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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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!

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.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from MindBodyPlate! Some thoughts to keep in mind as you join loved ones around the table tomorrow:

  1. Approach every single bite with mindful awareness.
  2. Take periodic breaks to gauge your fullness level on a scale of 1-10 (and decide to stop before 8).
  3. Occasional indulgence is a sign of healthy balance.
  4. Full is not fat. Fat is not bad.
  5. As always, it’s important to cultivate a sense of humor about these things:

Yours Truly expressing a common post-Thanksgiving sentiment, “I’m Not Pregnant, I’m Just Fat” (music & lyrics by Katie Thompson, accompanied by Sean Kana), as a part of my one woman show, Eat Your Heart Out.

No Juice for You!

Orange wedges dropping into water

A few months back, I had the pleasure of visiting my sister in Napa Valley, where she works as a pastry chef in a popular, historic bakery. I spent most of my mornings in the bakery’s café area, mindfully enjoying a cup of tea and a bit of breakfast, perhaps reading or just taking in the sights and sounds of the affluent small town. On one such morning, I witnessed an event so unexpectedly horrific that I still think about it every time I see fruit juice.

A mother (or otherwise maternal figure) walked into the bakery with two healthy boys of about five or six years. They approached the register, at which time the boys noticed an open cooler full of Odwalla juice. “Juice!” they squealed, “Can we get juice?”

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

Source: State Library and Archives of Florida

“No, we’re not having juice this summer,” the mother replied, “and let me tell you why: it’s filled with sugar. Besides, you don’t want to waste your Sweet Treat before nine in the morning on a drink.”

This piqued my interest. Though she was in a bit of a crabby mood, it seemed that this mother was sharing the logic behind her decision and trusting her boys to understand its nuances. I really appreciated that. I’m also not a huge fan of fruit juice, especially for kids. I continued to eavesdrop, curious to see how she would handle any follow-up questions.

As expected, the boys persisted. They really wanted that juice. She got agitated.

“You need to learn what ‘no’ means. I don’t want to argue with you. This will not be the ‘Summer of Juice.’ Juice is full of sugar, and it’ll make us fat. If you’re going to have juice, it will be fresh-squeezed.”

*record scratch*

Uh…what? Okay, so at this point, I realized that this conversation was no longer about health. It was about aesthetic value. It was about how juice is “bad” and how being fat is also “bad.” This was also the moment I realized this woman might be kookoo bananas, since she somehow believed that fresh-squeezed juice would be less sugary than a 6oz Odwalla (it is not).

Ready to negotiate, one of the boys said, “But we can have a juice now if we don’t have any other sweets today, right?”

“No, no!” she quipped, “Now listen to me.” At this point, she grabbed the face of the other boy, pinching the loose skin underneath his chin between her thumb and index finger, and shaking it for effect.

“Look at this! Look at your brother! We will not be drinking any more juice, because it’ll only add to this [chin] and we are not going to get fat!”

Need I remind you that this was a perfectly healthy pair of young boys? Not even close to overweight. I was mortified. Soon thereafter, they purchased their breakfast (ironically, a bag of carbohydrates – aka SUGAR), and left the bakery. I whipped out my smart phone and transcribed the interaction, still in shock about what I’d just witnessed.

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

We know better than to believe these creepy old orange juice ads, but we need to be careful about labeling certain foods as “bad.”

Food Rules and Weight Gain

There’s no question that we need to address the obesity epidemic in this country. But when will we realize that labeling foods as inherently “good” or “bad” is not the answer?

Look, I typically stay away from fruit juice, and I’ve made the personal decision to cut out refined sugars. Yet, from time to time, my body tells me that it needs some no-sugar-added citrus juice, and I’ll be damned if I ever deprive my body of what it needs ever again. Granted, it took me a long time to suss out the difference between a true need and an emotionally driven craving, but it’s a skill set that we are all capable of achieving.

And though I typically say no to refined sugars, when I’m visiting my pastry chef sister in Napa, California, I will never deny myself a taste of one of her delectable creations, because I know that there is nourishment in such a thing that goes way beyond nutritional value. There’s a term I use in my practice called Primary Food, and it applies to all of the non-food aspects of living that feed our soul, nourish our mental health, and satisfy our hunger for life. Bonding with my sister over her passion is one such example of Primary Food, and I know that it will benefit me more in the long run than abstaining from a few bites of sugary pastry.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

I typically don’t eat refined sugar, but when I do, it’s usually for a taste of one of my sister’s delectable creations.

Restricting food almost always backfires in the end. Research shows that making certain foods off-limits can lead to obsessing and bingeing. In fact, eaters who restrict are more likely to experience cravings and more likely to give in to them. A study published in the journal Appetite demonstrated that the more a mother restricts her young daughter’s access to snack foods, the more snack foods the daughter will eat when given the chance (1).

It’s time to shift the conversation so that it’s about feeling healthy and good in your body, not about a number on a scale or about attaining some kind of saintly dietary perfection. And it begins with us, in our every-day actions and our every-day conversations.

Let’s teach children that too much sugar actually makes you feel pretty gross, in the short term and long. Let’s make it about them feeling good in their bodies. Let’s make it clear that there’s nothing inherently bad about 100% fruit juice, but that it’s a “sometimes” food and not an “all-the-time” food.

The war on childhood obesity may be warranted, but if we continue to tolerate fat shaming and fail to teach moderation, we’re creating a generation of binge eaters.

References:

(1) Fisher, J.O, & Birch, L.L. (June 1999). Restricting Access to Foods and Children’s Eating. Appetite, 32 (3), 405-419. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/appe.1999.0231

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.

SKF at Window

TV Dinners

Couple-watching-1950s-style-television-Supplied-5908832

I grew up without television. Well, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic. We had a television set with a VCR and plenty of movies. I could catch such important programming as Eureka’s Castle, Duck Tales, and Lamb Chop’s Play Along whenever I visited my grandma’s house. Eventually, my family caved and got basic cable, but our TV time was always limited, and we NEVER turned it on during mealtimes.

By the time I was in college at San Francisco State University, I settled on a degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA), a course of study which fueled my overall media consumption and led me to write papers like “A Feminist perspective on Flavor Flav’s Reality Dating Show, Flavor of Love” and “Fern Gully and the Modern Environmental Movement.”

Well, I’m not in school anymore, and I’m here to tell you: my television consumption has gotten way out of hand. It’s easy to see why. After all, even cinematic darlings like Steven Soderbergh concede that the genre is enjoying a golden age. Between Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Girls, and Homeland, I have zero need for conversational fodder at dinner parties. It’s all we talk about. And it’s all I want to do. When I get home from a long, obligation-filled day, I ache for the immediate, abundant satisfaction of my Netflix instant stream.

And that’s fine, to a certain extent. Uses and Gratifications Theory (UGT) allows us to focus less on what the media do to people and more on what people do with media. In other words, I get something out of watching television; otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. Slowly making my way through the first 272 episodes and 12 seasons of Law and Order: SVU may not seem like the most balanced pastime, but I’m well on my way, dammit. Because I love it. Because it offers me something. And that’s okay, sometimes.

Sometimes. Everything in balance. swansons1

So why am I writing about this now? Oh, yeah. Because I’m not just watching too much TV, I’m also eating while I watch too much TV. And I’m eating while I watch TV even though I know the risks. Studies indicate that we consume over 40% more food while watching TV. According to Dr. Brian Wansink, author of the best-selling Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (2006), “Watching TV can be a triple threat: People who watch a lot of TV exercise less, eat more, and weigh more than those who do not watch much TV.”

So if I know the risks, what am I doing? Let’s retrace my steps. There I am, putting together a beautifully healthy meal, mindfully heading toward my peaceful kitchen table, and all of a sudden my inner 13 year old is like, “F*@% you lady. I deserve to be happy, and the only thing that’ll make me happy is to watch Benson and Stabler collar another pedophile.” She’s been winning a lot lately; but not for long.

In a few days I’ll be headed up to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY for a week-long workshop for health-care professionals on Mindfulness-based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT). Developed by Jean Kristeller, PhD, the program “addresses mindless eating, stress-related eating, disordered eating patterns, and obesity through the application of mindfulness meditation.” So in other words, I’ll be spending a whole week in nature, without TV, contemplating mindful eating. Which is amazing! But also kind of scary…

I mean, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo. Just because I’m largely unsuccessful at it, doesn’t mean I haven’t attempted to make mindful eating a part of my life. I read Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and I was wild about it. I know the benefits and discuss them with my clients all the time. And yet, there’s something I find absolutely terrifying about being alone with my thoughts and my food simultaneously. I’ll make any excuse to avoid it, and television provides the perfect distraction.

Next week, I’ll be fresh out of excuses and sans TV. I can’t wait to get up there and start learning, not just for my health coaching practice, but for myself. In the meantime, I think I’ll reward today’s hard work with an episode of Arrested Development and a simple cup of tea. After all, laughing is good for your health.

TV DINNERS IN THE 1950'S

References

“Mindless Eating: Food Psychologist Explains the Mindless Way People Overeat,” Science Daily, Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2007/1202-mindless_eating.htm

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think, Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://www.mindlesseating.org/faq.php

The Center for Mindful Eating, 2013 MB-EAT Workshops and Programs, Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/upcoming?eventId=673539&EventViewMode=EventDetails