eating disorders

Ending emotional eating, part 3

Okay, so a few weeks ago, we talked about what emotional eating is and how to begin identifying the differences between emotional vs. physical hunger.

Today, we are going to start thinking about fueling our bodies and really setting the stage for the different things that might make us more vulnerable to emotional eating. Later on, as we continue this series, we’ll also talk more about ways of coping with emotions in a healthy way that starts to diffuse the need for finding comfort through food.

Now that you can identify a bit easier what physical hunger feels like in your body, from Part 2 of this blog series, you likely have a better sense of when you feel hungry throughout the day and maybe even what foods you start to turn to when you’re feeling hungry. One vulnerability to emotional eating can be when we let ourselves get SO hungry that we are making impulsive and rash choices around food. This can also cause us to overeat and become uncomfortable, which only continues that cycle of again allowing ourselves to become too hungry. Have you ever heard that phrase, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” Not a good place to be when we are trying to make mindful, intentional decisions around food.

One way of decreasing that vulnerability is by staying within that range I proposed, between a 3-7 on the hunger-fullness scale. How do you stay within that scale? Well, for starters, that might look like eating every few hours, so that your blood sugar levels are never dropping off or spiking in drastic ways throughout the day. It can also look like balance, which may mean eating appropriate, recommended portions of your foods (remember, ALL foods fit into this philosophy!) rather than too little or too much. It will look like eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a few snacks throughout the day, and getting a balance of different foods from the various food group families. It means not depriving yourself, or “saving up calories” or even counting calories or macros at all. Intuitive eating comes from listening to your body, not calculations or numbers or even the time on the clock.

That may be a difficult thing for many people to accept, knowing how the diet culture influences so many things in our society today. Calories are posted on pretty much every menu you see, and we’re so aware of what is “bad” or “unhealthy” in foods around us. This next step really involves a conscious effort and choice at removing these judgments and removing the influence of some of these other food qualifiers.

When you go to Starbucks or to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, can you honestly say that you order what you WANT on the menu, and that the calorie postings next to the food options you choose don’t influence what you pick? It can take a while to get to that place, and it takes a lot of hard work to retrain your mind to see ALL foods as important and necessary.

When it comes to intuitive eating, we are teaching our bodies and our minds that food isn’t what holds power. Food by itself is not special - WE make it that way. Food is food. We ourselves place important and emphasis on it, and THAT is what creates these ideas of food being good or bad. I sometimes say to my clients that I wouldn’t recommend someone only lives on cake, the same way I wouldn’t recommend that someone only lives on carrots. Everything in our lives must include moderation, flexibility, and a healthy dose of forgiveness. Anytime shame starts to enter the picture, especially when it comes to food, we find ourselves in a dangerous place where polarization can start to take place. It’s in that place of judgment and shame where emotional decisions and black-and-white thinking around food (and our bodies!) can really evolve. Over time, learning to identify those tendencies with a good eating disorder therapist and dietitian, AND learning how to re-train your brain to have a positive and healthy relationship with your body and with food, you can start to see that shift from judgment and shame to acceptance and compassion.

How have you been doing this holiday season? I’d love to hear what your challenges and successes have been. Please leave us a note below in the comments, and don’t hesitate to reach out to make an appointment, if you’d like to discuss any of these topics further.

Ending emotional eating, part 1

I’ve been thinking about starting a small series of blog posts on emotional eating, especially as we are coming into this holiday season. Food is plentiful during this time, and often we categorize these holiday foods as “bad” - candy and sweets after Halloween, turkey and all the fix-in’s for Thanksgiving, and the cookies, cakes, and breads that adorn the month of December.

Do you think it could be possible that you could have a relationship with food that allows you to eat ALL of these things, in moderation, and without guilt, shame, or judgment? Do you think it’s also possible to stop looking at foods as “good” or “bad” and start to just see them as fuel?

Whoa.

I feel like for some of us, that may feel like such a foreign concept that you might be laughing at your screen. Out loud. Wondering what kind of crazy pills I’m on.

Some of you may also be saying to yourself that you don’t want to eat foods in the “bad” category. You may be equating these particular foods or holiday events with fear, anxiety, or dread - feeling like having to eat them is a punishment or hurdle. Perhaps you can’t even see the value in having an “everything in moderation” approach to your relationship with food.

Emotional eating, in its definition, is when we allow our emotions to control or decide our behaviors around food. That could mean restricting our intake of food, due to fears or avoidance. It could also be binging or overeating food, due to other emotions that we might be working to soothe through the comfort that food can often bring us. Either way, when we attach emotions to food as our primary means of relating to it, we end up moving away from allowing our intuition to drive the bus. Instead, we end up in a distant relationship with our intuition - not really knowing what we’re thinking, feeling, or craving - and finding that we are hard-pressed to make mindful decisions about what we choose to eat.

Mindfulness is really the act of intentionally being present, without judgment. When we pair that with behaviors around food, it’s about choosing foods, thinking about foods, and eating foods in an intentional, present-focused, and nonjudgmental way. Can you think of the last time you thoroughly enjoyed food in this way??

There is a lot that goes into mindfulness when it comes to emotional eating. Emotional eating, in its full range, also encompasses a lot of other topics that I will have to probably make later blog posts or a series on - topics like body image, self-compassion, and weight bias. But for now, I hope that by introducing this idea of emotional eating we can start to explore it through this month in ways that will be helpful to you - to help you start to change your own perceptions about and behaviors around food, to ultimately lead toward a more nonjudgmental and intuitive approach to your eating patterns.

Mindfulness, a primer

There is a lot of buzz today about mindfulness. You may hear about it in the media, and if you’re connected with a therapist or PCP, you may even have heard about it from them. A quick google search for the keyword “mindfulness” returned 213,000,000 results, far more than the 108,000,000 for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many more than the 23,900,000 for the term DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), from which the therapeutic use of mindfulness has grown. Mindfulness, in essence, is the state of being in the present. Not the future. Not the past. The here and now. When you are mindful, you are focusing you attention to the present. A fun way to approach mindfulness is adopting a curious perspective, examining the present as though it is something entirely new and unique. More on this later.

We are finding that you can receive a lot of benefit from practicing mindfulness. Research has linked mindfulness to an increased ability to manage stress, better work-life balance, and benefits to mental and physical health. Recent research has also shown a connection between mindfulness practices in the workplace and improvements in attention and focus, with some benefits proposed for more short and longer-term use or practice. Further, a large analysis of current research literature indicates that mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) can be effective when used to treat anxiety and depression, and really do support the use of MBT in therapy. It is important to note, that in comparison to other treatment methods, MBT still has a way to go. More research is needed to further validate it; this is happening, and the potential outcomes are promising.

I use mindfulness as a part of my practice, and many have reported finding it helpful to deal with their symptoms coming from anxiety and depression. However, it is not an easy practice, and many have also reported that it can be difficult to engage in. It is also not a panacea, and just like most things, won’t “cure” your problems immediately. When used in the course of therapy, mindfulness practices can become a powerful tool in your toolbox. Working together with a therapist, you might find ways that MBT can be helpful. Dr. Ashley will be creating some videos on mindfulness, which you might also find helpful in deciding whether you would benefit from scheduling an appointment with us.