Healthy Eating with an Eating Disordered History

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For many of us, eating is more of a taboo topic than we let on. For those of us with histories of eating disorders, this already taboo topic can become rife with anxiety and confusion. On this blog I have talked about my history with disordered eating, but because I love food, cooking and eating regular meals without dieting, binging, starving or puking, I don’t really give much thought to the fact that I have (or had) an eating disorder. If you were to ask, I’d tell you I am pretty much over anorexia.

That is unless I actually let you in on my inner life with food. I recently had a few visits with a nutritionist (who specializes in E.D.) I thought it would be a good idea to just check in, make sure I am actually being healthy. I still have those E.D. voices that trigger me and can make me think otherwise.

I was eager to learn everything I could about health and nutrition and offered to keep a food diary the week before my visit. Sure, it sounded simple, but imagine what would be on your food diary of say, yesterday, containing everything that passed your lips. Would you really want to write all of that down? On the first day I was very aware of what I was eating and what it would look like in writing.  I forced myself to make it on a light breakfast and lunch without giving into eating whatever was lying around before dinner.

The week went on and I recorded everything I ate and drank. The next week in my session, I began by reading my list, and by the time I had reached the final day, my hands were shaking and my voice was trembling. Telling this person what I had eaten, open to judgment and criticism felt so incredibly vulnerable; I was on the verge of panic attack.

Luckily, I was “in self” enough to tell the nutritionist how I was feeling, and here we really began to connect about my love/hate affair with food. Because of my past with disordered eating, I learned that I need to give myself permission to eat (scheduling meals, structure throughout the day, eating enough food at mealtimes.)

Healthy eating is a very confusing topic for me, and I think for many others as well.  There are so many conflicting fad diets every year, and I know I was taught that being healthy is dieting and being thin. I sometimes think that most people have no idea of what healthy eating really is. I find it especially frustrating as a person recovered from E.D. because I have to be extra aware of what and how much I am eating. During the session, we decided to plan out what healthy eating is for me. My nutritionist used my BMI and activity level as a starting point to show me how much I should be eating in a day.

I started to get nervous, the last thing I wanted to do was count calories. But as she showed me my chart, I saw no numbers. It was broken into how many servings I should be eating a day from each food group, and it was pretty liberal. She explained that it is really just about being mindful of what you are eating; it doesn’t always have to be precise, it is just a guide, the goal for each day.

I left bursting with hope, with such happiness that I had to keep tears from welling out. Why did so many people diet and hurt themselves? Why didn’t everyone go to a nutritionist? This was so easy and such a complete change from anything I had experienced about health and food regulation. The next week all that really changed in my eating was making sure I was getting enough at mealtimes and figuring up what I should eat. Have I eaten enough vegetables today? Enough grains and dairy? For the first time I began to feel at peace with my eating and could confidently say that I was eating healthy.

Exercise

I was excited for my nutrition visit the following week, but sadly this one wouldn’t be as full of happiness and positivity. This visit was about exercise…which I didn’t really realize I had such a problem with. Exercise for me, can easily set off self-attack. For the past 5+ years I had gone through the same cycle, spurts of rigorous exercise then abruptly stopping for weeks or months.

Exercise is a scary word for me wound up with self-abuse. We decided that instead of solo exercising, perhaps I should get my exercise from pleasurable social physical activity. She suggested that I think of it as a favor to my body, doing something good for myself that feels good. For me, it’s hard not to self attack and feel guilty while hearing that I have to be exercising when I know I haven’t been…but I tried to stay in self and not let that self-attack voice drag me through the mud.

While I left not quite feeling as confident as before, I was still determined. I stopped into a dance-studio and signed up for a retro dance class on the spot. My nutritionist also suggested exercise “snacks” throughout the day. For those times when you are bored and go to the kitchen, to instead stop and do 15 minutes of exercise instead, maybe dance or do some yoga poses.

She also left me with an assignment. To choose an affirmation and repeat it for a week. I had never done affirmations before and was a bit skeptical. The affirmation that stood out to me was my body is strong, capable and flexible. Making this my mantra for a week actually felt pretty good…and I am beginning to realize it is true.

Nutrition Notes

  • Don’t be too harsh or withhold. When you withhold your body will compensate by over-eating, often of the “forbidden” foods.
  • Eat Well. Eat foods you are craving, foods that are delicious. Unsatisfying meals will only make you come back for more.
  • Don’t make food over-available. This one helps work-at-home people like me: put your food away. I will only mindlessly eat from the box of crackers or loaf of bread that is left out.
  • Eat Regularly. Eat when you are hungry. It is hard to stay focused when you are starved.
  • Exercise Snacks. When you think you are hungry (but say you just ate a meal 2 hours ago) take an exercise snack. Go on a walk, dance, or stretch. Afterward if you are still hungry, have a snack.
  • Become aware of Emotional Eating. Try to be aware of when you are eating emotionally, try to come up with other ways to meet those needs.
  • Be mindful. If you had a grilled cheese for lunch maybe go with extra protein and vegetables for dinner. Strive to get the correct amount (in correct serving size) from each food group. Oh by the way, cheese is considered a fat rather than dairy…good to know.
  • Pick a spot you’ve been meaning to check out and walk there, or go on urban hikes in the city
  • Have a picnic while the weather is nice. Wrap up the dinner you just made, find a destination on google maps and walk there to eat your lovely dinner.
  • Plan activity breaks into your day.
  • Your body is strong, capable and flexible.

btw, Rabbit White loves Health at Every Size.

What are your struggles or accomplishments with eating and exercise? Have any tips? http://rabbitwrite.com/healthy-eating-disorder-history

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