Saturday, July 26, 2014

Want to know how much I ate today? The pros and cons of comparing your eating to others’

Today's breakfast-crepes with sauteed fruit,
melted chocolate drizzle and vanilla yogurt.
When I was little, I mean, when I was young, (I was never particularly little compared to my peers), I recall a recurrent argument with my mother. “She can have it/eat it/do it—so why can’t I?”, I’d beg to know, to which she’d respond something like “If she jumps off the Empire State building does that make it okay for you too?” (Yes, I’m from NY and that was the tallest building back then.) Her point, of course, was that what’s good for one isn’t necessarily good for another. And if you’re going to compare, be careful.

Which gets me to you and your need to compare yourself to others; and more specifically, to compare your eating and your weight.  So what do you think—helpful to compare or harmful? Is it okay sometimes, or must you be consistent and never compare? Does it matter if you’re under eating, or if you’re overweight or is it simply dangerous?

Does it really matter what I eat (or anyone else, for that matter)?

Well, yes. To be honest, that’s why I include all the so-called food porn on this blog—beautiful images of delectable foods—all of which I am personally eating. Perhaps it shouldn’t matter. I mean I can give you sensible guidance regardless of how I choose to eat. But knowing that someone else is eating cookies or including carbs, or adding fats—things you just might fear—and is perfectly fine, reassures us. Viewing a peer’s eating as they’re comfortably eating ice cream can help motivate. Yes, normal, healthy people can and do eat ice cream. Seeing this can help increase your flexibility around foods and food categories—and that surely can help you change your relationship with food.

Yet it’s rather unprofessional to suggest that because something is fine for me that it’s fine for you. When I make my recommendations, they are based on my clinical experience—my 28 years in the nutrition field—and my knowledge of nutritional science and the limited research we have to work with.  What’s fine for me, isn’t necessarily right for you; I might include lots of veggies daily, but for you that added volume might be a challenge, making it difficult to meet your calorie needs. I might make most snacks rather calorie rich—when I’m out cycling or hiking for many hours and I’d rather eat smaller portions at each snack for convenience—this may be unnecessary for you; I’m almost 5’8 and my weight is just fine where it is, but your needs may be different—based on your height, your bone structure, your muscle mass, perhaps from years as an athlete, and your needs to normalize your weight to support your health.

Be careful!

My lunch. Looks big, right? Two pitas 'cause they were those too-light-be-
adequate 80-calorie ones. Certainly larger appearing than my husband's!*
When comparing to others, you might think—“She’s only eating a salad, why is that not okay for me?” or “Why do I need to work out when none of my coworkers do?” You may look at a friend and wonder how they can eat whatever they like when you have to be more mindful, or else your weight climbs out of your healthy range with no effort. Patients get frustrated when they report that their coworkers eat fast food and “junk food” and their weight is just fine, whereas they have to work hard and watch everything they eat. But they aren’t with these coworkers 24/7. Who knows what happens the rest of the time. What you see is a small slice of time, which may or may not reflect how any individual really eats.
Maybe they eat lighter when others are around—but make up for it in private. Perhaps they eat more only when they’re out with friends like you, but restrict when they are alone. Essentially, you have no idea what really goes on when you’re not with them. Unless I asked (and unless he were honest), I’d have no idea that my husband eats the leftover baked goods from work functions when he gets hungry and hasn’t brought enough to eat from home. Or even if he has, yet they are sitting so attractively frosted and displayed in work common areas for all to grab.

What you observe others eat may not be in their best interest—nor in yours. They may be struggling, denying their hunger and feeling fatigue, and preoccupied with food all the time.

He looks sedentary, but you should've seen him run today!
Are you comparing yourself to others for the wrong reasons? Do you let your eating disorder do the comparing as in “She’s having the fries, but I’m going to just order the side salad” or “He’s ordering the large ice cream, so I’ll just get the kiddie sized one.” Not what I’d recommend!

But I’m different

Do you ever think “that’s fine for you, but my body’s different”? You’re not alone! Somehow you may struggle to believe that what’s true for everyone else—that they can eat a range of nutrients including fats and protein and carbohydrate and no foods need be absolutely forbidden—just doesn’t apply to you. In fact, this basic truth does apply! Take a look at this older post:

My FAVorite cupcake place--located in NYC.

There are dangers in comparing your eating with others, as one size does not fit all. Just like food labels should not dictate how much we should be consuming—they merely identify nutrition info—you need to learn just what will meet your body’s individual needs.
And just because they decide to put themselves at risk and jump from the Empire State building doesn’t mean it’s okay for you.

* And for the record, I had a Napoleon pastry late afternoon and take out Japanese for dinner--with some nice Chardonnay. And if you asked, I'd tell you there were a few other items, too.

Please share your thoughts and let me know you’re out there reading!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Declare Your Freedom: Gaining independence from diets and disorders.

This stormy day, oppressed by the weather and the limits on my freedom to enjoy the outside, I find myself home, contemplating your freedom. It’s July 4, a national holiday in these united states.  Fortunate to have been born in the US, never oppressed by my government, I take for granted the freedoms that some yearn for. Yet through my day to day interaction with patients, I’m painfully aware of how enslaved many are by their own thoughts and actions—though admittedly not by their choosing. Most wish not to suffer, but feel entrapped; they are overwhelmed by the rules which dictate what’s acceptable to eat and the intrusive thoughts and judgments about their eating and activity. They irrationally fear anything from white flour and sugar to fats. Sometimes the type of foods is not the issue, but the portions are. At first glance, a food record may look impressively normal—until I probe about quantities consumed—the limited bites here and pieces there that are actually consumed.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

While this preamble to the Declaration paves the way to addressing national independence, it’s predicated on individual rights.  Yet how many of you acknowledge these basic entitlements?

Equality. Do you feel that your needs should be considered equally with those around you? Do you consider your needs—for time for yourself, for eating when you need to and what you feel like? Do you feel deserving of pleasurable dining experiences? Or is such pleasure only for other people to experience?

Life. A full and satisfying life. Yes, you are deserving of this too. A healthy life, allowing you to engage in whatever you enjoy. A life not eaten up by self criticism.

Liberty. Freedom from food rules (barring medically critical ones, like avoidance of an allergen that causes a reaction). And liberation from mental hoops you jump through whenever you consider food and eating. Must you feel guilty if something tastes ‘too good’?

The pursuit of happiness. Can you even imagine what this is? Do you remember what you were passionate about before food and diets snatched it all away? What do you dream about when you free yourself from the bitterness of your diets, of your restrictions, of your unrealistic expectations for size?

Freedom can be scary. But independence from both diets and disorders is the sure way to support life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I don’t think it’s simple. But taking a stand for change is a valuable first step.Seek out supports--an experienced therapist, dietitian and medical provider can help. But also use your close connections--don't be afraid to ask loved ones for help. Become informed--there's a wealth of posts on this blog on nutrition realities and great links to other reputable bloggers and websites, as well as my books, drop the diet and food to eat, coauthored with ASPIRE's founder, Cate Sangster.

What steps will you take to declare your independence?