, shame, and embarrassment of other people as an entertainment for another blog post. 

Here is my reality as I know it, which is the only lens I feel I can speak through: eating disorders are mental illnesses and disordered eating is not currently considered a mental illness. 

But we must also acknowledge the ways our culture is influenced by beauty sickness, poisoned by patriarchy, and deficient in self-care. 

We aren’t taught how to cope with uncomfortable feelings and difficult situations in healthy ways.

And we need to acknowledge the ways trauma, shame, poor self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, stress, depression, anxiety, and fear translate to or manifest in our relationship (or lack thereof) with food. 

No, we cannot “cure” poor body image with a diet or weight loss. No, we cannot improve our lives, as the underlying subtext of our culture suggests, by changing, “updating”, “transforming”, “fixing”, and “toning” our bodies. No, we are not better people if we drink green smoothies and kale salads, and no, we are not worse if we enjoy ice cream, like cheeseburgers, and possess a penchant for Oreos. 

For those who don’t understand disordered eating, here’s the Cole’s Notes:

Disordered eating involves obsessing and fixating on food above all other things. It means spending so much time dwelling on or attempting to be thin that your life shrinks in tandem with the restriction. It may mean cutting out certain foods, counting calories, weighing foods, weighing yourself, denying dinners out with friends and coffee dates for fear of eating something “off limits”, of trying to “be good” and crying in shame when you can’t sustain your “perfect diet.” 

Disordered eaters may not adequately nourish their bodies; they may choose low-calorie options to “save points”. They may not eat enough to fuel their bodies and weight cycle, which places them at a higher risk for various diseases and premature death. 

And in my experience, restriction with food often means restriction in life: waiting for the weight to come off before going on a trip, waiting to lose weight before getting married, not having children for fear of weight gain or what the experience will do to the body, being so self-conscious that you deny yourself a chance to swim in the ocean or in the pool with your kid, and generally not fully showing up fully or participating in your one wild, amazing life. 

No, health is not about weight loss. Health is about eating adequately, regularly, and consistently. Health is about balance. Health is about self-care, sleep, joyful movement when appropriate, and an easy relationship with food. Health is positive, empowering, and fully yours to discover. 

The correlations between health and weight are only seen at the very highest of highest weights; in fact, the data as know it reveals that being “overweight” may have a preventative effect, while being underweight is actually correlated with the poorest health outcomes. This is consistent with my work in eating disorders. 

Above all, disordered eating is a problem because it is inherently dehumanizing. 

Weight stigma, weight bias, and weight discrimination are problems, above all, because they are dehumanizing.

My background is in writing; I majored in English literature in university, and went on to complete graduate studies in creative writing. Though nutrition and writing may seem very disparate from one another, I regularly use the analytical and critical thinking skills I acquired from that period of my life. 

I am always working to help people to re-write their stories, alter their narratives. I challenge their beliefs about self and life, which often begin more like “facts” than convictions. Mostly, I work to help them to come home to themselves, to occupy the bodies they’ve vacated, to enjoy the foods they’ve distanced themselves from, to feel the fullness, the weight, of their bodies. To feel comfortable with wholeness. 

What if you were diagnosed with a kind of cancer no one could see? Not a microscope. Not a single medical device. What if it was invisible to everyone but you, and maybe one other person? What if it spread across your body, across your life? What if it infected your relationships — with your significant other, your friends, your family, your co-workers — and ruined your work day? What if it was the first thing you thought of when you woke up in the morning and the thing on your mind when you fell fast asleep? What if it left your anxious and depressed about the future? What if it kept you from dating, from finding the kind of love you craved deep down? What if it made you feel so sad you could barely stand it?

I want you to consider it. I want you to consider all of it. 

Healing is often a slow, painful process. It involves reflecting critically on a culture that has encouraged loyalty to its socially constructed beauty ideals while promoting disloyalty to ourselves. It involves considering the messages we received about food, body, and worth growing up and afterwards. It involves developing a different kind of relationship with food. It involves being afraid, and doing it anyway. It involves the courage and strength to stand up to diet culture and all of its trappings; to well-meaning but often triggering family, friends, and co-workers who talk about their latest diet, “needing to lose weight”, “wanting to lose weight”, or who insist we should follow suit. 

Intuitive eating (the model) is the blueprint for this process — a map that helps you to navigate the waters. It teaches you how to extract yourself from diet culture; from rules that do not serve you; from media and “experts” who often lead with opinion, sensationalism, and bad science; from companies who are so quick to profit from your insecurities; from the finger-pointers and the “truth-tellers”; from a self-punishing relationship with exercise to one that is liberating and enjoyable; from using food to cope to finding alternative means. Intuitive eating equips you with training wheels for the bike you’ve never been on, with the hope and the intention of removing them one day and letting you ride free into the sunset. 

Healing is the process of coming home to ourselves. And of helping others to come home, too.

What Are We Doing to Prevent Eating Disorders?

There’s a fine line between “health” and too far

Over the last year I’ve become interested in, among many other things, how we use and abuse “health.” How health oppresses. Health — and “health foods”, such as green smoothies and chia seed puddings — as status or currency. Health as the new wealth, so clearly articulated in the term “wellthy.” 

intuitive eating, health at every size, eating disorder recovery. What are we doing to prevent eating disorders?

I used to believe — and a large part of me still does — that access to nutritious food could change the world. I wanted to deepen my “nutrition practice,” consume all the vegetables, and generally work on myself in ways that seemed meaningful but actually felt superfluous. An improved version of myself was a self who readily eschewed ketchup chips for carrot sticks, who ditched “carbs” for an extra serving of vegetables, who worked out instead of sleeping in. 

But when the comments on my body came, when I was congratulated for my discipline and my “super healthy” diet, I realized I had not really improved. I was still on the same hamster wheel I’d been on since I was fourteen. Was I searching for health or worth? Was I searching for improvement or value? When I consider how far we’ve come from promoting what I’d consider a “balanced diet”, things appear to take the shape of religion more than they do scientific fact. 

While we’ve crossed oceans in defence of “health”, I’d argue the same can’t be said for eating disorders. As a professional working exclusively with disordered eating and eating disorders, I’ll admit I don’t know everything — who does? — but most of the efforts I’ve seen in this area focus on preventing “obesity” rather than eating disorders (even though these are sometimes one in the same, a fact rarely considered or acknowledged.) 

We live in a time when Orthorexic food recommendations have become the norm. Dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free…that’s what health is, right? But it’s not. We’ve weaponized these groups. We’ve become so hyper-focused on what is wrong that we’ve created a war at the table (and furthered the distance between the haves and the have-nots.) Restriction and weight loss have become so woven into our culture that we can’t even see when our behaviours and attitudes are problematic. 

We also rarely consider the ways health has nothing to do with diet or exercise. What about historical trauma? What about marginalization? What about food insecurity and its long-term effects? What about lack of education, cooking skills, or basic electricity? Why do we say healthy eating is so easy when the world has shown up, time and time again, to tell us otherwise? Why do we assume health is a matter of choice and not a matter of circumstance? 

We’ve exchanged the thin ideal for a ripped, lean one, complete with the degrading #bodygoals tag. An ideal few can achieve without heroic (or genetic) effort. Without restriction. A goal that suggests the body is a project, not a vessel, one more important than being kind or hard-working or charitable. 

If an individual diagnosed with, let’s say, Anorexia Nervosa, decided to participate in Beachbody, we’d see this as a problem (I should hope.) So then why is it okay for someone who is not diagnosed with an eating disorder to do the same? 

Why do we promote such disordered attitudes and behaviours toward food? Is this health? 

I walked into a Greek restaurant the other day. It’s a chain, so calorie counts were littered all over the menu. I was so triggered by the numbers I couldn’t order and walked out. We would never think to hand someone recovering from lung cancer a cigarette, but apparently it’s quite alright to list numbers all over the goddamned city — including sandwich boards — for those in recovery to see. 

For anyone who barks how we shouldn’t make exceptions for those with eating disorders because “obesity is a bigger issue”, I want you think about all the efforts we’ve made in the name of physical health — and all the ways mental health is never considered

To have a mental illness in this country is to have a second class illness

But hey, being thin is so much more important, right?

Can't Stop Overeating at Night?: 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Like a Post-Dinner Food Junkie

Hey loves! This post is part of a 4-part series designed to boost your body image and improve your relationship with food so you can let go of dieting. I know so many of you believe diets don't work, yet simultaneously also believe the next diet will work for you. Or, you're done with diets, but intuitive eating feels so overwhelming (so many principles!) and you aren't sure how you'll ever shake the diet mentality. That's okay! Over the next five weeks, we're covering:

  • Can't Stop Overeating at Night?: 5 Steps to Stop Feeling Like a Post-Dinner Food Junkie

  • Where "Feeling Fat" Comes From and How to Start Feeling Comfortable in Your Own Skin

  • 10 Reasons You Still Hate Your Body (And What To Do About It)

  • Owning What We Eat: Why all Diets and Eating Styles Make Us Crazy Around Food

Let's set the scene.

You make sure to sit down to a nourishing breakfast. Maybe it’s a green smoothie made with Granny Smith apple, celery, cucumber, Romaine lettuce, watercress, and the juice of a lime and lemon. Lunch is always a salad topped with some kind of protein or a bowl of soup. You snack on hummus and vegetables. But come nighttime, you can't stop eating to the point of overeating. You find yourself compulsively raiding the cupboards, eating whatever you can get your hands on. Crackers, half-empty bags of potato chips, that lone pint of ice cream, chocolates your friend Suzy brought over on the weekend. You can’t stop and more significantly, you feel totally out of control. You don’t feel satisfied, and worse, you feel crazy. If I could just control the mindless snacking, you’ve said. If only I could stop bingeing, I’d be able to maintain my weight, you've said. 

It’s not you, darling. It’s the diet or the restriction. 

Body positive, intuitive eating, emotional eating, late night snacking, holistic nutrition, health at every size. 5 steps to stop feeling like a post-dinner food junkie when you can't stop eating at night.

 

We’ve been programmed to think of food as the enemy. Sugar is a drug, right? Not so much; science hasn’t proven that. I would argue “sugar addiction” is way less about sugar than it is about our relationship to sugar. I can eat a pack of gummy bears and not eat candy for weeks, so claiming it’s on par with cocaine is probably not all that apt. 

Others claim we burn through glucose (carbohydrates) before fat because sugar’s toxic to our bodies, but if it’s so toxic, why is it that our bodies convert excess amino acids (protein) into glucose? You can't look anywhere without being warned of dramatic food-related dangers. Salt is bad for our kidneys and blood pressure, steak is bad for our hearts -- oh wait, just deli meat!, milk gives us acne, eggs elevate cholesterol, and bread makes us fat. Am I missing anything? Hyper caloric foods, like pizza and cheeseburgers, are blamed for “the obesity epidemic”. We live in an obsegenic environment! crusaders cry out. 

But we don’t only overeat when there’s an abundance of food. We also overeat in response to perceived or real food scarcity. I mean, just check out the Ancel Keys starvation study in Minnesota between 1944-45. Are we eating more “junk foods” because we have easy access to them, or are we eating more because we’re not suppose to? Because we live in a Puritanical society hyper fixated on “clean eating”, cleanses, detoxification, and the general holiness or lack thereof of foods?

Is a child more likely to eat all the cookies because they’re there, or because you’ve said, “Hey, look at all those cookies! But don’t eat any”?

If “thin” is the crack we’re all after, then diets are the dealers. 

Now, my fridge doesn’t work. The third shelf freezes everything and the first shelf remains at room temperature. We’ve spent over $600 on repairs and no one can fix it. Is this my fault? No. The fridge is clearly a lemon. Someone probably knew it was a lemon when it was sold to us at a heavily discounted price. We suspected it was a lemon the first time we needed it repaired. No amount of work will not make the fridge a lemon. But I can either accept that it’s a lemon and get myself a new fridge — one that makes good on its promises — or I can keep trying to get this thing to work by pouring more money into it, trying to make lemonade out of something that has no juice. 

So what does this have to do with your inability to stop eating at night? Everything, my love, because through your actions — trying to “be good” all day in accordance with standards set by diet culture — you’re creating the framework to support disordered eating, over-eating, and late night, eat-everything-in-sight binges. 

In other words, by not eating what you want, when you want — restricting and depriving — you are setting yourself up for late night binge eating. You can’t stop the binge eating at night because you haven’t quit the very behaviours that cause it. 

So how do you quit? 

1 | Let go of the pressure to “be good” during the day. 

Release the pressure to “be good” at all. Does eating Doritos make you a mean person? Is having a slice of pizza at lunch on the same level as burning down an orphanage? Part of developing an awesome relationship with food requires you to stop giving food so much power over your identity. You are not your food choices. You are not better for eating a kale salad or worse for eating ice cream; you are not more beautiful, accepted, successful, loved, intelligent, or brave for having a green smoothie, and not uglier, less acceptable, a failure, a loser, or stupid for eating an egg sandwich with cheese and bacon. 

I know health is more or less marketed this way (look at that gorgeous blonde with the green smoothie cycling on the beach!) and pizza’s image isn’t nearly as sexy, but it’s important to distinguish between what is advertising and what is reality. Between what is health and what is weight obsession. Between what is fact and what is fiction

When you stop trying to control and police your food choices and allow your eating decisions to arise naturally, you’ll find you instinctively choose a variety of foods. And about “pizza Friday”, cheat meals, and cheat days? They're other forms of restriction. Sometimes you’ll want a cheeseburger on a Wednesday and a chicken salad on a Saturday. Sometimes you’ll crave carrot sticks when others are eating cake. Sometimes you’ll want two slices of cake when others crave carrots. This is all part of normal eating. This is step one to stop overeating at night or feeling like you have no ownership over your food intake. 

2 | Allow the satisfaction factor to take the lead. I also want you to consider how satisfying your food choices currently are. Do you eat foods you enjoy, or do you choose them based exclusively on their alleged health properties? Do you allow magazines to determine your meal plan, or do you make recipes that sound good to you? This is a big part of making peace with compulsive, intense nighttime eating. 

Years ago, I would agonize over my lunch choices. I limited myself to approved foods for a long time (the list was pretty short at one point.) Now I genuinely eat what sounds the most satisfying to me. This question actually leads me to eat all kinds of foods. Now, I don’t necessarily eat exactly what I want all the time due to things like availability and — let’s face it — budget, but I find keeping ingredients I love around the house helps a lot. You can make a pot of lentil soup a bit more satisfying by topping it with feta’s cheese, avocado, or adding in a couple sausage links; a can of chickpeas can be rinsed, plated, and adorned with Kalamata olives, pickled onions, arugula, and a bright salad dressing. Instead of focusing on whether something is healthy or unhealthy, ask yourself: is this what I want? Does this meal look delicious? It requires a bit of a shift in thinking, but by prioritizing satisfaction over fat burning properties/etc, you’ll be less ravenous and unsatisfied in the evening because you ate delicious foods all day long

3 | Question why you feel some foods are off-limits and ‘forbidden’. Which foods make you feel like you’re “being bad”? Where do these beliefs originate? What fears are they masking? Maybe you associate “clean” foods, like salads, smoothies, and fish as “being good”, and ice cream, cookies, and potato chips as “being bad.” Chances are good that you eat your “good” foods during the day and can’t resist “bad” foods in the evening. 

Why can’t you eat pizza during the day?

What’s wrong with having a cheeseburger for lunch?

What’s wrong with eating a big plate of carbs?

Why do you believe red meat is unhealthy?

Where did you learn these things from?

A big part of the reason you are emotionally eating at night is because you are emotionally eating during the day. Usually we associate “emotional eating” with an empty bag of potato chips or pint of ice cream, but emotional eating has nothing to do with your food choices and everything to do with your habits and behaviours around your food choices. You are eating to “be good.” You are eating to satisfy the rules. You are eating for weight loss or weight maintenance. You are following your diet to a T. You are completing the steps your “health guidelines” ask of you to manifest the unspoken promise of all diets: that if you just follow the rules like a good student, everything will be better. You’ll have an amazing relationship, look stellar in all of your clothes, have better friendships, and be more interesting. Except none of this will be true, because defying your natural programming — your physiology — requires you to focus only on your exercise and food consumption to the exclusion of all the other facets of your life. Diets don’t make you interesting; a word where the first three letters spell “die” should be your first clue. 

4 | Eat enough during the day. Whenever someone tells me they can’t stop overeating at night, I immediately suspect they’re under-eating during the day. I know you’ve been taught to “watch what you eat”, to control your portions, show some class A “willpower” (still not sure what this is), and avoid overeating during the day. But you know what? Your body needs calories, otherwise known as energy! And chances are good that it will find a way to get what it needs even if you don’t freely offer it up. 

All of this means that if you don’t eat enough during the day, the kitchen will be totally irresistible. Those crackers that once looked pretty benign now sound damn good. You won’t just want one or two cookies; you’ll want the whole box. You’ll feel like maybe you need a kitchen that works a bit like Netflix and offers up food on demand (actually, this sounds kind of awesome…). 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Eat! How much? Try to tune in to when you’re hungry. Understand your hunger has many different manifestations not limited to stomach growling. Eat. This is difficult for a lot of people and takes some time, especially if you’ve been chronic dieting or restricting, so go easy on yourself. Be patient. But the most important takeaway here is this: eating is vital to life. Food is vital to life. Eat throughout the day. Practice eating until it feels like second nature, until your intuition kicks in and says, hey, enough of that, or hey, I need more

5 | Ask yourself what you need to feel calm.

Without realizing it, sometimes we eat to calm ourselves. We feel anxious about something or other, and eat for comfort. Of course, food can’t really comfort us — not in the way we probably need, deep down. 

I don’t see anything wrong with eating pizza (or whatever you love!) after a stressful day. Food is an easy, immediate coping mechanism, and frankly, part of what it means to be a human being living in the real world. But that said, you’re going to want to find ways to cope with stress and anxiety — any negative, "out of your comfort zone" feelings — outside of food. 

What do you need to feel calm? Part of releasing my attachment to food and body obsession meant I had a lot more time for hobbies and interests, like book club, reading, writing, and watching Sex and the City on repeat. I’m someone who loves yoga on a Sunday, looks forward to morning workouts, enjoys chilling in bed at night watching a movie, and having wine with friends. It has all meant being more present and engaged. That will look different for you, but I encourage you to seek it out. What can you add to your life? How much time will leading an intuitive lifestyle free up for other things? 

There is so much more to life than food. I'm hoping through this series that I can help you to explore and enjoy all of it. 

Did you experience an "aha" moment reading this? Which tip resonates with you the most?

If you'd like help normalizing your night eating, I offer a special service -- the Habits & Behaviours Audit -- to help you to make peace with food and neutralize attachments to power and fear foods. Check it out by clicking here