Present Perfect Wellness

Holistic Health and Intuitive Eating

How to Make Real and Lasting Changes

The other day when I was reading the chapter on change in The Rules of “Normal Eating” I had a tragicomic recollection of my first major breakup.  I was 19, struggling with depression, and despite the fact that I had caused this breakup, I was utterly devastated.  I sobbed in the middle of a lecture on the ecology of crops.  I whimpered to my mother over the phone that I didn’t think I could keep living.  But at some point, I became very tired of myself.  I went to a book store and picked up a self-help book.

I was super excited about this book and felt like it contained the keys to being happy in life.  I went from feeling completely miserable to feeling exuberantly joyful in a single day.  Of course, I felt like I needed to tell my ex all about it, to somehow prove to him that I could be a better version of myself than the one that he endured.  He was patient with me at first, but at some point he snapped and told me that he was sick of me being a “living, breathing self-help book.”  It sounds harsh, but I deserved it.  I mistreated him and then lectured him on taking control of his own happiness.  Seriously.

His words knocked me right back on my ass.  I struggled to remember all the empowering words I had read.  My returning misery seemed to prove that I hadn’t changed at all, and thus began a cycle that became very familiar.  First, become unbearably miserable. Then, decide to make a change.  Next, become euphoric about the perceived change.  Inevitably, at some point, the change becomes challenged.  Then, the illusion of change crumbles.  Back to the beginning.

Anyone who’s been on a diet (or twenty) will be familiar with this cycle.  You are so tired of yourself that you become desperate enough to start on a diet.  At first you are full of enthusiasm, following all the rules to a tee and telling everyone how great you feel (or how miserable but at least virtuous).  But of course it falls apart at some point.  You deem yourself lazy and incompetent and give up on your diet.  You feel worse than if you had never attempted the diet in the first place.

It took me a long time to figure out why I kept repeating this cycle, but I eventually realized that I simply did not understand the nature of change.  Over time I’ve come to understand that true, lasting change requires the following:

  • Patience: Like it or not, your behaviors reflect your identity.  When you try to make a major change too quickly, you risk an identity crisis.  Changing at a moderate pace allows you to feel safe and sane.
  • Determination:  When you’re driving somewhere, you generally don’t give up until you reach your destination.  You may need to pause sometimes and reroute, or you may need to change your destination, but you don’t just give up and park in the middle of the street if things aren’t working out they way you hoped.
  • Self-compassion: If beating yourself up made you grow, you’d be a giant by now.  Having self-compassion- being kind and gentle with yourself, is essential to growth and meaningful change.
  • Curiosity:  One way to avoid beating yourself up is to view your behaviors with curiosity rather than judgment.  Under every undesired behavior is a limiting belief.  Every thing we do is for a reason, but often not the reason we immediately suspect.  True change involves uprooting limiting and illogical beliefs and replacing them with rational and helpful beliefs.

What does this look like in action?  Here’s an example:  You notice that you regularly eat past the point of fullness at restaurants.  You ask yourself gently, “Why do I do this?”  Each time you ask yourself (perhaps over weeks or months) you notice another limiting belief.  Perhaps there is a part of you that believes that leaving food on your plate is wasteful.  Later you realize that you feel like you should be eating if others at the table are still eating, in order to have a sense of belonging.  You challenge these beliefs and practice reminding yourself that the purpose of eating is for you to feel satisfied.  Sometimes you still overeat at restaurants, and when you do, you take the time to figure out why.  Over time you notice that you overeat less and less.

Another challenge is that we often don’t realize how big and complicated our goal is.  Becoming an intuitive eater, for example, is a huge goal.  It absolutely cannot happen all at once.  As a coach, part of my job is to help you break down your big goal into smaller sub goals.  Then, I help you think realistically about how you can begin working towards those goals.

This isn’t easy for most of us because we’re surrounded by sources of ridiculous goals.  “Get a flat belly by doing this one simple thing!”  “Lose a bazillion pounds in one second with no effort!”  “End your insomnia forever in 3 simple steps!”  Before you take on a goal, ask yourself: “When I think about doing this, how do I feel?”  If you feel scared, overwhelmed, anxious, elated, excited, or any other strong emotion, you’re probably biting off more than you can chew.

If thinking about taking on a goal feels a bit different, maybe a bit challenging, but pretty reasonable, you’re likely to complete it successfully, which builds up your sense of self-efficacy (“I can make things happen!”)  If you didn’t meet your goals, it’s an opportunity to learn about your hidden limiting beliefs.  If you did meet your goals, you give yourself a high five and start forming your next goals (and by goals I mean the subgoals that get your toward your big goals).

The more you practice this effective change process, the easier it gets, and you’ll find yourself able to make major life changes.  Yes, it’s not as glamorous as the empty promises you get from sensationalist media, but it’s real and it works.

Are you ready to become an intuitive eater?  Sign up for free weekly tips.  Each tip covers one of the major subgoals of intuitive eating, and includes some practical and effective ways to achieve that goal. 

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When Intuitive Eating Doesn’t Work

I’m always intrigued when I hear people say that intuitive eating didn’t work for them.  I’m intrigued because I’ve never seen it not work for one of my clients, and I want to know exactly where and how it went sideways for this person.  Now that I’ve had enough time to gather some data, I wanted to share with you some typical reasons why intuitive eating doesn’t end up working out for people, and how you can avoid these pitfalls.

  • They treat intuitive eating like a diet with a new set of rules.

If you think that intuitive eating is about only eating when you’re hungry and always stopping when you’re full, you’re going to be disappointed.  Intuitive eating is much more complex than that.  Practicing eating according to hunger and fullness is an opportunity to learn about yourself, not another doomed attempt to make yourself follow someone else’s rules.  When you are an intuitive eater, you’ll naturally eat according to your internal signals, but there is a big difference between choosing to do this because it feels good, and choosing to do this because you want to be “good.”

  • They want a quick fix.

So you’ve been struggling with food your whole life, and you’re tired of it.  Of course you want to end the struggle and make peace with food, but it’s not going to be easy.  I feel frustrated when I see other health coaches promise to fix your food struggles in six weeks, because it encourages unrealistic expectations.  The length of time it takes you to become an intuitive eater strongly depends on what you’ve been through and where you’re at now.

  • They don’t deal with root causes.

There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied.  Every time you reach for food when you are not hungry, you are trying to meet a need.  Figuring out what exactly that need is and how you can meet that need is your life’s work.  The more you practice, the easier it’ll get, but this process is never ending.  You can’t become an intuitive eater without learning to meet your true needs.    

It’s natural to have some doubts as you switch over from dieting to intuitive eating.  In fact, there is often a crisis moment early in the process, where you feel the temptation to do “one more diet” as all of your deepest fears come bubbling to the surface.  That’s ok, and we can work through that.  But if you’re still looking for a quick and easy fix to your food issues, or you truly just want someone else to tell you what to do, you are not ready to become an intuitive eater.

If you are completely sick of trying diets that don’t work, intuitive eating is for you.  If you’re ready to prioritize your health and well-being over your size and appearance, intuitive eating is for you.  If you are ready to transform yourself and your life, and do the work it takes to become your highest self, intuitive eating is for you.  Once you have reconnected with your inner wisdom, you will trust your intuition when it comes to food.  There is no way for your inner wisdom to “not work.”

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I’m a Body Love Wannabe

I’m an avid supporter of all fat acceptance, body love, size diversity (and any other way you want to combine those words) movements.  I believe that everyone deserves to feel that their body is not only adequate and acceptable, but also worthy of love and appreciation.

I believe this apart from any ideas I have about health and/or eating.  However, I also believe that body acceptance is essential to intuitive eating and health.  How can you properly take care of a body you don’t even like?  How can you learn to tune in to your body’s food needs if you believe that your body isn’t trustworthy?

Nevertheless, I know that “body love” can be a tough sell.  “Body respect” sounds more realistic, and reluctant acceptance more likely.

Even while encouraging my clients to love and appreciate their bodies, I have come to a sort of uncomfortable compromise in my own process of cultivating body love.

Don’t get me wrong.  I regularly take time to marvel at my body, and all the things it is capable of.  It’s awe inspiring to consider the complexity and relentlessness of its detailed functioning.  I am completely dedicated to caring for my body to the best of my ability, and I trust the input I get from my body implicitly.

Yet, when I look in the mirror or put on clothes, I am often less than satisfied.

I think I am a bit of an anomaly within the intuitive eating/HAES community (and developed nations, really) in that I’ve never really struggled with my weight.  I’ve never tried to diet to lose weight.  I’ve only dieted to improve my health and the way I feel (which also doesn’t work, incidentally).

Growing up, my mom frequently told me how lucky I was to be the size and weight I was.  In high school my friends would tell me how lucky I was that I could eat whatever I wanted and not worry about gaining weight (even friends who were skinnier than me).  Truly, I realize that I am beyond privileged to have never worried about my weight.  I can’t say that I’ve never suffered discrimination based on my size, but I’ve never experienced the pervasive oppression experienced by people deemed to be too large.

Even so, I’ve never really loved my body.  As a teenager, I had a sadly typical laundry list of things I didn’t like about my body.  My nose was too big and too crooked.  One of my eyes was a bit lazy.  I had acne.  My eyes and hair were too dark.  I had too many moles and freckles.  My breasts were too small.  My belly stuck out too much, especially after eating.  I was bowlegged.  I wasn’t tall enough.  The bottom of my butt was too saggy.  The list went on and on…

I don’t even want to get into the saga of all the things I tried to do to fix or hide my body over the years, and all the angst and hand wringing I endured.  I’ll just say that it happened.

Gradually, over the course of my teens and twenties, I realized two things:  1) Nobody cared about or judged my body as much as I did.  2) Whether people were drawn to or repelled by me had mostly to do with my mood and attitude, and little to do with my body.  Of course, mood and attitude do affect appearance–everything from your posture and facial expression to general attractiveness.  But nobody was saying, “I don’t want to talk to that lady because her belly sticks out more than her chest.”

So, by the time I slid into my thirties, I had made a sort of peace with my body.  I appreciated the incredible privilege of living in a well-functioning body.  I stopped worrying that others would reject me based on the unchosen aspects of my appearance (hi, privilege!).  Still, I hold beliefs that have me standing in front of a dressing room mirror, deciding not to purchase an outfit only because it emphasizes the “bad” parts of my body.  Still, I look at other bodies with envy.

I’ve been limiting my exposure to popular media for decades.  I’ve been critiquing the media I am inadvertently exposed to and rejecting messages that tell me to judge and/or hate my body, whenever possible.  Still, I am battling these internalized ideals and judgments that tell me my body is not worthy of love.

This is why, contrary to popular marketing advice, I don’t promise instantaneous miraculous transformation to my clients.  Becoming an intuitive eater takes time.  Tuning into your internal signals takes experience.  Loving your body takes unending dedication, in a culture that is inviting you to reject your body at every turn.

This is why we need the support of our community, and organizations like The Body Positive and The Body is Not an Apology.  This is why I’m into fat politics and why I admire body love gurus like Golda Poretsky and Dr. Deah.

I hope that someday I will be able to confidently say that I love my body.  Until then, I’ll keep working to create a world in which it’s easier to do so.

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Resources for Dealing With Stress

When I decided that I wanted to write about stress, I went down to my office and started digging through my files and books.  As I flipped through page after page about how chronic stress destroys your health and well-being, I realized that as interesting as that information is, it’s not very helpful when you’re trying to figure out how to cope.  I also don’t think I need to rehash why stress interferes with intuitive eating and digestion.  

Constant stress is harmful.  Enough said.  

Now, what to do?  

Brian Luke Seaward, holistic stress management guru, breaks down your options into two categories:

  1. Coping techniques
  2. Relaxation techniques

Coping techniques:

  1. Cognitive restructuring/reframing: Changing the way you perceive or think about a stressful situation.  
  2. Assertiveness Training: Learning how to be assertive rather than passive or aggressive lowers stress.  How assertive are you?
  3. Journaling: Free form or guided journaling are both great for reducing stress.
  4. Expressive art therapy: Includes all forms of arts/drama.  Can be done with a therapist, a class, and/or on your own.
  5. Humor therapy:  There are many ways to integrate the healing and stress-lowering benefits of laughter in your life.
  6. Communication skills:  Improving your communication skills can make interactions and relationships less stressful.  
  7. Resource management: Time and money are common stressors.
  8. Support groups: You can join a general group that deals with stress, or a group specific to your biggest stressor.
  9. Pleasurable hobbies:  Sometimes we get so caught up in the things we “have” to do that we forget to take care of ourselves by choosing to engage in activities that make us happy.

Relaxation techniques:

  1. Breathing exercises:  There are many types to choose from!  Diaphragmatic breathing is my go-to.
  2. Meditation:  Again, many types to try.  The internet is full of free guided meditations.  Keep looking until you find one that suits you.
  3. Yoga:  All types of yoga can help reduce stress, but gentle and restorative yoga tend to be more relaxing during actual practice.
  4. Visualization/Guided imagery:  Similar to meditation, but more based on images than body awareness.  Try this one.
  5. Sound therapy:  Music can be powerful in stress reduction.  Choose from your favorites or try music created for relaxation.
  6. Massage therapy: Like the above modalities, it’s worth trying different styles and therapists to figure out what works for you.  If cost is a issue, you may want to find a therapist who offers package deals, or join a spa with member rates.
  7. Qigong/Chi Gung:  Qigong is an ancient practice combining breath and movement that offers many health benefits in addition to stress reduction.  Like above modalities, you can find lots of free videos on the internet, find a local instructor, or purchase dvds.
  8. Progressive muscle relaxation:  A systematic tensing and releasing of muscles to release tension, guided by listening to or reading a script.  
  9. Autogenic training:  Harnessing the power of your mind to influence the state of your body.
  10. Exercise:  As usual, I am talking about joyful movement, not torturing yourself in a gym.  Any kind of movement combats stress.

As you’re looking over these lists, you may feel overwhelmed.  If this is the case, you might begin by noticing one to two strategies that appeal to you the most right now.  Follow the links I’ve provided on these strategies and/or do your own google inquiry on the topic.  Then, make a plan for exactly when and where you will try out these strategies this week.

It may seem silly or unnecessary to make an exact plan, but how many times have to intended to do something and then forgotten about it entirely?  It’s not lack of discipline.  It’s just part of being a human with a complicated life.  So, make a realistic plan and do your best to stick with it.  (If the thought of sticking to your plan makes you anxious, it’s probably not realistic.  Try scaling back your goal: If you said you’d meditate 5 times this week, try for 3 times instead.)

At the end of your week, plan to check in with yourself.  Did you enjoy what you tried?  Did it help your stress levels?  Would you like to do it more or less often?  Do it differently?  Stop doing it and try something else?  

View your experiences with curiosity and compassion.  Whatever you notice about your experience is valuable information, and will help you make informed self-care choices in the future.  

 

*If you’re looking for a really comprehensive text on stress management, I highly recommend this book by Brian Luke Seward:
Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being

 

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Why We Eat When We’re Not Hungry

Eating when you’re not hungry is one of the most common challenges for would-be intuitive eaters.  It’s not surprising because the opportunities and motivations to do so can be relentless.  Here are the top 10 reasons we eat when we’re not hungry:

  1. Habit:  Sometimes we eat just because we’re at a time or place where we usually eat.
  2. Chronic stress:  Stress depletes our blood sugar and leaves our brain looking for relief.
  3. Difficult emotions: Sad/lonely/bored/frustrated?  Again, eating offers relief.
  4. Social pressure:  Directly or indirectly, others motivate us to eat.
  5. Reward/punishment:  Food is tied to our behavior, by self or others.
  6. “The Woo”: We are exposed to enticing foods, pictures of foods, or descriptions of foods.
  7. Rebellion: Attempts to deny yourself result in powerful cravings.
  8. Celebration:  Special occasions demand eating of special foods.
  9. It’s free:  It feels like a deal or a steal.
  10. Plate cleaning:  Finishing what’s on your plate seems imperative.

As you read this list, I bet you noticed at least a couple items that you struggle with.  Did that leave you feeling bad, or frustrated with yourself?  That’s understandable, but how about replacing some of that frustration with gentle compassion?  After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with eating when you’re not hungry. Food releases happy chemicals in your brain.  It’s part of how our bodies motivate us to nourish ourselves.  No sense in denying that fact.

However, sometimes we forget to consider alternatives to eating that may feel more nourishing and/or sustainable.  Having a pint of ice cream after a stressful day is no big deal every once and awhile, but if stressful days are frequent, you may find yourself wanting for other stress relief options.

If you find yourself eating when you are not hungry, I suggest asking yourself this simple question: “What is my best option for taking care of myself in this moment?”  Sometimes the answer really might be food.  Other times it might be taking a walk, calling a friend, or putting on some music and having a solo dance party.  You won’t know for sure until you try!  

If you’re in the habit of frequently eating when not hungry, you may want to set aside sometime to think about which of the 10 reasons listed above apply most frequently to you.  Be real.  You don’t eat in those situations because you’re a bad person or because you have no self-control.  You eat because eating offers you something positive.  It’s important to acknowledge the positives as well as the negatives, if you want to act differently.

Sometimes we eat when not hungry because we’re caught off guard and not armed with an alternate plan.  Once you’ve figured out your triggers, and the positives/negatives of eating in that situation, start brainstorming one to four alternatives to your usual behavior.  Make sure that your ideas are realistic, and reflect what truly feels nourishing to you, not what you think should feel nourishing.

Example: You’re planning to go to a family birthday party in a few days.  You know that your family members tend to push a lot of food on you, and they feel hurt if you don’t take it.  Before the party you stop and think: Taking the food makes your family feel good.  If you’re hungry and you like the food it makes you feel good, too.  But if you’re not hungry and/or it doesn’t taste good, you feel bad, both physically and emotionally.  You think of a few alternatives:  1) Saying, “Oh that looks so delicious, but I am already stuffed from all the other wonderful things I already ate.”  Repeat, “Oh, no thank you” if they persist (firm, but polite).  2) Take the plate that is offered to you, have a few bites, and then toss the rest quietly.  3) Volunteer to help with an activity away from the food.  On the day of the party, try these strategies out and see what works best.

Remember, what works for one person might not for another, or even for you from situation to situation.  This is why self-awareness is key to becoming an intuitive eater.  The better you know yourself, the better you can take care of yourself.  View yourself with curiosity and compassion rather than judgment, and positive change will flow.

Ready to start becoming more intuitive? 

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9 Reasons to Stop Dieting

Thinking about starting a new diet?  Consider the following:

  1. Dieting won’t help you lose weight.  Sure, in the short term, dieting can help you lose weight, but over time it is almost guaranteed that you will gain it back.[1]
  2. Diets actually cause weight gain.  Diets damage your body in such a way that it becomes easier to gain weight and harder to lose it with every new diet.[2]
  3. Diets don’t improve your health.  Long term studies show that diets don’t actually lead to better health outcomes.[3]
  4. Diets lead to eating disorders.  When diets don’t work, dieters become understandably desperate, often leading to anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.[4]
  5. Dieting shortens your life span.  Yo-yo dieting lowers your chance of living a long, healthy, and joyful life.[5]
  6. Diets weren’t made for you.  Your body is unique, so it’s just not possible for a generic diet to be accurately tailored to your body.
  7. Diets are distracting.  Dieters spend so much time obsessing about what, when, and how to eat- not to mention guilt and regrets- that it’s hard to focus on anything else.[6]
  8. Dieting causes overeating.  When you don’t eat enough, your body thinks you are starving and starts sending out strong signals that urge you to eat as much as possible, as soon as possible.[7]
  9. Diets ruin your ability to enjoy food.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy every bite of a luscious slice of chocolate cake or juicy burger without fear or guilt ruining the experience?

Next time you feel like dieting, think about what you really want.  If you’re like most people, you want to feel loved, accepted, beautiful, healthy, and scale-trashvibrant.  A diet won’t give you any of these precious things, so spend your time and energy on activities that will!

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Why I Believe in Health at Every Size

I wanted to follow up last week’s post about why I am into fat politics with a post about why I believe in Health at Every Size (aka HAES).  While the two topics are related, they are not one and the same.  

  1. I believe that health is not size dependent.  Studies indicate that fat people can be fit, but we’re so caught up in the “fat is unhealthy” narrative that no one is listening to the science.
  2. I believe that promoting dieting is irresponsible.  Restrictive diets are not sustainable long term, damage metabolism, don’t promote health, lead to disordered eating, promote weight gain, and shorten lives.
  3. I believe that promoting health makes more sense than promoting weight loss.  There are two main reasons that people want to lose weight:  They want to be healthier and they want to avoid being a victim of our sizeist culture.  However, weight loss does necessarily lead to greater health.  On the flip side, there’s a default assumption that thin people are healthy, which is a disservice to them as well.
  4. I believe that we’ve mixed up the cause and effect when it comes to obesity and health.  Some of the causes of obesity include: poverty, gender inequality, genetics, chronic stress, exposure to industrial chemicals, dieting, climate/ambient temperature, exposure to daylight, certain viruses, and undernourished ancestors.  It should go without saying that these factors also cause the health problems attributed (incorrectly) to obesity.  

 

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Why is a Thin Person into Fat Politics?

People sometimes wonder why I, a person who does not identify as fat, am so passionate about fat politics.  So, I’ve decided to dedicate my latest blog to this important topic.

  1. Size discrimination is wrong.  It’s a strange thing.  Most progressive people would agree that racism and sexism are wrong, and yet many of them are still giving sizeism a free pass.  They reason that unlike being black or being female, being fat is unacceptable and should be “fixed.”  I’d argue that even if that were true, discrimination is still not excusable.  Every human being deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of size and/or appearance.  
  2. Discrimination and shaming backfire.  It’s should be common sense: Shame and discrimination lower self-esteem.  Do people with low self-esteem feel motivated to respect and take care of their bodies?  No.  What’s worse is that fat people are scrutinized and judged even when they are engaging in the behaviors we arrogantly and mistakenly think will make them thin: exercising and eating “healthy.”  We, as a society, need to ditch the icky paternalistic tendency to police others’ bodies.
  3. Size discrimination hurts my loved ones.  For nearly my whole life I have lived with and loved people who identify as overweight and are uncomfortable with their size.  It’s not the same as living it first hand (at all) but I see their struggle and their pain and it hurts my heart.  I want to live in a world where my loved ones are free to feel comfortable in their bodies.
  4. I’ve been skinny shamed.  I’ve been shamed for my size and each time it sent me reeling into hurt, anger, and sadness.  I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.  However, I know that the frequency of skinny shaming is negligible in comparison to the constant shaming and discrimination fat people face.  I also think that skinny shaming exists as a misguided but understandable response to relentless fat shaming.  I’d love to squash all forms of body shaming and replace them with acceptance, and perhaps even (gasp!) appreciation.  
  5. I’ve got thin privilege.  As such I believe it is my duty to speak out against size discrimination, moreso because I am a health coach and nutritionist, a vocation traditionally responsible for promoting fat oppression.  It is not my place to speak for people who identify as fat, or victims of sizeism, but I would be remiss if I did not speak out against my unearned privilege.

While I feel like I’ve addressed some important points here, this is by no means a comprehensive review of issues encompassed by fat politics.  I highly recommend that people of all sizes give this important article a read, if you haven’t already, and check out some of the important work that’s being done by Ragen Chastain, Michelle “The Fat Nutritionist”, Golda Poretsky, The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), and The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).

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Too Depressed to Eat

I remember thinking to myself, “I need to eat something… I need to eat something… but I can’t.”  Getting up, going to the kitchen, looking in the fridge- it all sounded too hard.  There was probably nothing there anyway, since I hadn’t managed to grocery shop anytime recently.  And so I laid there, paralyzed by my depression.

too-depressed-to-eatIt was a vicious cycle I relived countless times in my young adulthood.  I’d get too depressed to eat, and not eating would make my depression worse.  When we talk about emotional eating, we tend to focus on the practice of eating to soothe difficult emotions, rather than flipside: under-eating due to difficult emotions.  This is not surprising.

In developed nations we worry about people overeating, because we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that eating too much makes you fat, and being fat makes you unhealthy (and a bunch of other negative mistruths).

Under-eating is real, and it exists apart from anorexia.  It also exists in bodies of all shapes and sizes.  Under-eating will not necessarily make you thin, contrary to popular belief.

The explanation for overeating seems simple: Eating releases happy chemicals in your brain.  In an immediate sense, food really does improve your mood.  It’s not the most beneficial way to deal with emotions in the long run, but we shouldn’t deny that it’s a viable option.

So why would someone who was feeling bad not eat?  Let’s explore some of the reasons:

  1. Anger, anxiety, and other emotions that drive up stress signals in your body can turn off your hunger signals.  This makes sense, if you think about it in evolutionary terms.  If you’re facing a serious threat, it’s no time to sit down for a snack.  When the threat is gone, your body returns to equilibrium, and you can get to feeding it.  The problem is that nowadays, many of us are chronically stressed, and go too long without taking care of our hunger.
  2. If you’re feeling kind of bummed, reaching for some comfort food seems do-able.  If you’re feeling deeply depressed, doing anything can seem impossible.  Going out, buying food, and actually eating it seems like a huge chore.  Depression can also turn off hunger signals, making it even harder to get motivated to eat.

In my youth, I glided in and out of depressive states, eating well when I wasn’t depressed, and under-eating when I was anxious, stressed, and/or depressed.  In these under-eating states I was barely surviving on chips and cookies (quick fixes).  My doctors assured me that given my weight, my eating habits were probably just fine.  I probably just needed some pills to fix me up.

At some point, I came to terms with my reality.  It shouldn’t have been news.  Even as a young child, family members pointed out to me that my mood rapidly declined when I was hungry.  Still, I had to convince myself of my truth:  Not eating provoked and prolonged depressive episodes.  Eating was an essential part of getting unstuck.

In a moment of clarity, I thought of a plan.  When I was depressed I needed something easy enough to consume, and substantial enough to get me started on feeling better.  Based on past experience, I decided on a smoothie.  Drinking from a straw seemed easier than chewing in my depressive state.  I could drink a little and then wait for my blood sugar to come up, giving me enough energy to finish the rest.  Afterwards, in my slightly boosted state, I could contemplate going to the store and getting ingredients to make a large batch of a simple meal to get me through the week.

I share my personal story, because I realize that in the abstract, it sounds a little glib: “Just pick something easy to eat when you’re depressed, and use it as a reliable stepping stone to help you out of depressive states.”  However, it works.  It doesn’t mean you’ll never be depressed.  Depression is not that simple.  It means you have a reliable tool for helping you shorten the severity and duration of depressive episodes.

For under-eating due to stress and anxiety, I recommend using breath and mindfulness tools to calm your mind and body.  It is also important to commit to respecting your body by feeding yourself regularly, as part of your self-care routine.  It can be hard to remember in difficult times, but if your goal is maintain balance and feel well most of the time, regular eating should be a high priority.

Now that I’ve shared my story, I want to hear your experiences.  Have you struggled with under-eating (or a combination of over and under-eating)?  How have you learned to cope?  What do you still struggle with?

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Diet Didn’t Work? Try Something New!

intuitive eating choiceDid you decide to kick off the new year with a new diet?  Maybe you decided to finally go raw vegan or do a serious juice cleanse, but once you got started, it just didn’t work out.  Perhaps a friend offered you her last delicious homemade gingerbread cookie, or the thought of yet another green smoothie for breakfast turned your stomach.  Don’t despair.  You’re not a failure.  In fact, you’re in good company.

            It’s a well known fact that most diets fail.  Think of everyone you know who’s attempted a diet.  Now, count how many of them have consistently been on one diet for more than a year or two.  I’m betting you don’t have many fingers up.  So one thing is for sure: you are not to blame for not sticking to your diet.

            So why do we keep trying to diet and why do our diets keep failing?  We diet because we want to feel healthy, and we know that food influences mood.  We fail because we run out of willpower.  We assume that we run out of willpower because we are lazy, but it goes deeper than that.

            Have you ever asked yourself why it takes so much willpower to stick to a diet?  It’s simple.  You have to keep pushing because the diet is not really working for you.  It doesn’t align with your physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual needs.  If it did, it wouldn’t require much effort to maintain!

            So, if diets don’t work, what is the solution?  You have to cultivate greater self-awareness around food.  Instead of following some guru’s ideas about what diet works best for everyone, you have to figure out what works best for you.  You are the only person who knows how it feels to be you, so it makes perfect sense to follow your own inner wisdom.

            There is more than one way to access this inner wisdom, and you’ll probably want to try out more than one method along your way.  As an intuitive eating coach, I am biased towards the methods I’ve witnessed my clients utilize with great success.  If you’re not familiar, intuitive eating is all about reconnecting with your inner wisdom about that which is most nourishing to you.

            There are many ways to get started with intuitive eating.   You may want to start by signing up for a free guide, or by connecting with a certified intuitive eating counselor, or you might skip ahead and begin a self-study to get a better sense of where you’re at.

            Some questions you might want to ask yourself include:  Do I eat when I am hungry or do other things influence when I decide to eat?  After I eat do I feel satisfied?  How long am I full after eating?  Do I eat to feel good or look good?  Do I allow myself to eat what I’m craving?  How often do I eat to soothe difficult emotions?

            plantinhandYou’ll have to keep asking yourself these questions over time, and it may help to record your answers.  As your answers come up, you may feel a sense of judgment arise.  Gently release this judgment and hold yourself with compassion As your awareness increases, you will probably find that your behavior shifts (over time) without any conscious effort on your part.  (Read more about the change process here.)

            Of course, this process can bring up a lot of questions, and you may need to seek support from loved ones and qualified professionals.  In the beginning, it’s not as easy as following the next new diet fad, but over time, as you become deeply connected with your inner wisdom, eating intuitively becomes second nature.  You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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