nutrition journal: thoughts on pleasure and joy, restrictive diets, eating disorder recovery, and intuitive eating

Do you have any rituals that make your weekends complete?


As a Taurus (sun sign), I most certainly do. As much as possible, I like my weekend mornings enveloped in ‘cozy’, wrapped in a blue fleece blanket, a high school graduation gift from my dressage instructor/mentor, comfortable with a pot of tea, pleasing music, time spent clearing my inbox, experimenting with creative kitchen projects, and choosing and planning recipes and meal ideas for the week ahead. Lately, I’ve also been researching and scheming ways to improve the coziness of our inside space and making it ‘even more me’ so when I walk in the door after a long day, it’s even more the space I want to come home to.

Even though we bought our house ‘done,’ and to my liking internally, I’ve been hesitant to invest in decorating the interior since we’ve never planned to stay long-term. But it also seems silly not to put my personal touches on the inside simply because we might move in a couple months or the very distant future.

Which brings me to my real topic today, a little weekend nutrition journal, which I’ll see about sharing more often in this space. Today is about denying ourselves pleasure because of an idea in our head or society’s messages. I follow several of my Facebook friends on Pinterest where I see much of what is pinned for meal ideas and I’m likewise part of a very large and active Facebook group here in Eugene for all the ‘foodies.’ These two groups are quite diverse, but if often breaks my heart to see the pins and posts go over the weeks and years from one diet ‘religion’ to the next. Right now, I see a lot of the sensational meat and dairy version of the keto diet, which seems to be all the rage and I’m sure is not contributing to long-term health.

As a clinical nutritionist, I have all sorts of thoughts and opinions about all the various dieting trends and their short and long-term effects on the body and mind. But when I speak to or think about individuals actually following these highly restrictive diets, I mostly I think about the (very Tauresian) pleasures of eating, dinner parties and eating in community, and eating what nature right outside our doors provides. And sticking to rigid dietary dogma or thinking all the time about what this or that particular food is doing to our bodies is simply not healthy. Anyone who’s ever had or is currently struggling with an eating disorder knows the havoc that rigid thinking can play on life satisfaction.

Sometimes I think about the food intolerances I do have, gluten and dairy, and the food preferences and avoidances I continue with (mostly meat, processed food, high sugar). I stick with the first two since I feel ill for days whenever I eat traces of them. I avoid the second list out of taste preference and because I generally feel better when they’re not consistently in my days.

But I periodically wonder if my subconscious didn’t help create my food intolerances and preferences out of my eating disorder as a way to not be pressured or to be automatically excused from the office pastries, co-workers’ baked goods, supermarket impulse buys, etc. In a way, I question whether my subconscious created a rigid rule to avoid certain mainstream ingredients as another way to control my food?

I consider myself to nearly always eat intuitively these days, meaning if I want to bake cookies or have dessert (which I often do), I will. And if pizza sounds good for dinner, if not today, then maybe sometime this week. I tend to be often training for a race, managing my autoimmune disorder, and eating to stay feeling healthy in those two regards, and that means my goal is to eat to feel good in my body. But I also highly value enjoying my meals and feeling good in the moment. And the way of eating that works for me largely does both.

One of my nutritionist peers shared a social media post recently that has had me reflecting on this topic in particular. It was a ‘Food for Thought’ on current caloric restriction and dieting patterns happening in mainstream culture, and their relation to a landmark nutrition study back in the 50’s called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

Here is what was written as a reflection to the post (not my words, but ones I highly agree with based on personal experience):

1200kcal per day is NOT enough to nourish any adult body.

There have been a lot of people I follow speaking out about how 1200kcal per day (as promoted by @myfitnesspal) is harmful and dangerous. I thought it might be perfect time to look back at one of the key (no pun intended) studies on the effects of human starvation.

The most interesting findings of this study (in my opinion) were not the physiological effects (which are somewhat expected), but the psychological effects. These previously healthy men became newly obsessed with food, looking at recipe books, and talking about food. They had strong urges to overeat, many chewing and drinking constantly up to 40 sticks of gum and 80+oz of coffee each day. Any opportunity to gain access to food, the men would binge consuming thousands of calories in a sitting. Interestingly enough, they also developed distorted self image and some men became preoccupied with their abdominal area.

I love these takeaways of this study from an article on @projectheal:

“1) The restriction of nutrition leads to a heightened interest in food and eating. So there is an “explanation” for why you may be overwhelmingly preoccupied with food. 2) Overeating may be a direct result of undereating. 3) Many features of anorexia are actually symptoms of starvation and resolve with refeeding. 4) Prolonged restriction of food negatively impacts mood. Restriction and weight loss may lead to an increase in anxiety symptoms and obsessive thinking. 5) Inability to stick to strict diets is not because of a lack of willpower. There is a biological pull to maintain a consistent body weight.”

Sources:

1) Keys, A., Brozek, J., Henshel, A., Mickelson, O., & Taylor, H.L. (1950). The biology of human starvation, (Vols. 1–2). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Full study)
2) The psychology of hunger. The American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/hunger
3) What we can learn from the Minnesota starvation study about the impacts of restriction in behaviour: https://www.theprojectheal.org/healblog/impact-of-starvation-on-behavior

I formally struggled with orthorexia which quickly became anorexia, which became an incredibly shameful binge/restrict season (which lasted the longest), until my weight was restored and I allowed healthy relationships and less control over food into my days. Learning to eat intuitively also helped me to reach the weight and size that feels best for my body, which interestingly happens to be the weight and size I sought to achieve when I first began controlling my body as a sixteen or seventeen year-old. This is just my experience and one I expect will vary by individual.

Learning about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment a few years ago helped me in not only understanding, but finally working through the shame I harbored for many years about the bingeing phase of my weight restoration, which was more or less part of the physiological consequence of severe caloric restriction and malnutrition.

This is all to say, I’m not a big fan of food patterns that feel rigid or overly forced, and eating in a way to reach or maintain optimal health for one’s condition (as is often the way of functional medicine) has to be balanced with eating in a way that feels good, is intuitive, and doesn’t lead or contribute to disordered behaviors, obsessions, or control-mentality around food. It’s a fine balance and I’m not sure I’ve yet met a nutritionist, dietician, doctor, or otherwise nutrition professional that’s got the balance quite right in practice.

But one thing I do know. We all need to ask more questions of ourselves in the everyday process. Questions such as:

– Am I eating this to feel good in the moment or to feel good long-term? (To which there’s no right or wrong answer but simply knowing is a first step).
– Am I avoiding this food because of fear, or because I want to control my body?
– What makes me feel good (food or otherwise)?
– What do I need right now? (A meal, a snack, a hug, a kiss, quiet, noise, love, sleep, connection, etc.)
– What does hunger look like for me? How do I know I’m hungry?
– What way of eating makes me truly feel my best? If you’re not sure, think back to a time when you felt particularly healthy, happy, and satisfied for more than just the short-term.
– And, what brings me joy?

This last one is particularly important.

One of the major things that brings me joy is baking. I have vivid memories of learning to bake, and doing so has been a lifelong love that I feel absolutely no need to give up. Back to being that earthy, sensual, comfortable Taurus, baking is a way to indulge all my senses in delight and to enjoy the end result.

If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to take some time for reflection, journal your responses to the questions above, or free-write your personal takeaways. Reach out to me if you’d like to chat. And overall, be well in this season.

Stay tuned for a recipe treat coming later this week.


Post-Run Pancakes, and creating a food community

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Over the past few months, William and I have been hosting, or being treated to, many shared meals with friends. We’ve been living in Eugene for over two years now, and though we still don’t love the city or consider it our long-term home, we’re slowly finding ways to make a community while we’re here. In almost every way, that developing of community centers around food.

We have a couple friends here that, unlike virtually any others so far, I trust can cook for me. I won’t be unknowingly eating gluten and getting cross contaminated, and I’ll enjoy the food and company. I won’t stress about what will be on the menu beforehand and if I’ll have to miss out on half the spread, or need to plan to take a side dish just in case. I can go about the whole experience being totally relaxed and spontaneous. This experience, though I know is the norm for those who don’t have food allergies and/or a history of disordered eating, feels like the biggest of victories for me, and one I don’t take lightly.

Like many people who have struggled with an eating disorder, I’ve always been drawn to food. I grew up just completely fascinated with it, always experimenting and exploring, always wanting to know more. Nothing about that has changed but the sharing of it, either at a friend or relatives’, or just spontaneously going out to eat, has shifted dramatically in the last decade as I began to develop more tactics for avoiding eating with others, or later, when I realized many of my health problems were attributed to food intolerances, and most friends and family no longer knew how to prepare food that was gluten, dairy, and for the most part meat-free.

That left me (and still leaves me), generally really stressed and anxious about gatherings that involve food. I don’t like to be the center of attention. I don’t enjoy having to make special requests. But I also don’t enjoy going to meals knowing I won’t really get to participate in them. As much as many of us have heard the advice to just focus on the people rather than the food, there’s something about the food that draws us together and opting out of that aspect is to me, a little like trying to arrive at a complete and finished puzzle, without having half the puzzle pieces.

Related to this, I like what Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille said recently in an interview on the emotion of food:

I think my eating disorder and having left my roots really left me in limbo for many years. I stripped myself of identity so I could know who I am inside and what my purpose is while I am here. I have realized that the vulnerability I have felt the last few years by sharing a bit more of my true story of anxiety and depression have connected me to people and myself in ways I didn’t think were possible. And it’s interesting that I did this through cooking and sharing food, which for many years had such an emotional weight attached to it. It’s through the act of cooking for others and sharing a table that we can make time to connect at deeper levels. We can access levels of empathy and intimacy that are hard to feel in other ways. Also let’s not forget that food has tremendous healing energy. It can ground us and make us stronger or totally mess us up both physically and emotionally.

Other than being really grateful for friends that love to eat and cook similarly to me, and for those that go out of their way to accommodate my gluten and dairy-free needs by learning how to cook and/or bake in this way just so I can be included, I’m learning that being more assertive, giving, and willing to educate others, both about food intolerances and allergies, and about the mental health aspects that some of us bring to eating, are really important. Both of these often parallel topics are ones that I feel a little more called to having a conversation about with friends over a good meal, rather than brushing them under the table and pretending everything is just okay.

With that, The Recipe Redux invited us to to make and share bread this month. Though I’ve alluded to my current sourdough fixation here and on instagram many times over the last year, I’m still in the experimenting stage — because the art and perfection of slow bread is something I’ve long been called to and having a finished recipe that is ready to share still feels a long way off. I do have a really decent sourdough pizza crust going lately but given this dreary, cold, late winter season, my own personal need for comfort foods in the way of pancakes, and past history of pancakes making quite the meal to share with others, this quick little bread-based meal is one I hope you get the time to make. It makes my favorite gluten-free and vegan pancakes so far, is 100% whole-grain, and with the help of a coffee/spice grinder, most of the flour is fresh milled so it’s really quite nutrient-packed. I’ve also taken out all the oil and added in antioxidant-rich sunflower seed butter which gives it a really nice rich flavor. And because I’m still working my way through the last of the season’s winter squash, I find a really nice topping is a spiced squash and sunflower butter puree.

All together, both because these are comforting yet wholesome, and packed full of all the antioxidant nutrients (vitamins A, E, selenium, zinc), B-vitamins, magnesium, and iron that athletes need, I think these are great with the winter squash topping for after workout meals (that’s running for me), or perhaps just to share with a friend or loved one when you both need good conversation and lots of late-winter nourishment.

Enjoy!

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Post Run Pancakes, serves about 2
These make nice, fluffy, whole-grain pancakes. If you’re without or adverse to a little xanthan gum, either leave out or add a little more ground flax. They won’t be quite as fluffy, but still really good!
 
1/3 cup / 60 grams millet
1/4 cup / 40 grams buckwheat
1/4 cup / 20 grams chickpea flour
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbs. ground flax mixed with 3 Tbs. warm water
3/4-1 cup non-dairy milk
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
coconut oil, for cooking
  • Whisk the vinegar into 3/4 cup of non-dairy milk and set aside for a few minutes.
  • Heat your skillet or griddle where you will be cooking the pancakes. They’ll cook over medium-high heat.
  • In a coffee/spice grinder or food processor, add buckwheat and millet grains and grind until they reach a smooth flour consistency. Then, mix them in a medium bowl with the chickpea flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the flax-water mixture, milk, and sunflower butter. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and whisk lightly until combined. Add more milk as needed.
  • Lightly oil the skillet with coconut oil, and use about 1/3 cup of batter per pancake. Flip the pancakes when the bubbles appear on top and the bottoms are browned.
  • Cook on the second side until cooked through and browned on the bottom.

Spiced Winter Squash Puree
1-2 cups mashed/pureed winter squash
2 Tbs. sunflower seed butter
a few dashes each of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cloves, and black pepper
a pinch of sea salt

  • In a little dish, mash together all the ingredients and season to taste with sweetener, as desired. Serve over the pancakes.

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vibrant winter dal with roasted cauliflower + toasted seeds

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I took a real slow down in the days after Christmas and into the first part of the new year and in that time I gave this space a little update. With it, I also set the intention to align the content a little more towards what has been calling to me these last few months.

Like the couple years before it, 2017 was a particularly challenging year. Even as I was in it, I knew it was a year of lessons and great strides were being made, even as it was difficult to see through the moment. Out of it, or out of those years I should say, I’ve developed a fairly different relationship with myself, one where the person before writing this blog post is like a long-ago friend I no longer know well. I spent a lot of the past couple years delving into the silence, watching the chaos in my brain, going far back into memories of my childhood, seeking to understand what and where I lost myself. I wouldn’t say I’m done with all that necessarily, (because are we ever?), but I do believe I’ve forgiven, learned about, and let go of the events and traumas that were keeping me stuck between being the person I am and the one I thought others wanted me to be.

I feel a lot more like me these days. And more free.

Because I’m drawn to the concept of food as medicine, slightly shifting my eating habits, not just the food but the way in which I try to eat it, has been a big component of the shift. I’ve taken to noticing how I feel, whether it’s cold, anxious or ungrounded, hot and fiery-tempered, or calm and assured, and then adjusting my meals to accommodate. I learned this method of tuning in and then adjusting from Ayurveda, and though to explain it, the idea sounds trite, I’ve noticed improvements in my digestion and mental health from the subtle change in how I season foods, the mindset I prepare them in, and how much attention I give while eating. Ayurveda, like other ancient medical systems, puts digestion as the foundation of health since what and how we eat, so we become.

The biggest difference? There’s rarely mind chatter in the line of “diet culture” thinking, i.e. too much, guilt about eating this or that, wanting a different body or trying to control the one I have, etc. If food is medicine and food is fuel, it’s also nourishment, and nourishment for more than just the physical self.

So to get me through the cold and dark of winter, I’ve been making routine bowls of creamy dal, sometimes simple with a few random root vegetables and greens thrown in, and sometimes fancied up with a quick puree, roasted cauliflower and toasted seeds. Either way, after trying a couple dozen different versions of dal these past few years, I’ve come to this recipe. I’ve taken many concepts from Divya Alter’s What to Eat for How You Feel in making it, and compared to many dal recipes, this one tones down the spices and keeps them to those that gently warm and ground “airy” mind and digestion in this cold season.

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Part of the process in making this is preparing your own grounding spice blend to season the roasted cauliflower and dal. It’s a quick extra step but definitely worth it–I tend to add the blend as a quick sprinkle to many meals that need a little extra something, or on days I feel particularly all over the place. My spice grinder is a favored and frequently used kitchen implement, but if you’re without one or prefer to skip this step, using your favorite curry powder will work as a substitute–however, I tend to think a lot of the magic here is in using tailored spices.

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The spices in this blend are ones that particularly help with digestion and tend to be warming and pungent without being outright hot (like cayenne or chili). This results in open circulatory channels and the ability to warm up and eliminate toxins and congestion. It is especially helpful in the cold season or for the cold person. Specifically,

Coriander improves digestion, calms the mind, and binds toxins in the blood.
Fennel regulates and improves digestion, and is a cooling spice in smaller amounts. It balances the warming spices in this blend.
Cumin stimulates digestion, eliminates toxins, and helps with the absorption of nutrients.
Cloves improves digestion, reduces toxins, and opens circulatory channels.
Black pepper improves digestion, opens circulatory channels, eliminates toxins, and enhances oxygenation in the brain.
Turmeric cleanses the liver and helps break down fats, improves digestion, and is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

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Vibrant Winter Dal, serves 4
1 cup split mung dal (split mung beans) or red lentils, or a combination of both
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. minced ginger
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. grounding masala (see recipe below) or ground coriander
3-4 cups water
1 cup frozen peas
a couple large handfuls diced greens (spinach, kale, etc.)
1 tsp. sea salt, plus more as needed
cilantro and fresh lime slices, to serve

  • Soak the mung dal or red lentils for 30 minutes. Then drain and rinse well.
  • Heat the coconut oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add in the turmeric and toast for about 10 seconds. Then add in the minced ginger and bay leaves. Cook for about 30 seconds more and then add in the masala or coriander and mung dal. Stir and cook until the beans are almost dry.
  • Add 3 cups of water and bring the soup to a boil. Then cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the beans have become tender and begin to disintegrate. Stir in the frozen peas and greens and cook a few minutes more, just until they are warm and wilted. Add the salt and more water as needed.
  • Then, transfer the dal to a blender and puree, working in batches. Add back to the saucepan and gently warm. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Serve bowls of dal topped with roasted cauliflower, toasted seeds, cilantro and freshly squeezed lime, as desired.


Roasted Cauliflower
1 large cauliflower, outer leaves removed and cut into small florets
coconut oil, as needed
1 Tbs. grounding masala
sea salt and black pepper

  • Line a large baking pan with parchment and toss the cauliflower, spices, and oil to coat. Roast in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, or until fork tender.
  • Remove from the oven and spoon atop individual bowls of dal.


Toasted Seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

  • Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-low heat and add in the hemp and cumin seeds. Toast them until they begin to turn golden brown and release their aroma.
  • Divide among bowls to top finished soup.


Grounding Masala Spice Blend
, adapted from What to Eat for How you Feel
2 Tbs. coriander seeds
2 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. whole cloves
3/4 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric

  • Add all the spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Put into a labeled container and store away from light.

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