Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Quick Fix For Your Struggle With Eating? Patience.

20 years to construct Chateau de Chambord,
Loire Valley, France
I know you’re impatient. Everyone’s impatient—you are not alone. We want change to have already happened. And we want to be done with the struggle of eating—eating enough, not eating too much, eating just right. We want to be free of the rules and the thoughts, but are reluctant to invest the effort and time to enable it to happen. We make change, but it never seems good enough, and when it seems to be going along just fine, we fear we’ll slip up—and maybe we do. Quick fixes allure us, offering such promise. But this is not about quick fixes.

I’d like to wave my magic wand and make it all better. I do have a magic wand, but I’m saving it for when all hope is lost. And really we haven’t reached that place.

I’ve never built a house, but this analogy has crossed my mind many times. And you know once something is in my thoughts it’s challenging for me not to share!

Railroad house, Swiss Alps

Consider building your house

It starts with the foundation, which needs to be rock solid, firmly planted. Poured concrete, perhaps, definitely strong—at least after it has had some time to cure, to dry and set. And you’ve got to wait for that.

You could slap together some shoddy construction and it could look just fine on the outside—at least for some time. It may appear attractive at first, but with the first storm the siding may fall off, and the paint may begin to chip. The damage begins.

Restorations may take even longer. There’s some necessary destruction of the existing structure, which precedes the new construction, the rebuilding. And you have to pick and choose what you want to keep and what you’d like to discard in this new dwelling.

Such is the case of building a healthy relationship with food.
It takes time. After all, it took a long time to get into the mess you’re in now. And it takes a solid conviction that change needs to happen—because you believe in the need for change, not just your doctor, or your husband or your mother.

Return to trusting your hunger and your body’s ability to self regulate, if that was a part of your history, if you had once had a normal relationship with food. Remember how charming the old wallpaper looked and how comfortable it felt being in that space? Wasn’t it nice to be able to eat a couple of cookies or a piece of cake, without the negative self talk?

Or, was there never a normal relationship with food?  Was it always a relationship of shoulds and rules? Did you never feel safe listening to your internal cues? No feng shui when looking at the wall colors of the past rooms? Sure, it’s more challenging restoring, having never followed your internal compass—getting rid of the old thoughts and habits, and redirecting toward healthier behaviors.

Discarding old beliefs and unhealthy views requires some trust that your house will still be able to stand, without the supports of unhealthy rituals and black and white thoughts. The new pieces of information get tried on, sampled, then permanently attached, as you see their value and beauty.

You need to be able to weather challenges. Stressors, like strong winds and snow, can knock you down. But the more solidly you have set your foundation, the less damage will occur. For instance, keep structure to your day’s eating versus skipping meals. You’ll feel less vulnerable and therefore better able to handle the stressors. And remain fixed in the belief that yes, you are worth it, you do deserve to feel well, to take care of yourself, to eat. These are your cement.
It may take some time for these foundational principles to set, but adding supports can help.

Actually, he's a Swiss Alps goat farmer, but whatever!
Who are your craftsmen? Those who you select to labor on this building with you, whom you rely on to direct your project and provide a vision?

Select a team of with experience—your MD, therapist, RD. And surround yourself with laborers that have the same vision and can support your project, not pro-Ana sites, or diet programs failing to address your behaviors and thoughts.  Contract with friends and bloggers who can assist you in getting the building done, and can support your repairs as soon as they need to happen.

Building this chateau (Chenonceau) over water 
must have required great vision.

Quick fixes, like sloppy construction are destructive. I’ll just restrict now (and deny my hunger), just for this week, she told me, or just until the holidays, he stated. It’s like leaving off the insulation and expecting you’ll still stay warm. Okay, perhaps not so bad at first. But then the pipes freeze, and then burst, and now you’re left with major water damage and repairs to be done. After restricting, you may eat more than you intended, and then purge, or continue to restrict. Now your signals get confused, and distinguishing hunger and fullness is a challenge. Trust is lost, and your ability to self regulate. Never mind the damage to your body, your emotional state, and your belief in yourself. The thermostat stops working.

But it can be repaired

This medieval castle in Carcassonne, France was partially
reconstructed. Turned out well, no?
Repairs? Yes! Because slips happen (a new bumper sticker, perhaps?) Over time, damage may occur—a tree may come crashing into your house, a window may need replacing. Slips are a normal part of maintenance. But wait too long to work on quality repairs and soon the wiring will also be affected, or the cost of getting the work done will be too great. I can’t miss work to do an eating disorder program, can I? Or I don’t have time to see my nutritionist and my therapist regularly!

Don't hike up Peyrepretuse, in France, unless
your house is solid.

Remember, it gets way more costly putting off construction and renovation of your house. Consider starting now, from the ground up. Gather your team, and start pouring your foundation. And take the first steps to drafting your blueprints for a better relationship with food.


  1. My husband and I read this aloud together. It meant a lot to both of us, especially since my appointment with a therapist is in an hour. I will read this over and over....and over again.


  2. This is not à propos your current post, but I just wanted to tell you about my friend's niece who is killing herself through bulimia. Apparently, she's been through therapy a number of times and nothing seems to stick. The mother has spent her life working on being thin (she put herself through school as a fashion model) and now her daughter (my friend's niece) blames her mother for having turned her into a raging bulimic. She's in Canada, in Vancouver. Do you know anyone out there you could recommend?

  3. @ Emily: So glad to hear the message was meaningful for you and your husband!

    @ NewMe: I've sent you a direct message as well, but wanted to share some thoughts. While your niece may certainly be influenced by her mother's behaviors and messages, it would be unfair to directly attribute blame to her mother. Sure, there may be genetics playing a part. But development of an eating disorder appears to be way more complicated. While we'd love to have easy explanations, it is really unfair to say it happened because of her mom's own behaviors.

    In any case, finding appropriate help is key. Check out sites such as NEDA and others to see if they have any recommendations. thoughts, readers?

  4. Funny you should post this as last few weeks I have been struggling with my struggle with food. Has culminated in what feels like one endless free for all around food, eating lots of sweet stuff, not being mindful, just being on auto pilot. You are quite right about me not wanting to make the right foundations. Just really struggling with making permanent changes.

  5. I had no idea that there was a pro-Ana movement before this. What a miserable, destructive way to live! I feel so sad about it, and I just hope blogs such as yours eclipse their influence overall. As I struggle with my own ED, I am grateful that it is so repulsive to me, because at least it's a sign of some healthy thinking on my part. Thank you for the good you do.

  6. Love the comment about quick fixes and the thermostat that stops working. That's what happened to me. I decided that I was going to stop seeing my treatment team for awhile and do things myself. I slowly restricted just a few tiny things from my eating plan, then I just added a few minutes/miles to my exercise. Once ED got a small in, he took over. My mind is completely jumbled, my HR is down to a 38 and I haven't seen my period for almost 2yrs. I went back to my RD this week and she told me to stop my exercising and added quite a bit of food to my plan. She told me that if I don't follow this plan I will be in a treatment facility. Stupid ED tells me I am not "sick enough" because I am not as thin as I was when I originally started treatment. I feel like I shouldn't eat all that she wants me to and that eating this much and limiting my exercise is just going to cause me to gain weight (which I really don't need). Sorry for this long reply, I guess I just needed to get it all out.

  7. For people with life-long issues with food, I think that it is more difficult than simply "building a house". In fact, I've written about this house metaphor before and the problem is that ones foundation is poor. This is where the parents play a role rather strongly. Tearing down the foundation or even the structure on a poorly built one psychologically is extremely difficult. All of that early information about food, body image, self-worth, etc. can't merely be deleted (or "demolished") and replaced. It's a highly complex web and your parents provided the materials and blueprints.

    I say this not because I want to "blame" my parents, but because failing to recognize the roots of your issues only makes it that much harder to deconstruct and rebuild. One of the reasons therapists rarely help people with eating disorders is that they rarely understand them well enough to do so. You very rarely experience a therapist who has had a severe problem with their relationship with food over any length of time, and if they have, they rarely have effectively solved their own issues and don't have the capacity to guide someone else.

    Of course, there is also the fact that such issues are very hard to solve due to the complex nature of our relationship with food. However, I would not say that a parent who emphasized thinness and related worth to body image (such as the situation NewMe mentions) did not play an integral role in her daughter's bulimia. My parents absolutely played a part in my issues. They fostered and encouraged them and then they punished me for having them. That loop in which they create the issue then blame you for having it is insidious and is the nucleus that spawns future eating disorders. I'm not going to deny it because "blame the parents" has become a cliche and therefore it's in vogue to reject the role of upbringing in psychological disorders. Exploring this has really helped me come to terms with and heal a lot of my problems. Deciding that I need to be "responsible" and that they aren't responsible would have made things slower, if not impossible, for me in terms of dealing with my issues.

  8. I really appreciate this message about the importance of patience. I'm just beginning to recognize how deeply my eating and my other sorrows and troubles are intertwined. It seems to me that social messages about nutrition, dieting and eating disorders all trivialize the deep and painful roots of distorted relationships with food. Dieting is headlined on every woman's magazine, pictures of celebrities and their "shocking" thinness/fatness are trumpeted in our faces while we stand in the grocery queue. These aren't high- status places to find your difficulties discussed! They tell us that changing our eating habits is easy, trivial, and maybe even only the domain of silly women.

  9. There are a number of provincially-funded programs in and around Vancouver for both young adults and adults. BC Children's has an outpatient clinic and a residential program. I was not impressed with the inpatient program when my daughter was there, but that was about nine years ago. There's also a program for adolescents on one of the islands, maybe even Vancouver Island, that's under the auspices of the province. For adults, the provincial program is through St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver. All have wait lists. Hope this is helpful.

  10. @Screaming fat Girl
    First, thank you for screaming! I couldn't agree more, that families, parents, play a critical role on establishing our values and impacting how we see ourselves, to say the least. My response about the girl mentioned by New Me was simply a cautionary one--there are plenty of families with eating disordered kids who were not the cause their eating disorder. And while it may help therapeutically to identify the factors that contribute to the development of an illness which is typically multifactorial, ultimately only we can our rebuilding.

    I was certainly not trivializing how difficult a process this is. On the contrary. Hence, the focus on patience, and compassion for yourself as you go through this process. No one is saying it is easy to undue the damage caused by others, and by ourselves.

    @Anonymous who mentioned her RDs caution: DO take this seriously! Even weight in a normal range can mask risk. Heed her warning. Check out Andrea's which might help you reality check about the risks.

    Thank you all for your very thought-provoking comments! Makes it all worth writing to know that I have moved some people to change.

  11. I love your blog. Patience is working for me, so far, but geez it's slow. I want to lose all the weight RIGHT NOW, but that doesn't work for me. I've been adjusting my portion sizes for a little over a year now, and have slowly but surely lost 10%. I generally don't feel deprived. But last night I was at a party and gave myself permission to eat freely...and I have a long way still to go to listen to my body's hunger signals. I ate way beyond what satisfied me, and left feeling almost sick I was so full, and full of self-loathing too. So back to left-brain planning of what constitutes a portion size. Someday, hopefully, it will be second nature, but I am not there yet.

  12. Thank you to anonymous for the names of treatment centres in Vancouver. The woman in question is forty years old. I think my friend, her aunt, fears for her life since she's been in the grips of this disease for quite awhile.

    I'll pass on the info to my friend.

  13. Good morning Lori,
    What a timely writing...I went back to WW yesterday to find I had gained even more weight than i had expected. And, I am so tired and burnt out with my eating transgressions and the fleeting glimpses I have had of trusting my instincts.
    This is so old and my patience is not at it's prime. Thank you for the reminder.

  14. I got here from Emily's blog. Thank you for this blast of inspiration! I shall reread it regularly.

    And I see that you have seen "la douce France"... Where I have resided for the past ten years, now leaving to come to that side of the Pond, though.

    Living in Paris was awesome - the only stain in the picture was that I developed anorexia in my thirties! How embarrassing! I did have a binge eating past (from 15 to 29 yrs, as far as I understand it started basically after a ballet teacher told me to loose weight. I do not blame anyone for my difficulties, just try to understand and then help myself).

    I hit the low in the summer of 2010 with a BMI of 15. Just the time of our honeymoon, great! I started recovering after the trip, initially only because my husband pressured me to. I was scared of loosing him.

    It hasn't been easy but now 10 pounds later I have to admit - I feel better. And I am slowly gaining some real self-esteem about myself and body. I am half-way there. Now my challenge is that my "building tries to convince me that the project is done. But when ED doesn't bother my mind, I know that many places are still uninsulated, the roof needs more layers, the windows are there but not entirely clean..." referring to your text;)

    How to find courage to go on when the ED part screams "you are good now (at the BMI 16,5, in all honesty have to add)"? This is my challenge now!

  15. I wanted to ask a question that doesn't pertain to this post, but it does to recovery. My RD would like me to start on prozac but I am really afraid of the weight gain that can be associated with it. Does anyone have any experience/insight with taking prozac?

  16. Could you share your opinion on this report? . It seems off to me, supporting diets (Ornish? Still?!) that continue to push the ideas that too much of any kind of fat is bad, that eating more than minimal protein is bad, that not eating "enough" carbohydrate is bad (and of course, no mention of the way our mind & emotions tie into eating - because what kind of diet headline would that make?).

  17. Better link: . Maybe I'm overreacting but when they're still using catchy useless phrases like "lean protein" and telling me to only have nonfat dairy.. Anyhow...

  18. @Susu Paris Chic Good that you have the wisdom to acknowledge this BMI is still too low. Glad you found this site.

    @Anonymous re Prozac: Best to discuss the various SSRIs/antidepressants with a psychopharm.
    Responses are variable,for sure. Taking meds doesn't cure an eating disorder or restore weight in the underweight. But they may make it easier to follow through with recommendations to help you take charge of your recovery.

    @Tempest: I will make a point of addressing this article hopefully in my next post! Thanks for the suggestion.

  19. Wow, what a great post - and what a lot of really great comments!
    So I'll just ask this one thing...
    You have a magic wand??

  20. I think this is great. I like how you link patience and building a house. That example is so close. I want to share this in my blog too and of course I will link back to you.

    thanks for sharing this great post.

  21. Thankyou for this wonderful post! I know I am a little late in reading it, but funnily enough, it comes at the perfect time for me...Only just yesterday, my counsellor was discussing with me the importance of patience and setting up a strong foundation when changing...(He even brought in a pack of cards and a heavy book to illustrate the analogy of a house of cards/foundation needing to be strong enough to hold up against the book/pressures of life or temptation of relapsing back into old habits)
    You write really well, and have so much valuable knowledge in this area...Thankyou for sharing this, I appreciate your words of wisdom :o)