Monday, August 29, 2011

Switching to black forest ham is not much of a change

Last Sunday, my three year old son points at some low-fat bran muffins, “Mommy, can we get some of these?”
For some reason beyond me, I tell him we’ll come back to the bakery section. Obviously I didn’t want to make a decision. Perhaps I was hoping that he would forget about the muffins. Of course, he reminded me that I promised to return to the bakery. Unfortunately, the brownies, instead of the muffins, caught his eye.
Yes, I bought the brownies. It was a small package, and he easily forgets about treats in the house. I figured that it was an opportunity to practice having sweets (treats, restricted/ bad food) in the pantry.  
The brownies lasted in the house from lunch Sunday to Tuesday evening. My son had one brownie, my husband had two, and I had the other five.
At least the consumption was spread across a 72 hour time period.
What happened?
Almost a month before, I wrote how eating the same thing day after day triggers overeating. Unfortunately, I’m slow to change. At the time, I changed the deli meat of my lunchtime sandwich. Instead of eating a roasted turkey and havarti sandwich, I switched it up to a black forest ham and havarti sandwich. Daring eh? Not surprisingly, this deli meat swap was insufficient. 
Finally, I've completely changed my lunch. For the next while, I’m eating a salad comprised of spring mix lettuce, tomatoes, baked chicken breast, walnut pieces, pumpkin seeds, sun dried tomatoes (no oil), and minimal salad dressing at lunchtime along with a small roll, and fruit. And it was surprisingly tasty and filling. I imagine that the salad will lose its spark quicker than a sandwich, but perhaps when I recognize the signs, I’ll implement change faster and perhaps prevent another rapidly depleting brownie situation at the house.
Speaking of change, the amount of exercise is increasing tonight. I’ve been on the waiting list for the local masters swim club for a year now. I may have a spot, but the coach wants to see my swim tonight to see how fast I am. I haven’t trained consistently in the pool in years. I’m hoping I haven’t oversold her on my swimming ability. More importantly, I’m hoping that I can last the hour-long workout!

Previous Post: A post about "Maggie goes on a Diet" 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A post about "Maggie goes on a Diet"

“Hey Tania, there is a new children’s book coming out this fall. It’s called, ‘Maggie goes on a Diet.’ Izzy left a link to the CTV news piece on my facebook page.”
Tania’s eyes widen in disgust. Tania doesn’t have a weight problem, but we often talk about weight issues, eating disorders, walkable communities and the North American eating culture.
“It’s about a 14 year-old girl named Maggie who decides to go on a diet after being bullied and teased. She exercises and eats well and loses weight. In the end she is popular and becomes the star of the soccer team. It’s aimed at girls as young as five.”
“Five?” she says in shock.
“Disgusting eh? Sure, there are good messages in the book such as eating well and exercising. But why does the author need to focus on stereotypes? There is the bullied, ostracized fat girl; the thin, popular athletic star; girl bingeing in front of the refrigerator. Why does the book need to be so obvious? The book can focus on the eating and exercise but you don’t have to call it a diet.”
 “Why couldn’t the story be about Maggie getting on the soccer team?” Tania says.
“Exactly! That’s a great suggestion.”
“But it’s a business. It’s easier to market and make money with a straight-forward message.”
“It’s not even published yet and look at all the free publicity! Apparently the author is shocked by the controversy about his book,” I reply.
“Well, many people including the author don’t understand the negative implications of dieting, especially at such an early age.”
“Agreed. Dieting is one of the most common environmental triggers for eating disorders. I’ve battled two types of eating disorders since I was 15, set off from the pressures of dieting. Sure, not everyone who reads this book will develop and eating disorder, but I suspect that many at risk children will be drawn to this book like a moth to a flame.”
“Like the little girl in the CTV news piece. She wants to read the book because she ‘feels fat about herself.’ She’s not remotely overweight. She looks younger than 12.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sandy Naiman: How I got an eating disorder at 62

If you haven't had the chance, please read this article, "How I got an eating disorder at 62" by Psych Central's blogger Sandy Naiman. I found many interesting points and provided answers to my EDNOS diagnosis.

Here are my thoughts from the article:

I’m 62 and 5-ft. even. I’ve been an extreme yo-yo dieter my whole life, but it’s growing harder and more oppressive every day.
Harder and more oppressive every day is how I see my own dieting journey. Losing weight and dieting became increasingly impossible, my motivation and "willpower" to succeed was slowly replaced by anxiety and disdain of deprivation.

Disordered eating is defined as any sort of irregular eating behaviour that, while not exactly healthy, doesn’t fit the characteristics required for an eating disorder diagnosis. Chances are good that you’ve observed disordered eating at some point while listening to a group of women agonize over restaurant menus.
Recently, NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) successfully pulled a Yoplait yogurt ad from the air due to the portrayal of diet negotiating language as healthy and normal. It's very common (I too, thought this was normal and healthy) but it's not healthy or normal. I blogged about the Yoplait ad here. 

"Anorexia, bulimia and what are known as “eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)” – including binge-eating disorder – are serious, potentially fatal mental illnesses, according to a 2011 report by the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED).
Once I stopped purging twenty years ago, I was no longer bulimic, but I knew that nothing changed psychologically. But if I didn't have bulimia, what was wrong with me? It wasn't until I entered into therapy that I learned about EDNOS, and now I can at least put a name and get treatment to get out of this hell hole.

“It’s well accepted by leading researchers that eating disorders are genetically pre-disposed, tend to run in families and have nothing to do with metabolism,” Tartakovsky says.

"Your metabolism is just slow," is a common catchphrase many well-intended people would tell me. I'm glad to know that the genetic aspect of my condition has nothing to do with my metabolism.

“Furthermore, genes turn on and off all the time,” Woodside explains. “Some genetic loading may be activated by dieting – this may be the most common environmental trigger – and other loading may be activated by other factors, such as the biological changes that occur in puberty.”
Holy cow, this is me. I discovered in cognitive therapy that all of my overeating, bingeing and obsession with junk food is directly related to decades of dieting. I can recall the feelings of dred and deprivation when my synchronized swimming coach told me to lose weight at the age of 13.

In her clinical practice, Bulik has seen adults with three manifestations of eating disorders. The illnesses can: start in adolescence and persist through mid-life, start in mid-life, occur in adolescence, with a recovery period, then recur in mid-life.
I'm the first manifestation, starts in adolescence and persists through mid-life. After 23 years, I'm tired of food and weight ruling my life.

Wow, I may be on the way to becoming a normal, healthy eater who is not ruled by cravings, anxiety and five wardrobes spanning various sizes, but that can come undone by a major life-event. Good to know. 

“I didn’t want to preach against obesity,” Gura said. “I wanted to move to a better place in my life, to stop struggling, to accept myself.”
Yes, I want the struggle to end.


These disorders are obsessions. They are not choices. They’re an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, against your conscious wishes.
Obsession is how I often describe myself. Obsessed with the food I eat, obsessed with food I shouldn't eat, obsessed with my weight.

The addiction is to the behaviour of dieting, not the food, explains Woodside.
I didn't understand this statement until a friend said, "I know what makes me overeat, it's all about the carbs." That's when I understood it's not about the food (sweets, bread, french fries) it's about the behaviour that comes from dieting. If a diet tells me to limit carbs, I think about carbs, I crave carbs, I develop anxiety stemming from a fear of eating carbs, anxiety increases feelings of hunger, and I eat carbs to relieve the anxiety. It's not the carbs, it's rebelling from restricting yourself from eating carbs.

Both Bulik and Woodside say they are upset by the shortage of clinics and psychiatrists and psychologists treating eating disorders because they are misperceived as illnesses only affecting adolescent girls and young women.
In addition, do doctors recognize the more subtle signs of EDNOS in their patients? My family doctor completely dismissed me when I tried to get help a few years back telling me that, "dieting is hard for a lot of people."

The average waiting time for an assessment is now four months at Toronto General Hospital.
Wait times at clinics far from my house always deflated my resolve to get help. I went to a private cognitive behaviour therapy clinic. I called and had an appointment shortly thereafter. Expensive, but I was worth the investment.

What do you think? Does this article speak to you?

Previous post: French fries vs. the chef's salad

Friday, August 19, 2011

French fries vs. the Chef's salad

Choices on the menu blur together in a mangled mess of carbohydrates, deep-fried goodness and sweet not-so-nothingness. Fish and chips! Chicken pot pie! Macaroni and cheese! French fries! Sweet potato fries! Beef dip and homemade burgers!

What am I going to eat?

Of course, I should eat the chef’s salad (not the Caesar salad) or the chicken wrap. Yes, the chicken wrap. It’ll be sort of good, not wildly interesting, but it’s fairly healthy. Maybe I’ll get French fries, no, sweet potato fries instead of the side salad. Yum, fries. I love fries. No, I should get the salad. Caesar salad might be tastier than a boring chef salad. I want the Caesar salad, but I should get the chef's salad. But what about the fish and chips? Deep fried battered fish and French fries. I can't make that at home. No, no, no, I should get the chicken wrap with the chef's salad. Yes, I’m going to do it. I’d rather eat the fish and chips, but I’m going to make the healthy choice.

“Yes, I’ll have the fish and chips,” I say to the waiter.

"Why didn't I order the wrap?" I say to myself.

Going to a restaurant and making a healthy choice has always been difficult for me. Most entrees and appetizers are “bad” foods prepared in the unhealthiest manner: deep friend and battered, oiled and fried, sugary and baked. Plus, there is the sheer amount of food and social pressure (directly and indirect) encouraging me to eat.

As you can imagine, the prospect of going out for the night always invokes a variety of thoughts: have fun, but eat something healthy; live a little, eat something bad for you; that looks delicious, I want to eat that too; that looks healthy, I should eat that salad instead.

A year ago, it was a sure bet that despite the best intentions and nutritional knowledge, I would always order an entrĂ©e (sometimes healthy, sometimes not) with French fries. I would pass over choices that did not include French fries as a side option. So I was a little worried as to what would happen when I met up with a group of friends for dinner and drinks at an Irish pub in Cabbagetown.

My plan for the evening was to order a pop and something light to eat. The menu was full of high-fat, big-portioned pub food. My final two choices came down to a half-order of the chef's salad with chicken and the chicken caesar wrap with a chef's salad. In the end, I decided to order the wrap with the chef's salad. 

I considered both the caesar salad and the french fries as my side, but I picked the chef's salad because it was the healthier choice. I know that the other choices such as fish and chips or the macaroni and cheese would have been tastier, but for once in my life, I didn't feel like I'm missing out or wishing that I was thin enough to eat something more fattening. For once, I'm happy with the decision I made, which happened to be the healthy choice.

I talked to my therapist shortly after my trip to Newfoundland and she told me that changing my brain and thinking takes practice. I agree. A month and a half ago, I was still choosing french fries over a side salad. Yesterday, I easily picked the chef's salad instead.

And a completely foreign thought popped into my head: am I actually starting to crave vegetables?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"You just have to want to do it" says Mila Kunis

A friend emailed me this link to an article in the Globe and Mail about a quote from the actress Mila Kunis who lost 20 pounds for her role in Black Swan. In an interview with British Glamour magazine she was quoted as saying, "...when people say, 'I can't lose weight,' no, no, no, you can. Your body can do everything and anything, you just have to want to do it."

Here is the comment I left about this article:

To lose weight you need to eat less calories than your body uses. Sounds easy, but for many people accomplishing this is difficult. Why? Because long-term dieting affects your thinking and can work against you.

After years (decades) of dieting and an eating disorder history, I finally got help from a cognitive behaviour therapist. I discovered that my overeating behaviour is triggered by dieting not by food. Following (or not following) dieting rules produces anxiety and anxiety feels like hunger. In the beginning I could easily will my way through a craving, but as the years went by it became increasingly more difficult. 

If you want to find out what triggers your eating, I recommend cognitive behaviour therapy. I feel like a new person, I'm not thinking about food all the time, battling cravings, and constantly stressed about whether or not I can make it in and out of the store without buying something to eat. And for the first time in my life, I'm losing weight without a diet.

I'm not surprised that Mila Kunis thinks that "you just have to want to do it" in order to lose weight. Most people think that. Anyone on a diet wants to lose weight; the problem is that how they think about food and eating can either help them lose weight or completely sabotage it.
On a positive note, at least Mila acknowledged that she didn't feel attractive at 95 pounds... Let me know what you think.

Previous Post: How do you solve a problem like Oreos?

Monday, August 15, 2011

How do you solve a problem like Oreos?

Oreos. Two chocolate wafer cookies separated by a creamy, sugary, icing that pairs wonderfully with a glass of milk or a bowl of ice cream; great for overeating on the couch, in the car or in the closet.

I love Oreos. I LOVE Oreos! I have overeaten and binged on many Oreos over the years: the original Oreo, double stuf, mint Oreos, Oreo ice cream, and Oreo ice cream sandwiched by two big Oreo cookies. Needless to say, I have all sorts of dieting baggage that accompanies every box of Oreos I decide to buy. I can’t seem to eat just one. Or four. Or even a whole row.

To me, the Oreo cookie represents all “bad” or restricted foods from the last twenty years. Oreos are one of those foods guaranteed to initiate overeating, if not a full-blown binge. Many of the pounds I’m hauling around today are a direct result of eating too many Oreos, especially during my two pregnancies.

In my last post, I wrote about why I always have something sweet (but not too sweet) in my house. I noticed that cupboards completely vacant of all foods of the restricted variety increased my anxiety and obsessive food thoughts. I also wrote about the mixed results of bringing super sweet foods such as Oreos (food with dieting baggage) into the house and how I would either overeat or forget about them entirely.

But, I didn’t write about how I cope with Oreos in the house (because I will always have a hankering for Oreos). Will I buy Oreos? Will I eat Oreos?

Yes, I will buy Oreos. Yes, I will eat (maybe even overeat) Oreos. If I do overeat on Oreos, it is important that I remain positive, do not feel guilty and start again immediately, “I had an oops moment, it happened, and now I’m going to forget about it.”

The good news is that since therapy, I no longer crave Oreos as frequently.  No food (including Oreos) is considered off-limits and the conflicting mental battle of wanting to eat but can’t or shouldn’t eat it thoughts are manageable. So buying Oreos on the rare occasion does not initiate an anxiety-induced turmoil resulting in bingeing. It’s just one of those foods that sometimes I will eat a normal amount and sometimes I’ll eat more.  

Come to think of it, I haven't bought Oreos since May and those Oreos were destined for my son's ice cream birthday cake.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Avoid junk food temptations! Keep junk food out of your house!

It’s one of the most common dieting tips. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with healthy foods; clear your shelves of junk food and sugar. Remove the temptation and you will choose to (or have to) eat healthy food instead. This makes perfect sense right?
I was terrified to bring junk food such as heavenly hash ice cream, two-bite brownies or a family-sized bag of Cadbury Mini-Eggs into my kitchen. Ice cream would be gone within 24 hours; my husband was lucky to get a scoop. I’d eat a small bowl or two before breakfast and any other time of day I could scoop some in a bowl and wolf it down before anyone noticed.
Yes, I need to avoid junk food temptations. Junk food was not welcome in my house.
The annual wrench in my dieting effort (aka Christmas baking) increased my dread for the holiday season. I love baking gingerbread cookies, shortbread cookies and chocolate treats for presents and hostess gifts. But, I could not handle the temptation, I would eat my way through Christmas; I was lucky if I managed to keep some shortbread for New Year’s dinner.
I was approaching the three month mark in my cognitive therapy journey when Christmas rolled around. We were hosting four events: my son’s baptism, Christmas dinner, New Year’s Eve dinner and a family dinner. I baked more cookies than in previous years.
By some sort of miracle, I had lots of cookies for all the events. To my shock, I wasn’t even interested in eating the Christmas baking. Here and there I’d have a gingerbread man or piece of shortbread. Even with all the events and handmade gifts for friends, the cookies almost lasted until February.
Then something weird happened. I was feeling anxious; the hunting and obsessing about food started again. What was going on? I had baked and stored dozens of cookies for almost a month and a half; I managed to navigate a dieting minefield with ease. The temptation was gone, so why was I feeling anxious?
“I felt a sense of loss when all the Christmas baking was gone. Somehow I was comforted by having something sweet in the house. My anxiety increased significantly.” I told my therapist. “I think I need to have something sweet in the house.”
My therapist and I discussed this discovery. For months, I repeated my mantra, “I can eat it if I really want it. I can have more, buy more and make more if I really want it.” It took time and many bowls of granola for my subconscious to actually believe it. But when there was nothing left, (no cookies, no nothing) I was back in diet land: avoid junk food temptation; keep junk food out of your house! Instead avoiding temptation, removing all junk food simply made me crave it even more.
We came up with a plan to experiment with “bad” (or restricted) foods. I did what every magazine article tells you to not do; I brought junk food back into the house. One “bad” food at a time, I brought ice cream, Oreos, brownies and mini cupcakes to see what would happen.
My anxiety level decreased; I was, in fact, comforted by having some sort of treat/sweet food in the house. I could easily ignore ice cream, chips and crackers. With super sweet stuff like Oreos, brownies and mini cupcakes, I experienced mixed results. Sometimes I would forget about the box of Oreos on my pantry shelf, other times I’d eat an entire row of cookies in one sitting.
I brought in new foods such as Nonnis’ biscotti, a tasty treat, but I didn’t covet this food like I do with Oreos.  Sweets without the dieting baggage are the perfect comfort for me. I rarely crave eating the light, crunchy cookies. And when I make the positive choice to eat a biscotti, I eat it slowly (intuitive eating style) so I can enjoy the flavor and texture.
So now I do the exact opposite of dieting convention: I always ensure that I have something sweet (like the biscotti) in my house, sharing shelf space with the healthy foods. I discovered that even if tempting foods are physically removed from my house, this physical hurdle did not quell the psychological temptation. I wanted what I couldn’t have; increasing anxiety and cravings.
Note: I’m not suggesting that you start bringing your restricted foods back into your house. I believe that you need to do what works for you. That may mean keeping the most tempting foods at the store. I had the benefit of making this discovery with help from my therapist and the cognitive behaviour therapy process.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Weight Watchers is too restrictive part 2

I'd like to say that for any dieter reading this, I believe that you should follow the plan (be it Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.) that is working for you. Obviously, for both my friend and I, Weight Watchers no longer worked for us.

My friend's therapist did say that Weight Watchers is one of the better programs on the market. But, like all structured diets, it's still restrictive. You can eat what you want and how much you want until you run out of points.

Whenever I was on Weight Watchers (and between memberships too; can you ever really turn off the diet mentality?) I was constantly worried that I would run out of points and I would dwell on what I could and could not eat. Meal planning was difficult; trying to figure out the proper balance and appropriate amount of quality foods to fuel the body and treats stave off any feelings of deprivation.

My last successful run on Weight Watchers was in 2005 and 2006 in preparation for my wedding. I knew from the outset that the points program wasn't going to work for me. I was one of the few core plan participants.  The core plan worked for me since I could eat unlimited quantities of core foods, tracking was not required and meal planning was fairly simple.

After the birth of my first baby, I again looked to Weight Watchers to lose the baby weight. I joined the online program and selected the core program. I lasted only months. The problem with the core plan is that I could only eat core foods. Sure, I could eat non-core foods, but then I had the freakin' point-planning headache.

Have you considered the psychological ramifications of restricting yourself? Constantly telling yourself that you can't eat this, can't eat that; or don't eat too much of this, don't eat too much of that? It's human nature to want what you can't have. For decades, I told myself that I couldn't eat all sorts of food such as ice cream, chocolate, cookies and even fruit juice.

Of course, you may be thinking that you can eat anything you want in small quantities (the flexibility of the points plan allows this). This strategy may work for you, but it could have the same psychological affects on your eating as restricting the type of foods you eat.

Let's say you've figured out that you have enough points to eat half a bag of Miss. Vickies' potato chips. But you really want to eat the whole bag of chips. Your anxiety level rises; you want the whole bag of chips, a half bag is no longer enough. There is an internal battle of wills: your motivation to lose weight and will to resist versus human nature and anxiety-induced hunger.

When my dieting career began, motivation and will power easily overcame my natural need to want what I couldn't have. As my dieting-induced anxiety increased, the human nature/anxiety side began to win the battle (these internal conflicts increased in frequency).

I suspect that not all dieters have this problem. I think some dieters aren't bothered by eating smaller quantities of food and not eating other foods at all.

So, if you are on Weight Watchers or some other structured diet, here are my tips for you:
  • Make a positive choice "I'm choosing to eat a peach as a snack" rather than a negative decision "No, I can't eat a bag of potato chips for snack, I have to eat this peach instead."
  • Whatever choice of food you decide to eat remain positive; don't dwell on the food that you're not eating. "I can eat the bag of potato chips if I really want to, but I've made the decision to not eat it because I would like to lose weight."
  • Same goes for quantity of food. If you've decided to eat a smaller portion of food, don't obsess about your decision. "I can eat more potato chips if I really want to, but I have made the choice to eat a smaller amount because I would like to lose weight." 
  • If you do eat a food or an amount of food that pushes you over your food limit, don't become preoccupied with your moment of overindulgence. Forget about your splurge and start fresh; feeling badly and obsessing about a binge or an overeating episode will only increase your dieting related anxiety. "I had an oops moment. It's over, I'm moving on."  

A final thought: what if the pressure to stay within your daily and weekly points limit causes so much anxiety that it triggers binges and overeating? Why do so many dieters gain back the weight they've lost and more?

Quick Links:
Weight Watchers is too restrictive part 1

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weight Watchers is too restrictive

We met more than 11 years ago on the banks of the credit river at the Don Rowing Club. My friend has soft, curly, long, brown (occasionally blonde) hair, and a huge smile that shows off her high cheekbones.

We are both athletic in nature. We’d rather be training for a 5 or 10 K run or a rowing or dragon boating regatta than spending time on an elliptical machine in the gym. Over the years, we’ve laughed, cried and chatted about everything from boys and career plans to friends and family, to fitness and our mutual subject of obsession, weight.

Both of our waistlines have been expanding over the years. Up and down our weight has gone; through cycles of dieting and overeating; on or off Weight Watchers; training for an athletic event or lazing on the couch just talking about it. I’m a lot bigger than her (my weight gain exploded during my two pregnancies) but for both of us, traditional dieting had become increasingly difficult.

She was very interested when I talked to her about what I was learning about my eating issues in cognitive therapy. We talked about how restricting yourself on a diet damages the psychology of your eating; anxiety and how it triggers hunger; and how dieting, following the all or nothing rules, results in anxious and guilt-ridden feelings triggering binges and episodes of overeating. We talked how it made so much sense and she is one of my friends supporting my blog.

This spring, in a bid to lose weight again, she decided to register for the online Weight Watchers program. For a couple of months, she’s basically gained and lost the same 2 pounds. Finally, she talked to her therapist about it.

“Weight Watchers in too restrictive for you,” her therapist told her.

In order to change her relationship with food, she told her that she needs to want to make a change and she needs to believe in herself. Her therapist left her with a couple of to do’s: introduce off limit foods back into rotation (such as chips, chocolate and cookies) and develop self-trust by setting and completing daily tasks.

I asked her about what she meant about self-trust. Her therapist told her that she puts her trust into Weight Watchers rather than trusting herself to lose weight. I have to admit, that was a little a-ha moment for myself too, because even a year ago I would have told you that I absolutely, under no other circumstances, would I even attempt to lose weight without some sort of structured, traditional, weight loss program. There was no way I could lose weight without Weight Watchers. A year later, I’m doing it, I’m losing weight without Weight Watchers (albeit at a much slower pace) and the intense craving for junk food has decreased significantly.

So my dear friend, I think you are now well on your way to figuring out your own eating/food puzzle. I remember telling you that I sort of wished that I had lost weight on Weight Watchers and then figured out my eating issues with a cognitive therapist. But I think I would have run into the same dieting firewall as you. Dieting would be impossible, and like you, I would have gained and lost the same two pounds over and over again.