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.


the summer s l o w down

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Like a slow tide, I’ve experienced an emerging realization over the last couple months, or perhaps years, that something I’m doing, some aspect of how I approach my life, isn’t working. It is a realization that has made itself known in virtually every part of my experience, in my relationship with friends, in my relationship with William, in my relationship with self, in my slow realization that I’ve lost the ability to just simply stop, lay down on the cool summer grass and do nothing, for even a moment and perhaps hours, as I was prone to in childhood and as a teen. This inability to relax has shown itself in my hormones, in my mental anxiety, physical aches and pains, digestive disturbances, in my rush to chronically add more and more, to say no on the one hand and then say yes to two additional things on the other, to develop a never-ending to do list that’s grown to multiple lists in various regards, to six email accounts separating the differing entities I’m involved in and subsequently floundering through answering most of them, and on.

I know my experience of overwhelm is not unique. I know it’s now more the norm as we all scramble about adding on to our presence on social media, to our physical possessions, to our feelings of incompleteness and subsequent filling the space with things, physical and non-physical.

A year ago, almost a year ago exactly, I actually felt the exact same as I do now, and I took action by downloading Jason McGrice’s meditations. The small sum I paid for those meditations when there’s a plethora of free ones floating about the interspace proved to me well worth it. There are some individuals that I especially associate with Jesus and his qualities as teacher, authority, and healer, in the most sacred way. Jason’s meditations, practiced for this past year more days than not, have been one way I’ve experienced the presence of Jesus, and of attempting to navigate excess stimulation and the generally just too much of our time.

In the past month and more, I’ve written about this slow awakening to the havoc of stress on my more personal blog, in addition to what I’ve shared here in past posts. For whatever reason I also sense the need to share here what is helping me navigate through.

The slow tide of hearing the message to s l o w down, to make it a priority to shut off, to rest my whole system, to notice the constant physical tension and seek whatever activities that guide me to re-learning to relax is coming in strong these days, almost like I’m being hit over the head every which way these days to LISTEN AND SLOW DOWN AND REST.

 

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  • Specifically, I’ve been doing a free-write journal by hand every morning lately. This practice is less like an indulgence and more like a necessity to ground and settle my mind into the day. For example, one morning I felt so overwhelmed by my to-do list and schedule (neither of which should have been causing extreme stress) that I wrote about my exact physical sensations, and how I was watching the shadow of my pen move across the page in the morning light as I wrote down each word. Doing that, and writing it in that way was soothing and helped me slow down my thinking and realize I had nothing to stress over, nothing too pressing, no reason to rush so much.
  • Jason’s meditations, as mentioned above.
  • Re-reading (and actually attempting to follow!) Renee’s self-care recommendations on removing excess stimulation.
  • Gaining more awareness from an eye-opening podcast on self-care with Yarrow Sarah Magdalena Love
  • Maribeth’s Helen’s latest newsletter, which was yet another driving home the message.
  • Returning to the forest. After months of no desire to go trail running, I took my first run back after the marathon to the trails on one of those days that I needed to calm my racing mind. As usual, it was insanely therapeutic.
  • MUSIC! My playlist lately, the birds that soothe me, and chakra healing!

 

Perhaps you’ll resonate with some of this and some of the links will prove helpful. I encourage you to try to slow down with me and take some time to find what works for you in terms of self-care, if you haven’t already. Otherwise, stay tuned for a new recipe coming soon in which I’ll finally share a sourdough loaf!

Honey-Roasted Rhubarb and Favorites, Lately

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Hey friends, it’s been a hot minute. I’ve recently had an epiphany about ‘keeping the main thing the main thing,’ and for me right now, that’s successfully taking care of myself through peak weeks of marathon training, and then balancing summer term of grad school with my newish job, in that order. Everything else has been largely set aside for now unless it fits into the above. Which means I’ve made variations of chocolate walnut banana bread for three weeks in a row as end of the week baking therapy, made a lot of lovely but quick meals, taken significantly more restful moments and reincorporated naps into my life, but also haven’t done much else or shared here.

Below are a few favorites from the last couple weeks and months, and a lovely quick recipe for honey-roasted rhubarb, which tastes great as an add-in to a seasonal green salad, stirred through morning porridge, or simply spooned alongside some nice yogurt.

 

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to read: 
Plant Spirit Totems by Bloom Post
Eat Up! by Ruby Tandoh
Long days but learning so much in all my classes

to eat, drink, and imbibe:
Ginger-Turmeric Kombucha
Strawberries, and cardamom. also, rhubarb.
Flower Essences by Sophia Rose

to listen: 
Medicine Stories Podcast, but especially the episode with Sajah Popham (#17)
Lauren and Jesse’s new podcast, which is great for all sorts of life advice, but especially for athletes with questions.
Nicole Antoinette’s discussion with pro-runner Collier Lawrence. So much good stuff including goals, suicide prevention, and more.
A good pathophysiology review of the (lots of science!) involved in depression, for all you fellow science nerds.

to pause in awe and simply take in:
Early morning sunshine, through the leaves
Gifts from a lifetime friend who lives on the other side of the world

 

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Honey-Roasted Rhubarb
When adding the finished rhubarb to a seasonal salad, I find it goes great with a mix of delicate and hardier greens, and alongside early season snow or snap peas, pea shoots, toasted walnuts or hazelnuts, and a light vinaigrette dressing. That’s just one variation of how this can be incorporated into a savory meal, and partly why I tend to err on the side of less honey, to let rhubarb’s natural sour-tart flavor shine through. 

1 lb. rhubarb, sliced into 1-inch slices
1-2 Tbs. honey, as preferred

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scatter the rhubarb in a single layer in a large baking tray, then drizzle over the honey, and gently mix it all together.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender, giving it a stir halfway through. The rhubarb pieces should keep their shape rather than cook all the way down.
  • Leave to cool slightly before serving.