6 Years Recovered

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

six candles recovery anniversary | MindBodyPlate

Today is a special day for me – one of my favorite days of the year. September 3rd is my recovery anniversary, and today marks 6 years since the last time I binged and purged.

I blogged about my recovery anniversary last year, but a lot has changed since then. Last year I started the day by taking my favorite yoga class; this year I woke up at 5:30 AM to teach a yoga class.

Last year I thought that self-care was something extra you made time for every day; this year I’ve learned that every facet of life and every choice you make is an opportunity for self-care (self-care isn’t the frosting on the cake, it’s the cake itself).

Last year my ideas about what I should be doing with my life were getting in the way of the actual doing; this year I have a private practice which offers nutritional coaching, private yoga sessions, and peer coaching for those in recovery from eating disorders, and I’m in the early stages of planning the New York City debut of my one woman show about food and body image.

The long view almost always highlights growth — I think that’s why I like anniversaries. Because, individually, most of the last 365 days felt like nothing was happening, like I was getting nowhere. But the sum is greater than its parts, as they say.

peanut loves maple syrup | MindBodyPlate

I want you to know that ‘6 years recovered’ does not mean I have a perfect relationship with food. Just yesterday, for example, I was so frustrated with the logistics of setting up my new laptop that I ended up eating a ramekin full of peanut butter mixed with maple syrup… with a spoon.

…and then I went back for seconds.

Emotional eating at its finest, folks. Were there elements of a binge there, where I felt out of control? Sure. The difference is that after it was done I didn’t throw up my hands and say, “Well, now that I’ve totally blown it, I better eat everything else in the kitchen.” The difference is that I didn’t want to purge or punish myself at the gym. The difference is that I knew a little bit too much peanut butter would not send my weight or my body image spiraling out of control. The difference is that I didn’t beat myself up.

Sarah Kit Farrell laughing | MindBodyPlate

Squished on the subway and loving it!

Actually, I had a bit of a chuckle. I mean, we all get frustrated sometimes — let’s be real, especially when setting up new electronics. Of course I lost a bit of control as my brain became overwhelmed. Of course my body tried to comfort itself. And of course it chose the path of least resistance (dietary fat and sugar!!!).

That I can hold yesterday’s mini-binge with empathy, love, and a bit of humor is the real sign that I am recovered.

Just as all of the changes in one year may not be apparent until the year is over, the hundreds and thousands of mini-steps towards recovery may not be apparent day-to-day. That’s how it is with overcoming anything, I think. We relish when we can look back and feel pride in our accomplishment, now abundantly clear. But the good stuff is happening with every mini-step, every choice to incorporate self-care, every day, every moment, every bite.

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My Trip to The Seed

MindBodyPlate trip to The Seed

On my way to The Seed 2014 food festival in Soho, NYC

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a vegan trade show held in New York City’s Soho neighborhood with fellow foodie and friend Dr. Emma Basch, PsyD. This event was put on by The Seed, a plant-based lifestyle company here in NYC. It was the second of such events I’ve attended with Dr. Basch, and I can’t imagine it will be the last. After all, what’s better than spending an afternoon snacking your way through stall after stall of innovative, tasty, veggie centric food — and with a brilliant partner-in-crime, no less?

MBP at The Seed Food Festival

Emma and I on the red carpet at The Seed: Positively Plant Based food festival in Soho, NYC

MindBodyPlate isn’t quite “on the radar” yet, so it’s not as though I had a special press pass or speaking engagement. I was just one of the throng, meeting culinary creatives and lifestyle educators along with the rest. But that’s no reason not to report back to you guys! After all, I came across some really groovy new food items, and I’d love to share them with you.

The style of this post is in no small way inspired by two of my blog-spirations, Oh She Glows and Choosing Raw. Angela and Gena are incredible bloggers, and their recaps of various festivals and events are no exception. Keep in mind that these reviews and opinions are my own, and that I’m in no way being compensated by the companies discussed. It’s just for fun… and maybe you’ll spot the products in a store near you!

Seed Festival Picks | MindBodyPlate

1) I’m just gonna jump right in and start with my absolute favorite product from the show. Ortaggi makes a “frozen organic health snack made from vegetables with hints of delicate herbs and refreshing fruit juices.” In other words, it’s sorbet – with veggies! These treats may be packed with nutritional powerhouses, but they are perfectly sweet, intriguingly complex, and very refreshing. I loved the “spinach + kale with celery” flavor (no really, loved it!), and thought the “celery + cucumber with basil” was pretty decent too. I’d like to get my hands on the “red pepper + peach” or “beet + tangerine” flavors – they look amazing! Not sure when these tasty treats will be headed to a store near you, so keep your eyes peeled!

2) I’ve never been much of a ‘chips’ person, so I was surprised to find that I like these chips… a lot. Beanfields is a family owned company that makes bean and rice chips in a variety of appealing flavors. Though the ingredient lists get a little long for my taste on some of the more complex flavors, I was happy to see that the classic sea salt flavor used just five ingredients: black beans, navy beans, long grain rice, safflower or sunflower oil, and sea salt. The Beanfields company is committed to environmental sustainability and eschewing the use of genetically modified crops. A one ounce serving of their snack contains 4 grams of protein and another 4 grams of fiber. And you guys… they’re seriously tasty.

3) Speaking of interesting ways to use beans, Explore Asian’s line of bean-based pasta is a total home run. These noodles are certified gluten free and USDA organic; moreover, they are delicious and have an appropriately pasta-like consistency. They have four flavors (black bean spaghetti, mung bean fettuccine, adzuki bean spaghetti, and soybean spaghetti), each comprised of just two ingredients: beans and water. I personally wouldn’t recommend the soybean flavor, as un-fermented soy is notoriously difficult to digest, but the remaining three flavors are the perfect way to spice up your old pasta routine – and add protein to boot!

4) There were a great many pieces of handmade art for sale at the festival. I really liked this one, but failed to get the artist’s name. However, their signature is in the lower right hand corner, and I thought the sentiment well worth sharing.

5) Most interesting find of the day went to Our True Roots, a company attempting to popularize the edible tubers known as Tiger Nuts. Tiger nuts, also known as earth almonds (Latin name Cyperus esculentus), are a crop known to have been cultivated by the Egyptians as early as the fourth millennium BC. They have a nutty, ever so slightly sweet flavor and are traditionally used to make a horchata-like drink. I tried a few “nuts” and was pleasantly surprised! I imagine they’d be a great way to boost the fiber content of your trail mix.

Gold and Glow Peanut Butter Cookie Smoothie | MindBodyPlate

The coolest part of the day by far was meeting a fellow graduate of my school, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Maria Marlowe is a certified health coach, speaker, and author who was at the trade show to advertise her new line of plant-based, dairy-free, soy-free smoothie mixes under the moniker Gold & Glow. The product has such integrity and the flavors are beyond delicious. It was so inspiring to see a fellow IIN grad shine like that. I brought home a bag of “Enlightened Energy Organic Superfood Smoothie Mix,” an expert blend of  hemp, maca, oats, cinnamon, & ginger. I’ve been using it to create a to-die-for smoothie that tastes like a peanut butter cookie and a snickerdoodle had a baby. I don’t know when her product will be available, but keep your eyes peeled — cause it’s the bomb.

Hope you enjoyed this recap of The Seed vegan trade show! Maybe someday I’ll be more than just a passive observer, but for now it’s a helluva way to spend a Saturday.

T is for Thinking (That’s Good Enough for Me)

Do you ever think about how you think?

This is the topic explored by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his New York Times Bestseller Thinking Fast and Slow. In it, Kahneman illustrates that we have two distinct systems responsible for the way we think: System 1 is quick, intuitive, and often emotional; System 2 moves more slowly – it requires deliberate effort and is more logical.

When a drug addled homeless guy bum rushes you out of nowhere with hands outstretched towards your boobs and in a split second you somehow dart out of the way just in time without getting hit by a yellow cab – that’s System 1 in action. When I ask you to multiply 137 and 14 right now in your head – that’s System 2. Got it?

Encre L. Marquet Ad by Eugène Grasset

Encre L. Marquet Ad by Eugène Grasset

The answer’s 1,918, if you’re interested.

So it turns out that when the deliberative System 2 is busy, the impulsive System 1 has more of an influence on behavior than it might otherwise. In fact, a slew of psychological studies illustrate that when people are preoccupied with a “demanding cognitive task” they become more susceptible to temptation. Kahneman explains,

“Imagine that you are asked to retain a list of seven digits for a minute or two. You are told that remembering the digits is your top priority. While your attention is focused on the digits, you are offered a choice between two desserts: a sinful chocolate cake and a virtuous fruit salad. The evidence suggests that you would be more likely to select the tempting chocolate cake when your mind is loaded with digits. System 1 has more influence on behavior when System 2 is busy, and it has a sweet tooth.”

So why is this important?

Because it illustrates precisely why we tend to make poor food choices when we’re overtaxed and why relaxed mindfulness can help us make better choices in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Making positive choices for your body and mind requires mental effort, and those efforts can be easily thwarted when your brain is preoccupied with other demanding cognitive tasks. One of the ways we can override that tendency is by pausing to take stock of our present reality. When we do, we make sure that our impulsive System 1 doesn’t run off to the races (with an entire cookie jar).

columboSo how about a real life scenario: here I am sitting at my desk trying to finish this blog post. I’m struggling a bit, because now I’m at the part in the blog where I have to make a cogent point and wrap it up nicely. I can tell that it’s asking a lot of my System 2, the part of my brain that requires deliberate effort. Not coincidentally, I can’t stop thinking about the Kale Oatmeal Raisin Cookie in my purse across the room (you guys, it’s actually sinfully good). See, while System 2 is preoccupied with this damn post, my instinctual lizard-brain (System 1) is like, “I’m sooooo tired and annoyed at all of this thinking. I need some quick energy. Yeah, something sweet would be just purrrfect. K thx.” And I’m not gonna lie: that voice is making a TON of sense right now.

But if I push back from the computer screen for a moment, if I set up my meditation bench and come back to myself, if I just breathe and take stock of my present reality and needs… I may give my System 2 a chance to speak up and offer its two cents. And it may say something like this:

“Hey SKF, I know that cookie sounds really good right now, but you just finished a big lunch of red quinoa, braised purple cabbage, garlic roasted tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and pumpkin seeds. It was such a delicious meal, and it was really filling! Actually, you don’t feel all that hungry right now. But you probably will in 3 hours or so! And won’t that be a lovely time to enjoy your cookie?”

OMG you’re totally right, System 2! I’m not even that hungry, not really. But I was getting kind of overstimulated finishing that blog. I’m so glad I took some time to relax and recharge!

What a paradox that mental health involves so much talking to yourself like a crazy person.

The takeaway, I think, is that this ‘two systems’ knowledge can help us identify why we’re having certain cravings at certain times. And the more we understand our cravings, the more agency we wield in our food choices.

talking to yourself like a crazy person | MindBodyPlateAnd guys, I’m literally only 10% done with this book. Hopefully, there will be some more MBP-worthy gems to share in the future. Yay!

Spiced Summer Slaw with Pistachios

spiced summer slaw - MindBodyPlate

It was a humid one in Brooklyn today. And after a short morning run with my husband, a 90 minute yoga class, and a sunny, mile-long walk home from the studio, I was feeling the heat. I needed something light, fresh, and cooling.

Enter my subtly spiced summer slaw with pistachios – a raw green cabbage dish with a delicate hint of coriander, celery seed, and nutmeg. It’s just the side dish for your next dinner party, BBQ, or picnic.

cabbage - MindBodyPlate

Ayurvedic wisdom tells us that coriander is a cooling spice, good for dissipating the excess pitta energy that tends to build within us during the summer months. This recipe asks you to warm it on the stove top with some extra virgin olive oil in order to bring out its unique flavor, a step that you can probably omit without much consequence if you’re stretched for time.

pistachios - MindBodyPlate

In case I haven’t made this clear before, I’ll say it again: I love sauce. The dressing for this slaw is designed to be rather abundant, so that each bite of cabbage will be fully saturated with flavor. If you don’t want your slaw to be a tad on the soupy side, you may wish to add more cabbage or refrain from using all the dressing.

spiced summer slaw - MindBodyPlate

Spiced Summer Slaw with Pistachios

Vegetarian / Gluten Free / Soy Free

Ingredients:

  • 6 c green cabbage, finely shredded (there’s more than enough in one small head)
  • 1 c yellow onion, finely diced (approximately one onion)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 clove of fresh garlic
  • 1 c plain organic yogurt, from grass fed cows
  • 1/8 – 1/4 c champagne vinegar
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • Heat the olive oil and coriander on the stove top over low heat for approximately 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let cool completely.
  • Peel away and compost the outer leaves of the cabbage and rinse what remains thoroughly. Divide the head into wedges and finely shred them in a food processor (I like the pieces of cabbage to be quite small). Set 6 cups of shredded cabbage aside in a large bowl.
  • Finely dice one onion (ideally about 1 cup), and add to the bowl of shredded cabbage.
  • Add the cooled coriander-infused olive oil to a blender, along with the garlic, yogurt, vinegar, and remaining spices. Blend until incorporated.
  • Pour the finished dressing on the cabbage and onion mixture, add more pepper to taste, and stir in the roughly chopped pistachios (leave a few whole pistachios for garnish).
  • Stir thoroughly and refrigerate until serving. Can be made a day ahead of time, giving the flavors a chance to really mesh!

Serves 4

spiced summer slaw - MindBodyPlate

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.

 

The Pendulum Effect

Foucault pendulum hanging in Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Ben Ostrowsky.

Foucault pendulum hanging in Milan’s National Museum of Science and Technology. Photo courtesy of Ben Ostrowsky.

I find myself talking about pendulums pretty frequently. Why pendulums? That Foucault could use one to demonstrate the earth’s rotation is pretty cool, but I usually reference them because they serve as the perfect metaphor for so much of what I talk about with my clients. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton was talking about the physical laws of motion, but I find it interesting to view our mental, behavioral, and even physical shifts through this same lens.

The universe is always seeking balance, often in ways beyond our control and outside our periphery.

When you pull a pendulum really far in one direction and let go, what happens? You can bet that it will swing really far back in the other direction. A big shift begets another big shift. And we can find this rule of balance playing out in our day to day (or month-to-month, as it were)…

A Tale of Two Months

February was an extremely stressful, obligation-filled month for me, jam-packed with intense emotional growth and periods of distressing uncertainty.

In 28 short days, I turned 30, celebrated my partner’s birthday, celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, juggled multiple jobs alongside 20 hours a week of yoga teacher training, hosted my parents during their visit from California, became a certified yoga teacher, braved the New York City rental market to find us a dream apartment (after our first one fell through), packed up our lives in boxes, moved to a whole new borough, and then unpacked those very same boxes, all amid freezing weather and one winter storm after another.

Needless to say, by the time March rolled around, I felt tired. In fact, I found myself struggling to stay motivated. Midway through the month, I even started to get a little down on myself. What was happening to me? Why did I feel so lazy? Then it hit me:

Well, DUH.

Of course I feel like I’m swimming upstream against a current of relentless lethargy. Of course it’s all I can do to go through the motions and cover the essentials. Of course all I want to do is eat and drink and enjoy the casual company of good friends. Of course my immune system is compromised. Of course I watched all three seasons of The Borgias in two weeks.

This is my body’s way of creating balance, of carving out a period of rest and recovery. This is my body’s response to February. This is the pendulum effect in action.

Macrobiotics* and the Yin-Yang of Food

Have you ever had too many salty foods in a short period of time and found yourself wrestling with intense cravings for sugar not long thereafter? This is your body seeking balance through appetite, and it’s a pretty obvious example of that pendulum swing.

Turns out, there’s an entire dietary approach that concerns itself with balancing the energies of food. The Macrobiotic diet pulls from ancient Chinese philosophy, asserting that every food item falls somewhere on a spectrum of energy, from yin to yang.

Different foods may be more yin (as in sugar) or yang (as in salt). Some foods exist near the extremities of this spectrum, containing high amounts of one kind of energy (red meat, for example, is strongly yang), while other foods fall towards the center and have a more balanced composition (leafy greens, for example, are faintly yin, and root veggies contain just a hint of yang).

yin yang food chart

Someone who follows a Macrobiotic diet seeks to balance out the yin and yang energies on their plate. The best way to do it? Not to swing the pendulum too far in either direction; in other words, to eschew the foods with extreme yin or yang energies, choosing instead those items which are relatively balanced: fruit, sea vegetables, leafy greens, round veggies, root veggies, beans, legumes, grains, and white-meat fish.

I don’t follow a strictly Macrobiotic Diet, but I do dig the idea of seeking harmony on my plate, and I definitely know what it’s like to experience a balance-seeking backlash in my relationship with food.

The Inevitable Backlash of Deprivation

According to researchers at UCLA, the average person who diets for six months will lose five to ten percent of their starting weight. Great! Except that’s not the whole story. Within five years, one-third to two-thirds of those who lost weight on a diet will regain more weight than they lost. There’s that pesky pendulum effect again.

Your body is a finely tuned, highly functioning machine, but it’s not always in cahoots with your intellect. For instance, when you decide to try that fashionable juice cleanse, your brain consciously acknowledges that you’ll be dramatically reducing your caloric intake for a short time. You’re fully aware that you’ll probably get a little hangry or euphoric, but that it’ll all be over in a matter of days. Everything will be fine! It’ll be more than fine – you’ll be glowing by the time you’re through!

But the thing is, your body doesn’t necessarily get the memo. As far as your body is concerned, you were going along fine, enjoying your abundant 21st century menu, when – all of a sudden – your caloric intake was cut in half, there’s no fiber coming in, what happened to the healthy fats, and ohmygod, this can only mean one thing: FAMINE!

Do you know how the human body responds to famine? To semi-starvation? It shuts down any nonessential activity to conserve energy. Immune function? Forget it. Reproductive capacity? As if – we can’t make a baby when there’s hardly enough fuel for one! Moreover, when your body is faced with semi-starvation your metabolic rate drops. It slows. And when you begin eating regularly again, it doesn’t necessarily speed back up. The pendulum has already swung to the other side.

Keep in mind that this juice cleanse example is a bit of an exaggeration. The effects of caloric deprivation take a few days at least to register in the body as an emergency situation. In fact, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may benefit overall health. But for chronic dieters or those suffering from eating disorders, this is no exaggeration.

I suffered from anorexia nervosa for a period of time around the age of 12, then began binging and purging a handful of years later. I had pulled the pendulum of deprivation to such an extreme, that by the time I was in college I felt helpless in the face of my compulsive urge to consume everything around me.

My particular brand of deprivation, so indicative of the “fat phobic 1990s”, was that I denied myself any form of the macro-nutrient fat. Many years later, a nutritional counselor asked me what type of food I binged on the most during my struggle with bulimia. “I don’t think there was one type,” I answered, “I feel like I binged on everything: ice cream, cheese, creamy pasta, doughnuts, pesto crepes, and peanut butter.” She stopped me. “Don’t you see? Those foods do have something in common: fat.” She was right. They were all foods high in fat. How’s that for a pendulum swing?

the cosmic pendulum

Not Quite Equilibrium

So how do we mitigate the destructive arc of the pendulum effect? How do we find balance in the areas of appetite, energy, and mood?

Well, let’s look to the metaphor for answers: a pendulum is never completely still. Even at rest, it is always moving, ever shifting, oscillating back and forth, but imperceptibly so. Just like the pendulum, we never seek to make our lives static, to be happy all the time, or relaxed all the time, or militantly controlling of our diets so they never stray from “perfect” equilibrium. We welcome these shifts, because they a part of being alive in a human body.

And yet, we wish to minimize the extreme swinging back and forth. Which is why we turn to mindfulness. The more in-tune we can become with the subtleties of our moods, patterns, and habits, the more likely we’ll be to notice a swing before it gets too extreme. And we can take a further cue from the Macrobiotic camp: if we aim to steer clear of extremes altogether, we automatically limit the extent to which those appetite, energy, and mood swings can get out of hand.

So let’s take another look at the way my February and March went down: what’s clear is that I have a tendency to push myself too hard until I reach a breaking point, at which time I go through a period of lethargic withdrawal. If I can integrate more mindfulness moving forward, perhaps by scheduling a 10 minute meditation break in the middle of every single work day (no matter how much there is to do), I’m less likely to burn out by the end of the week. And if I can limit my overall obligations and be more realistic about what I can get done in, say, a 28-day period, I’ll be even less likely to crash.

Basically, it’s about being kinder to myself and becoming more successful in the process. After all, two months of working at approximately 78% productivity is better than one month at 98% and the next at 2%. I’m not looking to eliminate my natural ebb and flow, I just want to keep the massive swings to a minimum.

In what ways do you experience the pendulum effect in your own life? Have you noticed it in others? How often do you stop to notice your dominant tendencies, and what would it mean to consciously cultivate a little bit of the opposite? Let’s take a cue from the universe and strive in the general direction of balance, whatever that means for us. After all, the other shoe is going to drop eventually.

scales

*Mine is a crude representation of the rich and wonderful world of Macrobiotics. For more information, check out The Hip Chick’s Guide to Macrobiotics by Jessica Porter.

References:

http://www.kushiinstitute.org/what-is-macrobiotics/
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/dieting-does-not-work-ucla-researchers-7832.aspx
http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UID07E/UID07E11.HTM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Starvation_Experiment
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-intermittent-fasting-might-help-you-live-longer-healthier-life/

Re-Frame Your Food Sins

I had a bad food day

In my health coaching practice, I read a lot of food journals.

Keeping an account of your eating patterns, complete with accompanying physical and emotional states, can be an invaluable tool in examining your relationship with your mind, body, and plate. But it can be scary to let someone else in on your most vulnerable food moments, and the whole process can stir up quite a few insecurities.

“I had a bad food day.” I hear this one a lot. I hear it from my clients as well as my friends and coworkers. In fact, this sort of language is pretty pervasive. I let myself go. I fell off the wagon. I went to my dark place. I’ve heard people use all of these phrases and more when describing a self-perceived food transgression.

I had a bad food day. One of my clients muttered it with shame as she recounted her previous week. For some reason, it bothered me more than usual. Perhaps it was because this client is one of the most radiant, wonderful women I know, and I couldn’t stand that she would beat herself up for eating a few sweets amid her generally impeccable diet. The phrase just seemed so judgmental, so determinate. It was the last time I ever wanted to hear “I had a bad food day” ever again.

So I gave her an assignment to find a word other than ‘bad’ to describe that day and others like it. Two weeks later she offered an alternative that took my breath away, along with permission to share it here with you.

re-frame the sentiment“I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom and restraint,” she said. “Too much of either is a bad thing. With freedom and restraint, it’s really all about finding a healthy balance. And that’s why instead of saying I had a bad food day, I think I’ll say that I was being free with myself or that I had a free food day.”

She went on to describe that in re-framing the sentence, she was able to re-frame the sentiment. A few indulgences no longer felt like an unforgivable sin, but instead like a necessary and logical counterbalance to the nearly constant restraint she attempts to impose on her diet. And balance is a very good thing.

So if in the coming weeks your relationship with food doesn’t go the way you envision, take a moment to consider the words you use, with yourself and others. For my part, the next time I pair my apple with the better part of a jar of peanut butter (What, me? Never!), I’ll do my best to embrace it as an experiment in being free with myself. This is America, after all. Let’s allow ourselves a little freedom now and then.

 

When Full Means Fat and Fat Means Bad

Bowl of Almonds

When full means fat and fat means bad,
nourishing your body is a treacherous task.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
an extra helping can make you feel like your own worst enemy.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
Thanksgiving dinner is like navigating a minefield.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you’d rather miss your best friend’s birthday party than feel bloated in public.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
you can never truly appreciate a shared meal with loved ones.

When full means fat and fat means bad,
the world is a dark, scary place, and recovery seems nearly impossible.

But full is not fat. And fat is not bad.

Full is a signal: my body has had enough. How grateful I am for that satiety cue! How miraculous that I can communicate with my own body in this way, with the trillions of cells which comprise its form. Full can be uncomfortable, but full goes away. So I sit with it. I give it time. I say, “Thank you for the message; I hear you loud and clear.”

Fat is a macronutrient essential to my body’s functioning. It helps me digest and absorb many important vitamins and delivers essential fatty acids that my body can’t make by itself. It helps my cells do their various jobs, promotes healthy skin and hair, maintains my body temperature, allows my neurons to communicate, protects my organs, and helps combat disease.

My body also creates fat as a form of emergency energy storage. What a blessing that my body knows how to care for itself in this way! Sometimes, my body may go a little overboard, but I will never remedy this by depriving myself. Instead, I will help my body feel nourished and balanced. Only then will my body stop preparing for the worst case scenario. So I accept it for what it is. I say, “Thank you for protecting me in this way; there’s no emergency here.”

Sometimes I need to be reminded that being full isn’t the same as being fat, and that “fat” is a term which has been demonized beyond recognition. After all, these are ideas that I learned a long time ago, and those kinds of ideas can be the hardest to change. But if I’ve proven anything to myself it’s that I am capable of remarkable change. So thank you, Fullness. Thank you, Fat. I hear you loud and clear, but there’s no emergency here.

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