Healthy eating – it’s not just about the food

So, what IS healthy eating? This phrase is thrown around a lot, and its meaning is vague at best! Here’s what I’ve learned during my eating disorder recovery.

We can argue all day about what foods are the healthiest, and even the experts can’t agree. Everybody seems to agree that fruits and veggies have lots of nutrients, but still, every body is different. When striving to “eat healthy,” consider both nutrition and what works best for your body (broccoli is generally considered healthy, but if it makes you feel ill, then it’s probably not healthy FOR YOU!). Don’t forget the importance of balance – eat a wide variety of foods, including treats*. This is basic intuitive eating. 🙂 But here’s the thing …

Healthy eating isn’t just about what you put in your mouth.

Healthy eating also requires a good attitude and satisfaction with food and eating. Don’t believe me? Studies show that attitude and satisfaction from eating actually have a very significant effect on your metabolism and digestion – possibly even more important than what you’re eating!

So, eating nutritious foods isn’t enough. Eating nutritious food is not healthy eating if you’re forcing yourself to eat foods you don’t like … or if you’re feeling guilty or anxious during or after a meal. Just as good health requires both good physical health and good mental health, healthy eating also has both physical and mental components. Our bodies and our minds are intricately connected, so when our bodies and minds are not in harmony, we are essentially at war with ourselves – and you can imagine what kind of damage can result from constantly being at war!

Healthy eating = nutritious, balanced eating + a healthy, positive attitude toward eating

So, what does this have to do with eating disorders? It matters because most ED people don’t consider the last part of the equation. They think that eating salads every day = health … or eating raw vegan = health. That might be true if a person genuinely loves eating salads every day or eating raw vegan AND if that way of eating creates no difficulty or anxieties (and no restricting or binging behavior). But most people who strive to “eat healthy” focus solely on what they’re eating without considering how it makes them feel. This creates a disconnect between our minds and bodies – or even within our minds.

It is possible to derive both nutrition and pleasure from our eating. This is truly healthy eating!

This disconnect is the problem with eating disorders. An eating disorder essentially means that a person has an unhealthy relationship with food and with her body. How do Thoughts-Create-Your-Reality-300x196we fix that? For one thing, we can work on the right side of the equation above (the “attitude” part); in fact, fixing that part of the equation will go a long way towards fixing the actual eating part too. Don’t believe it? Try it and find out. Work on changing your attitude toward food. Experiment with different foods and eating situations, and find what gives you pleasure. When we change our thoughts, we change our reality.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? What does that equation mean for you?

 

I use the word “treats” here loosely to refer to “play food” or food that is eaten purely for pleasure rather than nutrition; however, the actual practice of intuitive eating involves giving up labeling food as “good” and “bad,” so in reality, any and all foods could be considered treats if you enjoy them!

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Feelings vs. thoughts

Feelings vs. thoughtsPain in thoughts

A huge part of recovery is about learning to recognize, accept and deal with our feelings, without using food to soothe us. Even difficult feelings like sadness must be accepted as part of life. It’s important to honor ALL feelings. Fighting or suppressing them never works.

However … it’s also important to learn the difference between thoughts and feelings. Thoughts are based on rules, beliefs, and judgments that we made up ourselves or learned from others. Thoughts are not fact, although we often assume that they are. It’s important to question our thoughts when they are negative, because they are often based on faulty beliefs and judgments.

Feelings, however, are actually accompanied by physical sensations and can be described in one word (such as happy, sad, afraid, angry, lonely, and disappointed). This is the easiest way to tell the difference between feelings and thoughts, actually, because thoughts usually cannot be expressed in just one word. Feelings aren’t good or bad; they just are.

Why is this important? Because negative thoughts do NOT deserve the same treatment as negative feelings. Negative feelings must be fully felt and not avoided, as we said above. But negative thoughts should NOT be honored and accepted – they should be challenged.

Here’s an important example:
THOUGHTS: I feel fat, I hate myself, I look awful, I feel like a failure, I should be making more money
FEELINGS: Sad, disappointed, scared

Those feelings are important, and you should allow yourself to feel them. But those THOUGHTS do not deserve your attention. If we work on changing our negative, judgey thought patterns, our feelings become much less intense and easier to handle. This is key to ending emotional eating and binge eating!

As a person who’s spent most of her life being consumed by negative thoughts and avoiding feelings, I have found this feelings vs. thoughts distinction to be a VERY important part of my recovery journey (especially lately, thanks to my CBT group), so I wanted to share with you all! Learning to challenge my negative beliefs and judgments is helping me so much that I expect to be off my antidepressants soon. 🙂

Have you ever noticed how much your thoughts have the power to determine how you feel – and, often, how your whole day goes?

Feelings, food and weight

So, as many of my followers know, I’ve been binge-free for a while. I couldn’t tell you exactly how long, but I’m guessing somewhere in the area of 4 months. Does this mean I’m completely cured of my eating disorder? Well, I will say that I have zero desire to binge anymore. I do still struggle with emotional eating and body image issues sometimes, but even in those areas, I’m a million times better off than I was a year or two ago. So, does this mean I still have an eating disorder? Maybe, maybe not. I think it just means that I’m a normal woman. I’m not sure if the labels are that important at this point.

Along with being a normal woman comes hormones, depending on your stage in life. At this time in my life, hormones tend to hit me pretty hard, and they sometimes make me question all my progress and success – in other words, ED’s voice becomes louder. As I noticed this happening earlier in the month, I came across this quote from one of my favorite bloggers, Isabel Foxen Duke:

“Worrying about food or weight is the ultimate distraction from what’s really going on.”

So true. I love her. So, along with hormones and other life stuff, I’ve found myself doing exactly that – worrying more than usual about food and weight. Not a fun place to be – back in ED’s world inside my head. However, I realized yesterday that’s NOT the problem. My food and weight are fine. I’m doing fine in BED recovery. I’m simply avoiding my OTHER problems by pretending it’s a food or weight issue. I don’t know whether to be happy or unhappy that I’ve figured out one of my mind’s own tricks! 😉

I think it’s a good thing. Sure, sometimes it would be easier to obsess about food or weight instead of dealing with the HARD stuff, the emotions, the anxiety, the stress … real life. But, many months ago when I came to the crossroads where I could choose either life or ED, I chose life! I’m not going back. ED is no longer welcome here.

Next time you’re stressing out about food or weight, consider that it might be a signal that something else is wrong. Don’t let ED distract you from dealing with real problems and life goals. You – and your life – are worth so much more than that! 🙂

Is binging really about emotions?

The answer to this question is partly yes. Binge eating disorder is a complex disorder with lots of different causes that vary from person to person. Emotions are just one of the contributing causes, but they are a really, really big one. But I hear many BED sufferers saying that their binging has nothing to do with emotions. To this, I have two things for you to think about.

First, consider the possibility that you may not even recognize the emotions triggering the binging and ED thoughts. Compulsive behaviors and addictions are so good at numbing our feelings, and many of us have been doing it nearly our entire lives. If you have struggled with food or other compulsive or addictive behaviors for much of your life, there is a good chance you may be rather out of touch with your emotions. I know I was. Simply identifying and naming emotions was incredibly difficult for me at first, and initially I refused to believe that I was an emotional eater! But not being able to recognize emotions is actually a sign that you probably ARE an emotional eater. This is particularly true of many of us who developed disordered eating or other mental health issues during childhood or teenage years, before we could develop into emotionally mature adults. And it’s OK that it happened that way. It really is. However … it IS up to us to take action to change. It’s not easy, but it can be done. For now, I’ll leave it at that; stay tuned for many more posts about emotional eating in the future. J

Second, for those who still don’t think your binging is emotional at all, consider this. Perhaps there is no particular emotion is triggering your binges. I think that is possible! But at some point during the process, emotions do enter the picture. Whether you’re just starting to pass from normal eating into binge mode or whether you’ve already been binging for quite some time, you’re likely feeling some altered state of emotion – you might think of it as a “high” if you’re feeling intoxicated by the pleasure of eating, or you might think of it as an extreme “low” if you’re feeling guilty and self-punishing while you eat. Or maybe you feel kind of numb, not really feeling anything, especially if you’re watching TV or doing something else to distract you. Fair enough. But EVEN THEN, I argue that emotions come into play. Notice what happens if you try to stop eating, if you tell yourself it’s time to stop, or if you (or someone else) forces yourself to stop before you’re ready … the odds are, you’re going to feel something at that point! It could be intense rage or sadness, or it could be as simple as a feeling of slight anxiety, unease, or disappointment. You’re feeling something difficult because it’s hard to stop eating. And that’s usually why you keep eating, keep binging, even when you know you’re going to eat yourself sick – it’s because you’d rather face the familiar after-binge bloated, guilty and miserable feelings than facing the unfamiliar feelings of discomfort that arise when you try to stop eating. If you were truly feeling no emotion at that point, you would simply stop eating because there is no logical reason to keep eating to the point of sickness.

Of course, I’m not saying that emotions are entirely to blame for binging. They are not; other psychological, biological and social factors are likely involved as well. But I believe the emotions are perhaps the most powerful cause, and the reason they have so much power is because we have been avoiding them all our lives. Still, this is not a hopeless situation … we need not be ruled by negative emotions and compulsive behaviors. By confronting our feelings – ALL of them, even the difficult ones – they lose that all-consuming power over us. This is by no means an easy thing to do, and it takes a lot of work and practice and patience with ourselves. But it sure beats binging! As they say, the worst day in recovery is still better than the BEST day in the life of an eating disorder!! Choose recovery – choose YOU and your life! 🙂

What are your thoughts about the role of feelings in your eating disorder experiences?