MBP VIP Mary Lambert

Everyone, no everyone, should see this art. Mary is beautiful and so are you.

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I don’t believe in portion control

That’s right – I don’t believe in portion control.

Now hold on a second, don’t go running to the Cheesecake Factory just yet. I’m certainly not saying we should consume volumes of food irrespective of our dietary needs, it’s just that I’ve got a bone to pick with the concept.

throw away your food scales - MindBodyPlate

Abandoned food scales.

It’s the phrase that gets under my skin, more than anything: portion… control.

To suggest that a person practice portion control infers that they are inherently out of control and in need of some external constraint. As if, left to their own devices, they would inevitably gorge themselves to death. As if they would be foolish to trust themselves.

The irony is, the more stringent we are with imposing these external constraints, these portion controls, the more likely we are to binge uncontrollably. It’s as if the approach itself has some sort of sinister boomerang effect. The more you think you need portion control, and the more you try to wield it, the more likely you are to need it.

Why is this? A big part of it, I believe, is that forced restriction separates us even further from the possibility of intuitive eating in a culture where we are already so desensitized to our hunger and satiety cues.

Now for those suffering from food addiction, it may be the case that externally imposed restrictions serve as helpful training wheels, for a time. But sooner or later, if you really wanna feel the wind in your hair, you gotta take off those training wheels and trust that you’re not going to fall. I’m not saying this will be easy, by any means. Cultivating a relationship with your intuitive appetite is just like any new relationship: exhilarating, frightening, confusing, and requiring time, attention, and serious commitment.

But it’s easy enough to begin. Start with making a habit of checking in with yourself every few minutes before, during, and after you eat. That’s all – just check in. And once you’ve become accustomed to making that kind of space, you can start to ask yourself more specific questions.

For instance, “How hungry am I on a scale of 0-10, with zero being not hungry at all and ten being starving?” You might even practice getting curious about what kind of hunger you are experiencing (Physical? Emotional?) or what it is specifically that you’re hungry for ( Lasagna? A hug?).

And while hunger and fullness seem to be on opposite sides of the same spectrum, they most certainly are not. Though their interplay suggests otherwise, they exist on two different spectrums entirely. You can be physically full but still hungry for more, not very full but lacking in appetite. And therefore, you must also ask yourself, “How full am I on a scale of 0-10, with zero being not full at all and 10 being uncomfortably full?”

Hunger Fullness Scale - MindBodyPlateAnd you must keep checking in with these questions, not just before you chow down, but also after the first few bites, and again after the next few, and again and again. What seems tedious at first will, over time, become more second nature as you build a bridge toward intuitive eating.

“That’s a lot of work,” you may be thinking, and you’re absolutely right. I’ll probably continue to work on it for the rest of my life. But if you can learn to tap in to the inherent wisdom of your body, to its highly tuned sense of exactly what and how much it needs to stay in balance, you’ll never have to diet, restrict, or use “portion control” ever again. And that seems well worth the effort.

 

5 Years Recovered

Practice self-care, my friends; this post may be triggering to some.

Journal Entry on Recovery

When I wrote the above journal entry I had been in recovery for two years. It would be another two years and 8 months before I binged and purged for the last time. The road was long, grueling, messy, and confusing, but I made it, and today I celebrate five years recovered from an eating disorder that took 12 years of my life.

This old journal entry really captured my attention, because it sums up what was most challenging about my recovery process: sitting with the discomfort. Of course, at times, “discomfort” couldn’t begin to describe what I was feeling, the skin-crawling, nail-biting, heart-wrenching, head-pounding agony of living in my own skin after eating. I used to imagine digging my fingernails into the couch cushions, into the walls, into anything that would anchor me down and keep me out of the bathroom. There were times when I wanted to die, because it all seemed too painful to bear.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that I had trouble sitting with discomfort, with distress. Studies show that low levels of distress tolerance paired with high levels of urgency can predict bulimia nervosa (Anestis et al., 2007). The paradox of this life-threatening disease is that immediately following a binge/purge episode, bulimics experience a rapid drop in stress and other negative emotions along with a corresponding increase in positive emotions (Smyth et al., 2007). In other words, purging is an effective coping mechanism that makes sense… in the short-term. These reinforcing factors are part of what makes it so hard to beat.

And yet, it’s possible. I’m living proof.

This is not to say that my day-to-day is without struggle. A better marker than years for recovery would be the number of times I’ve felt physical discomfort or emotional pain and chosen to do something other than binge, purge, or restrict my food intake. What a number that would be! That’s how ‘five years recovered’ happens: sitting with one uncomfortable urge at a time.

Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, who was the director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, called this practice “urge surfing,” and he used it with patients suffering from all kinds of addiction, from drugs, to sex, to food (Taitz, 2012). But you don’t need an addiction to use urge surfing; everyone can benefit from mindfully observing the rise and fall of a craving. We all struggle with urges that satisfy us in the short-term but might not be in line with our long-term goals. That makes us human.

Luckily, the intensity of my struggle has diminished with time and practice. I’ve gained a great deal of insight studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and yoga. Each in their own way has helped me cultivate self-empathy and nonjudgmental awareness. I find when I’m able to slow down, notice what’s happening in the present moment, and accept the moment for what it is, I am free to create more beneficial patterns of thinking and behaving. And that is what recovery is all about.

So how do I plan on spending my big day? Well, I’ll start with my favorite yoga class, and I’ll probably end with a meal at my favorite New York City restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. A massage might be in order. More importantly, I’m dedicating this day to embracing each emotion as it comes, the good, the bad, and the not-conventionally-beautiful. Because if I can embrace those emotional waves and ride them with loving kindness, there’s nothing that can stop me.

5 Years of Recovery

References:

  • Anestis, M. D., Selby, E. A., Fink, E. L. and Joiner, T. E. (2007), The multifaceted role of distress tolerance in dysregulated eating behaviors. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 40: 718–726. doi: 10.1002/eat.20471
  • Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Heron, K., Sliwinski, M., Crosby, R., Mitchell, J., & Engel, S. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75 (4), 629-638 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.75.4.629
  • Taitz, J. L. (2012). End emotional eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to cope with difficult emotions and develop a healthy relationship to food. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.