Saturday, January 25, 2014

Role modeling with the Lean Cuisine diet. Who needs the reality check?

Adorable, yet strikingly painful. 

                              (If a video doesn't appear above, click here)
Young, school age children, sharing their observations about their moms and their dads eating. These are strictly their observations, without judgement except for the stink of some of the cleansing pepper drinks they refer to. The contrast made by Lean Cuisine is that eating their frozen dinners as a strategy for weight lossthat is normal!

Well isn't it? Not unless you are a 4'8 woman, non-competitive athlete. To have one of your main meals of the day, your lunch or dinner, coming in under 300 calories is hardly adequate for most anyone. Yes, even though it does contain some carbs. And the suggestion that it, in itself, is a meal, an adequate meal, is quite problematic. Who do you blame when you are left feeling hungry after this meager intake? No one but yourself, no doubt. Calling it an appropriate meal replacement is misleading, unless you add a glass of milk, a fruit, a salad with some oil and vinegar or nuts, for instance.

We know all the Lean Cuisine eaters in this YouTube video have families, including kids—young, impressionable, school age kids. So let's think for a moment about dinner time in these homes. "Here, sweetie, you can eat the chicken dinner I made for the family, I'll just eat my (inadequate, 300 calorie) frozen meal. You know, because I need to lose weight." Or "You deserve to eat this great tasting meal I've made, but not me—I'm too fat!" Or maybe, "Why don't we all live on Lean Cuisines, so you can have control over your portions too; because I don't really trust that I or you can manage when there is more than a limited amount of food in front of me!"

Fast-forward several years and let’s imagine these innocent kids as adolescents. Do they feel entitled to eat an adequate plate of food? Or do they, like many a patient I've heard from, feel limited by the messages they heard from their parents (yes, parents, because dads put forth much of the same diet shtick so to speak). Like Dana, she may struggle to ever eat more than half a sandwich—that's how much her mother allowed herself. And like Allie, she might be counting her calories, limiting them to the boxed frozen dinner amount that her mom thought was right.

What do these kids end up taking from this? That their frozen-diet-dinner-dependent moms are the sane ones, as the video implies? Or that their moms and dads (and maybe them, too, when they’re grown ups) dislike their bodies, and certainly can't trust themselves, their ability to eat enough, their body's signals, their ability for their body to be forgiving if they ate a bit too much one day. They learn that normal family dinners are things other people can have, but not them. This is just the price they have to pay to lose weight.

Are you stuck in this place? 

Are you the adult child of such a dieter, who never learned to trust her own eating? Or simply struggling as of late, desperately dieting, relying on prepackaged foods and calorie-restricted meals? Consider cooking--see the recommendations made by "Thursday's patient" to ease the process, or check out Food to Eat for more support, with its 25 recipes in an easy to manage format, justifying the merits of each dish and its nutrient content. Serving sizes are suggested, but are by no means restrictive. Suggestions to enhance the meals are provided, along with sections to help you get out of your own way--to change your perspective about food and respond to your needs. And check out the links below, including sample recipes.

Kudos to Lean Cuisine for pointing out how crazy our culture is, with moms and dads filled with body loathing following all sorts of nonsensical diets. If only they can see that their video stopped short of pointing out the irony of their own product.

And from Food to Eat: 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Someone You Care About has an Eating Disorder – How can you help?

There is no one better suited to write this post than the person struggling with an eating disorder. No, it's not my post; it's a heartfelt, insightful guide from someone really in the know about what those in recovery desperately need from their caring community. This post didn't come easily. It was 'Thursday's Patient's suggestion that it be written, and my invitation for her to write it. And it took guts to put it out there, to stand naked, so to speak, and shout out that help is needed.

Read it and respond--on this post and to your loved ones. Email, FB, Twitter--share it however you'd like. But do share it. Because the more you express your needs, the more you can be supported; the more you withhold, the safer your eating disorder is, maintaining the status quo. Enjoy!

It's going to take more than this to recover. But it's
certainly a start.
Someone you care about has an eating disorder, maybe she is anorexic or bulimic. Maybe she abuses or misuses laxatives, diet pills, diuretics or compulsively exercises. Maybe he eats when he is with you but you are not sure if he eats when he is left to his own devices. 

I know how difficult, painful, and maddening it can be to watch someone you love engage in such unhealthy behavior. I also know that you are aware of and afraid of the risks, both to their health and survival as well as to their emotional well-being. I know how you feel, because there are people in my life, whom I love, who suffer from bulimia, anorexia or ED-NOS (eating disorder – not otherwise specified). They exercise for hours a day, restrict their intake, and/or purge if they perceive that they have 'overeaten'. I get mad, frustrated, scared and sad. And the trickiest part is that I behave the same way - because I also have an eating disorder. And I know what it is like to desperately need support from my loved ones, the people who are mad, scared and sad because of my disease. See the conundrum? I can’t make you understand what having an eating disorder is like but as someone who has struggled with this disease for over twenty years I can tell you how difficult it can be to ask those closest to me for help when I am struggling. 

It's an Uphill Climb 

The door to change may be open, but you just might need support
breaking out.
Eating disorder recovery is a series of ups and downs. We climb the mountain, trip on a stick, land on our asses and sometimes slide all the way back to the bottom (and the slide down hurts). Sometimes we can pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, tighten our shoelaces and gain elevation back up the mountain. We do this with the help of our providers. These are the people that really do keep us alive and accountable - and they hold the hope for us when we feel like even just standing up (never mind climbing) is impossible. We see them often; as Lori always says, “recovery is a full time job”. Weekly, I see Lori (my trusted rock-star dietician), I see my therapist, and a clinical hypnotherapist to work on issues that contribute to my eating disorder. When things are not going as well as my team would like I may also have to throw in a visit to the medical doctor and a second appointment with Lori. I spend hours and what feels like a million dollars a week. 

Sometimes, despite this high level of support, I'm still a dusty mess sitting at the bottom of the mountain. There are times when we need more. Sometimes that means a higher level of care, and other times it means a higher level of support from the people in our lives.

Needing Support – Not Wanting Support 

"I'm so ashamed asking for help! If only you could read the signs that
I'm struggling."
Have you ever had to ask someone to help you move a heavy piece of furniture? Do you remember feeling like you should be able to manage it on your own? Maybe you tried. You pushed with your entire upper body and it moved a smidgen. You decide you will make more progress if you push at an angle - you shift to the right, you shift to the left. You're sweating. You sit down, put your feet against the wood, bend your knees and push with the strength of your lower body. But all that happens is your own bottom slips out from under you. The furniture has not moved. You have two choices, leave it in the middle of the room or ask for help. 

For me, asking for help during a relapse or a major slip is painful, humiliating, and exposing. I feel like I am admitting failure and weakness (AGAIN). My pride has shriveled. I feel like a source of unending concern, burdensome and unworthy. My friends/family are supposed to love me no matter what though – and my treatment team says I have to call in the troops. So I reach out. For those of you on the receiving end of this plea for support – you might feel lost. You are afraid to say the wrong thing, you want to say the right thing, and you don’t know which is which.

Please know that the eating disorder (often referred to as 'ed') always tries to boss us around. He is an uninvited guest. We try to ignore him and tell ourselves that he lies to us and is not really on our side, but sometimes we might need you to remind us. Even as I write this I am forced to edit out my eating disorder voice. The thing is, he knows that if you follow some of these suggestions, then I won’t be so aligned with him and may not follow through with his demands. My eating disorder is threatened by your knowledge – and if recovery is my ultimate goal then this is a very good thing.

The suggestions below assume that your loved one is asking for support and is motivated to move toward recovery. If this is not the case then it may be that your only choice is to encourage your friend that more intensive treatment is warranted.
   1. Think with your heart. It sounds strange to think with your heart; don’t we feel with our heart and think with our brains? But your heart is where your compassion lives and the friend who sits before you, having just revealed what feels like a gaping wound, needs compassion, or she's going to bleed out.

2. Depending on what point in recovery your loved is in, the grocery store can be a major source of anxiety (think being in a room filled with your most feared animal!). In my early recovery days, having a friend with me while grocery shopping was the only way I could make it up and down every aisle and to the register. With someone there I also couldn't get caught in the trap of studying nutrition labels - which could not only take up hours but could lead to me shutting down and walking out of the store without any food.

3. Cook with your friend or prep with your friend, or even just sit nearby while s/he organizes and cooks meals for the week. Your presence is incredibly helpful. A social distraction is always a good way to help get through a stressful situation.

4. Plan for meals together and push through excuses - ed hates this. Your company and the structure you provide just by being there goes a long way. When I left residential treatment my friends and family were ready to have dinner that night and breakfast the next day. They didn't smother me and it wasn't every meal (although some do need this some of the time), but it was consistent support. I was transitioning from residential to day treatment and it was the weekend, we all knew I had to get in every meal and every snack between Friday and Monday morning when I would return to the day program. I was so grateful for their help.

We need support, but we need to move from our complacency!
   5. Do not ignore signs of slipping! I know this puts you in a precarious and uncomfortable place and I am sorry for that – but for me, the longer I feel like I am “getting away” with engaging in eating disorder behavior the worse things get and the louder my eating disorder's voice becomes (“You're fine, see, no one even noticed that you skipped lunch, lost weight, went running, threw away your snack, spilled out your juice”). So, call us out on it, gently but confidently.

6. Ask questions without assumption. I know you don't trust ed, and you shouldn't; but remember that your loved one is in there, too. So ask, instead of accusing (“Is it ok with your treatment team that you joined the gym, went to yoga, walk every morning, eat diet food, etc.”). Asking helps us to feel safe enough to tell you the truth. We don't want to lie to you, but even more we don't want to disappoint you.

7. Keep it Simple Sweetie (my therapist says it all the time) When s/he asks for support don't complicate the discussion. She says, “I'm struggling, I need your support”. You say, “thank you for telling me. Of course I am here for you”. Use the voice that says you care, not the one that says “AGAIN?!” Maybe you are feeling that, but let that be your’s, she can't hold that for you at this moment. Ask, “How can I help?”.

8. Know that your friend is not asking (at least most aren’t) for you to be her therapist, her dietician or her mom. She is asking for your love, patience and company.

9. Check in – for me this sounds like, “How is the meal plan going”, “Are you managing to resist the urge to exercise?” or “How was your appointment with Lori?” or “Does she feel like you are ­­­­headed in the right direction?” or “How is your team feeling about where you are at?”- those last two are really safe because they put the ownership on the provider's opinion rather than your friend – who, let's face it, you don’t always trust. Insert sad face here.

10. Don’t assume that this go at recovery will look the same as the last. Remember that each step toward recovery is different than the one made three years ago, a month ago, or even last week. There are times that we want it so badly but truly, despite our best efforts cannot get out of our own way. Sometimes, we just need someone to hoist us up off our butts, hand us a walking stick and hike beside us as we start back up the mountain.
It's easier to get down when you have some support
and accountability.

11. Make sure we know we are not alone. Having an eating disorder is very isolating - it’s part of the trick of the disease. Recovery can feel equally lonely without the proper support. If you notice that your friend is becoming more isolated please reach out, their eating disorder won't let them reach out to you. Say, “I miss having lunch with you,” or “I noticed I don't hear from you about having dinner together – can we make a plan?” or “Can we talk about how I can help you get back on track by us eating together?” Please don't take it personally (hard, I know) – we want to be with you and miss you, but ed doesn't like when you're around – he knows you’re stiff competition.

12. Do not criticize, blame, or yell. Don't use “you” statements: “You just have to eat,” or “You are acting so stupid”. Do use “I” statements: “I'm afraid the next time you purge you could die”. “I feel like your team should know you started running again” or “I'm worried about you, I’ve noticed you've been eating less”, “I'm worried about how much you’ve been going to the gym”.

13. When all else fails call your mother! In all seriousness, when more intensive treatment is not on the table for your loved one (no matter what the reason) suggest to him/her that they stay with you for a few days (or vice versa if logistics are not a hindrance). If that won't work suggest that s/he stay with family until they are back on their feet. My mom and ed really don't like each other; as a result when she is with me skipping a meal is never an option as I cannot bear being in conflict with her. So, if I need a 'reboot' she will come stay for a couple of days - Lori always knows that when mom's here no meals are skipped or skimped!! 

There are so many 'do's & don'ts' in supporting eating disorder recovery - and just like everything else, they vary from person to person. When in doubt why not just ask your friend how you're doing? Ask him/her if she is finding any of your conversations triggering or unsupportive. Allowing for this openness not only supports her recovery but nurtures your friendship. It's a win/win, right? Writing this forced me to remind myself how important my support people are to my recovery process. I am stubborn...and I often tell my team "I am fine" and "I can do it on my own; no need to involve anyone else". And while sometimes this might be true - everything is easier and more enjoyable with a bit of help and support. 

So, as uncomfortable as this all can be, reach out to your friend/loved one and support his or her journey to a better life.  
It is my hope that this post has given you some hints on how to do just that. Lastly, if you are suffering with an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone. Reach out to someone who cares about your well-being, show them this post, their support might be just what you need to get to the top of the mountain.

Thanks for reading,

“Thursday’s Patient”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Slip sliding away? Cutting corners and accepting sub par eating disorder recovery.

It's hard to tell that something's missing.
Kelli’s cutting corners on her meal plan. You know, measuring her cereal—but then picking off a few pieces to eat less than she measured. And Dan revealed that for months he would crumble some of his cookies, his planned dessert, and then leave it over, along with spilling—intentionally—a few ounces of his milk at meals, most every meal, at home.

In a way I was pleased.

No, I’m surely not looking to fill my schedule with long-term patients who stay stuck with their eating disorder. And I’m not giving them the half full perspective, suggesting that at least they’re eating something, that it’s only half empty and could be worse. Meal plans are not designed with the intention of our patients eating only 50% or even 95%; I never over estimate what patients need to eat.

But for Kelli and Dan, sharing that their eating was falling short was a significant step forward. It spoke to being real and acknowledging where they were struggling in an attempt to be held more accountable. They were positioning to overturn their eating disordered thinking and actions. It was a significant move toward recovery.

For Kelli, it was the first time she cared enough about recovery to rat on her eating disorder. Once she verbalized it, there was no going back; she knew I’d be asking her the details of her intake and about her tendency to cut corners, even if she later regretted her honesty with me. Yes, I knew what her eating disorder was up to now.

For Dan, it was his inability to maintain the facade of recovery when he truly wanted to be free of the deception, and perhaps the eating disorder as well. He was challenged to reconcile the inappropriate weight loss in light of his misleading overrepresentation of his eating when he confronted me each visit. In both cases, I was truly pleased to hear them come clean.

That said it is not my role to set the bar low. And while I appreciated their honesty, the work still needs to be done. It is not enough to simply acknowledge where things fall short. Like “oh well, I skipped my snacks this week—all of them!” Honest, yes, but not good enough for recovery.

"What if I’m stepping down from a program?"

Some things are just not acceptable.
I realize that moving from a more intensive level of care to working exclusively with your outpatient team is a very difficult transition. Recovery can feel like a full-time job, between the scheduled appointments and the mental energy and planning.  Juggling eating disorder management with a less than supportive environment, together with your day to day stressors is nothing short of challenging. And slips happen.

But expected or not, it’s not okay to cut corners.

You know it, don’t you? While some health care providers may tell you it’s normal, and they’re understanding and compassionate, I feel otherwise. Why? Because these behaviors speak to how active, how loud your disorder remains. It’s not okay to accept slips even though people often do. Meaning, simply acknowledging that your eating or behaviors are not what they need to be is not enough. Yes, slips happen, but there needs to be some action steps put in place to resume recovery.

And it’s not okay to accept a subpar food intake or weight gain because of such thinking as “at least your weight is higher than before” or “at least you’re eating something”. And let’s not forget that your activity—which doesn’t seem to you like exercise—is greater than when you were in your program. Yes, even day to day movement—casual walks, cleaning, caring for young kids—counts. Really, this is no time to be cutting back on your food intake.

There really is a way out.
If recovery is the goal, cutting corners has no place. It does nothing positive for your thoughts, nor for your medical stability nor your treatment success. Any short term allure of weight loss may be met with less than pleasant consequences.

The problem is that less than full recovery will become no recovery. It’s a slippery slope. In some ways it seems even riskier being at a better place than where you started, yet not where you need to be. Because you may breathe that sigh of relief, and feel you can relax now—and stop pushing. You’re feeling much better than you had before, so you no longer worry. And so the motivation drops.

It’s so easy to be drawn into the thinking that you really haven’t changed your eating much, just a bit here and a bit there. I mean, you’re still eating, right? Do the math—three meals and 2-3 snacks a day. Believe me, even cutting back a bit each time will add up over the days and weeks.

I don’t care that your labs are fine. It doesn’t matter that you have a runners’ pulse. And I’m surely unimpressed that your weight hasn’t changed much. I will not settle for cutting corners—nor should you. That is, if you really do care to move beyond your disorder. Am I sounding like that Tiger mom? 

What an amazing sign, from the Gates Foundation building, Seattle.
It’s time to come clean—reach out to your supports. Tell them how you’ve cheated—not you, but your eating disorder—and be forthcoming with your struggle. Then put a plan in place with your team, with your family or friends, to add the support you need to turn things around.

I hope you’re inspired. You do deserve better than this disordered life.

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