Friday, February 26, 2010

Building a Bridge from ED to Intuitive Eating, Part 6


What is sound nutrition?

Sound nutritional nourishment is created when the majority of food choices come from plant sources. These include:

  • Starchy Complex Carbs: Whole grains, whole grain/sprouted grain breads, whole grain cereals, pastas and crackers, brown rice, grits, polenta, potatoes, yams
  • Non-Starchy Complex Carbs: Fruits (fresh and dried), 100% fruit juices, vegetables, 100% vegetable juices
  • Protein: Beans, lentils, split peas, tofu, nuts, nut butters, seeds, soy/nut milks
  • Fats/Oils: Olives, olive/vegetable oils

That’s right folks… carbs are the foundation of sound nourishment. They are not the ‘bad guys’ they have been made out to be. Despite what you may have heard in recent years, this one nutritional tenet has never changed. Our bodies need nourishing carbs and plenty of them in order to function properly. This includes starchy carbs, not just fruits and veggies. Without this essential nutrient, our energy plummets and our health suffers. Most Americans get plenty of fast absorbing carbs in the form of highly-processed white flour products, sugar and sweets. This is how carbs have gotten put in the penalty box. We have all seen the detrimental effect an excess of these foods can create. Our escalating diabetes rates clearly demonstrate the effect a steady stream of simple carbs can have on our bodies. However, we largely turn to simple carbs because we are so deficient in complex carbohydrates. It’s akin to a dog chasing its own tail.

Complex carbohydrates provide a vast array of essential nutrients and one that is sorely lacking in the Standard American Diet (SAD)… fiber. Fiber is an essential nutrient in disease prevention. One of the best things you can do for your body is up your fiber. Now, does this mean you can never enjoy simple carbs? Absolutely not! However, you will be best served by letting the majority of your choices come from complex carbohydrate sources. For our intents and purposes of nutritionally rehabilitating the body, I encourage you to make at least half of your choices from complex carbohydrate sources before you fall back on highly-processed foods. The more you favor complex carbohydrates, the more you will see your energy increase. Your moods will stabilize as the brain-fog begins to clear. Bingeing/compulsive overeating will start to fall away. You’ll also notice a distinct reduction in cravings for sweets.

Now, you may be wondering, “Where are the meat, dairy and eggs? Are you asking me to become a vegetarian?” Nope… try again. We are going to get into that in just a minute. First however, I want to assure you that you can get all the protein you need from plant sources. Plants provide all the essential amino acids. In the old days they used to believe that in order to make a complete protein out of plant sources you had to food combine… combining rice with beans is an example of this old food philosophy. We now know that the body will balance out the amino acid intake throughout the day on its own and food combining to get complete protein is no longer necessary. This statement is in fact supported by the ADA (American Dietetic Association).

Vegetarians who are getting all of their protein from plant sources need to be mindful of keeping up their vitamin C intake. This is because there are two types of protein, heme and non-heme. Meat is the only heme protein source and this bears mentioning because heme proteins provide essential iron. Heme sourced iron is also more easily absorbed by the body than it is from plant sources. In fact, meat eaters absorb on average 15-35% of the iron from this heme protein, whereas vegetarians, including lacto-ovo vegetarians who continue to consume eggs and dairy products, only absorb 2-20% of the iron from non-heme sources. This is important to consider because iron deficiency can lead to anemic conditions. There is no reason for concern though because this reduction in absorbability can easily be addressed by getting plenty of vitamin C rich foods. Vitamin C facilitates more complete iron absorption from non-heme protein sources. Foods rich in vitamin C are:

Sweet red bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, mustard greens, papaya, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, cantaloupe, cabbage, tomatoes, raspberries, celery, spinach, pineapple, watermelon, tangerines, limes, cranberries, guava

Realistically, most vegetarians are getting a wide variety of these vitamin C rich foods so the great iron debate can be set to rest. A plant-based way of eating can absolutely fulfill all of your nutritional requirements, so long as you are being mindful of nourishing yourself from a variety of nutritional sources. I’m sure this now raises some questions regarding calcium. Don’t you need milk in order to get the calcium needed to strengthen bones? The short answer is no. Plenty of plant foods contain highly-absorbable calcium. Plant foods high in calcium are:

Green leafy vegetables, nuts, oranges, kidney beans, lima beans, whole grains, Swiss chard, lentils, raisins, broccoli, kale, celery, tofu, romaine lettuce

In fact, it is a myth that you need to consume dairy in order to fulfill your calcium need. You may be thinking… “What about osteoporosis? Don’t I have to get 3 servings of dairy products a day in order to stave off bone loss?” Wrong again. In examining nutritional guidelines it is important to remember the politics of food. Food industries dish out a lot of cash to take up more space on the USDA Food Pyramid. Keep that in mind before allowing yourself to be blindly led. Many people are lactose intolerant and have difficulty eating dairy foods. In fact, in some of the healthiest societies in the world, very little, if any dairy is consumed. This is evident in rural China where the population consumes about one third the amount of dairy that most Americans do. They also have virtually no cases of osteoporosis. In fact, the highest incidence of osteoporosis corresponds with countries consuming the largest amounts of meat and dairy products including the United States, New Zealand, Britain and Sweden. The reason... excess animal protein consumption leaches the calcium from bones.

Does this mean you should avoid meat, dairy and eggs if these are foods you enjoy? Not a chance! We have to stop looking at things in such black and white terms. The key here is that excess animal protein intake can create calcium deficiency. This is another way that the low-carb fad diet trend has promoted harmful misinformation. It has skewed people’s thinking about balanced nutrition. Especially in fitness communities the macro-nutrient, protein, is over-emphasized and excessively valued. Remember, you can get all the protein you need from plant sources and plant protein will not deplete your calcium stores. If healthy, strong bones are important to you, and they should be, consume animal proteins more moderately. This can be easily achieved by going for the regular burger instead of the triple-decker, putting a little less meat in that chili and enjoying a slice or two of cheese, not half the brick. Our bodies really don’t need 16-oz. steaks, giant burgers, and heaping plate-full’s of Buffalo wings. We also don’t thrive off head-size hunks of cheese. The fast-food industry has greatly played into this portion distortion with their super-sizes and plates of food that can easily feed an entire family. Our whole idea about what constitutes a reasonable portion of food is off.

Those who struggle with restrictive eating disorder behaviors are probably used to seeing a plate as half empty and falsely believing this is a reasonable amount of food, while those with bingeing/compulsive overeating disorders often have eyes that are bigger than their stomachs. Here is the only portion guidance I am going to give. I share this not as a limiting element, but to help those who may have confusion understand what a reasonable portion of food is and the bare minimum amount of food that needs be consumed at meals for general health. I’m not going to ask you to pull out the food scale or your measuring cups. Those are the tools of the dieter and there is no need for those anymore. I’m also not going to break down serving sizes into their measurement equivalents by listing how many cups or ounces of food ‘should’ be consumed. I personally find that kind of information triggering. I think this is where nutritional professionals have really missed the mark. They understand the importance of sharing this information but present it in a manner that automatically breeds resistance and can be activating for ED issues. That’s not our intention here, so we are going to keep it simple. Want to know what a reasonable portion of food looks like? Put out your hand and make a fist… that’s it. A serving of protein, starchy carbs, fruits or veggies, is about the size of your fist. Use fats in small amounts to add flavor, while increasing both the enjoyment and nutritional content of your meals. A little butter can be a great thing! This is not an exact science, but it comes close enough to hit the mark.

The final nutritional area I want to cover is pleasure foods. Don’t worry… I didn’t forget about those treats we all love. What would life be without a cookie, scoop of ice cream, grab-bag of chips, or basket of fries from time to time? Boring and bland and we don’t want any part of that. I think each one of us will have our hands raised high when I ask the question, “How many of you are sick and tired of being told to avoid the foods that you love?” Pleasure should be considered an essential nutrient. Like a multi-vitamin, we should take one a day… at least. Pleasure is required to feel a sense of satisfaction. Feeling satisfied is an underrated component of ending bingeing, compulsive overeating and restricting behaviors. We need to learn the art of receiving pleasure. We also need to understand that pleasure comes through more sources than just food. I encourage you to include a little pleasure in each day from a variety of sources. In terms of sweets and treats, include reasonable amounts at the end of your meals or build them into your meals, if you so desire. This will allow you to experience the pleasure of the treats you love while also bringing your relationship with these foods into balance. Rather than viewing them as the main event, you will begin to see them realistically, as extras. Treats serve the purpose of providing dimension and interest to your meals. Biologically, this will also prevent blood sugar spikes. Since the bodily need for nourishment will take precedence it will foster an internal equilibrium that will allow you to experience satisfaction with smaller amounts of these foods. When it comes to reasonable portions of treats, once again, look to your hand. If it wouldn’t fit in your hand, it is more than your body needs to feel supported… a cookie or two, a handful of chips, a scoop of ice cream… all sensible amounts. You can enjoy these foods every day! Build them into the meal ‘plan’ you are going to create. It’s important that you have enjoyable eating experiences. Many of you have been denied this pleasure for far too long. It’s time to welcome all foods back to the dining table.

Additionally, consider inviting other sources of pleasure into your day, as well. Make time to take a relaxing bath. Allow yourself 15 minutes to take a cat nap. Treat yourself to a warm cup of tea and a page-turning novel. Make a play-date with your best girlfriend. Make time for you. You deserve it!

Finally, make sure you are getting plenty of water. Carry a water bottle with you and sip on it throughout the day to keep yourself well-hydrated.

How to Create Your ‘Plan’

In order to get your blood sugar levels stabilized, reduce bingeing/compulsive overeating, sugar cravings and create a sense of food security that will allow your body to find physical and cognitive balance, it is going to be imperative that you feed yourself consistently and regularly with adequate nourishment. In order to achieve these aims you will be creating a ‘plan’ that will include 3 substantial meals and 2-3 snacks each day eaten no more than 4 hours apart from one another. Your snacks will be smaller than what you normally consume in a meal. It is also necessary to get a nurturing breakfast in every day within an hour of rising. Skipping breakfast invites in too many physiological responses that trigger ED behavior. This meal is going to be an essential component of your recovery process. This may seem like a task at this point, but I promise it will do amazing things for your body. You’ll be surprised how much this single step can improve your overall well-being.

This is not about putting yourself on a mini-meal plan, which has been a recent popular diet trend. This is about nourishing your body with essential fuel. When preparing your meals, think of including at least a fist-sized portion each of starchy complex carbohydrates, protein, and a fruit or veggie. Balanced snacks will include a little complex carbohydrates (starchy or fruits/veggies) and protein. At first, this may seem like a lot of food to you and believe me, I understand. I was taken back when I saw the minimum amount of food I would need to be eating in order to repair and replenish my body. At first, I thought there was no way that I could do this, but in a very short time, I have been proven wrong. It makes me all too aware of how much I have been restricting and under-eating.

I am feeling much better physically, mentally, emotionally, and energy-wise since implementing my own ‘plan’. I now really get that I was carb-deprived. This rise in energy level and improvement in mood were probably the two changes I noticed first. I was able to experience this within a few days. Initially, it took a little time for me to adjust to this amount of food. I had been used to eating to the ‘just satiated’ point with intuitive eating and was not familiar with a sense of being truly full and nourished. This was an adjustment for me. If you are like me and have been eating to the ‘just satiated’ point, you have probably been under-eating. This is likely a great contributing factor in the continuation of your ED behavior. Under-eating promotes bingeing and compulsive overeating. It also increases your cravings for sugar, sweets and highly-processed foods. This is because simple carbs are quickly absorbing into your bloodstream and with a lack of adequate complex carbohydrates, (this is the nutritional food source most restrict and under-consume) the body is going to scream for emergency fuel. I have always had a major sweet tooth. Since getting these consistent feedings my desire for sugary foods has all but vanished. I continue to include a little dessert each day but find a very small amount satisfies me. I now realize that my body was so pulled to those foods because I was undernourished. It’s been a transformational experience for me. I continue to enjoy all of my favorite foods, including takeout, but a real balance is developing. I’m finding that the reward of feeling deeply nurtured with solid nutrition is more attractive to me than flooding my body with play foods.

Set Your Feeding Schedule on a Day To Day Basis

Every night before you go to bed, think about what the next day has in store for you. Pull out a notebook or journal to record your ‘plan’. I like to use a dry-erase board because I work out of the home and it serves as a visual reminder to me that I need to remember to take care of myself by eating. This alone has been an amazing tool to ending my restricting/starving behavior.

In creating your ‘plan’ for the next day, it is vital to consider certain elements. When will you be rising? Schedule your breakfast within an hour of your wake-up time. When will you be able to break for lunch? Write your lunch time down. When will you reasonably be able to prepare yourself dinner? Schedule that time in, as well. Now that you have the basic template for your meals pinned down, it’s time to think about adding those 2-3 snacks. Is there more than 4 hours time lapsed between breakfast and when you will be having lunch? Schedule a mid-morning snack somewhere in there. Do you frequently experience an energy slump in the afternoon, or do you find your cravings for sweets tend to escalate later in the day? If so, schedule an afternoon snack. Are you a nighttime binger? Make sure to schedule yourself an after dinner snack. Whether you choose to have 2 or 3 snacks is totally up to you and based on your personal needs and ED patterns.

There is no need to plan what you are going to eat. This will allow you to begin to get in touch with your intuitive bodily signals. Simply keep in mind to think about having a portion of starchy complex carbs, protein, and a fruit or veggie with each meal and a complex carb/protein combo for snacks. You are merely setting reminders to feed yourself consistently and in a nourishing way. Amazing things will happen for you physically, mentally, and emotionally when your body begins to get the signal that food is available in abundance and that its needs will be met. Your entire being will begin to come into balance. Food is powerful medicine!

The great thing about a ‘plan’ like this is that it is all about you. It provides just enough structure to create a sense of safety for those transitioning from ED to intuitive eating. The planning also allows individuals to begin to reconnect with their own inner knowing in terms of food choices and how to best support their nutritional needs by working around their daily schedules and responsibilities. It fosters an awareness that providing your body with this essential care is equally important, if not more so, than the other obligations in your life. The schedule allows you to stop thinking about food so much and release the obsession. You will now be able to rest assured that you have a ‘plan’ in place and can begin to direct your attention toward other meaningful pursuits. Finally, it addresses common areas of concern that usually arise with newcomers to intuitive eating like how to work around work and school schedules.

Our responsibilities shift from day to day. By setting your schedule the night before, you will be able to take these varying elements into consideration and plan accordingly. Your ‘plan’ does not have to be static. It can shift and grow with you and your needs. Perfection is also not required. Do your best to stick with your ‘plan’. If you have a meal or snack where you fall behind what you have scheduled a bit, don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply get back on track to the best of your ability. The only thing not allowed on this ‘plan’ is guilt. Also, as you begin to feed yourself consistently, you will begin to see your hunger cues coming forward regularly and predictably. As this occurs, take this into consideration when creating your ‘plan’. For example, let’s say you note that you tend to get hungry in between breakfast and lunch consistently. There are a couple of ways you could alter your ‘plan’ to address this issue. You could opt to go for 3 snacks instead of 2 and add one in mid-morning. You could also choose to schedule your lunch a little earlier if you are able to accommodate that. Brilliantly, this begins to get you used to tuning into you own internal rhythms. Think of it as the first stirrings of the intuitive eater awakening.

There is a second piece to this puzzle which involves how to transition away from this ‘plan’ into becoming the natural eater you were always meant to be. Consider what has been presented here to be part one of this recovery process. I am refraining from posting the second part of this information purposefully until three weeks have lapsed. There is a reason for this. This is going to be new and unfamiliar for many of you. You need to give yourself time to adjust to regular, nourishing feeding. It is also necessary to allow space for your bodily signals to begin to come forward consistently. If I were to present the transitional information now, there would be a natural human tendency to want to rush ahead and that would defeat the purpose of this approach. Be patient and give yourself some time to experience the many improvements feeding your self soundly will bring. In three weeks I will present the second part of this process and we will begin to reclaim our natural, intuitive eater within.

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