Tag Archives: Food

How do you choose what to eat?!

TW – Trigger Warning – this post contains discussion about food and anorexic thought processes and may be triggering to people to some people. Please exercise causing if you choose to continue reading.

Many of you will know, I recently fractured my jaw and this has led to a severely restricted diet as I had metal work holding my teeth tightly shut to pull my fragmented mandible into correct alignment. At best during the last 9 weeks I’ve been able to get a teaspoon into my mouth and manage smooth soup, at worst, it’s been smoothies and milkshakes through a straw. Unfortunately, this has led to weight loss and the restriction has triggered some familiar thoughts linked to previous experience of anorexia.

2 days ago, I was given fantastic news, I can now open my mouth fully and I’m able to chew food again! I’ll be having the metal work removed within a few weeks so the end of the ordeal is finally in sight!

The hospital has a Costa and I’d been dreaming of enjoying cake from there for weeks! But…standing in front of the array of cakes I simply could not decide, I realised, I had no idea how to choose! The part of my mind that was looking after my fractured jaw needed to choose something soft and easy to chew (rational wise-mind), the part of my mind controlled by anorexic urges was frantically trying to calculate the calories (automatically) but there was a part of me that simply wanted to choose something I liked!

I’d thought about trying to plan for this moment but I’d not wanted my hopes to be dashed. The recovery of my jaw had not been a smooth road so I thought it was best to protect myself and be prepared for not getting the all clear news.

So, how do I choose?!

I love carrot cake but this one had walnuts in it and I’d been advised to avoid nuts at first. I love chocolate cake but I’d been drinking a lot of chocolate milkshake so I wasn’t too enthusiastic about eating a chocolate cake right now. Some of the cakes looked a little hard for the first thing I was eating (pastry/tiffin/crunchie etc). As I gradually ruled out more and more cakes, the choices were reducing which was helpful…or was I making excuses to avoid calories? As I stood there with the waitress waiting for my order, the pressure was on, anxiety raising in my chest, every fibre in my body wanted to turn and run…

I wanted cake, but at the same time, I didn’t want cake if it was going to be this hard! I wanted to enjoy this experience but it was becoming too stressful!

As I’ve noticed a lapse in symptoms of anorexia, fortunately I’m able to catch myself and make a conscious decision not to go down that route – I really do not want to experience that dark hole ever again! But it’s reminded me of some of the difficulties I thought it would be interesting to write about them so people might understand what it’s like to try and recover from an eating disorder.

I, like most, had a dietitian support me to make changes as I tried to put on weight and break free from anorexia. I was advised to make changes such as increasing portion size and varying the foods I ate. So, for example, I was advised to add a sandwich to the fruit I was eating at lunchtime. Simple enough, right?! But, how do I choose which bread to buy If you’ve not eaten bread for years? Have you seen how many types of bread there are in a supermarket?! Up to this point I‘d chosen food based on calorie content, an anorexic mind then persuades its host that it’s its personal choice to want that specific brand. At my worst, I would visit multiple supermarkets for specific brands of specific foods, it didn’t feel like a choice, it was a compulsion.

Confused in the supermarket

So, trying to recover, standing in the bread aisle:

  • Do I go for the most eye-catching brightly coloured packaging? Sounds weird, but it’s a way of choosing!
  • Do I go for the “moral high ground” and choose organic?
  • Do I want large slices or small slices? Smaller, right? Oh no, hang on, that’s probably a disordered thought… But, why would I go for large slices?!
  • Do I like seeded or granary? Is wholemeal different from wholewheat? How will my gut respond to fibre?
  • Do you want a half loaf, just in case you don’t manage this challenge you don’t want to waste too much? Or should I assume success?
  • How about cost? Is more expensive bread nicer? Should I calculate cost per slice or per portion? I don’t want to get a taste for expensive bread, do I?

As soon as you start comparing breads, it’s all too easy to compare calorie content and bam, easy, decision made. Who’s going to bother going through the palaver of the above when it’s so much easier, simpler and far less anxiety provoking to just pick one up based on calorie content?!

And that was just bread for a sandwich, don’t get me started on the margarine/butter debate or sandwich fillings!!

It’s important to remember people trying to recover from other eating disorders may choose food based on, for example, how comfortable they are to binge/purge or how the food makes them feel when they eat it (emotional eating or eating to avoid boredom). Any eating disorder restricts your ability to choose food based on a) whether you like it and b) whether it has a helpful nutritional content for what you need.

It’s so hard to remember, when in this state, food has no moral value, no food is good or bad, food is fuel with nutritional value and should be consumed without guilt or shame. Recovery is hard when surrounded by modern diet culture that normalises, even endorses, unhealthy restrictive eating habits.

When you’ve been absorbed by an eating disorder, you lose touch of your likes and your dislikes – not only can you not remember them but you don’t think you ever had any, beyond preferring foods with a lower calorie content. “Seriously, I love cucumber and water for lunch, it’s just what I prefer!” Yeah, right!

Fortunately, my current situation has only been for a few weeks so I can remember the foods I like, I will be able to fall back into my healthy habits easily. When you’ve been surrounded by an eating disorder for a long time, many years for most, sometimes decades, the disordered habits can be so ingrained that it’s hard enough to even imagine things could be different and it can feel impossible to go through the process of change.

I’m here to say, change is possible, stepping out is hard but once you’re broken away from food rules and rituals, freedom tastes fantastic!

You are never “good” or “bad” when it comes to food. Food has no moral value. It’s just food.
1 piece of broccoli and 1 cherry tomato on a plate being eaten with a knife and fork bound with tape measure

Why “going on a diet” doesn’t work!

TW – Trigger Warning – I’m aware many of my readers have eating disorder either currently or in their history. Please be aware this blog talks about food frankly and openly. If this may be a trigger for you, please click onto another blog!

One of the hardest things I feel I’ve had to contend with while recovering from anorexia is full-on diet culture! It’s everywhere, from magazines in waiting rooms to everyday in the office. A day doesn’t go by where someone talks about the weight they’ve lost, or put on, or what diet they’re going to try next.

I’ve found it quite shocking, when I was ill, I was in a bubble of denial about these kind of things, I didn’t talk to people about food, nor them to me so I had no idea there was so much rubbish out there.

I think the most bizarre, to date, has to be the potato diet – you’ve guessed it – all my colleague ate for weeks was potatoes! I’m guessing the logic is that you’ll be so bored of them that eventually you’ll just stop eating and you might lose a bit of weight. But seriously…who dreamt this up?! How can just potatoes sustain a human being?!

I’m taking this back to basics. Very broadly there are 3 reasons we eat:

1. Food is available
Buffet table full of food

This may be simple, someone has brought some cakes into the office and they’re offered round. You eat one because they’re waved in front of your nose. You may feel “it’s rude not to” or you may just fancy one.

We also follow this rule when we live by strict habits. For example, lots of people eat 3 meals a day, each day fairly similar no matter how different their needs are on each day. Habitually, it’s 1pm, you prepare lunch and eat it because it’s there.

This is also the case when we live in family groups. “We eat dinner at 6.30pm because that’s when most people are likely to be hungry”.

2. We’re emotional

Females are renowned for this but it can happen to anyone. For some it’s a case of stuffing their feelings down, “If I eat, I don’t have to feel”. Or it may feel like a comfort, food just makes everything feel a bit better doesn’t it? All sorts of emotions may work in this way, living in the western world, food is available as a coping mechanism.

3. We’re hungry

Our body’s pretty clever, when it requires more food, you experience symptoms of hunger and we can use these as a signal to eat. Your stomach may physically feel empty or may be making noises, you may feel light-headed, irritable or lacking in concentration. If you’re feeling these things but you’ve only just eaten, they’re unlikely to be hunger, but if it’s been a couple of hours, they may signal hunger.

None of these reasons to eat are wrong

If you’re at a dinner party and not hungry, it’s totally fine to eat when food is available. It’s not just polite, it’s a sociable thing to do. If you’ve had a shocking day at work and you just fancy a a massive ice cream or block of chocolate, that’s ok.

However…
Square of carrot cake on a plate

It’s important to be aware of why you’re eating. When you’ve met up with your girlfriends for a coffee and chinwag, if you just fancy that slice of carrot cake because you saw it on the counter, do it – but make sure you know you’re eating it because it was there. Don’t pretend to yourself you’re hungry, or you’ll “make up for it later” or any other “excuse”. It’s ok to say “I’m having it because it was there and I want it.”

If however, you know you’re a grazer and you tend to just eat food “because it’s there”, try to become more mindful about this. Do you need snacks in the cupboard?

Emotional eating is a really important one to be aware of – eating our feelings is dangerous. The only healthy way to manage feelings is to fully experience them a talk about them. Say to yourself, “I’m having this bar of chocolate because I’m really sad” – you may then decided you don’t need the bar of chocolate and may express your emotion in a different way but as long as your acknowledge it, you can make sure that you deal with the underlying emotions as well.

As a generalisation, people are over weight because they have consumed more calories than they have expended. This is likely to be because they have done more eating for reasons numbers 1 and 2. I reiterate, these are not wrong, but we need to be mindful of them in order to keep them in check.

Being mindful of what we’re eating and why is the most important part of having a healthy relationship with food. Having a healthy relationship with food is not about say “yes” or “no” to “good” or “bad” foods, it’s not about having rules, it’s about listening to our body and being aware of what it needs and when.

(I’m not entirely sure I’m as in tune with my body as I’d like to be – I say I’m fully recovered form anorexia but I still struggle to know when I’m hungry, what it means when I’m craving food and most of the time I feel totally disconnected from my body – it’s work in progress!)

“Going on a diet” doesn’t change anything
Potato

Eating potatoes [insert latest fad] for a month may help you lose a few pounds but if you’ve not changed your relationship with food, when you come off the diet, it’s fairly predictable what’s going to happen…!

The way to a healthy body is a healthy mind

Biscuits are on the side during a tea break/cake is handed ‘round during someone birthday/chocolates are “calling you from the sweetie draw” – do you have one? Do a quick check with yourself:

  1. Are you hungry? – is this an appropriate thing to be eating at this time of day to satisfy the hunger you have?
  2. Are you feeling emotional? – is this an appropriate thing to eat to cope with how your feeling? Would you prefer to manage your emotions in another way?
  3. Do you want it just because it’s there? – that’s ok, but make sure you’re making a conscious decision and be aware that you are not eating this because you need it.
Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most. Quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln with background of mountains and trees

Because diet culture is so much the norm, language around food is really unhelpful. If you say “no” to the birthday cake, other people (who are probably feeling guilty* about eating some) will say “oh, you’re so good”. But it’s not about being “good” or “bad”. It is entirely up to you whether you say “yes” or “no” when feeling peer-pressure to join in, only you know why you’re eating it and whether you have a healthy relationship with food.

*I recently heard Raymond Blanc completely baffled by the question “what’s your guilty pleasure?” – he couldn’t comprehend why anyone would feel guilty about feeling pleasure from food. (Obviously) he’s right! We should never feel guilty about eating. If you’re eating, no matter what you’re eating, if you’re aware of why you’re eating it, no matter whether it’s reason 1, 2 or 3, and you’re ok with your reasoning, and it’s giving you pleasure – just enjoy it!

People end up feeling guilty when their relationship with food is such that they lie to themselves about why they’re eating. Tackling the reasons will in turn address the guilt. We should not feel guilty about nourishing our bodies!

Say no to fad diets text written using food to form the letters

We may need to re-educate ourselves about what a healthy diet looks like. For our bodies to function healthily and feel good we need a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fruits and veg. No foods are “off limits” but some may need to be eaten less often. A good relationship with food is about mindfully saying “yes”!