Monday, May 27, 2013

What is Normal Eating Anyway?

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of my day in our garden putting my green thumb to work. I've never been much of an outdoorsy girl or been able to keep plants alive, but for some reason I felt the need to give it a try. Surprisingly, my little outdoor adventure turned into a bit of a triggering situation as planting a bunch of vegetables brought back memories of my old, disordered diet.

To say my diet had become unreasonably rigid before I entered treatment would be an understatement. As I ironically began culinary school, one of the many ways I began to cut out food groups was to become a vegetarian. After learning about the appalling farming monopolies our country is currently practicing - thank you, Monsanto - I also began a local-foods-only diet. The local food movement is trendy in the culinary world right now after all, so it only made sense for me to jump on the bandwagon. Now add in my excuses to avoid anything containing high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, or any other ingredient I didn't recognize, and you can begin to understand the strict guidelines of my diet.

In my mind, surrounding myself with culinary geniuses gave me the perfect excuse to become a "food snob," even though it was literally killing me.

The treatment center I spent six months in, however, was on the complete opposite end of the food spectrum. Because they believed in the calorie counting meal planning strategy, every food I ate during my stay was packaged (as a way to easily count calories). Fresh fruits and veggies were off limits because they did not have an exact calorie count. Every time I go back to my treatment center to guest speak, we always have a good laugh as we think back to my first day and the impressive temper tantrum I threw after learning what I would be expected to eat. There was no way in hell those people were going to force me to consume those packaged products. I didn't even consider that to be "real food" at the time.

Occasionally I would have the option to plan frozen vegetables and dried fruits into my meal plan as long as they were perfectly measured. At one point, we all joked that planning anything healthy into our daily regimen was pointless because those low calorie foods took up too much room in our already bulging stomachs. After a few months, not only did I finally give into eating poptarts and little debbies on a daily basis, but I actually began to (I can't believe I'm saying this...) enjoy it.

(Let me just say that eating this way is definitely NOT recommended for healthy individuals. For eating disorder patients, however, it does not matter where the calories are coming from as long as the number being consumed is enough. Also, by constantly facing my fear foods, I was able to learn that I can eat "unhealthy" foods (in moderation) without gaining weight.)

Although I have been home for quite a few months now, I still struggle with estimating calories sometimes. Fruits and vegetables have made their way back into my diet, but I still get a little weird about having to ballpark those calories. The calorie counting meal panning strategy definitely works during the refeeding process, but its inflexibility makes it difficult to move away from after leaving treatment.

Like many things in life, I am currently searching for a place of balance with my food choices. Spending time in the garden yesterday did make me crave those super clean meals and even made me feel a little guilty for my recent "unhealthy" food choices. Those "I just want to eat like a normal person" thoughts were relentless as I angrily dug a hole for each plant. Maybe being alone in a garden with my thoughts wasn't the best idea I have ever had. 

 The optimist in me, on the other hand, is searching for the benefits of my current meal planning state. Most importantly, I have maintained my current weight since the day I left treatment, so that proves to me that meal planning actually does work. Also, I finally believe there is no such thing as a good food or a bad food. As long as I stay within my calorie limits I can eat whatever I want.

Sometimes I forget that my dietary needs are different than the "normal" person at this stage in my recovery. Every time I turn on the TV or listen to the radio I am bombarded with weight loss ads. Living in a society that places such a huge emphasis on being fit is aggravating. Eating disorder or not, the simple task of fueling our body has turned into something much more complex.

Yes, gardening was a little triggering yesterday, but it might actually be exactly what I need to break my strict meal plan. Growing a few of my own plants will allow me to enjoy a bit of moderation in my diet. I never thought I'd be trying to ADD fruits and veggies to my diet, but here we are.

My eating habits might never be completely normal, but who can honestly say they have a perfect relationship with food? Does normal eating even exist anymore? Maybe I'm not so weird after all.

Progress.

22 comments:

  1. great article kelsi, and beautifully written, as always :) i can fully relate to feeling inundated by commercial advertisements relentlessly promoting fitness and "healthy eating". but, sometimes (at least for me) what causes more anxiety are the people in my day-to-day life - like coworkers for example - who never cease to stop talking about their latest diet/exercise plans! at least with ads you can just tune out, or turn them off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh, YES how did I forget to mention people in our day-to-day life? For me it's just become a matter of telling myself (a million times a day if needed) that my eating requirements are different right now. It's definitely a constant challenge to separate yourself for that stuff.

      Delete
  2. your honesty in this post is a huge inspiration. And I agree about normal eating not really existing anymore, which makes getting back to or working towards it such a struggle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Zoe. :) It is a struggle, but it does seem to get a tiny bit easier everyday.

      Delete
  3. When I was recovering, I was limited in the amount of fruits and veggies I could eat too. My recovery came in the form of pancakes, hot chocolate, ice cream, chocolate cake, mac and cheese, pizza. My nutritionist was teaching me how to enjoy those foods again. At first it was terrifying but then I began loving them. Now, my sweet tooth is something that's a big part of my day and I am completely okay with it. I get really skeptical when I see people saying they don't like some of those "unhealthy" snacks. They're totally okay in the diet as long as it's in moderation, you're right. I'm glad you are finding progress in your relationship with food too.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, that sounds exactly like the foods I was (and still am) eating. I also love them and feel comfortable with them, but then start feeling guilty for eating "unhealthy." With all of the mixed messages I often feel like a crazy person. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's true you have to let go of your restrictions in order to recover. There is a fine line between healthy eating and ED. As you pointed out though, if you stay within your calorie limits you'll be FINE with a little added sugar. I'm glad you realized you were having some backwards thoughts and caught them. It's the name of the game for recovery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - definitely the name of the game! :)

      Delete
  6. See, that is why I am so thankful for my treatment center. I was never a calorie counter, rarely ate anything with calories packaged but my treatment place everything was about normal. It wasn't about exact calories, they even said some days you would go under and some days you would go over. it was about exchanges and just eating real food. aka we never measured but had to learn to eyeball portions. It really made my transition out that much easier and I never had to worry about that calorie obsession. Gosh I am so grateful for my treatment place and this reminded me of that

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is so interesting to me because I was on the exchange system for a short time and really struggled with it. I always found myself choosing the lowest calorie options for each food group, so in my own disordered way I was cheating the system. Yes, normal people do eat different amounts of food each day and that is something that I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around. I wish there was a way to combine the two meal planning strategies... Only in my perfect world.

      Delete
  7. What would be a normal eater? How do they eat? When someone asks me these questions, I have a hard time to answer, because there is really not such a thing. But, I know one thing that I am not normal... an obsession about what the right things are to do for eating. Eating is such a fundamental thing as a human being, and I make it very complicated. What should I eat? What is right for me? What is wrong for me? What did I have? Is what I am doing ok? and etc.... Anyway of rigidness is a sign of my disease. This can happen either doing healthy eating or unhealthy eating. Just can be in the middle, and start to think, "what is the middle?"... on and on...

    I count calories, but approximately. I never believed in doing that, but have been doing it for the last 2 years. When I did that strictly, I lost weight. I try to be in a gray zone, and it is very unnatural! That's how my mind works. If I don't count, I start to make my meals small little by little, and start to think that I am eating enough. I then binge later in a day. Counting is a way for me to eat enough for a day, and if that's what I need to do, I do. I am introducing foods that I didn't touch for a while. Still like a machine... Maybe someday, it will change.

    You are perfectly normal, Kelsi. Eat what you like, whether they are healthy or not. Moderation, yes. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well at least someone thinks I am normal. ;) I think it's one of those things that is just different for everyone. It doesn't really matter how we meal plan as long as we eat something.

      Delete
  8. :) thanks for this

    ReplyDelete
  9. I look forward to reading your posts every day. It gives me a sense of hope and inspiration to not give up. Thank you, you're helping to change more lives than you'll ever know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank YOU for reading and being a part of my journey. :)

      Delete
  10. I remember being furious my first day as well about the type of food served at treatment - crying and calling my mom saying I wanted another opinion, how DARE they serve me unhealthy food(which in retrospect is almost hilarious in an ironic way considering the amount and type of food I regularly and quite purposely/blatantly consumed during b/p episodes). Now I truly believe in the no good foods or bad food approach. I come from a family where almost everyone has a messed up relationship with food and their bodies to some degree, so to be able to eat poptarts, little debbies, fried food, full fat yogurt, etc. in moderation and to not feel like I was being "bad" for it was really weird and amazing for me.

    My relationship with food and eating changed in subtle ways over the years I have been in recovery. For about a year and a half I meal planned/calorie counted eating mostly the exact same foods from treatment. Then I took a stab at intuitive eating which took a lot of practice - I still felt really locked into eating the same amount and felt uncomfortable with risk. Over time that slowly changed the amount What I eat now is considerably variable day to day (though nowhere near the extreme lows or highs from my ED days) and I eat quite a variety of foods. I slowly started wanting a lot more fresh things, but I never ever deny myself of my prepacked stuff either. I just think it's important when making shifts in eating (or exercising) to make sure the reasons for doing so are non eating disordered, not motivated by guilt, etc. And that is something on I challenge myself on and have to keep myself in check about on a regular basis. For what it's worth, though I don't meal plan anymore, I'd rather see people meal plan indefinitely then try to be "normal" and fall into restricting patterns which I feel like happens all the time.

    You are right in that it is rare to have a perfectly normal relationship with food. Sadly that is a reality in our society - even people who are naturally slender seem to have a lot of hangups. I think I have a pretty darn good relationship with food at this point - more normal than even the so called normal people. I come from an area where being vegetarian and the local food movement is very very popular (I think like 75% of my coworkers are some form of vegetarian/vegan). Sometimes I feel guilty for not participating, but I've decided that *for me* participating in that would be too triggering. For them, that might be normal, but everybody's normal is different. It would be nice if I could admit to liking to eat McDonald's on occasion without being treated like a Satan worshiper, but I've slowly had to learn to let those comments go and do what I need to do.

    Overall, your last quote sums it up perfectly. I think it is better to be happy and healthy than to worry about the so-called normal people. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This seriously made me feel so much better, Lindsay! I know they say meal plan for 6 months to a year... Well, I'm coming up on one year soon and am freaking out because I'm still having trouble estimating. I love you said about seeing people meal plan indefinitely instead of trying to be normal if it helps them keep on track. It's so important to remember how different everyone is and not get caught up in comparisons... Maybe I should get that tattooed on my brain. ;)

      I'm really happy to hear that you have a normal relationship with food now. That gives me a lot of hope. Also, it's really helpful to hear that you have learned to do what is right for YOU. Best comment ever. Thank you! :)

      Delete
  11. I´ve done pretty well in recovery (except from the calorie counting all the time) when i where in the "i am allowed to eat what i want" mindset. but now i also got into the idea of eating super healthy and clean and raw and vegan and low fat and everything because people were talking about the endless benefits.
    But now after a few days i alread start to qunestion it. It feels restricted and triggerung to undereat (bc nobody would notice it anyway becuase it LOOKS like a lot of food)and it feels like giving up freedom/full recovery. Which is what i always wanted.
    Vegetarian/vegan makes sense to me for ethical reasons.
    But now i learned so much about how "bad" "unhealthy" some foods are i used to eat (and thought they were healthy)im too worried to eat them because i dotn want to risk my healthy long term :/ im feeling so trapped now and im really sorry for writing so personal/long comments but i really need some help and i think you´re maybe the right person to ask because you´ve gone through similar. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I can understand why you would feel trapped in your current situation. There is SO MUCH hype around eating clean or being vegan/vegetarian. It's hard not to fall for it. But yes, unfortunately, those eating styles can be extremely triggering. I've honestly come to enjoy eating "junk" foods every single day. I never feel deprived, which is soooo different from before. It's comforting to know I can go anywhere and eat whatever sounds good. No foods are off limits.

      As far as risking your health in the long term, I think being more restrictive should scare you more than having an ice cream cone every now and then. I could be wrong but those voices that tell you to avoid "unhealthy" or "bad" foods are probably your eating disorder trying to gain a little more control over your life again. If you listen to what your body is craving - whether it be spinach or bacon or twizzlers - then you can't go wrong. If your body needs nutrients from "health" foods it will let you know.

      Delete
  12. Thanks a lot ! I think in my current state of recovery its not s good idea to restrict to anything. all i want to be is free. maybe vegan is an option when im fully recovered but now it could end up in obsessing even more about food choices. vegetarian /pescatarian may be possible right now im not that much into meat anyway and i´ve been thinking about that before i heard about the wohle (raw) vegan idea for ethical reasons. but i´ll see whether i´ll be craving meat or not. I think i will try to eat intuitively from now and listen to my body instead of people on youtube. You are such an inspiration ! <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You should ALWAYS listen to your body instead of people on YouTube. :)

      Delete