Meal Plan for Eating Disorder Recovery

Breakfast  
Thick sourdough bread slathered in real butter and strawberry preserves. Whole milk blended up with protein powder and almond butter. This is my Monday morning breakfast. This meal plan follows the diet from the keto pure diet | stylish magazine.

Wait a minute, gluten-filled bread? Real butter and whole milk? Blasphemy! This is a gluten –free and dairy-free blog, right?

That time has passed. I am welcoming in all the foods. No restrictions.

I have battled an eating disorder for ten years. Evidence of that is written all over this blog. My eating disorder is why I started  cooking, I knew i want to get better and last fall I recommitted to weekly therapy sessions with an ED (eating disorder) specialist, and I began to cook. I described Sparkle Kitchen in our first meeting the fog began to lift. My special protocols and elimination diets were blatantly feeding my disease.  


Snack  
Cheddar cubes and raw carrots. 10am snack.

My therapist recommends using the following guideline to avoid any ED triggers:

Breakfast
Snack
Lunch
Snack
Dinner
Snack

I was intermittent fasting when I met my current therapist. And I was spiraling into daily panic attacks and binging to calm myself. It wasn’t pretty. Any type of restrictive diet sets my eating disorder in motion so the daily meal guide above allows me to feel safe; safety in knowing that another meal is in sight and I don’t have to compensate for eating more or less.


Lunch
Salmon sushi with a mixed greens salad.

Sometimes food isn’t the solution.  I believed eating the most nourishing foods would cure my ailments. All the pain and discomfort of a leaky gut would resolve itself if I just followed the right diet.

Diet can help if you know what your body needs. But I didn’t know, I was merely guessing.  

I enlisted the help of a nutritional biochemist to run a full panel of testing. The results were more or less expected. Minor case of leaky gut, no gluten sensitivity, a bit of candida overgrowth, very low zinc levels and my thyroid T3 and T4 hormones were in the functionally low range.

Three years of sardines, organ meats, coconut oil, seaweed and bone broth and I still had these issues.

The nutritional biochemist suggested a series of supplements over a three-month period. No custom diet. I eat anything and everything.

My therapist explained how denying certain foods can put your body in shock when it does encounter a “forbidden” treat. Whether this is founded in science I’m uncertain, but I can definitely attest to the placebo effect. Sugar is/was my trigger food and every time I indulged I would feel awful, full blown sugar hangover. Ninety percent of that is/was guilt. Guilt of putting a “no” food into my body and the possibility of it impacting my weight.


Snack
Plain yogurt and banana. Or chocolate chips stirred into crunchy peanut butter.


Dinner
Sautéed bok choy, chicken burger.

I spent a week in the hospital in college. The result was misdiagnosed Crohn’s disease.

I’d suffered from severe abdominal pain since both my parents remarried at age ten. At the time, no one thought to correlate the two and I traveled from doctor to doctor for years with no accurate diagnosis.

Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies, taking shape in a myriad of ailments. Mine rooted in my bowels.  I didn’t have the necessary tools to process my stress as a child so my body responded the only way it knew how, stomach pain. While I suppressed the emotional pains of my life, my abdomen did the screaming instead.


Snack
Glass of milk and a bit of dark chocolate.

Improv comedy has the “Yes, and…” rule of thumb that I’ve incorporated into my eating philosophy.  I say “yes” to all the foods. And add a scoop of ice cream to my slice of pie.

Why Willpower Continues to Fail You

We all want more self-control. Temptation would disappear and we could pursue our healthy diets with ease. But something works against our better judgement. Our good intentions are ignored and replaced by decisions we will later regret.

Why do we sometimes act in alignment with our better judgments and sometimes fail to do so? Why do we finally break down and eat the treat? Why do self-control and willpower fail us?


WILLPOWER IS A BIOLOGICAL FUNCTION

Willpower is not a test of character. It is not something you have or don’t have. Decades of research shows it is a resource that can be used up and restored. It is in short supply physiologically. Like electrolytes after an hour of sweating, your willpower can become depleted. When you restrict a food, like cake, then every time you see cake you have to use willpower to avoid it. Say you are at a wedding where the cake is predominately displayed and you keep catching it out of the corner of your eye. Each time you see and avoid the cake you have to use willpower. The first time is easy. But the sixth and seventh times, that is where the challenge begins. Finally you break down and eat a piece. You feel defeated. How can it be that difficult to not eat something?


Fixating on a food you can’t have only makes you want it more. Your mind naturally goes to the thing you deny yourself. Kind of like when you try avoiding an ex-boyfriend and all you think about is calling him. A mind-set of restriction breeds stress. The morning is typically the least stressful moment of your day and decisions are less complicated. Sleep resets your willpower levels. Then after a long day of restricting and other stressors taxing your mind, willpower is close to depletion.

Willpower is not a virtue. It is a mind-body response that can be improved with nutrition, sleep, exercise, mindfulness and proper body functioning.


PRIORITIZE SELF CONTROL WHERE IT MATTERS MOST
What makes self control so complicated is distractions. We are all surrounded by distractions and do many small mental tasks throughout the day that deplete our brains of available glucose. This glucose depletion also decreases our capacity for responsible decision-making.

So then how do we prevent distractions? It seems that the people with the best self-control are the ones who have set-up their lives to minimize temptation. You have to design your life in a way that allows little room for willpower.


KNOW YOURSELF
Begin to understand how you make decisions. Pay attention to your daily routines and habits. This study groups people into four personality categories that are determined by how individuals make decisions.

Do you follow the same routine each morning? Do you eat the same foods everyday? How do you decide to exercise? Is it programed into your weekly schedule or do you question it each day after work?

Some people have to make exercise a daily habit or they’ll never do it. Others need a friend for accountability. And then some have to make it a competition, where the losing stakes are high. The same goes for food. If you know you will be tempted by cookies in your house, then you know you can not buy them. Current mood can play a big role in how you respond to food as well.  At the end of an emotional, frustrating day you reach for comfort food that is likely unhealthy.

You are the best person to inform your life. Embrace and work within your constraints. Create a set of rules to live by and your need for willpower dwindles.

Your personality can fight FOR or against weight loss.

Through self-knowledge, you will see how to work for your best self. It takes embracing the things you dislike, accepting that you want to improve and loving yourself where you are right now.


PEOPLE AND ENVIRONMENT
Eating is influenced far less by self-control than by other lifestyle factors. The people around you and your environment have a powerful influence on your food choices.

So you’re working in an office that keeps candy in the break room and your colleagues eat bad take-out for lunch, then your work life is set up for temptation. Then you go home and your kitchen is filled with chips, cookies and frozen pizza. All that avoidance is taxing your willpower reserves and making it close to impossible to stay within a healthy diet.

Take a look at your work and home environments. How are they set-up for success? 

Friends and family can complicate your weight loss goals too. It is the people around you that most strongly influence your diet and habits.  And that is of course human nature. We want to fit in, be accepted and feel a sense of belonging. Food is communal, it builds bonds with others and when you step away from that, it can be painfully isolating. Your family may connect each night over bowls of ice cream, but that food is not aligned with your health values. It will take a heavy dose of willpower to avoid that treat.

In an ideal world we would all eat with healthy eaters, never have processed foods in our presence and live without temptation. Since that isn’t likely, you have to set yourself up for success in the best way possible. Maybe at work you move your desk so you never pass the break room and at home you have a bowl of fruit ready for those ice cream nights.

There are ways to create environments that limit exposure to anything distracting or draining. 

Self-control depends on circumstances not ability. When you’re surrounded by better choices, it’s a lot easier to make a good one. Allow your environment and the people in your life to help you create healthy habit forming.

You can’t demand excessive willpower. Our biology can work against us in powerful ways and we have to work with our mind and body to achieve the health we desire.

By listening to yourself, learning from your habits and following a healthy lifestyle (enough sleep, balanced nutrition, exercise and mindfulness for proper body functioning) you set-up a life that requires less self-control. You are in command of your choices.

 

What works for you?  How do your habits help with self-control?

 

 

6 Hours of Silence: A Meditation Lesson

Monks is brown robes greet me in the entry. Each person bows and and I’m warmly welcomed. I find a spot on the floor, fold my legs beneath me and settle in for the first meditation.

This year I added meditation retreat to my 2015 goals list as a building block to support my daily meditation practice. Since January I’ve done my best to meditate daily. The type of meditation has changed around a few times and I’m always curious to explore other practices.

I do genuinely enjoy my meditation practice, although the time commitment is a drag. Every day I remind myself that I never have the time, I just have to do it. That’s how I felt about the retreat too. So I picked one and made the time for it.

I blindly signed up for a six hour workshop. And unbeknownst to me so did several hundred others. The retreats I’ve taken part in the past have been small, under 20 people. So this was a bit overwhelming. But I’d already committed and there was no turning back.

 
WHY MEDITATION?
For me, meditation is a tool to manage my ever-building anxiety. I have a tendency to live in the future, projecting forward to all the things I want to accomplish tomorrow, next year and five years from now. Meditation brings me back to now and I’m able to clearly focus without distraction. Well maybe with much less distraction than before, I don’t think it will ever cease to exit. The constant nagging of my to-do list is softer now.

This spring I began a walking meditation. Every morning I take a short walk around my neighborhood and listen to a looping mantra song. I take in the lovely streets, passing people and I’ve noticed that I actually smile the entire time too. It truly is a joyful experience.

Meditation has mounting evidence of benefits, including:

  1. Decreases anxiety
  2. More energy
  3. Improves ability to focus
  4. Improves memory performance
  5. Reduces intensity of physical pain
  6. Increases accurate self-knowledge and reduces many cognitive biases
  7. Heightens positive mood
  8. De-excites the nervous system to give the body rest
  9. Mitigates the effects of the “fight-or-flight” response, decreasing the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline


RESTLESS
The retreat was hosted by Blue Cliff Monastery, a mindfulness practice center in the southern Catskills, founded by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach is a

combination of traditional Zen teachings, Buddhist traditions, and ideas from Western psychology for a modern approach to meditation.

The monks and nuns seated themselves around the room with all the public participants.

This looked strategic, as a way to put everyone on the same level. We sat silently, listening to the soothing words of the first meditation. The day was divided into four practices: seated, walking, eating and active relaxation.

As I sat, my thoughts went immediately to planning an exit strategy. I started to compromise with myself. Okay, if I stay through the first part then I can sneak off towards the doors. No, no, no I’d already committed and meditation is about sitting through discomfort, I could do this. And then nope, I’m done, out of here. My thoughts fought back and forth, my body shifted every two minutes and then Ding!

I’d make it to Part 2. Everyone stood and began forming a line for the walking meditation. This was my chance to escape…just walk over to the door and slip away. But I stayed. And out the door we went, all filed in a neat little line silently walking towards Union Square and through the busy farmers market.


DISTRACTION
Our group sat down in Union Square right next to a passionate Syrian protest, rallying to persuaded the U.S to let in the displaced refugees. I do not think this was a coincidence. Thich Nhat Hanh is a well-known peace activist and by positioning a group of peaceful meditators next to the protest, he was making his message clear. The protestors chanting made it difficult to focus on much else.

Part 3. Mindful eating. Now this is the part I most wanted to experience. Everyone brought their own lunches and we were encouraged to share with those that did not have food. It was inspiring to see such generosity. We were instructed to take small bites, notice each flavor and chew thoroughly. It was even suggested that we chew each bite 40 times. Now I’m all for appreciating food, but this seemed excessive. I tried it and every bite liquefied too much for my liking.

After the meal, we sat for another meditation. By this point the hard concrete in Union Square was making my butt numb and I had to really concentrate to stay put.

My mind darted off into every which way and direction. I thought about:

  • My arms are so sore from carrying those cucumbers.
  • What I am going to make for dinner?
  • Is it rude to go to the bathroom in the middle of meditating?
  • How should I write my story about this experience?
  • Feeling guilty for not calling back a friend
  • What in this retreat can I Instagram?
  • Does this retreat have a hashtag I should use?
  • Why can’t I stay still and everyone else can?
  • I wish I could sit in a chair and get off the ground.
  • Do we all need this much silence?
  • I wish that women would stop looking at her phone.
  • Maybe I’ll get ice cream after this.

ACTIVE RELAXATION
Ding! The bells chimed and we all walked back indoors for Part 4: active relaxation. We were instructed to find enough space to lie down on the floor. I pushed two large floor pillows together and collapsed into them. After three hours of uncomfortable sitting I was relieved to have a cozy spot.

Everyone worked together to make room. Over 100 people were packed in, laying on the floor like we were kids at a big sleep over.

No one seemed bothered to be laying near complete strangers. The shared experience of the retreat had brought us together, we were open to the connection.

Part 4, active relaxation, was the most challenging type of meditation. 45 minutes of laying in stillness. Absolutely no sleeping allowed. The monk talked us through it as I fought my body’s inclination to close my eyes. Ten minutes in and I was out (and this is why I switched to walking meditations…).

REFLECTION
Ding! The instructor spoke, “Slowly begin to wiggle your fingers and toes, stretch your arms, then legs and gently roll over to your side.” The room rolled and everyone sat in their own time.

Every urge to leave the retreat vanished. I didn’t want to move. I was content and my mind was finally at ease. The group had shared something so intimate and I felt a closeness to every person in the room. There was one thing missing though, human touch. I wanted a hug. We’d shared something intimate and it did not feel right just walking out the door.

But there was no one to hug. It did not feel appropriate. I left the space with a strong feeling of isolation. All of the silence and reflection had been too disconnecting and I felt separated from the world. Many of my friends have partaken in 10 day silent meditation retreats. 10 days of complete silence, no writing, no reading, no distractions, just you and your thoughts. I’m not sure that much silence is healthy, for me anyway. The anonymity is paralyzing.

“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I walked out into the city, straight over to my favorite ice cream spot, bought a scoop and sat down in the park to metabolize every emotion arising from six hours of silent reflection. Then I noticed that something in me had tapped back into my eating disorder. The food reduced the intensity of my emotional responses. I didn’t get upset, I just recognized it. Instead of satisfying my craving for human connection, I replaced it with ice cream.

This brought my meditation practice full circle. Proving that I still have much to learn and many moments of silence are ahead of me.


RESOURCES:
5 Reasons why meditation is awesome
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-big-questions/201312/5-reasons-why-meditation-is-awesome

Why meditation and visualization aren’t the same and how to use them
www.mindbodygreen.com/0-21539/why-meditation-visualization-arent-the-same-and-how-to-use-them.html

Why Meditate? http://www.chopra.com/ccl/why-meditate