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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 babycenter.com to ensure you are on track: http://www.babycenter.com/pregnancy-weight-gain-estimator. 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!

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.

Does healthy fast food exist? I’ve been doing some reading lately about the trend in fast food chains to offer a healthier or lite option on the menu, think Taco Bell’s fresco menu, and on the surface it seems like the consumer is getting the best of both worlds: healthy food and fast food. However, a look into the ingredients comprising these “healthier” options leaves a lot to be desired. Take for example the taco shell found on all of Taco Bell’s fresco menu items. The ingredients listed include the following:

Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Contains One Or More Of The Following: Cottonseed Oil, Soybean Oil), with Mono- and Diglycerides, Sugar, Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Fumaric Acid, Calcium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate (used as preservatives), Dough Conditioners (DATEM, Mono and Diglycerides, Enzymes) *Will Contain One Of The Ingredient Statements Above, Depending Upon Regional Suppliers

Now, I’m not a chef or a food connoisseur , but since when has a flour tortilla contained quite that many ingredients? I did a Google search for “flour tortilla recipes” just to confirm my suspicions. The first recipe listed included the following ingredients:

Unbleached flour, baking powder, salt, vegetable shortening, and warm water…now that’s more like it, 5 simple ingredients. No calcium propionate. No DATEM, which in case you were wondering is short for “diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides,” an emulsifier that is used to smooth out variations in flour quality. Hmmm… my deductive reasoning skills would tell me that if you need an additive to correct for your flour quality the flour quality probably isn’t too high. According to the website, “each and every item contains high-quality ingredients,” and “the basic ingredients in Taco Bell’s Mexican-inspired food are wholesome, with protein-rich beans, enriched rice, crisp lettuce, and fresh tomatoes.” The problem with these statements is they omit the fact that in addition to those four “basic” ingredients listed, there are a dozen other unnatural ingredients mucking up the wholesomeness of the food.

But what’s a fast food giant like Taco Bell to do in a market that is becoming increasingly health conscious? Because let’s be honest, how many people are buying into the cheese drenched nachos are healthy because they are made with “natural” and “fresh” ingredients argument? With the new fresco menu that offers low calorie options in place of fat-laden, cheese-filled burritos, marketers are attempting to trick consumers into thinking that low calorie equals healthy. Here’s where they are wrong. Simply being low in calorie does NOT make something healthy; it only makes it low in calories. If we are measuring the health of a food item by the variety and amount of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals it contains, the fresco menu falls short. Add to that the list of “natural” ingredients used in a single tortilla shell and we are veering even farther away from something that looks remotely healthy.

And for those of you who need to see to believe, here are some nutrition facts from fresco items. A fresco crunchy taco weighs in at 150 calories, but almost half of those calories (70 to be exact) come from fat. A fresco chicken burrito supreme weighing in at 340 calories has 1410 mg of sodium, that’s nearly 60% of the recommended allowance for sodium per day.

Am I saying you should never eat Taco Bell or any other fast food for that matter…no (I’d like to but I won’t). What I’m saying is don’t fall prey to the illusion that few calories means a healthier meal for you. Use “healthy” fast food as a last resort option or carefully budget it in to your “indulgences” for the week. Because In the end, it’s not your expanding bottom line the chains are worried about, it’s their own.

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