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The picture album in my mind is full of food. It leaves room for little else. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner—dissected and cataloged. It would seem all I ever do is eat. Or not eat.

My 15-year-old Birthday. I’m told there was a sleepover. A group of friends from school gossiping about boys and teachers. I see a picture my mom took; a friend is dressed up in a mermaid costume and everyone is laughing. I am noticeably absent. Perhaps I was staring down the sugar-free, fat free ice cream cake my mom had special-ordered from TCBY. Because that’s all I can remember from that day.

A family vacation to Disney World. I’m trying hard, I swear I am. My sister and I run, carefree through the park, laughing at inside jokes. We watch a parade as it rolls down the street. Fireworks light up the night sky, casting shadows across the ground. This is what I tell people when they ask me about my trip. But if I’m telling the truth, all I remember is the fight I had with my dad over whether I would eat another bite of chicken.

The first day of college, standing in front of the salad bar, I have a panic attack when I realize they don’t have fat free dressing. I don’t remember what my dorm mates looked like or the classes I took. But I remember that fucking dressing.

My wedding day. Everyone tells me to stop a moment and take it all in—you only get married once they say. I look through my wedding album, am amnesiac patient sifting through the ruins of her life. The hair, the nose, the awkward rolls of fat where I wish there were none. That girl in the pictures is clearly me. I flip through and see a picture of a towering cake, laced with delicate, pink fondant flowers. 400 calories a slice easily. And now I remember. While everyone else was dancing and drinking and being merry, I was worried about how much cake my husband had shoved in my mouth.

This is what my memory has become. Moments defined by my relationship to food. A life defined not by what I achieved, where I’ve been, or whom I loved. Only by what I ate.

If I could I’d erase all these images. Hope to make room for something else. But there in their too deep, and I am tired of fighting.

Can anyone relate? Please share your stories in the comments.


DIET: that dirty four-lettered word that is so ingrained in our national vocabulary that it’s mention is akin to discussing the weather.

“What’s the forecast for tomorrow?” you ask.

“A high of 1200 calories with a slight chance of deprivation.” How gloomy.

Dieting has become as American as baseball and apple pie, that is, as long as you make it a slice of sugar free, fat free pie.

Yet despite how often we talk about dieting, very few actually succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. So why do we persist? Are we all insane, as a popular quote would suggest?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Or maybe we’ve been bamboozled by an industry that profits off of our failures, an industry that designs a faulty product and then places the blame on the buyer? Today I challenge you all to embark on a different kind of diet: the anti-diet.  Let go of all your complicated food rules and beliefs about “good” and “bad” foods and begin to trust your body to tell you what it wants and needs.

To provide you with some motivation, I’m counting down the top ten reasons to ditch dieting for good.

10. Dieting wrecks havoc on your metabolism.

Dieting slows the metabolism down tremendously, as the body enters what it assumes to be a period of famine. And while fat people who lose large amounts of weight may look similar to a naturally thin person, their bodies are actually behaving more like that of a starving person. In other words, a fat person who loses weight will not acquire the health characteristics of a naturally thin person. On average, the metabolism slows so that a formerly fat person burns about 24% fewer calories per square meter of their body’s surface area than a naturally thin person. By avoiding diets, you can ensure your metabolism is functioning at its optimal level.

9. Your body produces hormones that fight against weight change.

Your body has a natural set point for weight, largely determined by genetics, at which it feels most comfortable. Deviating much beyond this point triggers a cascade of hormones designed to resist further weight fluctuations. These hormones can stimulate or suppress appetite, decrease or increase metabolism, and encourage or discourage activity. Dieting interferes with the mechanisms that regulate set point and makes it difficult to respond to hormonal cues. Much like a broken gas gauge on a car, dieting makes it difficult to tell when the tank is full or running on empty.

8. Dieting can lead to many psychiatric problems.

Here’s a novel idea: your body, as adept as it is at carefully regulating all your bodily systems, cannot tell the difference between a diet and unintentional starvation. And starvation has been shown to cause a lot of psychological problems. In the classic Minnesota Starvation Study, healthy men were put on 1,600 calorie diets with the intention of losing 25% of their body weight. Over the course of the experiment, the men experienced what head researcher Dr. Ancel Keys came to call “semistarvation neurosis.” They became nervous, anxious, withdrawn and overly critical of their appearance and weight. Many exhibited signs of depression, losing their ambitions, interests, sense of humor, and desire for social interaction. They became obsessed with food and many developed odd food rituals. And to think this all happened on 1,600 calories per day. Many popular diets today prescribe much less!

7. Dieting wastes a lot of time and energy.

As noted by a participant in the Minnesota Starvation Study the act of restricting food “made food the most important thing in one’s life.” Whether your counting calories, weighing out just right portions, or dreaming about all the food you wish you could be eating, dieting can quickly become an all-consuming undertaking, often at the expense of other areas of your life. When we deny ourselves food we enjoy in favor of “healthy” foods we dislike, a lot of time gets spent fantasizing about that forbidden food.

6. Dieting robs a lot of the pleasure from eating and can make for more complicated social situations.

Despite what many popular diets lead you to believe, getting pleasure from food does not make you a hedonistic, weak-willed person. Eating can and should be a pleasurable experience. Think about digging into a big stack of fluffy pancakes on a lazy Sunday morning, eating a slice of cake on your Birthday, or clinking champagne glasses with friends and family on New Years Eve. Food is a part of many of social situations, and when your web of complex food rules keeps you sidelined from digging in with everyone else it can be an isolating experience.

5. 95% of dieters regain the weight and then develop a higher weight set point.

Because of the numerous regulatory checks that your body employs, in the end, dieting is more synonymous with weight gain than weight loss. It slows metabolism, increases the body’s efficiency at getting calories from food, increases appetite, decreases activity levels, lowers your body temperature, breaks down muscle tissue, and increases fat storing enzymes. All these checks ensure you are on the fast track to gaining back any lost weight. And because our bodies are programmed to protect us from weight loss but aren’t too concerned with weight gain, they settle at a slightly higher set point than they were previously at. In other words, the same amount of calories you were once eating to maintain weight X are now how many you need to eat to maintain X+10lbs.

4. Dieting and weight cycling causes a lot of the problems that excess weight is blamed for like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and liver damage.

It’s a classic case of what came first, the chicken or the egg? Many people see a correlation between excess weight and disease and assume weight is the cause, when in reality the relationship isn’t so straightforward. What often underlies conditions like heart disease is the damage done to the body by losing and regaining the same weight over and over again, the same cycling that leads to higher set point weights.

3. You don’t need to diet to maintain your body’s healthy weight.

Too many people are under the impression that without constant vigilance the pounds will keep piling on, when in fact, this is far from the truth. A scientist at the University of Vermont, Ethan Sims, conducted an experiment that was the mirror image of the Minnesota Starvation Study. Instead of looking at the effects of calorie restriction, Sims put men on a calorie dense diet. In order increase their weight by 20% above their natural set point the men had to eat as much as 10,000 calories for up to six months time. Sims discovered that the amount of weight the men should have gained based on a simple calories in versus calories out equation was much more than they actually gained. Their bodies fought hard to maintain their natural set point, and at the conclusion of the study they returned to these weight without effort. Your body knows the weight it is healthiest at and will fight you to maintain that weight. Ironically, you have to diet to NOT maintain your healthy weight. Watch a documentary that puts participants through a similar weight gain experiment here.

2. Being thin does not necessarily make you healthier. Moderate activity and healthy, moderate food choices make you healthier.

Fit, active people are much healthier than sedentary individuals, regardless of weight. In fact, fit obese people are healthier than thin sedentary individuals and just as healthy and thin active individuals. When fat people exercise, they reap all the benefits even without an accompanying weight loss. In other words, losing weight will not make one healthy but exercising will. Several studies also indicate that fostering an active lifestyle increases self-confidence and acceptance while dieting often has the opposite effect. Read more.

1. Dieting is NOT about loving and respecting your body.

How many times have your heard someone say (or said yourself) “I’m trying to lose weight because I want to take care of myself?” While the intention is good, dieting is a misguided attempt at promoting health and well-being. Choosing a healthy, varied diet, staying active, and accepting your body in its present state sends a lot more powerful message if you ask me. You wouldn’t tell your partner or your best friend, “I’d love you more if only you were….(fill in the blanks).” So why do we repeatedly tell ourselves this message by trying to lose weight? Love and respect come from an understanding that I am a complete, whole person as I am.

For a great resource on the research behind these reasons check out Big Liberty’s blog. Or pick up a copy of the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos or Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata.

My 26 week pregnant belly demands food! Lots of food! Okay, so more like an extra 300 calories or so per day, but it sure grumbles loudly with disapproval when it’s been too long in between meals.

I’d like to take you on a culinary adventure, aka, what did Dana eat today. The first thing my refined pregnant pallet got to enjoy today was 75g of pure, orange-flavored glucose. Yummy!

Between weeks 24-28, it is recommended that women take a glucose tolerance test to screen for gestational diabetes. Similar to snorting pixie stixs for breakfast, this test requires you to down 75 grams of sugar on an empty stomach and then just quietly sit around for an hour while you wait for your pancreas to explode release insulin and remove it from your bloodstream.

After that nutritious start to my day, I came home craving protein and promptly consume scrambled eggs with spinach, bell peppers, fresh Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. Protein is of particular importance when pregnant because the amino acids in protein form every cell in your growing baby’s body. Guidelines suggest consuming about 70 grams/day, especially during your second and third trimester when the baby grows the fastest.

My mid-morning snack of choice was a tall nonfat late from Starbucks and a petite vanilla scone. Coming in at 75mg of caffeine it fits nicely within the 200mg of caffeine permitted per a day during pregnancy and is a good start toward getting the recommended 1000-1300mg of calcium. And the scone…I swear I can’t go into Starbucks without getting one, 75 grams of glucose for breakfast or not.

Lunch consisted of whatever I could throw together quickly. A bowl of Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper and tomato soup, a broccoli cheddar lean pocket (because sometimes convenience takes precedence), and some dried mango slices.

Oh yea, and my favorite accompaniment to any meal: prenatal vitamins, DHA/fish oil, and calcium chews. When selecting a prenatal vitamin the two most important ingredients to look for are folic acid (at least 800mcg) for the prevention of neural tube defects and iron (at least 17mg)  for the production of red blood cells and subsequent transport of oxygen. Fish oil, specifically DHA and EPA, is crucial for the neurological development of the baby.

And what goes great with oodles of pills?

Water! Drinking enough water during pregnancy is very important. Besides preventing premature uterine contractions, a nasty side-effect of dehydration, it is needed to replenish your blood, which increases in volume by as much as 40% in some women. Additionally, it helps maintain adequate amounts of amniotic fluid for your baby to splash around in.

My post-workout out mid-afternoon snack for the day consisted of a yogurt and a handful of pistachio nuts. Normally I go for Greek yogurt, but with my digestive system faltering, I was hoping Activia would give it the jump start it needs. Results on that one are pending.

For my husband and me, dinners are always the most elaborate meal of the day. On tonight’s menu was salmon roasted with a dijon and horseradish topping (a recipe I had been wanting to try for awhile), garlic pea pods, red peppers, and potatoes, and a large spinach salad with peanut dressing. My husband isn’t much of a fish guy so whenever I cook salmon I make him an 8oz New York strip steak.

We finished off the meal with fresh, delicious kiwi fruit!

And because this pregnant girl can’t make it through the night without a bedtime snack… I chowed down on some graham crackers and Justins’s chocolate almond butter. Fair warning, Justin’s chocolate almond butter is addictive, and I dare you to try it without ending up spooning it directly from the jar to your mouth.

The key to my pregnancy diet: VARIETY! I try to not eat the same thing two days in a row. Also, eating smaller mini meals more frequently throughout the day has been very helpful in warding off hunger and fatigue and preventing first trimester morning sickness. Have any foods you really craved during pregnancy? Please share!

Worried your pregnancy eating habits are packing on more or less pounds than is considered normal? Here is a great tool from to ensure you are on track: In the end, always talk with your doctor. Every woman’s body is different, as is every pregnancy.

Okay so that’s not true at all… the baby was probably cringing at all the sugar coursing through my digestive system (nothing like getting them hooked at an early age right?) Truth is, I really wanted a doughnut and a decaf coffee, so without much thought at all, I drove to Tim Horton’s and purchased the following:

It was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed in moderation. No feelings of guilt, regret, or panic. Will I be eating more doughnuts again anytime soon? Probably not…although I did enjoy a cupcake the other day for my father-in-laws Birthday. But hey, it wasn’t a doughnut. Cupcakes and doughnuts are completely different food groups. Duh!

I’m taking a stand on behalf of McDonald’s…and critical thinking!

Now before you get angry and start chucking quarter pounders and french fries at my blog, let me explain. I recently saw a post on facebook by fitness mogul Jillian Michaels condemning McDonalds for their unhealthy food and congratulating the grand state of California for forcing the fast food chain to put warning labels on their products.

“Apparently California is requiring a warning label be put on McDonalds food. Like cigarettes. This is why I tell you never to eat this crap or feed it to your kids.”

– Jillian Michaels

When I read this I was intrigued. I’ve never been a big fan of highly processed fast food, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say the government should step in and tell people what they can and cannot eat, I do like the idea of educating consumers about the health risks of food additives. Luckily, there was a picture of said warning label accompanying the statement. The warning message read:

Chemicals known to cause cancer, or birth defects or other reproductive harm may be present in foods or beverages sold or served here. Cooked potatoes that have been browned, such as french fries, hash browns and baked potatoes, contain acrylamide, a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer. Other foods sold here, such as hamburger buns, biscuits and coffee also contain acrylamide, but generally in lower concentrations than fried potatoes.

Acrylamide is not added to our foods, but is created whenever potatoes and certain other foods are browned.

The FDA has not advised people to stop eating baked potatoes, fried potatoes or other foods which contain acrylamide. For more information see

So are you ready to boycott McDonald’s for serving their evil acrylamide cancer fries? I wasn’t convinced. I decided to dig a little deeper and research acrylamide. To begin with, acrylamide is NOT a food additive. McDonald’s does not have large vats of acrylamide stored in the back that they sprinkle on their food when unsuspecting customers aren’t looking. It is a natural byproduct of cooking plant-based foods at high temperatures, say when you bake, roast, or fry something. It forms when the natural sugars present in food mix with the amino acid asparagine, one of the twenty most commonly occurring amino acids on Earth.

It is found mainly in foods made from plants like potatoes, grains, and coffee. And, for all of you on the organic food bandwagon, acrylamide is present in organic foods at the same level as non-organic products. While no one claims fast food restaurants like McDonald’s to be connoisseurs of fresh, pesticide-free organic foods, it’s not their food quality to blame for the presence of acrylamide.

Acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses, much like similar products that many people consume on a daily basis, think artifical sweeteners in sugar-free products, sodium nitrate in processed meats, and fruits and vegetables (I swear I don’t make this stuff up, click the link). Does this mean it is unsafe for human consumption? The short answer no, probably not, but more testing needs to be done. In the meantime, the FDA urges people to continue eating cooked planted-based foods as part of a balanced, healthy diet.

But alas, I digress. Talking about acrylamide was not the initial purpose of this blog.

When people make knee-jerk emotional responses or take little snippets of information and make sweeping generalizations they are doing consumers a disservice. McDonald’s is not the villain in this case, and pointing the finger at them is like a cheap parlor trick that distracts people from seeing what’s going on at the heart of the issue. It’s this kind of “surface” thinking that lures people up in unhealthy fad diets and away from sound nutrition advice.

I encourage all my readers to educate yourselves on health and nutrition and decide what advice you want to use and what you want to kick to the curb. Because believe it or not, you can’t trust everything you read.

In the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare, the slow-going tortoise crosses the finish line ahead of the speedy but arrogant hare. “Slow but steady,” the tortoise says. By adopting that mantra in the race to lose weight, you are not only guaranteeing that you cross the finish with energy to spare and your vital organs in tact (more on that later), you are preventing yourself from having to rerun the same course over and over again.  Approaching weight loss more like a marathon instead of a sprint to one’s goal weight is the ideal way to ensure your body maintains optimal functioning.

One of the prime examples that comes to mind when I think of fast weight loss is the NBC reality show The Biggest Loser. Contestants vie for a chance to win $250,000 by adopting very low calorie diets and engaging in grueling 6-8 hour long workouts (all under doctor supervision of course), all in the hopes of dropping the largest percentage of their body weight and being crowned the Biggest Loser. What the viewing audience doesn’t see is that in addition to the money, every contestant walks away with another prize: a significantly slower metabolism. Maybe they should rename the show the Biggest Metabolic Loser?

In an abstract presented at the most recent Obesity Society Annual Scientific Assembly, Darcy Johannsen and friends reported that by week 6 Biggest Loser participants had lost 13% of their body weight and by week 30, 39%. More interestingly they reported that by week 6 participants metabolisms had slowed by 244 more calories per day than would have been expected by their weight loss and by week 30, by 504 more calories. (Source: WeightyMatters)

The term for what is happening is called metabolic adaptation, and under normal circumstances, it’s a great survival mechanism. Back when our ancestors had to go prolonged periods of time without substantial amounts of food, a slowed metabolism ensured survival. Today, when food is bountiful, it’s not quite as useful. What’s interesting to note is that this phenomenon does not occur when weight loss occurs at a rate of 1-2 lbs per a week, the amount recommended by medicine specialist Dr. Donald Hensrud.

These results have been replicated in studies with rats. In a laboratory study using rats that are prone to gaining weight (think your average person with a genetic predisposition to obesity), rats on a severely calorie restricted diet showed significant reductions in metabolic rate, measured as both 24-hour energy expenditure and sleeping metabolic rate. Eight weeks after returning to a normal feeding schedule, the metabolic slow-down persisted, thus setting the rats up to regain much of the lost weight. Sound familiar?

In addition to a damaged metabolism, side effects of extreme dieting include dizziness, fatigue, irritability, hair loss, malnutrition, muscle loss, and even in some cases diabetes. On a sufficient number of calories, most adults can get the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals assuming they are choosing carrots over candy 90% of the time. With a sever calorie restriction, however, it is very difficult to get all of the essential nutrients, snowballing into many of the other accompanying problems. Take hair loss for example. Without adequate amounts of protein a condition know as Telogen effluvium, or the loss of more than half the hair on your head, can occur.

Who’s up for skinny and bald? I suppose Brittany Spears pulled it off.

Rapid weight loss can cause major fluctuations in blood sugar levels. A 1996 study in the “Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications” indicates that patients who lost weight very quickly developed diabetes most likely as a result of swings in blood sugar levels and stress hormones.** Additionally, when the body depletes its glycogen (blood sugar) stores it begins to fuel itself by breaking down muscle tissue, not fat. Dr. Linda Bacon points out that yo-yo crash dieting can eventually lead to heart muscle loss. It damages your blood vessels and causes micro tears that create a setup for atherosclerosis and other types of heart disease.

If you are in need of losing weight please consult your doctor or a nutritionist to learn the proper way to go about doing it. Become the tortoise in the race to lose weight and go about it slow and steady. Because in the end, even if you don’t win the race to fit into your bikini come this summer, you’ll win a much better prize: long term health.

**Small sample size and in need of replication. If you find another study that shows similar results I would be interested in hearing about it.

Lose 10lbs in 10 days! Drop the weight while eating whatever you want! Watch the fat instantly melt off! Fit into a smaller size by jumping around on one foot, in the rain, while holding a lemon and chanting “I will be skinny!” Okay so I made that last one up, but is it really any more ridiculous than the others when you think about it?

Fad diets promising miraculous (read impossible) weight loss have been around for decades, circulating through popular culture in a fairly cyclical patter. The Master Cleanse diet developed in the 1930s resurfaced in the 2000s, the Cabbage Soup diet from the 1960s came back during the 1990s, and the diet pill trend from the 1970s, well that one we just can’t seem to shake. So why are well-educated, intelligent women still buying into the empty promises advertised by the latest diet craze?

For starters, as consumer-savvy as the modern woman is, the marketing and sales teams behind the most popular diets are just as savvy. They feed off of frustrated dieter’s desperation to lose weight quickly in a society built around instant gratification. They proliferate false scientific information and disguise pseudoscience as infallible evidence in support of their diets. Take the popular grapefruit diet for example. It purports that grapefruits contain an ingredient that promotes fat burning, however, this claim has never been indicated by any scientific research. Can dieters lose weight on the grapefruit diet? Of course, but not for the publicized reason. The grapefruit diet is nothing more than a low calorie, high protein diet, and weight loss will likely result with or without the addition of the magic grapefruit.

This brings up another reason why so many women buy into the diet’s propaganda: they do work, at least initially. Whether it’s the negative calorie diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, or the cabbage soup diet, most fad diets reduce calorie intake enough to cause weight loss, spawning thousands of testimonials and anecdotal evidence for the diet’s validity. Unfortunately, while those who succeed initially are eager to share their triumphs with the world wide web, most disappear into the background once the diet is no longer working.

Because fad diets recommend such a limited calorie intake and a limited variety of food, they are unsustainable in the long run. Whether it’s food boredom or the body’s survival mechanisms kicking in, fad diets take a physical and mental toll on the dieter. Because the diets do not usually meet the recommended levels of micro or macronutrients, they can lead to hormone imbalances, headaches, digestive problems, fatigue, mental confusion, and even cardiac problems in severe cases. Fad diets are not about teaching healthy lifestyle changes or proper nutrition and exercise habits. The focus is on fast weight loss, no matter how unsafe. And unfortunately, when weight loss occurs that quickly it’s mostly lean muscle mass and water that are lost, not fat.

The fact that people don’t stick with fad diets is not news. If a fad diet actually worked, everyone would be doing it and there wouldn’t be the dozens of diets you see on the market. But just how large is that market? According to the FTC, Americans spend close to $34 billion a year on diet products. In order for the industry to grow that large, industry executives depend on dieters jumping on and off the different bandwagons. In other words, the diet industry wants you to fail. Fad diets create what I’m calling the Weight Loss Rollercoaster or the Vicious Cycle of Weight Loss. It goes something like this: (note the high-quality graphics I came up with in PowerPoint)

People are lured into a new diet with high hopes that this time it will be different. Initial weight loss occurs because of calorie reduction, not the advertised magic cure. The diet becomes unsustainable because the body is deprived. People fall off the dieting wagon with a slowed metabolism and binge impulses resulting from severe restriction. Lost weight is regained plus some more. Feelings of guilt and shame surface because  dieters feel responsible for the failure. And then we are back where we started with people being lured into a new diet with high hopes that this time it will be different. But it wont’ be.

So how do dieting veterans break out of this cycle? At some point you have to admit that there is not a quick fix, a magic pill, or a secret recipe for weight loss. If you are overweight, chances are it took you awhile to get that way, and likewise, it will take you awhile to get the weight off in a healthy way. I believe that the first step to adopting a healthy approach to weight loss is to accept the body you are in right now, perceived flaws and all. Learn to love who you are, nurture a deep respect for what your body can do, and then make small sustainable changes that lead you to a healthier life. Don’t focus on weight loss, fixate on a certain number on the scale or a size of clothes you wish to wear. Concentrate your efforts on being healthier all around and likely weight loss will follow. While this is much easier said then done, if you can take that first step to recognize the limitations of fad diets and put the blame for failure where it belongs (on the industry), you will be one step closer to ending the struggle.

Take it from a former dieting expert, there are usually only two ways a fad diet can end: failure and frustration when you give up, or disordered eating when you succeed.

Have you ever tried a fad diet? What was your experience like?

Sticking to a meal plan, whether recovering from an eating disorder or not, is challenging. Just like any other diet*, it can easily be thrown off course by unanticipated or emotionally triggering events. In fact, studies have shown that 95% of all dieters are back at their starting weight within 5 years of beginning a program. While this statistic commonly refers to those on a weight loss regimen, I believe there is a lot of crossover between the problems weight-loss-dieters and weight-gain-dieters encounter.

When I was just out of inpatient and diligently following my meal plan, I was surprised to find that what tripped me up the most wasn’t always the food or the impending weight gain. It was family and friends that didn’t quite understand what I was doing and why. I can’t count the times a well-intended friend pushed a batch of fresh baked brownies my way saying, “I thought you could eat this now.” Well, I would think to myself, I can eat brownies, just not those brownies. I need a brownie made with portion-controlled ingredients measured out with military precision that has been weighed on a digital scale to the exact gram. But since that was quite a mouthful and begged a dozen questions I wasn’t prepared to field, I tended to revert to the polite, “no thank you.”

While adhering to a meal plan often temporarily introduces a whole new slew of food rules, it affords the peace of mind that you are eating within allowable parameters. In a sense, the meal plan gives you a “ticket to eat,” or as my therapist referred to it, “a food prescription.” Initially, it is important to strictly follow the plan as you restore weight, normalize eating, and work through emotional baggage. Going off plan too early can be a slippery slope leading to relapse. Unfortunately, friends and family have the potential to confuse the new recovery-focused food rules for eating disorder behavior. If you combine that with the misunderstanding that recovery from an eating disorder is an overnight occurrence it’s easy to see why the unintentional sabotage occurs.

To help you stick to your meal plan when up against uninformed or unsupportive friends and family members I’ve assembled a list of tips that really helped me.

1) Get comfortable saying NO

You’re armed with the meal plan and you know what you need to eat. If someone offers you food that doesn’t fit in with your recovery plan, just say no. With food and emotions so closely intertwined perhaps saying no to grandma’s home-cooked lasagna or fresh-baked cookies will hurt her feelings, but right now that can’t be your top priority. Thank her for the offer, say no, offer an explanation if your feel comfortable, and then move on.

2) Educate others

Tell those closest to you about your meal plan. If they know what you are doing they will be able to offer support and encouragement instead of criticism or misplaced advice. This also makes you accountable to eat the food on your plan.

3) It’s all in the preparation

Don’t get thrown off because you had to work late, came home tired, and now your family is beckoning you to come eat the pizza they ordered. If you are at a point where you can do some quick mental math and substitute pizza for your planned meal, great! If not, make sure you have some quick back-ups in place, think supplemental drinks, frozen foods, or prepackaged snacks (or, thanks to your newfound raging metabolism, all three).

4) Offer to cook

Do you have a hard time getting your family to understand why you measure everything? Would you like to eat the same meal as everyone else but can’t get the cook to accommodate your needs? Cook a meal for everyone. When you are in the kitchen you can measure the ingredients in your meal to get an accurate count and, unless someone is watching you, they probably won’t be any wiser to what you are doing.

5) Ask for modifications

You never know how accommodating your family will be unless you ask. To this day when I am having a rough day with food I ask my husband to whip out the kitchen scale to make sure my meal is xxx calories. He understands the important role meal planning plays in recovery, and is always willing to oblige. But getting up the courage to ask him is the first step.

6) Get a wingman (or wingwoman)

A wingman comes in handy when your reserves are running low and you can’t bear the thought of explaining one more time why you brought your own food to (insert any family holiday or social gathering). A good wingman can deflect questions, support your decision, encourage you in the face of disapproval, and be your personal advocate in recovery.

7) Be resolute in your recovery

Following a meal plan 100% of the time is hard. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, then it becomes 100x harder. Work on getting to the root reasons for why you want recovery (making a list is helpful-as well as countless hours in therapy) and then work on understanding the important connection between meal planning and recovery.

So gather your measuring cups and spoons, the kitchen scale, and nutritional guides and commit yourself to meal planning. Because in the end, whether or not your family members and friends are on board, you are only accountable to yourself.

* I am referring to a way of eating, not calorie restriction.

Yesterday I sauntered into the kitchen and opened the cabinet containing all my husband’s snacks. Peering into the assortment of chips, crackers, and cookies I pulled out a bag of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, grabbed a couple, and walked back to the couch where I began eating. All of this transpired without a single thought about fat or calories, a single should I or shouldn’t I debate, or any plans to later compensate for my nutritional indiscretions. This might just be one of the greatest recovery moments I’ve had in awhile.

Mindless eating, or the act of making decisions about food based on unconscious psychological cues, has developed a bad reputation. For most people, the concept conjures up images of overweight people staring blankly at the television, one hand on the remote, the other robotically going in and out of a bag of Doritos. It’s associated with a lack of control or willpower and a disconnect from physical hunger or emotional cues that prompt us to eat. To use the famous Nike slogan, it’s the kind of eating where you “just do it.” Or more appropriately as Weird Al Yankovich’s song suggests, “just eat it.”

Advocates of intuitive eating promote bringing mindfulness to eating while breaking through the indoctrination created by years of following rigid food rules. They encourage people to get in touch with their bodies’ internal hunger cues, to savor each bite, to experience the smell, taste, and texture of food, and to respect fullness. All of these goals are noble, but for the recovered anorexic, intuitive eating can often lead to over-thinking eating. What was meant to be an endeavor at respecting the body and fully enjoying food can morph into analyzing the necessity and nutritional value of each and every bite and continually questioning one’s hunger or need for food.

Health magazines are filled with nutrition experts who urge readers to get in touch with their emotions surrounding food. “Why are you eating?” they all ask. Are you bored? Stressed? Feeling social pressure? Tired? Get to the bottom of the what, when, where, and why you eat and you’ll be on your way to better health, a thinner waistline, clearer skin, deeper sleep, and better sex. Even the proverbial fountain of youth can be yours by for the taking. For the recovering anorexic, a more appropriate question to ask might be, “why aren’t you eating?” Instead of emotions prompting overindulgence, unsettling emotions lead to restricting behaviors or obsessive thoughts about food. One of the tools to overcoming emotional hurdles in recovery is to separate what the mind thinks from what the body needs to do. While getting in touch with emotions is crucial in long-term recovery, in the here-and-now of deciding whether to eat the next meal, disconnecting from emotions is critical.

Thus, learning to eat mindlessly is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. Okay let me rephrase that. Eating, mindlessly or not, is a major undertaking for someone with a history of anorexia. In treatment patients are taught distraction techniques for getting through a meal or snack. Focus attention of conversation, a book, or favorite television program. Do mental exercises, say redesign your room or plan a dream vacation, to keep your thoughts busy. The initial aim is not to enjoy the food, but simply, survive the food. It hasn’t been too long since I was religiously counting every calorie and fat gram that passed my lips. Every meal used to be a negotiation. You can have the cheese on your sandwich if you swap out the mayo for mustard and run an extra mile at the gym. Or you can binge on that cake but then you’re not eating tomorrow. With food always on the brain, I couldn’t conceive of the day when I would be able to just eat something.

But that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I mindlessly ate those cookies, and only after they were half-way to my stomach as I licked melted chocolate off my fingers did I realize it. I needed this win. I needed to be reminded that it is possible to remain in recovery from an eating disorder, even when you encounter unexpected road bumps (see Broken Bones and Broken Dreams). I’m not going to question why I did it or what might have been unconsciously going on in my head. Nor am I going to work on becoming more mindful in the future. I’m just going to sit in the present and enjoy feeling like the superhero that I am.

To be resolute or not to be resolute…that is the question. As someone who frequently breaks her New Year’s resolutions (and by frequently I mean 100% of the time), I’m always a little hesitant to make any lest I disappoint myself once again. This year, however, I’m taking a different approach to the whole resolution thing. Instead of viewing my pursued goals as achieved or not achieved, or categorizing them as successes or failures, I’m choosing to view my goals on more of a continuum of sorts. What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.

A common New Years goal for a lot of people, and I embarrassingly admit for myself too, is to eat healthier and exercise more. So when January 1st rolls around I wake up committed to not eat junk food anymore and to get to the gym at least 5 times a week. By January 3rd I inevitably find myself sitting in front of the television with a bowl of ice cream, wondering how the ice cream even ended up in the apartment since it was not on my list of approved foods. In the past it would be at this point that I admit defeat, throw in the towel, and tell myself to just wait for next year so I can begin my resolution anew.

There are a lot of problems with this situation. First, since when has one bowl of ice cream ever been the downfall of a diet? One bowl of ice cream everyday for an entire month–maybe, but surely not one bowl on one day of one week. Second, I’m applying that all-or-nothing mentality that has served me and my eating disorder all to well in the past (I’m hoping you can detect the sarcasm but just in case I’ll insert this disclaimer). It’s either 100% healthy eating 100% of the time, or I’ve failed. I either go to the gym with the intention of working out for 2 hours straight, or might as well not even go. If I’m forced to eat an unplanned meal out with my family, I might as well go ahead and binge. You get the idea; this way of thinking is neither productive nor healthy. Lastly, if it’s January 3rd and I’m already “breaking” my resolution, it probably wasn’t a very reasonable or sustainable resolution to begin with.

And now you see the purpose of the continuum. Instead of saying I must eat healthy all the time, I am working toward eating healthier most of the time. I’m also redefining what eating healthy means to me. If I do decide to eat that bowl of ice cream on the 3rd, I’ll just be sure to balance it out on the 4th with a little extra cardio and a couple extra servings of vegetables. I’ll strive for balance in my life instead of perfection. Better yet, I’ll redefine perfection to mean balance so that it meets my unique goals;  instead of my all-or-nothing thinking of the past. I’ll take baby steps toward my goals and not unrealistically expect that on January 1st I’ll muster up the determination and will power to push myself to the finish line. I know now that the resolutions I set for myself are a work in progress and along the way I will expect to encounter some roadblocks. Instead of viewing those roadblocks as dead ends, I will look at them as part of the struggle to reach my goals and continue on knowing that taking the time to navigate around them is far more productive than turning around and heading back to the starting line.

My New Year Resolutions

1) Run the Cincinnati Marathon on May 1, 2011!

2) Find a volunteer opportunity I feel passionate about and volunteer!

3) Get married on May 28, 2011!

4) Everyday write down one reason why that day was GREAT! Stay positive!

5) Write at least one new blog a month.

What are your New Years resolutions??

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