Archive for the ‘Disordered eating’Category

The last five to ten pounds

A quick Google search of “last 5-10 pounds” yields 1 million, 970 thousand hits.   That’s the number of seconds it took me to backpack 15 European countries.

Everyone knows that the last 5-10 pounds are the hardest to lose.  And just about every blogger–fuck, every person who has ever set foot in a gym–has something to say about how to do it.  I have a handful of recommendations I could myself make.   I’ve done it personally a million times.    I might be the queen of the last five pounds.  This is what you have to do:

-Cut carbohydrates almost completely.  (Much of the last bit of weight is water.  Your body stores four grams of water to one gram of glycogen.  If you manage to lose one pound of glycogen, you lose a whole four pounds of fat.  On the flipside, however, if you consume just half a pound of carbohydrates one day, and store it, you are going to gain two whole pounds.)

-Do sprint exercises daily, if not twice daily, and lift often.

-Cut calories.

-Fast.

-Be hungry.  If you’re hungry, you’re in caloric deficit.

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Sound like happiness?

No.

What the hell?

This is the thing about the last five pounds: it’s so hard to come off because it’s so important to your body.  (More important for women than for men.  Guys are off the hook in this particular diatribe.)  Tell me: would you rather torture yourself to get down to supermodel, or instead be calm and healthy at the higher weight?

You might opt for “supermodel.”  And some people– some people get there naturally, and that’s awesome.   But let me tell you this: hunger is hunger.  Excess exercise is excess exercise.   Obsessing over food is obsessing over food.  This is what the world becomes for you if you achieve supermodel thinness when you are not designed to be that way.  You end up always safeguarding against gaining weight; you hyperanalyze your food; you restrict yourself constantly in order to meet your caloric goals.  You might think it’s worth it now.  You might even think it’s worth it for a few years.  But obsession is a sneaky, sneaky son of a bitch.

If someday you find yourself there– in an obsessive, or worry-filled, or preoccupied, or hungry world, consider letting go.  Don’t hate yourself for not being able to maintain (or even reach) the “ideal” body.  The whole notion is absurd.

There is no ideal body.  There is only your body.  Listen.  Don’t dictate.  It’s the only way to move forward with positive mental and physiological health.

 

 

24

03 2012

Emerging from starvation: Why I can no longer fast

Some of the craziest shit has been happening to me recently.   Literally, the craziest.  I have no idea what’s going on.  That’s a lie.  I have a lot of ideas.  One of them has even been emerging over the last few days as the strongest contender, but that’s only after duking it out in the sea of idea-mediocrity for some time.  It’s like the island of misfit toys, but for insane hypotheses.

Never let it be said I have anything other than insane hypotheses.

Okay.  I have to wind it back a bit for you.  You can scroll down to the last section of the post for the punch line if you’re an overly eager beaver.  What follows is a recap of my eating and PCOS history, with recent developments highlighted near the end.

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In 2009 I stopped menstruating.  This month, March 2012, marks the 29th month in a row that I haven’t had a period.  This is because I have the hormone disorder Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which means basically that my ovaries are constantly on the fritz.  Back in 2009, this condition was sent into hyperdrive. I lost ~25 pounds in 3 months on a low fat low calorie diet.  That’ quite an achievement for a 5’2 frame.  My already sluggish ovaries boarded up their windows and got the hell out of Dodge, leaving me alone to deal with the wreckage.

My body fat got down to probably around 18 percent, as a guess; it probably dipped to 17 at times, and at others rising to 19.  I’m not sure.  In any case, from that unhealthy low point in 2009 I adopted a paleo diet, though that didn’t trigger menstruation, and I built muscle, and I travelled and my hair stopped falling out and every man in the world started tripping over himself to put his tongue in my mouth.  (This actually happened.  It happened so frequently in fact that it developed it’s own name: the drive-by make out.   This is not a joke.  I was in Italy. Italian men are handsy, presumptuous little grabby primates.)

My sex drive was also in the shitter; I got moderate-severe cystic acne; I was (am) infertile.

But I was paleo.  I was healthy.  I started doing reading on PCOS and found loads of information– but it all was hard to dig up, and it was totally scattered, and even the people with the best ideas really didn’t have any kind of certainty.  The problem was that there’s lots of information out there, and also that PCOS is a bit complicated, such that the reason I was suffering my symptoms “could have been anything!”    I tried loads of things to fix the PCOS naturally: I ate super low carbohydrate for a while; I eliminated dairy and soy completely; I ate coconut; I ate fish; I cut out non-organic animal products; I ate “fertility” foods; I built muscle; I exercised; I fasted. 

Yeah.  So one of the things I did was fast.  I was told that PCOS is usually a disease of insulin dysregulation (true), so I figured I should fast in order to fix my sensitivity.  Okay!  Awesome.    Now I had scientific justification for my life of disordered eating, restriction, obsession, and hunger.   Hell to the y. e. s.!

Fast forward to the end of 2011.

Nothing has worked.  I’m fed-up.  I’m broken and pock-marked and frustrated like I’ve never been.  Tired of fighting and looking for answers.  I decide to try drugs.  They fuck me royally.  

One of the things that happens is I develop anxiety issues and the worst insomnia I’ve ever suffered.  I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but of all the health issues I’ve ever dealt with, this one of the worst.  I couldn’t possibly wish this kind of panicked existence on anyone.  Trying desperately to make it stop, I drop the thyroid medication.  It helps.  The anxiety dissipates, more or less.  All that is left is insomnia.  But it’s BATSHIT CRAZY INSOMNIA.  Like: Don’t-sleep-for-days insomnia.  It’s absurd, completely absurd– I really don’t know how to articulate just how fucked everything in your life becomes when you stop sleeping.  Don’t let this happen to you.  It’s fucked.

Did I mention being fucked?

Right.

I think it’s a good thing.

Now who’s fucked?

I’ve stayed on the testosterone blocking drug Spironolactone.  This has some potential to increase my estrogen levels, which is really important.  Yet far more important than being on this drug, I think, are some other “desperate” measures I have undertaken, finally, in submission to  last resorts.  I have added significant carbohydrate to my diet: 40-50 percent of calories, and my BMI has risen to 21.7.  I have also endeavored to eat more frequently, specifically whenever I am hungry, and to stop exercising, and do my best to convince my body that I am not starving.

And guess WHAT.  I think it’s working.

I think, too, sometimes, that I am detecting hints of a menstrual cycle.  (!)  By gauging the activity of my skin, my vaginal secretions (no longer dry as Oscar Wilde !), sensation in my clitoris (imagine… Jesus Christ… no, don’t imagine Jesus, I mean: imagine OMG not having any sensation down there for three years), and emotional changes…. well, it looks like my hormones are up to something.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: emerging from starvation.

These days, I absolutely can not sleep unless I am fed.   This fact scares me for a number of reasons, and it seems crazy, but really, the evidence is clear.  At night, I lay awake literally until the sun comes up unless I’ve had a full, satiating meal beforehand.  On nights I do sleep, I wake up energized and ravenous, usually quite early.  During the day, I might feel exhausted, but I can’t sleep unless I eat.  Often I will lay down to nap or to sleep, and I just know that my body is too energized, and I feel sort of caffeine-type jittery, but then I’ll eat an avocado and I’ll be instantaneously exhausted and fall asleep on the spot.

Fucked.

What’s happening to me is on the surface clear, even if the reasoning is less so: it’s adrenaline.  Nothing in the world I think has the ability to keep the body running like this for so long except for adrenaline.  I have gone now several days at a time where I hardly sleep at all but am never tired…. it’s adrenaline, it’s got to be, and I have a theory.  Surprise.

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I have sworn very recently to never let my body go hungry.  Today, I eat whenever I get the urge to, come hell or high water… or– holy hellfire, Batman!– a size 27 jean.   I have to make this happen.   Literally.  It feels so unnatural.   And it is brand new for me.  Even though I’ve been fasting under the guise of healthy eating for a significant chunk of time now, I have actually been denying myself food, dieting, counting calories, and cycling in and out of severe restriction since I was ~15 years old.

I have been hungry since I was 15 years old.  I think my body had rather gotten used to it.  Up until…hell, yesterday, I thought it was the normal state of existence.

But now… now… with the added weight, with the dedication to reduced stress… certain hormone systems I think are kicking back into life.   My body is having none of starvation.  It’s just completely done; it won’t let me do it anymore; the jig is up– I’m packing up my skinny pants forever.   In some ways this is really sad, and still it’s really difficult, but in other ways it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.

The most amazing thing happened to me last night:

I went out to dinner with some friends, and I did not finish my pho because I did not WANT to. 

Holy shit.  Holy shit.  I’m shaking my computer, guys.  If you’re a disordered eater, you know how big of a deal this is.  I did not want to keep eating!!11!1!!!1!!sin(90)1!!1!!!  Now that  I am treating my body with respect, it’s respecting me right back.  Is my obsession with food waning?  After almost ten years?  Was the answer really as simple as making a commitment to reduced stress and consistent satiation?

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I’m not getting my hopes up.  It’s early.  My hormones are in giant flux.  I really have no idea what is happening.   Honestly, I don’t understand any of it.  Why the adrenaline, why now?  Why wasn’t it working this way before?  Is it because other hormones are fluctuating?  Because my cells are emerging from a several-year period of semi-starvation and, in their new energy state, are steadfastly refusing to go back?  Maybe.  I know that I’m grasping at straws.  But I don’t know what else to grasp at.  Only time will tell.

For now, I’m going to continue to eat when I’m hungry.  This sounds like a completely normal idea, but for me and for all the other people out there with disordered relationships with food, it seems almost impossible.   I’ll try to keep at it, and I’ll let you know how it goes.  Who knows.  Maybe now that I’ve got that side of the equation, I’ll be able to continue to stop eating when I’m full.  And this will, in the very least, enable me to keep getting rest at night.  That’s the most important part.   I really can’t say that enough.  Sleep is important.  I’ll do anything to get it back.

I’ll write more on starvation in a while.  I’ll keep you posted.  It’s interesting; it’s abnormal; I’m freaked out and nervous as shit; but also I’m tentatively psyched.   The future is scary, but if I can manage to trust my body just a little while longer, I may in fact be saved.

 

 

 

17

03 2012

Hungry or angry as hell

I have spent much of the last ten years of my life hungry.  Part of that is because of our fucked up food culture and egregiously tasty desserts, but that’s been the target of many posts so I’ll leave it alone today.  My new target comes in two forms: politics and perfectionism.  I don’t know which one I hate more.

The health risks of women being– hell, of having –fat have been grossly exaggerated.   Many of the studies conducted on correlations between heart disease risk and being overweight have been conducted on men, and then erroneously applied wholesale to women.  That was unwise.   We know that women have higher body fat percentages than men: but by how much?   How much should they?  What have we lost sight of?  Is it possible to be objective in cultural context?

Women do not just have higher body fat percentages than men, but perform better at even higher levels.  A BMI of 25 is considered “overweight” and 18 is considered the limit for “underweight” in women. 18-21 is considered ideal (by whom and subconsciously conditioned by what I ask you), but menstrual irregularities, sexual dysfunction, and poor mental health are statistically much greater risks at all BMIs less than or equal to 22.   Women at BMIs from 22 all the way up through the high 20s perform equally well in mortality and health statistics.  Additionally, women increase in body fat percentages  as they age, while men decrease.  This is true of ALL cultures, not just Americans.  FINE.   LET’S LET IT BE THAT WAY.

Women are told their entire lives that they need to be thin.  The rational question to ask at this point is “why.”  This is not the healthy ideal.  Where does this idea come from?  Many feminist sociologists point to the history of the 20th century.  As female power has grown, masculine-dominated culture (not men) has searched for ways to harness the power.  How can we keep women under thumbs?  Can we give them ideals?  Can we give them impossible ideals?  Can we take something genuinely beautiful to an extreme, such that young bulimic women are the norm in Calvin Klein ads?  The problem is not that women want to be anorexia twiggy things like models.  They don’t, at least not consciously.  The problem is that they want to be thin, a word we think is perfectly neutral, and even that is in many cases just too far.   The word fit is even positive.  But is a fit women without an ounce of fat on her hips fertile?  Not likely.

This phenomenon has a root in male affinities for visual aesthetics.  Fine, that’s cool, I don’t begrudge them that.

But what happens when a masculine culture that used to arbitrate the distribution of all privileges begins to lose them?  Where does the pressure give?   Lots of people think it gives with hunger.  They make a good case.  People who experience a loss of 25 percent of their body fat (this is a simple drop from a 25 to a 19 BMI, for example… something common and something I have voluntarily done) experience extraordinary psychological distortion.  They ferret away food, keep trinkets, draw obsessive pictures about themselves, become possessive about food, obsess over food, lose sleep over food…. the list of symptoms is endless.  Picture this happening to a group of men.  It has.  It did.  At war, in laboratories.  Not often.  Men can be victims of eating disorders, too.  My point is: think about a man with an eating disorder.  Think about him hunched over a toilet, think about him staggering out of a stall, think about him sitting down at a business lunch and munching on ice and lemon scraping the sauce off of his plate and staring fixedly at the dessert plate, obsessing over what food is an acceptable choice, which one will make him hate himself less… does that horrify you?  It should.  Put a women in his place.  Does that horrify you?  It should.  I bet it’s less surprising.  I bet it feels normal.  I bet it feels even a little bit acceptable.

What.

Is.

Wrong.

With.

Us.  

Problems with body image go beyond politics, of course.  Men and women alike suffer, though women far more so, and to far more deleterious effects.  Only women suffer increased risk for infertility, for ovarian and endometrial cancer, for miscarriage, for low birth weight, and for osteoporosis via having a body fat below ~22 BMI.   Politics and fashion and culture are destroying us.  Our perfectionist ideals are destroying us, too.

Perfectionism is a demon all it’s own.  Who says we have to be perfect?  Why?

Feminists have perhaps even more to say about perfectionism than they do about the politics of food.   Women have gone from being subjugate to demanding perfection in a matter of decades.   This is possibly because of women’s station as the under dog.   Young girls grow up throwing punches, told they really can have it all, but they’ve got to work at it, and like hell, they sure as fuck aren’t going to fail.   Women on college campuses are expected to be perfect without trying.  They might take hours getting ready… dressed in torn up jeans, flip flops, and a sweat shirt.  Ironed hair, perfect, discrete make-up, hundreds of dollars in beauty products on every inch of their body.  This look is sexy and casual.  They’re beautiful and high achievers and you wouldn’t even know it’s killing them.

But it is.  At least 1 in 5 women in colleges experience disordered eating behaviors and thoughts about food, increasingly commonly about bingeing.  That number goes up to 1 in 2 when it’s limited to “food and body image associations” at some elite schools.

Tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.

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Here are some more types of perfectionism on which to plant your rage:

Perfectionism is destructive in every aspect of our lives.  In order to be perfect, we are obsessive not just about our lives, but about our bodies.  In order to love ourselves, and to feel loved by society, we need to be as perfect as possible.   This fact used to kind of excite me.  Someone kick me, please.

We are perfectionists because we don’t know how to be anything else.   Not only are we totally isolated in a world in which everything is crumbling around us and there is not a drop of security or safety or feelings of home to be found, but there’s a gap of meaning in contemporary culture and we don’t know how to fix it.  With family?  Community?  Like hell!  With spirituality?  Art?  Who has the time?  But with my work?  Sure!  With self-improvement?  With the pursuit of a perfect relationship and perfect love?    It’s as though… look.  We have robbed ourselves of serenity.  We don’t know how to fix this.  We think bettering ourselves is the answer, but it only makes us worse.   In this fast, angry, modern, competitive, meaningless world, we don’t have any other choice.   The quickest, hardest, strongest, sexiest wins the race.  Always.  So we had best get to it.

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I threw away much of my life and well-being to the pursuit of perfection.  I needed to be society’s ideal everything, including ideal body.  I can’t tell you how many nights I went to sleep between the ages of 14 and 23 salivating and agonizing over what I was going to eat the next day.  Fuck off!  Why do you think we are hungry all the time?  In part, it’s contemporary culture, tempting us with indulgences and sweets and all that stuff that we wish so desperately we could have but know we can now.  In another part, it’s contemporary culture pursuing the same aim in a different guise, telling us we need to be thinner than we are.

Here’s some news.  If we aren’t clinically overweight, if we test well, if we don’t have inflammation in our systems, we are healthy.   We do not need to lose weight.  We do not need to be obsess.  What we need is to love ourselves, and to accept our bodies, and to let our hunger regulate itself.

I do a lot of talking on here about how to stop yourself from eating.  In some ways, this makes me a healer.  I really do think that society and all sorts of nasty psychological problems get into our heads, and we need to heal ourselves with practices, food, and lots of mental behaviors.    I have spoken to that a lot on this site, and I hope to the gods that message has been heard.

In other ways, this makes me a part of the machine.  When I walk down the street nowadays, since I have rebelled against perfectionism, when I see women who are deliberately thin–like me–I want to cry with empathy and pain rather than envy.  But before it was easier to justify denying my hunger.   It’s not just porn and anti-feminist norms dictating my behavior, but health officials and sociologists and anthropologists and every single person in between.   Read in a certain light, I am a part of that machine.  This makes me furious.

I am not now, not in any way, shape, or form, an advocate of eating less food unless it’s medically important.  I wasn’t before, either.  But now I mean it, passionately.  Not just for you, but also for me.  There is a crucial difference.  I feel this conviction in my bones.  I mean it, and I will not stand for societal norms in this realm any longer.  I don’t stand for them in other ways.  Time for me to grow up and shed my hypocrisy.

Where does this leave me?

Honestly, I am not sure.  I have a complete wardrobe, an expensive one, ranging from sizes 00-01.  It doesn’t get much bigger than that.  I also don’t know what to do in general, or what I want to do.  I have achieved society’s “ideal” in many ways.  I have gone to elite colleges.  I have mastered several languages.  I have pursued advanced degrees at advanced institutions.  I have travelled the world.  I have worked several jobs.  I have a budding investment portfolio.  And I have been skinny for the last two years, and that very fact made me not just confident, but honestly, very, painfully, tearfully honestly, more attractive to men than I had ever imagined.

I see men as victims in all of this, too.  None of them want to starve women.  None of them want their girlfriends and sisters and mothers to go hungry and to hate themselves.  None of them want to sleep with a bag of bones, either.  BUT very few of them are comfortable dating a “curvy” woman.  When did curves die?!  I am a member of a couple of excellent and fun, hip and–most importantly here–intellectual and activist dating websites.  One of the most popular questions everyone answers is: “What kind of body type would you accept in an ideal mate?”  I have never seen a response that did not say, “I’m sorry, but I can not be attracted to anyone with just a little bit of fat.”

I think I am going to throw up.

It’s not our faults that this is what we idealize, women and men alike.  My heart is breaking just thinking about it.  I don’t know what to do.  How do I continue to be attractive in this society while feeling good about myself?  How do I navigate a world in which my standards are so different from everybody else’s?   How do I behave in a world in which I have previous been employed for having a supermodel body, and in which I have basked in the warmth of all the male attention I get for that body?  What am I going to do?

I am going to move slowly.  I have learned how to eat a satiating diet and how to be less obsessive with food, particularly in the last several months.  I have been learning to take even better care of myself, mentally as well as physically.   I will stay away from all the shit food I always have.  It’s nasty and that is something of which no one wants to be a part.  I will stay away from contemporary culture like I always have.  Advertisements make people crave food they never knew they wanted.  And I will eat healthful foods until I am full.  I imagine I will not go up to my biggest size– a size nine on a 5’2 body is bigger than I can handle– but I imagine slowly creeping up to a size 1, and maybe some day in several months a size 3, that is something I can handle.

For much of the last ten years, I have been hungry as hell.  I’ve been angry as hell, too, but not at the right things.

Time to stop hating myself, and throw my punches elsewhere.

 

*Statistics all from this wonderful book: The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf.

24

01 2012

Start here: A comprehensive post on mitigating disordered eating

Hi all.

This is my attempt at a post which will serve as a disordered eating “start here” post.  It’s not everything, and it’s not tailored to people’s particular needs–of course it can’t be–but it will certainly give you a feel for my ideas and philosophy.  Start here, and email me afterwards if you think it would be helpful.  I’d be happy to hear your story.  There’s no question that you will find in me someone to support you unconditionally.

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If you are a disordered eater, you are not alone.  I know that you know this fact, but it never hurts to be reminded.  People always seem comforted by that thought when they email me.  Know that lots of people email me, and hundreds here at this site still don’t, and millions more in America struggle with the same issues.  Know that you keep pretty specific company, too.  I have spoken with smatterings of men and smatterings of older people, but the vast majority have been intelligent, ambitious young women.  This demographic is perfectionist in a big way.  This means that we expect our bodies to be perfect, and our diets, and our health, and when they’re not, things go wrong in a big way, too.   If you’ve noticed this pattern in your life, and if you think it contributes to your disordered eating, welcome to the club.

I don’t say that flippantly.  I have recently learned how to laugh at some of my disordered behaviors and coping mechanisms, and it’s been awesome, I recommend it, but disordered eating of course isn’t funny.  It’s hard and painful and sorrowful and full of loathing, and I’m so, so sorry you feel this way.  Gods, am I ever.  It’s a world of pain, and there are no ways about that fact.

Fortunately, there are some things you can know and practices you can adopt that will help you move forward towards a more serene, positive, and loving future.

If you are a disordered eater, know:

1.   Certain foods make you feel satiated and others do the opposite

Human beings have a protein requirement.  Eat it.  At the low end, eat .5 g/lb of lean body weight per day.  At the high end, eat 1g/lb of lean body weight.  I have 100 pounds of lean body weight, so I eat 50-100 g of protein each day.

Fat is uniquely satiating.  I would argue that you cannot err with a high fat diet.  Eat lots of animals, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocadoes.  Some of my favorite, most energetic days start with four avocadoes, and I end up barely nibbling at dinner time because I’m still not hungry.

Many people think eating starches is ideal for health, and I recommend you to www.perfecthealthdiet.com if you want to learn more about that.   In my case, they certainly are.  For all disordered eaters, it’s a matter of personal experience.   In general, I recommend that if you are obsessive about food that you try to limit your carbs, specifically fructose,  for a while.  Perhaps around 50 grams per day.  It’s up to you whether or not you go into ketosis.  There’s a lot more to that debate than I have space to cover here.

Of all the carbohydrates, fructose is really the only one so demonic to appetite.  It directly inhibits leptin’s interaction with your hypothalamus and stimulates hunger, rather than suppressing it.  Just one or two servings of fruit throws me off for an entire couple of days.  Once I switched to a paleo, high fat diet, I was so amazed and relieved at how much less I thought about food.

Know also that there are a lot of different theories for why we have cravings.  JS has a fascinating series on hunger, liking, and how poor nutrition might lead to a lack of satiety over at gnolls.org.  Educate yourself about it as best you can, and learn that your hunger is not your fault.  The Jaminets also have a thematically related theory about hunger and why people overeat: nutrient deprivation in lean tissue.

That isn’t to say it still isn’t a struggle.  That’s what the rest of the post is about.

2.  You have a chemical problem, like an addiction.

There’s no question about it.  Sugar produces very real withdrawal symptoms in rats fed high sugar versus high fat diets.  (They binged on both foods, but did not experience withdrawal with the fat.)  Sugar acts on the same dopamine receptors that other addictive substances do.  What’s so hard about food addiction, however, is that we cannot go cold turkey.  We must keep eating.  In any case, the important thing to remember is that there is something going on in your metabolism and your brain that is making this phenomenon happen to you.

3.  In addition, we live in a fucked society It makes more money the more you eat, and you eat more the worse you feel about yourself.

4.  Given points 1, 2, and 3, therefore, disordered eating is NOT. YOUR. FAULT.

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It’s not.  But it still haunts you.  What do you do?

  1.  Practice forgiveness.  Because it is not your fault, because disordered eating is a hell of a demon, and because you would grant forgiveness to anyone other than yourself, you must learn to forgive yourself for negative eating episodes.  You are doing your absolute best to cope with a horrible problem, so don’t drown yourself in guilt.  It’s painful and not productive at all.  In fact, it’s counter productive, because the more guilt you feel, and the more you beat yourself up, the more you want to eat.  Breathe deeply, let go, and love yourself as unconditionally as you can.  Forgive yourself as you would forgive others.  It is not your fault.
  2. Treat each negative eating episode as a learning experience.  This and forgiveness are the two crucial elements for getting better.  You have to learn about yourself—you have to understand why you binge, what your triggers are, and how you react to your bingeing—in order to begin mitigating your problems.  In this way, each bingeing episode isn’t worthless.  It’s teaching you something.  Even if it’s something you’ve done a million times before, each situation is unique and can give you unique insights into your psyche.  Forgive yourself for not being able to cut off the binge before it started, and learn from the experience.
  3.  In this way, you are always moving forward.  Learn from each experience, but do not dwell upon it.  Forgive yourself for each experience, and move on.  Love yourself always, and keep your eyes on the future.  What’s important about looking at the future, however, is to stop shooting for perfection.  Shoot for progress.  Disordered eating is nothing something you will ever be cured of.  Instead, it is something that will get better and better throughout time.  Sometimes you will stumble.  The progress is slow.  But even while you struggle, you are learning about yourself.  Two steps forward, one step back.  That’s okay.  Inching forward is the name of the game.
  4. Never have ridiculous expectations.  Don’t expect yourself to get better fast.  I’ve been working on this for years and years.  Expect yourself to get better.  Ask yourself to challenge yourself, but never too far outside of your comfort zone.  Know your limits, and push them gently.  Have as much patience as possible.
  5. Move on as quickly as possible.  After an eating episode, don’t let yourself get sucked into the vicious cycle of depression and eating.  Instead, figure out ways to move on and regain mental balance as quickly as possible.  Many people write to me expressing that their biggest problem is getting back on their feet.  With forgiveness, learning about yourself, and a steadfast refusal to dwell on negativity in your life and in your self image, you can do this easier and easier.
  6. Love.  Love yourself as you love others.  Love others as you love yourself.  Don’t ignore the negative, but instead consider it a part holistically of who you are as a beautiful, very real, and very human, human.  Know that it is a part of you, but it does not define you.  Love yourself as holistically as possible.
  7.  Fix the other crap in your life.  For real.  Stressors are a big part of disordered food behavior.  Resolve your stress, quit your shitty job, see a therapist.  Figure out what you need to be happy and go for it.  One of my readers moved to Mexico for a while, and came back and got a new job, and started seeing a therapist and taking some medications.  She’s doing lightyears better.  Take action to make your life better.  Fuck!  Not a single person in the world cares more about your happiness.  They are not going to do it for you.  You are.
  8.  See a doctor.  Get a blood test.  You never know if there’s something wrong.  I started taking thyroid medication a couple of weeks ago, and it has helped enormously.  There are also psychiatric agents and dopamine type things you can take to assist you feeling satiated.  You would get these from a psychiatrist, normally.
  9. Eliminate as best you can the deprivation attitude.  If we feel deprived, we want the things of which we are deprived far more than we would otherwise.  Not having oreos, you are not deprived.  We all have friends who can eat six whoppers in a day and not gain a pound, but that’s simply not you and you are probably better off for it.  Don’t let people and phenomena like that make you feel deprived. Instead, feel blessed for the opportunity to eat real, healthful, natural food.
  10. Get your mind off of food.  Find something else in life worthy of your devotion.  Throw yourself into your work, your relationships, a new hobby, or volunteering.  Have a sense of purpose and move towards it.  There is not a single thing in the world better for mitigating disordered eating than making something other than food the most important thing in your life.  I remember very clearly the first day I didn’t have the thought, “I’d rather be eating!” sitting at the back of my head for the entire day.  What I wanted was to be doing exactly what I was doing.

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What I listed above are what I think are the most important mental behaviors and ideas for mitigating disordered eating.  In the meantime, and while you work on those issues, there are a lot of trick type things you can do to help ease the pain of bingeing.  Sometimes the best thing isn’t to try to STOP a binge—that can lead to worse things down the road, especially if you fail—but rather to harness your need to overeat and direct it in less harmful directions.  THEN, when you feel as though you aren’t being as harmful with your eating, you will naturally feel less guilt, and your desire to eat might be less and less.

  1.  Get distracted.  This is related to the last point above.  You can engage your hands in other things, like knitting or drawing or fidgeting, but you can also engage your mind in other things.  Engaging your mind is even more effective, because it actually gets to the root of your problem.  Don’t just watch TV–that leaves your hands and mouth idle.  Play a game, go for a walk, talk to a friend.  The list is endless.
  2. Banish negative thoughts about food or yourself immediately.  IMMEDIATELY.  Hating ourselves is almost a habit.  Get out of it and shift your mind into thinking about more positive things.
  3. Get happy neurotransmitters another way: exercise and have sex.  These are excellent means by which to improve the chemical environments of our brains.  Get to it!  Life is short.  What do you think you’re going to regret more on your deathbed?  That you didn’t eat enough oreos, or that you didn’t try reverse cowboy?
  4. Never look in the mirror, good or bad.  Ideas about food are tied up with body image.  As they should be, in some way, since what we eat is directly related to our health.  But this association means that when we look at ourselves, we often think about food right away.  If I look good, I think “boy I can go eat!” and if I look bad, I think “boy I can’t eat at all!” and that’s awful, it makes me feel deprived.  Instead, just keep fitting into your regular clothes and trust you look the same as always.  Don’t dwell on your body image, there’s no reason to.  Really.  Can you think of one?
  5. Recognize trouble foods and keep them away.  Really.  Don’t make excuses for your families.  They should support you.  And if they insist on eating foods you normally binge on, or have unhealthy thoughts about, try having separate food storage locations.  Have separate shelves, or drawers in the fridge, or pantries.  Make it your habit to NEVER open their cabinets.  When I am home with my mother, I do this with the fruit drawer, and it works quite well.  I just don’t look in there, I don’t know what’s there, and that’s great for all of us.
  6. Recognize your habits and try to break them.  A lot of our eating behavior is just a conditioned habit.  Do you always eat when you get home, even if you’re not hungry?  Try to change that.  It only takes a couple of days for our ghrelin to respond to new eating schedules.  It might suck at first, but it could really help you in the long run.  On the other hand, there are a few other ways to mitigate the problem: try moving a meal to the time you arrive home, or make sure what you eat when you arrive home is just a low calorie snack like six heads of broccoli.
  7. When you can’t keep them away, just let yourself go.  Seriously.  Don’t go nuts, but I have found that resisting for short periods of time works, but for long periods of time can build up intense cravings that leads to really unhealthful binges.  In these cases, if you know that you are being exposed to a problem food for a short period of time, forgive yourself ahead of time for anything you might do.  Try and keep your hands off of the food, but if you don’t, just nibble slowly, and acknowledge that you’re doing your best.  This might not work for everyone.  It’s important to constantly over time learn what is the best way to handle the presence of trouble foods for you.
  8. Don’t eat carbohydrates.   Fructose.  Really.  Don’t.
  9. Take a nap.  Get good sleep every night.  Often I eat because I am tired.  People who sleep less are more overweight than well-rested adults.  Presumably this is because being tired inhibits satiation signaling.  Our bodies think they need more food for energy, even though they really don’t.
  10. Call someone.  Often I eat because I am lonely or bored.  Recognize these kinds of mental states, and mitigate them as best you can with different activities or thoughts.
  11. Drink tea.  A great way for flavor and consumption without the calories or self-loathing!  Switch up the kinds of tea you drink so you don’t over-do it on certain herbs.  That can be problematic.
  12. Chew gum.  It’s not the best solution, because it’s sweet and can make you crave more foods, but some people swear by it and it’s better than eating a whole cake.
  13. Eat vegetables.  Move your bingeing from the tastiest to less tasty foods over time.  This is one of my favorite techniques.  People often binge on desserts and highly processed, nasty, addictive foods.  One way to satisfy our bingeing needs is to substitute in different foods.  It might be hard to switch right to cabbage from oreos, but what you might want to do is put in a slightly more healthful alternative each time.  When you’re craving HoHos, ask yourself if four pounds of sweet potatoes would be equally as delicious and satiating.  Or try citrus fruits (a bit harder to overeat), or berries, or even something like protein or Lara bars.  Then move into the vegetables.  Try sweeter ones like carrots, and then cabbage and Brussels sprouts.  It can take you an hour to eat a head of cabbage, and it’s only a few hundred calories.  It might make you feel sick—bingeing always does—but it’s a hell of a lot better for your physical and mental health then downing a whole cake.  This method helps you satisfy your need to EAT while minimizing the nasty effects.  I still do this, if not in full “binge” mode, on a regular basis.
  14. Eat all you want of paleo foods.  It’s better to be overweight or an overeater on paleo foods than to not be paleo at all.   Calories are important but are not the most important for our health (usually).  It’s better to eat a whole chicken than a slice of pie.  I mean that.  DO IT.
  15. Fast.  Fasting is a great way to decrease hunger.  It’s a bit of a paradox, but it’s true.  Give it a try.  The longer I go without eating, the less I usually feel like I need to.  Fasting is also a great way to recover from a binge.  If you can go all the way to dinner the next day, you’ve spent all day burning what you ate before.  You are also spending that time clearing up your cells from any garbage from your eating episode, and resetting your metabolism to more optimal levels.
  16. Establish a satisfying routine.  This takes a while,but keep on troubleshooting and don’t give up.  Figure out what kind of meal plan and what kinds of foods make you feel good about your eating habits and are still satiating.  I enjoy eating a big fat rich meal in the morning which opens me up to nibble on veggies and protein at night.  Of course I leave room for unique situations like dinner with my housemates, but generally my life runs by a good routine, so why not my food, too?  An added bonus here is that the more routine you are, the less you have to think about what and when you are going to eat.
  17. Be poor.   Having to keep a tight budget did wonders for my eating.  Or you could start saving up for something.  If you’re trying to save money, you might go grocery shopping less often, and naturally start eating less.
  18. Clean your room.  Living in a clean space is important.  I don’t know why, but I and a lot of my clients experience the power of clean living.  If I am in a beautiful space that I feel proud of and comfortable in, I feel more serene.  I feel more productive.  I feel less like a typical slob, and therefore less like eating.  I light candles and read books with tea and generally create a beautiful narrative around my life.  It makes me feel so positive.  Showering regularly and wearing flattering clothes that I love is a huge part of this, too.
  19. Get momentum and hold onto it as best you can.  Momentum is about a million times easier to hold onto than to achieve.  Once you’ve got it, run with it.  Don’t question it or dwell on it, just do.
  20. Spend time with people who affirm you.  This is a no brainer, but it’s amazing how many people I talk to who live with people who put them down, consciously or not.  You are awesome.   Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  I mean that.  Try to spend time with positive people in general, too.  The more positively you think about all things, the more positively you will think about food and yourself.  Psychological literature has shown that positive thinking and gratitude are two of the greatest happiness generators in contemporary lives.
  21. Don’t read magazines or watch TV.  Have your own standard of beauty, for God’s sake.  When I am living abroad, I always feel comfortable, if not beautiful.  The second I set food on American soil, however, I feel lowly and sluggish and silly.  There are billboards all over, magazines, TV commercials, people themselves with bleached blond hair and perfect skin and bodies, and WTF.  Turn off the ‘TV.  Don’t look at them.  The more you focus on the beauty of others, the more you are exposed to it, the more you compare yourself to it.  Why must I be as beautiful as Scarlet Johannson?  Because I am a perfectionist, and society says she is perfect.  No!  Fuck!  I am equally perfect, and I’ll be damned if anyone is going to convince me otherwise.
  22. Fake it ‘til you make it.  Put on a smile.  Flirt.  Wink until you develop a tick.   Gods.  Guys, I’ve walked around much of the two years with cystic acne on my face, and absolutely, I cover it up with make up, but it still shows and I feel hideous a lot of the time.  All that said, because I demanded of myself to not let my confidence slide, and to still act like I owned a bar every time I went in it, I have actually increased the rate at which people are interested in me.  Hugely!  It’s so hard to grasp, gods, it’s so hard, but what’s so important for being attractive is being friendly and having a warm, confident smile.  Put it on, try it, and see what happens.  Then you’ll get affirmed, and you’ll have confidence naturally.  And you might not care so much, or at least hate yourself so much, for how you look.   Don’t waste your time worrying about your looks.  (Do you care all that much about what other people look like when you meet them?)  Instead, do your best to make good connections with people.  If they turn out affirming you physically or sexually or whatever, that’s great.  More often than not they won’t.  But if you put on that smile, if you strut, if you dress to impress, you will impress.  You will have confidence, and it will grow.  You are not your body image or your relationship with food.  You are an empowered human being.  Be that, and damn everyone to hell who might stand in your way.
And that…that’s about it for now.  Please leave more ideas in the comments if you got ‘em.  I’d love to hear from you, with your own ideas or otherwise.
As the lovely soul JS says, live in peace, live in beauty.

 

16

01 2012

What is conditioning, and how does it affect our lives?

It has been far, far too long since I’ve written a post on the likes of Ron Weasley.  Where is the fire and brimstone?  Where are the charging hordes?  Where are the Kirbys, the Spocks, and the Sonic and Tales?  We all need a little bit of Patton in our lives, and I’ve been remiss in going astray.  So I want to talk first about a very important psychological phenomenon, and second about it’s implications for contemporary lives.

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Everyone and their grandma has heard of Ivan Pavlov.  But he was such an important man, and his ideas so profoundly impacted psychology, that he merits a recap.

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian scientist in the late 1800s.  He was a medical researcher, and he made important strides both in organ physiology and in the functioning of the nervous system.  He was particularly interested in the idea of “reflexes,” which is what brought him to his most famous works.

Pavlov was investigating the salivary response to foods when he happened upon a phenomenon now known as classical conditioning. What he found was that dogs salivated not just at the sight of food, but also at the occurrence of “food is coming” signals.  First, the dogs responded only to the food itself.  Then, after having food delivered with the sound of a bell for a certain period of time, the dogs began salivating at the sound of the bell.  Even without food present, the dogs salivated.  They had been conditioned to salivate, and no amount of mental “no no no” would stop the saliva from coming.

What does this mean for human beings?

This means that we can condition responses to just about anything.  Repeat a certain event with a stimuli for a certain amount of time– say, dinner (the event) at six o’clock (the stimuli) or food (again, the event) when I see a Starbucks (again, the stimuli)– we come to expect these things.   Naps in the afternoon, workouts in the morning, the same drinks every time we hang out with the same friends…

Moreover, it is not just a psychological expectation, but a physiological expectation.  I had a professor in college prove this to us.   For two months he would ring a bell then submerge his arm under hot water.  His arm would turn red.   At the end of two months, he rang the bell, without submerging his arm, and his blood vessels opened up, and his arm turned red.  Make no mistakes about it.  Classical conditioning is a very, very real thing.

We also have things called “habits” which are very similar to conditioned responses, only less specific and less strong.   Both are inherent parts of our every day lives.  Both are powerful, and both are hard things to break.

A lot of what we do in life is ruled by habit.  Habit makes things easier.  I always sit in the same seat in class, I eat a lot of the same foods, and I often eat at the same times.  Cool.  These are all helpful things.  But I also have some nasty habits.  I eat every time I come home.  Sometimes this act is so ingrained and subconscious that I have consumed an entire chicken leg before I even know I have food in my mouth.  Yikes.   Some other bad habits I have had in my life are eating while I talk to my mom, walking down the “bad” aisles of grocery stores, and pulling over every time I see a sweet potato cart.  These were subconscious, powerful, and–don’t forget–physiological compulsions.  They ruled my behavior.

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It’s not all BAD NEWS BEARS for team humanity, however.  And why not?

Because as easily as we are conditioned to bad habits, we are broken of them. Without the hot water my professor’s arm still turned red, but each day afterwards, when the stimuli of the bell was rung, but the result of the hot water was absent, his arm got a little bit less red.  Within two weeks it didn’t happen at all, and he felt no difference.   He was, by then, conditioned to the new order of things, which was: ring bell, have nothing happen.  Cool!   We can be programmed to respond, but we can also be re-programmed, or de-programmed, to have different responses.

So if I forcibly stop myself from walking to the refrigerator the next time I go home, I will be de-facto starting the de-conditioning process.  Each time I do that it takes me further down that road.  This process is difficult as hell, especially at first, but each time gets easier and easier.  I can build up momentum in this way.  The more and more time we spend actively denying a bad habit, the easier and easier it becomes to let go.

How does this relate to Mr. Weasley?

Well.   It’s about being the hero of your own life. It’s about recognizing your bad habits, and about owning up to them, and facing them dead on.  It’s about being honest with yourself, and determined, and about taking action.  In a lot of ways, it boils down to bravery.  Here, we have the science to back us up.  We know what the road is going to be like.  We know it’s tough, but we also know that it gets easier over time.  We know that we have conditioned ourselves to act a certain way, but we also know that we can de-condition that behavior.   The first time you get yourself past the McDonald’s without pulling over, it’s an enormous struggle, but it’s also a momentous victory.  Huzzah!  And the second time, it’s still a struggle, but it’s yet another victory.  Bad habits suck.  Let’s be real.  But letting them rule your life and perpetuate disordered eating is even more horrific.  Be a Ron Weasley.  Be an Odysseus.  Be Mufasa.  Whatever.  Whoever.  Use every tool you have at your disposal to improve your life, then commit, and do it, god damnit.

Easy Peasy.  Pavlov says so, and he was the man.

09

06 2011

Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?

Over the past few days, I’ve been busy working on a paleo archiving project.  I’m really excited about it.  The one post I have posted below, I think, is just the beginning, and I have about a billion tabs open on my computer, trying to organize everything.  Because this has taken up so much time, I haven’t been thinking much about disordered eating.  But it’s kind of a nice break.  Food and negativity on the mind is food and negativity on the mind, no matter which way you’re looking at it.

In any case, in my archiving I came across this post by Paul over at Perfect Health Diet.  I’m amazed that I missed it before because I read his blog religiously.  In the post, Paul asks a question I had always wondered about: “Why did we evolve a taste for sweetness?” and he provides an answer I had never thought of before.

What if, says Paul, our taste for sweetness was “hijacked” by fruit?  What if our original taste for sweetness was much more subtle?

Paul proposes here that we evolved a taste for sweetness because red meat is the sweetest of any animal.  Other hypotheses are that a) we need fruit for a variety of reasons, particularly vitamin C, b) that we need glucose and therefore evolved craving carbohydrate in general, or c) that benefit from a bit of fruit and a bit of starch in our diets, but fruits were so scarce and “tart” back then that their actual contribution to human health was negligible.  I believe that I’ve heard a refutation to this last point recently, but I can’t remember where.   Paul’s own refutation of them all is as follows:

“But what of the sweet taste? Is it really a sensor for carbohydrates? If so it does a rather poor job. The healthiest carbohydrate source – starch, which is fructose-free – hardly activates this taste, while fructose, a toxin, activates it in spades. If this taste evolved to be a carbohydrate sensor, it should have made us aversive to the carbohydrates it detects, as the bitter taste makes us avoid toxins. But sweet tastes are attractive!”

Right.  So he then discusses how red meat is the sweetest meat (read the post!  there is a lot more science going on than I am addressing), and proposes that we crave this sweetness more when we have nutrient deficiencies.  Fascinating, right?

The implication of this for binge eaters, which Paul points out in his post, is that a part of our craving for sweets may be nutritionally derived.  As such, binge eaters have a stronger than average inclination to binge because their bodies need something only available, or at least most abundantly available, in meat.  This idea relies on the theory that cravings are driven by nutrient needs.  Unfortunately, the jury is definitely out here.   Dr. Briffa thinks this occurrence is rare, and this organization and this review paper think is false. On the flip side, Pica, a condition marked by cravings for inanimate objects such as sand or dirt, is very often (but not always) hypothesized to be caused by nutrient deficiencies.  As such, it supports, in the extreme spectrum, Paul’s theory.

Since so much of the science lacks consensus in this issue, I don’t have a set opinion.  It makes sense to me, that we would crave meat if it’s the best source of nutrition.  Paul’s reasoning is solid, too. But I also know that many intelligent people, including Paul, think that we need a hundred grams or so of glucose each day.    Should that include fruit?  Who knows.

Finally,  I look to my experiences.  I know that I have rectified some nutrient deficiencies since going paleo.  My thyroid is working a bit better, my skin is nicer and my hair no longer comes out in strands as thick as a mongoose.  These changes are positively correlated with my cravings.  Those have decreased without question.  But how do I suss out the reasons?  Is it nutrient deficiencies?  A lack of blood sugar fluctuation?  The elimination from fructose in my diet, which helps stabilize leptin levels?  Or is it psychological?  Habitual?  Have I finally, after all this time, just kicked the bucket on sweets?

Yes, I think, and no.  The fact that I can binge on non-sweet foods says No.   I’ve put away entire chickens before without blinking an eye.   Many of my readers can do this, too.   As can rats.   Yet Paul again has a rebuttal lined up.  He asserts that people reach for sweets because they are denied their first, true, and most important craving: fat.  Interesting.  It’s an idea I wouldn’t  elbow people to get in the front of the line to sign up for, but I can also totally see it being the case.  If anyone was fucked by conventional nutrition, it was me.  Did you know I ate almost no fat for three years?

That said, I don’t think this fat-deprivation entirely drove my bingeing behavior.  There were a lot of factors as play, worst of which, I think, was my fructose consumption.  Yet weight loss, frustration, stress, body image, and lack of fat and protein leading to an inherently unsatisfying diet were also big components.  Meat-as-craving-for-sweetness is a fascinating theory.  It has definite potential as a component of disordered eating.  But there are millions of things going on in my body and in my brain at any given time, and I think many other disordered eaters would agree.  What comes first?  What follows?  What triggers the worst binges?  What is the most effective bingeing salve?   It’s all very complicated stuff.  In any case, we should address the physiological as soon as and as diligently as possible.  We should eat animals, stop eating fruit, and make sure we get as much fat and protein as we need.   We should consider supplementation if we’ve really been beating up our bodies.  And we should stop doing chronic cardio and do our best to sleep at night.  We can, then, at the same time, start chipping away at the psychological factors.  The hope is then that, as we move forward with both psychological and physiological healing, we can recover as smoothly and quickly as possible.

23

05 2011