Should You Begin a Healthy Eating Challenge Today?


It’s the first day of the month. And it’s Monday.

A perfect day to start a new diet, wouldn’t you say?

If you are on top of the latest trends in healthy eating and frequent the healthy food websites, you would be privy to the popularity of beginning a diet today. Or another first of the month, or another Monday.

30-day challenges, 21-day detoxes, 3-day reboots.

There seems to be magical dietary hope in a new month. A new week. A new chance to get yourself healthy. Get yourself slim. Get yourself unstuck of the bad habits you picked up the last few weeks, or the last few months, or however long it has been leading up to you finally showing junk food and poor choices who’s boss.

I don’t have anything against doing challenges, or cleanses, or reboots. They can be a very practical way of replacing negative and unhealthy habits with better ones. They can expedite the body’s ability to reduce inflammation, or release excess water weight. They can teach you alot of insightful things, such as what you place dependency on (afternoon treat, anyone?) or help you develop your self-control muscles.

Healthy eating challenges can be positive and enlightening for many people.

But they are optional, and not necessary for improving your health (even dramatically), and they are always your choice to do or not do, no matter how popular or amazing they really are.

I spent many years, many firsts of the months, many Mondays, cleaning up my diet, and starting over as a healthy eater, always with the idea that this reset would reset them all. That this time, my relationship with food would be freshened up for good.

That this time, I would be good.

My experiences with strict dietary challenges have certainly opened me up to new ways to think about food. They have allowed me to improve my sleep, my joints, my skin, and my emotions.

But they have not saved me the way I always wanted them to.

Knowing that I would be starting a strict and clean diet would usually lend me bingeing on everything the diet forbade in the days leading up to the big start day.

When I would finally decide to stick to a respectable food plan, I would feel good about eating so well, but mostly I would feel saved from myself, from my potential to self-sabotage through food, from the vulnerability to go at my health goals alone.

It was inevitable after beginning a strict plan that I would eventually break the diet, or mess up. It was likely that I would be frustrated with how time and thought consuming it was, or irritated at how critical its biggest fans were.

And it was inevitable that the diet would only take me so far. That it would improve my health for as long as I adhered to its guidelines, but guilt me into thinking I was an utter failure when I “fell off the wagon” or “cheated” or “just couldn’t do it”.

I know there are people who would disagree with this, and maybe even think it’s the wrong approach to take, and that is OK. I know challenges and diet plans can be maintained without them adding stress or trauma to a person.  I realize that if I really wanted to keep a food challenge (and by this time, you would be correct to suspect it a Whole30 or 21-Day Sugar Detox or an I Quit Sugar plan), that I could.

I could get through the temporary discomfort of forgoing my beloved tamari, or bananas, or a square (or two) of 85% dark chocolate.

I could call every restaurant I would attend for the time of the challenge, and ensure they only cooked with ghee, olive, or coconut oil, and I could make certain there was no soy or corn fed to any animals I was consuming, or that there was not dried fruit or candied nuts in my salad.

And I could skip every invitation to dine at a friend’s house whose cooking was not “approved” by my newfound redeeming health plan.

By my new, Good News.

By my new Savior.

But I will tell you, I’ve done all those things.

And I don’t do them anymore.

I’ve spent alot of time studying food. Studying its make-up. Studying how nutritious it is. Studying how evil it is.  How it helps us.  How it hurts us.  How it ruins the planet, and how it saves souls (oh wait, I meant, how it helps you improve your body composition).

I’ve learned alot in my studies, but the things that nutrition could never teach me was how to trust myself to eat healthy, everyday, without fear of failing a plan, without the obsession on perfectionism, and without needing anyone else’s approval.

Food challenges are amazing for alot of things, but it takes determination and commitment to decide to treat your body well, with kindness, and with compassion, after they are over.

It takes will to make your own rules, to let in only helpful opinions, and to turn your eyes and your ears from anything that doesn’t empower you.  That doesn’t give you confidence, or energy, that doesn’t root you in self-assuredness, and that doesn’t serve to make you a better version of yourself.

You can follow plans, and challenges, and diets, and enjoy them, and benefit from them, but never forget that you can experience health, and enlightenment, and self-growth all on your own.

If you think you need to learn more about food to make your own choices, study it. Find out how it effects your body. Learn how it can make you feel well.

Experiment with it. See what works for you. See what you like.

And then, know when you’ve studied enough. Know when it’s time to trust yourself, trust your body, and get on and live your life.

Be responsible, but be in charge.  Be yourself, and be proud of it.

So, if you asked me if it was a perfect day to start a new diet, I would say, maybe, but maybe not.

Instead, I say it’s the perfect day to start trusting yourself with food.

And so is tomorrow.  And next week.  And definitely, next month.

 

Image from What’s on the 6th Floor?

Advertisements

Do You Accept Yourself?

I have been interested in eating healthy for most of my life, but it wasn’t to treat my body well or to feel good.  It was to lose weight.

I can remember being in elementary school, portioning out crackers to pack in my school lunch, wanting to know how many calories I was eating, hoping that I would become a slimmer version of myself by restricting my food.

Just one size smaller, just a few pounds thinner.  Then I would be comfortable and my life would be better.

Then I could focus on others things like hobbies and a career.

Then I would accept myself.

As I got older, I educated myself on nutrition, and was convicted to eat the purest and healthiest foods possible.  I counted calories for a few years, was a vegetarian for a few, got rid of all processed foods, and later adapted a diet of real foods.

I wish I could say that my goal was for health, but it wasn’t.  It was always to lose weight.

I finally did lose weight after college through very restricting dieting (too much which had very negative effects on my body and mind), and when I couldn’t afford to lose any more and I still wasn’t happy or accepting of myself, I became confused about why I tried to eat healthy at all.

It is not surprising that I cycled through periods of binge eating during my years of very restrictive dieting,  It was very difficult to maintain a weight that was too low for me, and very uncomfortable to starve my body of the nutrients it needed.

It often bewildered me that I would cycle through periods of very healthy eating, then periods of self-sabotaging eating that left me feeling sick and gross.  This opposing pattern proved to me that I wasn’t interested in health for actual health.  I was interested in it to get thin.  When getting thin was too hard, I wasn’t interested in it at all.

During this season, I had done quite a bit of reading on accepting myself, and eating to treat my body well, and quitting the diet/binge habit.  It sounded really nice–accepting myself, but I couldn’t.  I didn’t believe I was acceptable unless I was losing weight.

It was only a few years ago that I really gave some serious thought to accepting myself no matter what I weighed or looked like, and eating healthy to be kind to my body.

What if I only ate healthy because I cared about how nutritious foods made me feel?  What if I chose to be happy and comfortable with myself no matter what I looked like or what I weighed?

I attempted to take this approach, but it did not come very easily.  I did not decide to accept myself, and then became a natural at it overnight.

It required daily determination to stop letting my weight determine my value.  When a thought entered my mind that tied my personal success with my weight, it had to be replaced with truth immediately.  When disappointment surfaced after looking in the mirror, I had to remind myself that the self-hatred I was cultivating had gotten me nowhere, it felt unfortunate, was distracting me from more important issues, and was not helping me in any way.

It dawned on me one day that I might look the way I look today for the rest of my life.  Sure, I will look older, get wrinkles, and age spots, and gray hair, but I might weigh what I do now until the day I die.

Would this be OK?

Would I choose to stress about something that may never change for the rest of my life?  Would I let this obsession determine my happiness, comfortability, and confidence until I die?  Would I fret about this more than important issues that are happening all around me?  More than caring about other people?  More than connecting with family and friends?  More than making a positive contribution in the world?

We all have one life.  We get to choose what we value and how we spend our time, and what we believe.  We get to think what we want to think.  We get to feel what we want to feel.

I chose self acceptance because the path of self-hatred was exhausting.  It robbed me of happiness.  It kept me from being present.  It made my life small, and it didn’t even allow me to do what I wanted it to in the very beginning–eat healthy to lose weight.

Self acceptance is about so much more than being OK with what you weigh or what you look like, but for those who can’t even claim these things, it’s certainly a start in a positive direction.

What about you?

Do you consider yourself someone who accepts yourself?  Who accepts your body how it is right now?  If not, when will your body be good enough for you to accept it?  When will you choose to be happy, comfortable, and confident?  Do you really believe that a number on the scale or a size of clothing can provide you with the feeling you are looking for?

Image from Johanna Ost.

Binge Eating is Caused by Dieting, Part 5

This is Part 5 of the Series: Binge Eating is Caused by Dieting.

You can catch up by reading Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 by clicking on their links.

In Part 5, we will explore approaches and practices that will help make resisting urges to binge easier.

We have already discussed that dieting (extreme under-eating) causes your brain to send signals to binge eat, that binge eating, due to its many emotional and physical consequences, is usually followed by a period of compensation (as if to undo the damage of eating so recklessly), and that resuming the original extreme diet serves to repeat the cycle of restriction, binge, and compensation.

We’ve gone over how eating more throughout the day will help lesson urges to binge, thus, reducing binge eating, and reducing periods of compensation.

And we have gone over how noticing and accepting urges to binge after you return to healthier eating habits will help to alleviate the frustration you may feel for still experiencing urges to binge.

Today I wanted to talk more about a very helpful part of accepting urges to binge:

This is to remind yourself that the feeling to binge is just a feeling.  It is only a signal that your brain is used to sending.  It doesn’t mean anything more than that.  It feels uncomfortable, and it is distracting, but it will pass, and it doesn’t deserve any more attention or effort or public announcement than it takes to notice and accept it.

Choose to not act on a meaningless thought.

Then, be glad that you did not binge!

This part of stopping binge eating is often neglected, but it is a critical part of accepting urges to binge after you are eating enough and have decided to form new habits.

It may sound strange to remind yourself of these things, but if you have been binge eating for any length of time, it’s likely you have forgotten that not all thoughts must be acted upon.

We have many thoughts throughout the day.  Most of them are habitual and serve to keep us on schedule.  We think, “I will brush my teeth” after waking up, or “I’m leaving to go to work now“, or “I will do a load of laundry today“.  These thoughts are quick and keep us on schedule, and we tend to not second guess them.  If we did, we might not get very much done in any given day.

Other thoughts require much more research and attention, and we are lucky if we have the information and freedom to make our own choices regarding them (Where to go to college?  Who to marry?  What to do with my life?).

And then there are thoughts that seem to trip us up.  They feel more like desires or urges and they can be confusing to experience.

These are the thoughts that we have, but don’t want to have, and they become greater in intensity every time they are entertained and acted upon.

For the sake of this blog post, we won’t get into all of those thoughts.

The urge to binge, however, after you have ended extreme dieting, and returned to eating enough food, is indeed, one of those thoughts so let’s keep it as our example.

You think bingeing is what you want to do, but you also know it is what you don’t want to do.

It can feel very confusing, and be a stumbling block if you don’t know how to make sense of it.

When you have the urge to binge, notice it and accept it as an old way to think that didn’t serve you well.  That’s all it is (provided it is not a sign of true physical hunger).

You do not have to give this thought any more attention than this.  It is simply an old signal the brain is still sending, but it gets weaker and weaker every time you do not respond to it.  It fades.  It goes away.  It appears less.  But it takes a bit of effort to stop giving it so much attention.

Try this just once, the next time you have the urge to binge:

Notice it, accept it as an old way to think, remind yourself you don’t binge eat anymore, and let it pass.  You do this already, with lots of thoughts.  Try it with binge eating.

And then be glad that you did not binge!

Positive reinforcement helps most people (and animals) continue on their path to better behavior.  If it feels silly to give yourself positive reinforcement, you don’t have to, but there is nothing wrong with it and you might enjoy it.

I hope this is helpful.  If you are struggling with binge eating, there is always a way out.  There is always a way to stop.  And it is always within you to stop.  You don’t have to rely on external accountability or make a big deal out of stopping.  You do not need expensive therapy, or years of self-exploration.  You don’t need to right all of the wrongs from your past, or change anyone’s behavior, or do anything that is not only about stopping the action of obeying urges to binge.  Some of these things may help to lesson the urge to binge, or may be beneficial to your intellectual and emotional growth, but they are not mandatory actions to stop binge eating.

You only have to choose to stop, accept that is will be a bit weird for awhile, remind yourself that you have stopped, and then be happy about it.

It’s a simple process and it gets easier and easier the more you do it.

And if you do choose to binge, the next time you have the urge, accept your fallibility, dust yourself off, and get right back to living your life with kindness and patience.  Fail fast, don’t look back.  Eat enough, replace old thinking with new, and try, try, again.

You are still lovable and there is still so much life to live.

Never give up.  Always press on.

Does this seem like a doable approach to end binge eating?  Is it something you think you will try the next time you have the urge to binge?

Leave a comment if you like!

 

 

Image from Rebloggy.

Binge Eating is Caused by Dieting, Part 4

This is Part 4 of the Series: Binge Eating is Caused by Dieting.

If you haven’t already, read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

In Part 4, we will talk about experiencing binge urges after you have resumed eating enough.

We have already discussed that extreme dieting (under-eating) sends signals to your brain to binge eat, that binge eating becomes a habit, and that eating more throughout the day (ending under-eating) can dramatically lesson urges to binge, thus, lessoning binges, periods of compensation, and the likelihood of future urges.

Eating enough for your body is an adjustment period.  It takes trial and error to determine if you have had enough food if you have been in the habit of under-eating.  Often it will feel like you are overeating when you begin to eat enough.  Your body may need some time to adjust to eating enough so be very kind to yourself during this period.  Accept the transition as one that will help you stop binge eating.

This approach should help to encourage you!

The tricky part of binge urges is that while they begin as a survival mechanism your brain uses to keep you from starving, once activated, they become an automatic desire (urge) that is strengthened each time you obey it (each time you binge).

So, every binge increases the likelihood that you will binge again.

This may seem like unfortunate news, but it doesn’t have to be!

Instead, this news can serve you well.  Here is how:

When you feel the urge to binge you have two choices.  Obey it or dismiss it.  Since you already know that you do not want to obey it, you have to choose to dismiss it.

Part 3 of this series advocates eating more food throughout the day to lesson binge urges.  Feeling full and satisfied by your meals definitely reduces the urge to binge, but because of the many emotional layers that are intertwined with the physical action of binge eating, you might find yourself still experiencing urges to binge after you resume a healthy diet.

There are a few things you can do to dismiss the urge to binge that do not take much time and do not require a big fuss:

Ask yourself if you are physically hungry.  Physical hunger is located below the neck.  It’s a sensation in your stomach.  It’s a natural and non-threatening feeling that serves to keep you nourished and energetic throughout the day.

If your answer is that you are physically hungry–eat!

This is a simple solution that does not need alot of time, therapy, or work.  It only requires some food (or patience for you to get some food.  You may have to hold out until eating food is an option).

If you are not physically hungry, simply notice the urge to eat more (to binge eat).

When you notice the urge to binge, you are aware that your brain is sending signals to binge even though you are not physically hungry.

This can feel frustrating so the next thing to do is to accept the urge to binge.

Accept it?  But that sounds like giving up!  Like surrender!

It isn’t.  Not even close.  Accepting an urge is the kindest thing you can do for yourself in this situation.  Notice it.  Feel it (as uncomfortable as it is).  Accept it.  It is not you.  It is a signal your brain has been habituated to send.  Accept it.

How can you accept it?

Many ways.  You can silently (or even aloud) tell yourself that even though you feel the urge to binge eat right now, you are choosing to focus on whatever other task is in front of you in this moment.

You can breath deeply and imagine the urge being lessoned and becoming further and further away with every exhale.

You can remind yourself that your are being strengthened to stop binge eating in this very moment that you choose to not binge eat.  This is a rational and positive approach, but not necessary to stop binge eating.

None of these approaches require anything outside of yourself.  You do not need any special tools.  You do not need to go anywhere, or call anyone, or make any public announcements about your urge.

Just choose to not binge, accept the temporary discomfort of not giving into a meaningless urge, and if you wish, remind yourself that you are getting better at stopping the binge eating habit.

Then witness what happens next:

It passes.

It goes away.  It loses it’s distracting presence.  It fades.  It isn’t something you want anymore.

This approach has been incredibly helpful for me.  After I resumed eating enough for my body, my binge urges lessoned dramatically, but I would still experience them from time to time. Sometimes it was because I really needed to eat more food, but sometimes it was totally random.  In those moments, I had to choose how to move forward.

Modern therapy might encourage you to have a list of things to do for when an urge presents itself.  You might be told to journal, or call a friend, or take a walk, or paint your nails, or go for a drive.  These are all pleasant ideas, but not always an option if you have responsibilities other than breaking your habit to binge.

It is not always an option to go for a walk.  What if you are at work?  You cannot always call a friend.  What if they are out of the country?  And the worse (in my opinion) is painting your nails. Who wants to paint their nails when they are feeling an urge to binge?  I could never get behind that idea.

In my experience, I found that I didn’t even want to do any of those things when I had the urge to binge.  All I wanted to do was binge.  Going for a walk or getting involved in anything else besides eating was not my concern at all.

After I chose to stop binge eating, I wanted an approach to use anytime and anywhere, and I didn’t want to make it such a big deal that I was resisting an urge.  I didn’t want to pay any more attention to it than it was worth.

Accepting my binge urges helped me do this and I think it is worth trying if you find yourself experiencing urges to binge after you are eating enough.

It may feel funny at first, but all new things do.

It is worth trying because it might change your life for the better.

Next we will explore ways that make it easier to accept binge urges.

So, what do you think about choosing to accept the urge to binge?  Have you tried this already Did your urge lesson?  If it persisted, was it because you really needed to eat more food?  What finally led your urge to pass?

Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!

 

 

Image from Tumblr.

Weekend Approach

It’s the weekend!

I live in Los Angeles and there is always so much to do, on any day, but especially weekends.

Movies in the park, museums, beaches, coffee shops, restaurants, concerts, conventions, flea markets–too much to even mention it all!

L.A. is fun and full of a lazy, sunny energy that I’ve grown quite accustomed to.  It’s not unusual to spend a Saturday “hiking”, as we call it, through Griffith Park, or riding bikes down 4th Street at sunset.

Sometimes weekends are spent picking through vintage treasures at the Pasadena Flea Market (although I personally find the best deals at Goodwill and Craigslist), or watching a Marilyn Monroe film at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (it’s not spooky, I promise!).

Weekends are fun.  Sometimes they involve tasks that aren’t all that exciting, but in general they are days to relax, be outside, be with friends and family, and to create memories.

When I was caught up in the obsession of dieting and bingeing, my approach to the weekends wasn’t nearly as romantic (or boring, if you are the type of person who skydives or trains lions).

I didn’t dislike weekends, but I did find myself more focused on how I would maintain perfectly healthy eating or how I would maintain and hide my binge eating.  When I was dieting, I was constantly threatened by events and people that might prevent me from eating, what I deemed, healthy foods.  When I was bingeing, I wasn’t focused on much of anything besides eating as many “off-limit” foods as possible, and then recovering from feeling sick, tired, moody, and depressed.

It was difficult, nearly impossible, to approach life with curiosity, compassion, and creativity in those days.

I look back on all the time I spent being obsessed with food, either not eating it or eating too much of it, and it makes me sad that I habitually chose to place so much emphasis on what I was eating as a means to provide my happiness.  It was narrow-mided and I often felt anxious, worried, and lonely for it.

I don’t think it’s wrong to spend time ensuring you can eat healthy during the weekends.  I think it should definitely be a part of how you plan meals and outings.  Eating healthy makes you feel your best, and gives you energy, and can contribute to a sane and creative mind.  Eating healthy makes things like taking a long hike (or, rather, a rocky walk) or a bike ride much more pleasurable than if you did not eat healthy.  It makes life easier and better.

But the obsession with eating, whether it is rooted in perfectionism, hedonism, or gluttony, can negatively effect your life.  It can take over it.

Of course, we all have the right to choose how we want to approach this.  You might resonate with my experiences and also seek to make your life about more than food, or you might resonate and disagree.

A challenge I have for myself is to approach the weekends (all days, for that matter) with an attitude that is ready to relax, ready to connect with people, ready to find beauty and inspiration in what I see and do, and ready to express love and creativity, and compassion to others and to myself.

It’s hard to get so wrapped up in perfect eating and self-sabotaging bingeing with these goals in mind.

It’s much easier to enjoy life, and much easier to enjoy the journey of healthy eating this way.

But this takes practice and time if you’re not used to it, so if you choose to makes these goals a part of your own life, show yourself patience and kindness when you seem to revert to old ways.    Keep at it.  Keep eating the kindest way you know how, keep choosing acceptance and love for yourself and others, and keep participating in the world around you.

Let me know–how do you approach the weekends?  Has your diet or the way you eat ever prevented you from relaxing and creating positive memories, either by yourself or with other people?

Special Note – If you are currently eating in extreme ways, such as strict dieting or binge eating, and it is something you wish you would stop but feel you can’t, email me!  Let’s chat more about it because I KNOW there is always a way out of these destructive habits.  myrightmindblog@gmail.com

 

Image from DustJacket.