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How Restrictive Diets Mess with Our Brain and Lead to Bingeing

“Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.” ~Buddha

When I went on my first diet in my teens (low-carb, it was back in the Atkins days), I wasn’t even overweight. I weighed less than 120 pounds, but my jeans had started to get a little tight, so I thought I needed to lose five pounds or so. At the time, I didn’t have a bad relationship with food; I just ate like a typical teenager—not the best choices.

About two hours in, I remember starting to obsess over the things I couldn’t eat and being desperate to be skinny ASAP so I could eat them again.

By mid day, I “failed.”

I caved and ate…. *gasp, shock, horror*… carbs.

And something weird happened. Instantly, I felt like I was bad.

It’s not just that I thought I had made a bad choice.

I thought, “You idiot, you can’t do anything right. Look at you, one meal in and you screwed up already. You may as well just eat whatever you want the rest of the day and start again tomorrow.”

I think I gained about five pounds from that attempt.

And I continued slowly gaining more and more weight every year after that—and feeling guiltier and guiltier every time I ate something “bad.”

Atkins low-carb miracle cure had failed me horribly and began a decades-long battle with food and my weight.

See, it wasn’t that I thought my choice was bad and then I just made a better choice next time; it was that I felt like I, as a person, was bad.

And what happens when we’re bad?

We get punished.

I didn’t realize until many years later, but those degrading thoughts and overeating the rest of the day were, in part, my way of punishing myself for being bad and eating the bad things.

The harder I tried to control what was going in, the worse it got and the more out of control I felt.

In my thirties I hit bottom, as they say, as a result of trying to follow a “clean eating meal plan.”

Four days into my first attempt to “eat clean” and strictly adhere to what someone else told me I should eat, I had my first-ever binge.

Prior to that, I had some minor food issues. I ate kind of crummy, had slowly been gaining weight, and felt guilty when I ate carbs (thanks, Atkins).

But a few days into “clean eating,” I was in the middle of a full-blown eating disorder.

The clean eating miracle craze may have made me look and feel amazing, but emotionally, it failed me horribly and began my years-long battle to recover from bulimia and binge eating.

But I thought it was just me. I was such a screw up, why couldn’t I just eat like a normal person?

I saw how much better I looked and felt when I was managing to “be good” and “eat clean,” but within a few days or weeks of “being good,” no matter how great I felt from eating that way, I always caved and ended up bingeing again.

And every time, I thought it was me. I told myself I was broken and weak and pathetic.

Even later, when I started training other people, my message was “If it’s not on your plan, it doesn’t go in your mouth” and “You can’t expect to get the body you want by eating the things that gave you the body you have.”

I wanted clients to feel amazing and get the best results possible, so I gave them what I knew would accomplish those two things.

But, at the time, I didn’t know that it was actually those messages and rules that had created all my own issues with food, and I most definitely didn’t know they would have that affect on anyone else.

I thought everyone else was “normal.” I was just broken and weak and stupid—that’s why I struggled so hard to just “be good” and “stop screwing up.” Normal people would see how much better they felt when they ate that way, and they’d automatically change and live happily ever after.

Ha. No.

The more people I trained, the more I became acutely aware that food is the thing most people struggle with the most, and I started recognizing the exact same thoughts and behaviors I’d experienced, in the majority of my clients.

And almost every single one of them also had a looong history of failed diets.

Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t just me.

Not everyone goes to the extreme of bulimia, but the more I spoke with other people about their struggles with food and shared my own with them, the more I realized how shockingly pervasive disordered eating and eating disorders have become.

Binge eating is an eating disorder—one that more people struggle with than I ever imagined. Though, most people are horrified to admit it, and many may not even be willing to admit to themselves that they do.

I get that because it’s associated with lack of self-control and gluttony, and there’s a great deal of shame related to both of those things. But it actually has little to do with either, and you can’t change anything until you admit you’re struggling.

And disordered eating in general is even more pervasive.

Feeling guilt after eating is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Restricting entire food groups is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Severely restricting food in general in not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Beating yourself up for eating something “bad” is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Starting and stopping a new diet every few weeks or months is not normal. That’s disordered eating.

Diet culture has us so screwed up that we spend most of our lives doing these things without ever realizing they’re not normal. And they’re negatively affecting our whole lives.

As I was working on my own recovery, I dove into hundreds of hours of research into dieting, habits, motivation, and disordered eating—anything I could get my hands on to help not only myself but my clients better stick to their plans.

It’s so easy, I used to think; there must be some trick to make us just eat what we’re supposed to eat!

But I learned the exact opposite.

I learned that trying to “stick to the plan” was actually the problem.

The solution wasn’t in finding some magic trick to help people follow their meal plans; the solution lay in not telling people what to eat in the first place.

There are many reasons behind why we eat what we eat, when we eat, and even the quantities we choose to eat; it just doesn’t work to tell someone to stop everything they know and just eat this much of this at this time of day, because at some later date it’ll make them skinny and happy.

Our brains don’t work that way.

Our brains actually work exactly the opposite.

As soon as we place restrictions on what we’re allowed or not allowed to eat, our brains start creating compulsions and obsessive thoughts that drive us to “cave.”

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you “can’t” have something, you automatically want it even more?

That’s a survival instinct that’s literally been hard-wired into our brains since the beginning of time.

In November 1944, post-WW II, physiologist Ancel Keys, PhD and psychologist Josef Brozek PhD began a nearly yearlong experiment on the psychological and physiological effects of starvation on thirty-six mentally and physically healthy young men.

The men were expected to lose one-quarter of their body weight. They spent the first three months eating a normal diet of 3,200 calories a day followed by six months of semi-starvation. The semi-starvation period was followed by three months of rehabilitation calories (3,200) and finally an eight-week period of unrestricted rehabilitation, during which time there was no limitations on caloric intake.

Researchers closely monitored the physiological and psychological changes brought on by calorie restriction.

During the most restricted phase the changes were dramatic. Physically, the men became gaunt in appearance, and there were significant decreases in their strength, stamina, body temperature, heart rate, and even sex drive.

Psychologically, the effects were even more dramatic and mirror those almost anyone with any history of dieting can relate to.

They became obsessed with food. Any chance they had to get access to more food resulted in the men binge eating thousands of calories in a sitting.

Before the restriction period, the men were a lively bunch, discussing politics, current events, and more. During the restriction period, this quickly changed. They dreamt, read, fantasized, and talked about food all the time.

They became withdrawn, irritable, fatigued, and apathic. Depression, anxiety, and obsessive thinking (especially about food) were also observed.

For some men, the study proved too difficult—they were excluded as a result of breaking the diet or not meeting their weight loss goals.

We don’t struggle to follow diets and food rules because we lack willpower. It’s literally the way our brains are wired.

Why? Because from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re not designed to restrict food. Coded into our DNA is the overwhelming urge to survive, so when food (either over-all calories or food groups) is restricted, our brains begin to create urgency, compulsions, and strong desires that force us to fill its needs—and often, even more than its needs (binges).

We cave because our brains are hardwired to. Then the act of caving actually gets wired into our brains as a habit that we continue to repeat on autopilot every time we restrict food or food groups.

And it triggers the punish mode that I spoke of earlier, which only compounds the problem and slowly degrades our self-worth.

So every year millions of people are spending tens of billions of dollars on diets that are making the majority of us heavier, depressed, anxious, food-obsessed binge eaters, and destroying our self-worth.

Now I know all that sounds pretty bleak, but there is a way out. I know because I’ve found it.

It sounds like the opposite of what we should do, but it saved my life.

I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and stopped trying to restrict. The scarier that sounds, the more you need to do it.

As soon as nothing is off limits, we can begin to slowly move away from the scarcity mindset and break the habits and obsessions created by dieting.

When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat whatever we want, without guilt or judgment, we give ourselves the space to get mindful about our choices.

We give ourselves the opportunity to explore why we’re making the choices we’re making and the power to freely make different ones because we begin to value ourselves again.

When we remove the guilt and judgment, start to value ourselves again, and work on being mindful, we can begin to notice how the foods we’re eating make us feel and make choices from a place of love and kindness rather than fear, guilt, and punishment.

It sounds too simple to work, but it saved my life.

Rather than telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat, or trying to listen to someone who’s telling us what we should or shouldn’t eat, we have to build a connection with our bodies.

We have to learn to listen to them, to learn to distinguish the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. To stop eating when we’re not physically hungry, and to start feeling emotions instead of feeding them.

We have to break the habits that drive autopilot eating. We have to be mindful, trust the wisdom of our own bodies, and make choices based on how they make our bodies feel rather than what some diet tells us is the answer to happiness and being skinny.

Article by: Roni Davis of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

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happy couple is working on their relationship

How Mindfulness Is Saving My Relationship

“Mindfulness is about love and loving life. When you cultivate this love, it gives you clarity and compassion for life, and your actions happen in accordance with that.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

I started meditating and practicing mindfulness more seriously several years ago incorporating it in to my daily routine, initially to help with my anxiety. My practice certainly helped me by leaps and bounds in overcoming my anxiety, but an unexpected side effect has been the impact it’s having on my marriage.

We’ve not been married long, and as many couples before us have experienced, getting accustomed to this new dynamic can be at times… difficult.

Learning to communicate and compromise isn’t always a smooth ride. He cares about being on time (or early), I care about not being rushed. I like the kitchen cleaned after dinner, he couldn’t care less. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know the schedule in advance, I feel stressed when I feel boxed into a plan.

So we argued. And got mad at each other. And created these expectations for each other that we definitely didn’t always meet.

But slowly I started to notice a change. It began with a change in me, my stress level, my tendency to blame, my expectations of him. I found myself more understanding, better able to let go of things that didn’t go my way, and better at communicating when an argument bubbled up between us.

Then my husband started to change too. He’d noticed the changes in me and saw how much better I felt and how much easier communication was with me, and he started mimicking what he saw me do.

He wasn’t letting things bother him as much. In a situation where we would have had an ugly argument, he was now starting the conversation from a place of curiosity instead of finger pointing. But the biggest thing that I noticed from him was how he was willing and able to reflect on how he was feeling and dig into why he felt the way he did whereas in the past he would have become angry at me for making him feel that way.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment. This can be done in day-to-day activities like driving, eating, and in conversation. It can also be practiced as formal meditation.

This simple practice can transform our relationship with our thoughts, give us new perspectives on life and even our own behaviors, and free us from the hold that our emotions can have on us when we identify with them.

Here are changes I’ve seen in myself from practicing mindfulness that have led to improving my marriage.

I’m happier.

Stress is a salty mistress with eight in ten adults suffering daily. And anxiety is pervasive in our society, affecting roughly forty million Americans (including me for thirty-ish years). Practicing mindfulness is a time-tested and scientifically proven method of dealing with and overcoming the hold of stress and anxiety.

When we’re stressed, feeling down or angry, we’re on the lookout for anything to prove that life is stressful or crappy, or that we’re right and others are wrong. We notice the things that bother us like dishes left on the counter, a car driving too slowly in traffic, or the way your spouse asks what’s for dinner.

And when we’re happy, we do the same—look for things to prove why life is great. You notice the nice things, the birds chirping, that your spouse gets up without complaint on Tuesday mornings to take out the trash. It’s also easier to be more compassionate and forgiving from a happy place.

The less-stressed and no longer anxiety-ridden me is a much better wife and partner. From a happier place, I’m not only much more pleasant to be around, but things don’t tend to bother me as much.

I’m a better listener.

As a person with ADD, I’ve always found listening intently in conversations to be a difficult task. The mind wanders to other topics making it difficult to be fully present, take in what the other person is saying, and retain the information for later.

My mindfulness practice has drastically improved my ability to pay attention. It’s like brain training, building the ‘muscle’ that helps direct our attention at will.

I’m better able to fully listen to my husband when he’s sharing with me without always thinking of what I’m going to say next or what I need to do later. He feels heard, and we feel more connected to each other as a result.

I’m much more aware of how I’m feeling.

Not to say that I’m happy 24/7—I don’t think that’s possible, nor would I want that. We have a rainbow of emotions, and there are good reasons to feel them even for a brief moment.

The act of paying attention on purpose trains the brain to notice what we’re feeling. We’re so used to just feeling our feelings, and if they’re not pleasant we either try to run from them, numb them, or lash out.

It’s more productive and much less stressful to look at our emotions with curiosity. Label them. Then ask questions. “Ah, I’m feeling irritated. What’s that about? What’s another way of looking at this? How can I change this situation or cope with it?”

I’m also better able to catch myself before emotions spike high. Once emotions hit their peak in an argument, the horse had already left the stable. It’s tough, if not damn near impossible to reel it back in once you’ve reached the crest of pissed off-ness.

At this point, your brain and body are in fight-or-flight mode where it’s impossible to access critical thinking skills and takes about twenty minutes to calm enough to think clearly to make sound, logical decisions.

Granted, those high negative emotions are drastically fewer and further between for me now with years of mindfulness practice under my belt. However, I’m only human and once in a great while I can feel those emotions rising.

Being more aware of how I feel has helped me resolve difficult or frustrating feelings internally and avoid arguments with my husband.

I’m much more aware of how my husband is feeling.

Mindfulness practice increases your ability to be present, and thus not be distracted by thoughts. As a result, you become more insightful, a better listener, and more observant.

This results in higher levels of emotional intelligence because you are able to see things from another person’s point of view to facilitate better communication. It becomes a powerful tool that makes you more effective in understanding other people, as well as contexts and situations.

When my husband seems upset, I’m better now at putting his behavior into context and empathizing with his emotions. For example, an angry outburst from him directed at me because we should have left five minutes ago, I can see is actually his frustration stemming from a lack of control over something he values—which is punctuality.

I don’t get upset in return anymore. Instead, I empathize with him because I better understand what is causing his emotions and don’t take them personally.

I’m able to forgive more quickly.

Pobody’s nerfect. Mindfulness teaches us to forgive ourselves and others as we are paying attention to the present moment non-judgmentally.

Using mindfulness techniques, a person is able to let go of or forget about the past and not dwell on what the future can be.

Mindfulness can be highly beneficial because we are able to let go of unrealistic or materialistic thoughts and just exist in the moment.

It can be used to accept the feelings of sadness, anger, irritation, or betrayal that you have and to move on from them. Your path to a freer you, begins with knowing what is hurting you the most.

Cultivating a greater capacity for forgiveness has brought me to a place in my relationships where I don’t hold grudges or dig up the past in arguments.

I’m aware of the stories I’m telling myself.

When something doesn’t go our way, it’s so easy to identify with the story we’re telling ourselves and label it as the whole truth.

Mindfulness has shown me the difference between me and my thoughts. They are not one in the same. Thoughts are ideas passing through our minds like clouds in the sky. They are fleeting. They change with context.

Because of mindfulness, when I’m upset I can more easily identify the story I’m telling myself that is making me upset.

For example, I was hurt after my husband didn’t get up and greet me enthusiastically when I came home from a week-long business trip. He stayed sitting on the couch absorbed with what he was doing.

I was upset and went upstairs to fume. Then I realized I was telling myself a story that my husband doesn’t care about me or love me enough. I know that isn’t true. There are a number of reasons why he didn’t get up.

When I came back downstairs he could tell I was still a bit upset, so he asked me about it. I said, “The story I’m telling myself is that you didn’t miss me because you didn’t get up when I came home. I know it’s not true, but I’m still feeling a little upset because I would have liked it if you gave me a big hug.”

He apologized and said he’d wanted to wait until I was settled to love on me. He was much more receptive to “the story I’m telling myself” than he would have been had I started in on him about what he’d done wrong. And I felt better when I stopped jumping to the wrong conclusion and allowed him to share his side while avoiding confrontation.

A few weeks later he calmly told me he was upset about something and started the conversation with “the story I’m telling myself is…”

That’s when I knew our relationship was improving because of mindfulness.

Being able to objectively look at my thoughts and feelings allows me to reframe any situation and gives me the space to respond thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s that self-love and striving for self-improvement can have a ripple effect through your life affecting those around you for the better. The better me I can become—less stressed, more compassionate, healthier, happier—the better wife, friend, daughter, and coach I can be.

Article by: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

Happy women

How to Live an Extraordinary Life, Starting Right Where You Are

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~Rumi

“Isn’t this a miracle?” I asked myself in the milk aisle at Whole Foods.

It was a Wednesday night after work, and I was buying a few staples to get us through the week. It was a completely ordinary moment in a completely ordinary day, and it was miraculous.

Rewind a few years, same Whole Foods, same shopping list, and you’d find me absentmindedly wandering the aisles, lost in a head full of worries. I couldn’t tell you now what I was worried about then—the house, the kids, money, probably.

My body would be tense, with a hint of tears right behind my eyes.

“Isn’t this supposed to be a miracle?” I might have asked if I had the words to describe that feeling.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be one of those interesting people who did interesting things like paint murals or write books. I wanted to see every continent and learn as many languages as my brain could hold. I wanted to feel excited by my life.

As a child, I had no doubt that this is what growing up would be like.

But, for just as long as I can remember, I also lived under the assumption that I had something to prove. My intelligence, my worth, my place in this world.

Somehow, these two ideas became intertwined.

That part of me that felt so certain that her life would be extraordinary started to have doubts.

Could I really pull it off?

Had I really earned it?

Was I being completely delusional?

Over time, that vision of an extraordinary life felt like a silly childhood dream, and I stopped myself from following it. I worked hard and earned a good reputation, but that excitement, that fulfillmentwas always just out of my reach.

I would let it go saying, it’ll come later, but as I checked off the boxes of life’s to-do list—degree, job, marriage, kids—I wasn’t feeling anything like I thought I would.

The feeling that something was off fueled a restlessness that I mistook for motivation. I poured myself into school and then work, but not necessarily out of excitement. I think a part of me still believed that if you weren’t happy, you just weren’t working hard enough at it.

What confused me about it all was that my life was good. I had a beautiful, growing family, a stable job, and a safe, comfortable house. I mean, I was buying organic milk to pour on my cereal. That’s a privilege.

So, if nothing was “wrong,” why didn’t it feel right?

I’d scold myself for not being more grateful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t feel the way I wanted.

Then, one ordinary day, while squeezing in another email during my lunch hour, a little thought snapped me out of it.

“You’re missing the point, Leslie.”

Time stopped just long enough for me to notice my racing heart.

Maybe you’ve had these epiphanies, where you’re amazed by your own wisdom and you feel so incredibly clear and awake. Maybe it was during a life-changing event, or maybe, like me, it was during an everyday moment, like buying toothpaste or feeding the cats.

The immediate effect wasn’t anything extreme. There was no out of body experience, no inexplicable knowledge of the universe. Just an ordinary little thought that led to another ordinary little thought.

What if living an extraordinary life isn’t about the details?

Every now and then, I’d pull out a list I made that day and add a thought or two to it.

The point is…

Overflowing.

Seeing more magic.

Doing what you love.

Being happy.

Being present.

Feeling bright, brave, and brilliant.

Waking up and appreciating the mountains.

My children knowing how much they are loved.

Gratefully receiving everything I have.

Letting myself unfold.

Alignment, not approval.

Trusting the wisdom of my own heart.

A hundred percent up to me.

And in a gradual, ordinary kind of way, I figured it out. That feeling I wanted wasn’t an outcome. It wasn’t something that would happen “when.” It wasn’t in the details at all. It’s your feelings, moment to moment, that make your life extraordinary.

There is no committee keeping score and waiting to grant permission to begin. There’s just us, the people we care about, our corner of the world, and those little moments. And we have a choice in what we do with them.

That feeling that something was wrong wasn’t about my reputation or my checklist. It was about my awareness of the miracles right in front of me and my willingness to take conscious, meaningful steps that felt extraordinary to take.

Since that day, my life has changed dramatically.

We live in the same house, we shop at the same store, I have the same job, but now, I’m also one of those people who is curious about everything. Who loses themselves in creative projects just because. Who creates art, writes poetry, and self-publishes books. I’ve become one of those people who sees even the most ordinary moment at Whole Foods on a Wednesday afternoon as extraordinary.

How did I do it? I simply let myself begin right where I was.

You may have a completely different version of extraordinary, and that’s what’s so perfect. How to live an extraordinary life entirely up to you—it’s your life, after all. The action itself isn’t as important as the intent behind it.

As long as your intent is to make something in your world just a little better, to learn something just a little deeper, to try something you’re just a little curious about, it’s foolproof. You could institute pizza Saturdays or travel the world, saving endangered species. Both are extraordinary.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few things to try. They changed the world for me.

1. Be tenacious in your appreciation and optimism.

First, slow down and look around. Then, appreciate anything and everything you possibly can. Thank the sun, thank the water, thank the air you breathe. Look out for the funny thing that happened on your way to work, beautiful sunsets, and acts of human kindness. Even when everyone around you wants to complain about the boss, be the one who notices that it’s such a nice day.

When I talked about my day, I used to begin with something that went wrong. Then, I gave myself one tiny challenge: lead with gratitude. I made a point of starting conversations with something positive as often as I could, which meant I had to start looking for those positive things and remembering to bring them up. I discovered so much beauty around me with this one simple switch.

2. Define your extraordinary.

What do you want to see in this lifetime? What do you want to learn? How do you want to feel while you’re living your life?

I’d thought about these things before, of course, but they would quickly get taken over by something more serious. I didn’t want to waste time. My attitude changed when I decided that feeling curious, engaged, and alive was more important than being productive.

I began setting intentions for the week. I’d write down an idea that excited me, a feeling I wanted to nurture, and something I wanted to learn or create. Then, I gave myself small, meaningful challenges that fit with those intentions. Carrying a composition book with me quickly led to filling that composition book, and then another and another.

3. Make friends with your body.

Your body was made for living, so live in it. Use it in a life-affirming way. Don’t just feed it, nourish it. Let it move, let it sweat, let it pump its blood, laugh, cry, and feel. Stretch into it and savor its senses. Rest it when it’s tired, heal it when it’s hurting, love it even when you want to change it, and thank it. And when it has something to tell you, lean in and really listen.

I used to treat my body like it had no purpose. I didn’t nourish it, I overworked its muscles, and I constantly tried to remodel it.

It wasn’t until I started paying attention to how I feel now that I asked myself, is this how you would treat a child or an animal in your care?

My answer was an emphatic, NO.

4. Lose yourself in curiosity and creativity.

Follow the fun and let yourself overflow. Take on a ridiculous project just because it lights you up, even if it’s silly, you’re “too old,” or it’s “wasting time.” Let it be messy. Let it change directions. And let it fail spectacularly. The outcome isn’t as important as the process of it.

I practice this by painting with my children. They are experts at following curiosity and creativity. While I’m painstakingly sketching a dog or a flower, they’re creating imaginary animals in underwater kingdoms and then covering the entire thing in handprints when the inspiration strikes.

Every time, I shake my head with a smile—this is supposed to be fun, remember?

5. Be of service in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Share something. Create something. Teach something. Go where you are masterful and add value to the world in any way that’s accessible to you. Feed the hummingbirds, pick up litter, volunteer in your community. Big or small, it doesn’t matter; it’s the meaning behind it that makes all the difference.

I started by cultivating the kind of presence I wanted to have in my own life. I wanted to feel presentat home, for one, so I reduced the expectations I put on myself. The house may be messier, but our weekend adventures at the park are nothing short of extraordinary.

If you’ve ever wanted to feel differently in your life, take one little, ordinary step. And then another. Let your feelings guide you. Your extraordinary life is waiting for you on the other side.

Article by:  Leslie Ralph of Tiny Buddha

This post was republished with permission from tinybuddha.com. You can find the original post at https://tinybuddha.com.

Eating disorders and the holidays

Eating Disorders and Holidays

For many people the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. It is a time to gather with family and friends, catch up on each other’s lives, and share a few laughs. For most people, highlights of the holiday season includes the food and sitting down to enjoy a traditional holiday meal. For people with eating disorders, however, the holidays are often not quite so enjoyable. In fact, they can be the ultimate nightmare. For many sufferers, the holidays bring tremendous stress, anxiety, and fear.

It is common for people who suffer from eating disorders to experience an increase in symptoms of their illness as the holiday season approaches. This may be due to stress over the impending festivities and/or anticipation of the presence of challenging (often high calorie) food in the weeks to come. Many sufferers tell themselves that if they lose a few pounds prior to the holidays, they will be able to allow themselves to eat like everyone else. In reality, this approach rarely works and the eating disorder reasserts itself during the family time.

The following is an account of the holidays as written by Colleen Thompson:

“Whether it was Christmas, Easter or any other holiday, I could never relax and enjoy the day because I knew the moment would arrive when I would have to sit down at the table and face all that food. Usually with my in-laws I could get away with not eating very much. I especially liked having people over to my house, because I could keep busy in the kitchen and spend less time at the table. When I was with my own family, I would sit and eat with everyone else, but the meal was never enjoyed because I was always too busy adding up all the calories in my head and the fear of getting fat would grow stronger with each bite of food. I always looked forward to the moment I could leave, so that I could rush home and purge. The days following the holidays were just as bad. The guilt I would feel was enormous and I would feel desperate to try and make up for all the calories I had consumed. I would really restrict my intake and I would exercise more. Holidays were a time that I just never looked forward to.”

Holidays and intense periods of time spent with family can be stressful for all people, not just those who suffer from eating disorders. Holidays often place pressure on families and this pressure can result in frayed tempers. For families who have a member who is affected by an eating disorder, the pressure and resulting stress can be even greater. It is important for family members to remember that food-related situations are stressful for sufferers of eating disorders and to try above all else to remain calm and loving during fraught times.

It is an unfortunate reality that many eating disorder sufferers dread the holiday season. Fortunately, this can be improved with proper treatment. After recovery, sufferers can progress to a stage in which they enjoy and look forward to holidays once again.

Planning Ahead

In the midst of the problem however, good planning will help make the holidays a little easier. Below is a list of suggestions to help cope with the holidays:

  • Talk to your treatment team and help identify what difficulties you may expect and problem-solve some strategies for dealing with them.
  • If you are following a meal plan try to stick to it over the holidays. Try to anticipate some of the situations that will make following it harder, such as time in transit, time changes, and not having access to your usual foods. If you are traveling, plan how or where you will get the food you need.
  • If you are traveling, it is wise to pack some snack foods both for the time in transit and to have upon arrival at the destination until you can go shopping.
  • Make a list of things you can do to help relax and distract yourself from the feelings of fullness after a big meal. e.g. go for a walk, take a bath, read, visit a friend, go for a drive, etc. If you are traveling be sure to bring some of your distraction activities.
  • Have the phone numbers of your treatment team and friends available to you.
  • If you need to be at a function with certain people who make you uncomfortable, plan some ways to excuse yourself from their immediate presence. Put your own health above anything else at all times.
  • Try not to count calories and try to avoid the scale.
  • If you feel yourself starting to panic because you are feeling too full or if you allowed yourself to eat foods that you consider to be forbidden, remind yourself it is okay to eat what you did, that food will not make you fat, and it is normal to eat more during the holidays. Most people do and it really is okay.
  • If you end up bingeing or purging, do not beat yourself up over it. Just put it behind you and move forward. Try to get back on track at the next meal.
  • Prepare responses to people who may say something to you that would make you uncomfortable.
  • If you feel you need to, set some boundaries for yourself by telling people ahead of time that you do not want anyone to comment on your appearance or your eating.
  • Be sure to plan some time for yourself to do something that you enjoy. It is very important to take special care of yourself during the holidays. Holidays are a very stressful time for people with eating disorders and it is important that you do whatever you need to do in order to make them easier on yourself.As you progress in recovery there will come a time when food will no longer prevent you from enjoying the holidays. You will be able to think of them as a time to gather with loved ones. You can make your own special memories, and you may even be able to start looking forward to them.

    HAPPY HOLIDAYS

    (What if:)

    H unger means you eat when physically hungry instead of emotionally hungry.

    A ttitudes about your size has to with the size of your heart instead of the size of your body.

    P eople accept and value you for who you are, not according to how you look.

    P roblems are resolved in ways other than stuffing your feelings with food.

    Y ou spend as much time and energy on helping others, as you do on how you look.

     

    H appiness comes from within rather than from expectations of others.

    O ccasions for the holidays emphasize relating to others instead of emphasizing food.

    L ove of self means you deserve to treat yourself in the best humanly possible way.

    I dentity of self involves more than how you look.

    D isapproval of self is changed to approval of who you are.

    A cceptance of what one can not change includes your body features.

    Y ou treat yourself as you treat your best friend.

    S ociety values you for being you without emphasis to your weight or size.

    Written by:
    Sharon Sward, Past President of Eating Disorder Professionals of Colorado
    Author of You Are More Than What You Weigh

We can help.

Hillary Counseling offers individual therapy and online therapy services to help with eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, yo-yo dieting, emotional eating, and poor body image.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation! →

woman binge eating

How to Stop Binge Eating…What Actually Worked for Me

My Binge Eating Story

Can’t stop binge eating? I’ve been there. Once, I ate an entire 1/2 gallon of cookies and cream ice cream in one sitting. For real.

There was a time in my life when episodes like this (though maybe not quite so bad) were not uncommon. And by “not uncommon” I mean weekly – sometimes twice a week.

It’s not something I ever talked about much. After all, what girl in her right mind would brag about downing almost 2,000 calories of ice cream all by herself… all in one sitting?

There’s a ton of shame surrounding binge eating. It’s shameful because deep down we all feel like we should be able to willpower our way through it. And shameful because society says being a “good” woman means eating light salads and being happy about it.

And boy was I ashamed. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s much easier to talk about this because I was able to stop binge eating. It’s much harder when you’re right in the thick of it. At the time, there was nothing more I wanted to learn than how to stop binge eating. But I was too ashamed to talk about it.

But I’m here to say, if you’re still stuck between restriction and binging – you’re not alone. You’re just human, and it’s okay. The shame we feel about binge eating actually just keeps us trapped in the vicious cycle, so one of the most important things you can do is give yourself a little slack.

Not because binging is a healthy behavior – it honestly isn’t – but because shaming yourself isn’t healthy either. And two wrongs don’t make a right.

So, yes, for a long time I hid my binge eating from the outside world. For all the general public knew, I was a salad-loving, tofu-eating health nut.

I wouldn’t dare let on that every day I non-stop thought about all the food I shouldn’t be eating. It was a constant obsession. And at the end of the week, I would helplessly succumb to four slices of bacon pizza with extra cheese, followed by a generous slice (…or two) of cheesecake with raspberry sauce.

For a long time, I thought something was seriously wrong with me. After all, normal people didn’t do this.

Funny enough, it’s when I stopped obsessing about my eating habits that I stumbled across a real (though perhaps boring) solution for how to stop binge eating.

How I Stopped Binge Eating Forever

As far as I was concerned, I had no power to prevent binge eating. In those moments when my stomach felt like a bottomless pit (even when I technically felt full), willpower wasn’t even a word in my vocabulary. And I didn’t learn to stop binge eating by getting more willpower, believe me.

I also didn’t do it by distracting myself (Hungry? Go paint your fingernails! Then you can’t eat the cookies because your nails will be wet. Yeah, well, tell that to the cookie crumbs lacquered into my hot pink nails…).

Nor did I learn to stop binge eating by instead eating a piece of fruit or cheese or a raw carrot or whatever. If I wanted to binge on brownies, a carrot wasn’t going to stop me. Best case scenario? I end up eating the carrot and then the brownies. There was never once an occurrence when I ate the carrot instead of the brownies.

To be truthful, binge eating was the least of my problems a few years ago. I had acne worse than I did as a teenager. I had crazy (i.e. scary) mood swings, I couldn’t handle stress worth a hoot, and I had insomnia that left me crippled with zombie-like fatigue during the day.

There came a point when I decided enough was enough. I needed some serious health intervention and I needed it yesterday.

That’s when I changed my approach to getting healthy. I bucked against mainstream advice (because all that salad and tofu didn’t seem to be helping much). And in exploring alternative ideas to what constitutes “healthy” I also flushed out the source of my binges.

How to Stop Binge Eating the Boring Way

So if you can’t stop binge eating, what is my crazy solution? Eat!

Yes, eat. Mostly real food and enough to sustain your body and your activities. And don’t exercise more than you can support with good food and good sleep.

That’s just way too simple, right?

Since back in my binge eating days, I’ve learned that the biggest key to health is… balance. I know, it’s not as exciting as an ancient berry from South America, but it’s the real thing.

I also learned that when I jumped to extremes, my health (mental and physical) suffered for it. And I learned to listen to my body, because not everything they say is “healthy” was the right choice for me.

Did you know… girls who diet are 12x more likely to binge eat? This is not a coincidence!

So I quit dieting and overexercising. I quit restricting food groups and going on restrictive diets. I quit labeling food (and by extension myself) as good or bad. And I quit working out to “work off” last night’s fettuccine alfredo.

All this did not happen overnight. It was a slow (sometimes painful) dance of two steps forward and one step back. But eventually, I was able to strike a pretty comfortable balance of eating well, enjoying a wide variety of foods in moderation, and being active in a way I really enjoy (and not overdoing it).

I knew I was on the right track because I experienced a lot of health benefits in the process.

And something else happened during this time. Without even trying – without even thinking about it – I stopped binge eating.

It didn’t happen all at once. At first, my binge eating episodes just occurred less frequently (like maybe 3-4 times per month instead of twice a week). Then a few weeks would go by without a real binge. Then a couple of months. Pretty soon my all-out binges were few and far between.

Now? I can’t even remember the last time I really binged on something. It’s been that long.

Why? Because I was finally listening to my body and giving it what it needed: plenty of quality food, good rest, and the right amount of exercise. I found my balance.

I really like the motto of Amber Rogers from Go Kaleo: “Eat the food.” I find it funny that the more I tried to control and restrict my eating, the more often I would end up binge eating and feeling out of control.

And the more I paid attention and ate what my body needed to thrive (when it comes to both nutrients and energy), the more binge eating became a thing of the past for me.

Binge vs. Splurge

When someone says to me, “I can’t stop binge eating!” I always want to clarify what a binge really is. Eating a bowl of ice cream (even a big one) is not a binge. Neither is eating a couple pieces of pizza. These are splurges, not binges.

Splurges are totally normal and can be part of eating healthy. I still splurge on a hefty slice of cake or a couple slices of bacon pizza sometimes. (I just don’t eat the whole pizza or cake anymore.)

So remember not to sweat the small stuff and just enjoy your food!

Article By: Elizabeth Walling

We can help.

Hillary Counseling offers individual therapy and online therapy services to help with binge eating disorder.

Contact us to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation! →