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Intuitive Eating

            For my birthday this year, at my request, Mom got me an appointment with a nutritionist recommended by some of her friends who specializes in Intuitive Eating, rather than in creating meal plans or excluding certain foods. I’d found a book on this subject years ago, called When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. It was an exploration of how to teach yourself to feel your hunger cues, and trust your body to tell you what and when to eat. I could relate to so many of Geneen Roth’s stories about her own childhood eating issues and I was inspired by her journey to making peace with food, but I couldn’t translate her lessons into my own body and my own eating. I ended up going back to calorie counting, and then counting points, and then excluding categories of food altogether, and on and on. But it always stuck with me that, one day, I’d really like to be able to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

“I’m never full.”

            My first visit with the nutritionist, on Zoom, was promising. She has experience working with people with trauma backgrounds and autoimmune disorders and a history of eating disorders, so nothing I said was shocking to her. And she was kind. Much kinder than I am to myself.

            I have been dieting since I was a kid, and I’ve had bouts of anorexia and binge eating and over-exercising and excessive dieting since then. My body is not built along the lines of the perfect American woman I see in magazines, or on TV, who is either taller than me with spindly bones or shorter than me with spindly bones. I am big boned. Even when I was anorexic and fainting from lack of nutrition, I could never get thin enough to fit into the skinny-girl clothes at the mall, because my bones stuck out. My mom was scared, because she saw that I was starving myself, but most other people thought I was just barely thin enough. Even my doctors weren’t concerned, though I was thirty pounds underweight for my frame, because they were looking at the wrong charts.

            The assumption behind every diet I’ve ever been on is that my body is wrong and bad and needs to be fixed, and I have believed that my whole life, but Intuitive Eating will require me to learn a new way of talking to myself, and I’m not sure I can do it. One of the first things the nutritionist told me was that I may have to accept my weight as it is; that people can lose weight with Intuitive Eating, but a lot will depend on what’s right for my body, not my expectations for my body. This is a hard thing to hear, because I feel certain that my body isn’t meant to be its current size, and that if I were a good enough person I would reach my ideal weight without effort.

“I’m perfect just the way I am.”

            I’m working on balancing out my meals, adding more protein to breakfast and more vegetables to lunch and more fat here and there, so that I feel full at the end of each meal. The nutritionist suggested that I replace the peanut butter powder in my overnight oats with real peanut butter, and the almond milk with Fairlife milk (high protein and lactose free). And she suggested making snacks ahead of time, like trail mix and bean salad, so that when I’m starving I won’t just reach for cookies.

“Did you say cookies?”

            But that’s the easy part. It’s sitting down and recognizing where I am on the hunger scale, from 0 (starving to death) to 10 (so full it’s unbearable) before and after each meal that’s getting me frustrated. I struggle to tell the difference between the kind of hunger I feel first thing in the morning, when my stomach is truly empty, and the hunger I feel after breakfast when I want to eat more but I don’t know why. I’m trying to honor my hunger, and eat when I think I need to eat, but it’s hard to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger, or even my long-trained instincts to eat certain foods at certain times of the day. Keeping a hunger journal is forcing me to look more closely at why I’m eating, and what I’m feeling and thinking as I eat, and it is uncomfortable every time. I’m also afraid that moving away from the dieting mentality will lead to weight gain, because I believe that there are monsters inside of me and if I don’t set strict eating rules they will take over and make themselves visible to the outside world instead of just to me.

“Monsters?!!!!!!”

            My therapist is excited about this new eating project and has high hopes that the work will help me get in touch with deeper issues that I’ve been avoiding for too long. But I’m scared. What if I’m still not ready to deal with those feelings? What if overeating is the only thing that works to soothe the pain?

            After I cancelled my Weight Watchers membership, they sent me an email survey, asking if I’d be interested in a new plan with them that would involve being connected with doctors who could prescribe diet medications through Zoom, and that idea is sitting in the back of my mind, as a temptation and a get-out-of-jail-free card in case Intuitive Eating is too hard for me. But I hope I don’t fall into that trap again. I want to be at the point where I can accept myself as I am, and sit with my feelings when they are uncomfortable. I just don’t know if that’s possible. Yet.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Finding Noom

 

I was on Weight Watchers for more than a year, and I did really well with it early on, but at a certain point I couldn’t make any more progress. I still stayed with it for another six months, though, asking for more help and trying different strategies, until I eventually gave in to the ubiquitous ads for the Noom app and switched allegiances.

On Weight Watchers there are zero point foods that you can eat in unlimited quantities; that’s what made the diet so easy to follow for so long. Whenever I was hungry, even if I’d run out of points for the day (foods are given point values instead of calorie counts on WW), I could just eat any of the zero point foods, and there were tons of them. But in the end, those zero point foods were the problem. I was eating too much.

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“What does ‘too much food’ mean?”

Noom is, basically, a calorie counting program in the form of an app. There are daily lessons in psychology, and creating small goals to change your eating habits for the long term, but the overall intention of the program is to help you stay within your assigned calorie limit. You are assigned to a virtual group, with a group coach, where you’re supposed to discuss the daily lessons and assignments and any insights that come up along the way. Then there’s a goal specialist who tries to help you come up with your own particular goal for each week – something suggested by the daily lessons, or the group, or just whatever you’ve been struggling with, like emotional eating or peer pressure or planning meals.

I wasn’t sure about the program at first, so I kept my Weight Watchers account, and as soon as I started counting calories again, the hunger returned. Hunger is a dangerous feeling for me, because I’ve dealt with anorexic tendencies more than once in my life. On the one hand, I want to eat everything in sight to fill the empty space, and on the other hand, I feel righteous and pure for feeling the hunger and not giving in to it. There’s a strange high that comes from extended starvation, but in my experience that high leads to severe health consequences, and big weight gain when you inevitably start to eat again. I can’t risk going through that again, so I have to be careful. But I survived that first week on Noom, without too much drama, so I decided to stick with it and put Weight Watchers aside for a while.

I’d love it if Noom could help me make more progress on my underlying eating disorder issues, because while being on Weight Watchers allowed me to lose weight, it didn’t require me to confront my thought distortions around food or body image. Noom, if it’s going to work, is going to have to address my food panic, and internal arguments over what I do and do not deserve, and so much more, hopefully in a very gradual and manageable way, so that I don’t feel overwhelmed.

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“I’m already overwhelmed.”

I already wish there were more interaction with the goal specialist on Noom, because what I really need is the one-on-one help. I have my own real-life therapist, but food and weight issues have never been her strength. She understands the issues intellectually, but not personally, and not with huge amounts of compassion. It would be like going to my brother for help with math – he’d just do the problem for me, speed through the solution, and then look at me like I’m speaking Swahili when I say I still don’t understand. How could you not understand? It’s simple!

            The thing is, I like to overeat. I liked the big bowls of yogurt, or soup, or sliced peaches with fat-free whipped cream I was eating on Weight Watchers. I would make a pot of vegetable soup, or turkey chili, filled with mostly zero point foods, so that I could eat as much as I wanted and never have to worry about serving sizes. I ate so many canned peaches that I developed a low grade allergy to them, but they were a zero point food so it still took me months to stop eating them!

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“Mmm, more peaches.”

Big portions give me the sense that there will always be enough, and I’ve always worried about not having enough: whether it was food, or love, or money, or time. I’m obsessive about making sure that I have more pens and notebooks and toner and printer paper than I need, and I like to go to Costco for huge bottles of vitamins and a year’s worth of paper towels, just in case. I get nervous when I’m reading the last pages of a novel, and have no new novel on deck, because, who knows? The library might be closed, or they may not have a book I want I read! And I panic in May when the official TV season ends, even though they’ve learned to stagger their start and end dates a bit so there will be shows to watch over the summer (never enough though!).

I’m really not a fan of finding out that everything I want to accomplish in life requires me to confront myself and work through my limitations, because some of my limitations are really intransigent. It would be like expecting Cricket, at age twelve, to overcome her fear of bath time. Are you insane?! Water is terrifying!

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“Water is terrifying!”

            But, here I go, down the calorie-counting path again, hoping to find fewer monsters hiding behind the shrubbery this time. Wish me luck!

 

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. Izzy’s father then sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

YG with Cricket

“Well, what?!”

Weight Watchers

 

I went to Weight Watchers as a thirteen year old. A friend of my parents’ was a Weight Watchers leader, and when we spent time at her house she made Weight Watchers recipes, and talked up the meetings, until it became clear that I was her direct target, with my vaguely pudgy body.

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“Rude much?”

 

Unfortunately, that first foray into dieting set me off on the anorexic path: if eating less is better, eating nothing must be perfect. For a year and a half, I ate less and less until I lost my period, and spent a summer fainting. When I started to eat again, and no matter how little I ate, I gained weight. Fast. It turned out that I had burned out my thyroid with my starvation adventures, and I’ve been on synthetic thyroid replacement pills ever since.

In my twenties I did a very simple on-line program, with calorie counting and recipes. And it worked. Except that I, again, reached a point where I thought I should stop eating altogether, and I panicked at every food choice, and lost almost all joy from eating. And then I got very very tired, and short of breath, and no matter how much I exercised, or how little I ate, the weight crept back on. That time, I ended up on pain medication and spent years going to every kind of doctor in the book.

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“I’m starving.”

My current attempt at Weight Watchers came from an offhand suggestion from the cardiologist, when he did a work up for my borderline high blood pressure. I pooh pooh-ed it at first, because there are other reasons for my blood pressure to be high, but when I looked up the new version of Weight Watchers it looked manageable. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

At least for now, the list of unlimited foods makes this plan doable, because I don’t have to worry about getting to the end of the day with no calories left in my budget. I’m still overwhelmed by all of the different point values, though, and I am entirely dependent on the Weight Watchers app to tell me what I can and what I can’t eat, and when; but I’m not starving, and that’s a relief.

Except, weight loss is a dangerous thing. It’s like gambling or video games: you can get addicted to the high of success, and lose track of everything else that matters to you. Like staying alive. Chances are high that losing weight won’t improve my health in any significant way (because my health problems caused the weight gain, rather than the other way around), but there’s some relief in being on a plan, and having clear guidelines to follow, instead of having to trust my own judgement all the time. Food has always been stressful for me, and maybe making it simpler will reduce some of my overall anxiety.

 

I eat a lot of canned peaches (juice drained), and Greek yogurt (plain, nonfat, with Truvia sweetener). I eat a lot of chicken and eggs and veggies and fruit. I’m still trying to get a handle on the Smart points, and how much to budget for things like oatmeal, or whole wheat bread, or sweet potatoes, or, of course, ice cream and cookies.

Cricket thinks the unlimited chicken thing is Nirvana. And she’s sure that I chose this diet plan with her in mind.

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“Chicken!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

You’re welcome, Cricket.