August 22, 2010

Baby Steps :: Start Eating Breakfast

by Ashley Solomon

Before we get started, I want to introduce you to a new series that will occur periodically – though not consecutively – on Nourishing the Soul. The series (as you’ve figured out by now, because you can all read) is called “Baby Steps” and it introduces small changes that each of us can make to better nourish our bodies, minds and souls. These are designed to be practical tips that you can incorporate into your life – starting today! (or maybe tomorrow…)

Baby Steps :: Start Eating Breakfast

Just like your day, what better way to kick off this new series than to focus on breakfast! I remember long, long ago when I didn’t consistently eat breakfast – or when breakfast for me consisted of a jaunt to Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru (and no, I was not just getting their amazing coffee to accompany my homemade flax-seed muffin) – and I would hear those annoying know-it-alls in their sing-song voices say, “You know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” …And then I would want to smack these people in the face. Breakfast didn’t seem all that important to me. Is cereal really that appetizing? Besides, I wasn’t even hungry in the morning. How could you possibly eat right after waking up? No, my body needs a few hours to “get going.”

Any of this sound familiar?

It should, because at least 51% of you out there do not regularly eat breakfast, according to the International Food Information Council (2007). Interestingly (at least I find these things interesting), there appear to be significant racial differences, as only 22% of blacks reported eating breakfast every day in a Harvard study. I’m happy to report that I am no longer counted among these statistics. And now I’ll tell you why:

It keeps my weight under control. The Mayo Clinic reports that eating breakfast not only jump starts our metabolism, but it helps reduce overeating later in the day. Breakfast keeps us satiated long enough to make it to mid-day, which prevents us from going bananas at Taco Bell on our lunch hour. Not only that, but skipping breakfast means you’ve fasted for at least twelve to eighteen hours. That’s a long time for our bodies to go without energy – and can result in an increase in our insulin response. Know what happens next? (I’ll tell you.) Our blood sugar drops, our fat storage increases, and we gain weight.

It keeps me on the right track. If I’ve eaten a semi-nutritious breakfast, I notice I’m more likely to continue making healthy choices throughout the day at other meals. Not only do I not feel that burning hunger and end up eating whatever sugary concoction the nurses on my unit have brought in that day (it’s incredible how many sweets are on a hospital unit!), but I have at least one success to draw from in making other food choices.

It helps me focus and concentrate. We always hear about the importance of children eating breakfast for improved school performance, and the same is true for work performance as well. I personally notice a major difference in my ability to focus when I’ve eaten my Wheaties (okay, I don’t really eat Wheaties…). And considering I work with people who expect me to listen carefully to their problems and provide (usually) sensible responses, I think it’s probably important that I can concentrate. Maybe.

It makes me nicer to my husband and coworkers in the morning. Low blood sugar can leave you irritable, depressed, and with a mean headache, and I notice a distinct difference in my mood if I haven’t eaten breakfast soon enough. Just ask my husband if you don’t believe me. In addition, breakfast foods rich in folic acid, B-vitamins, and omega-3s keep our emotional health in check. For more on the mood-food connection, check out this post.

Hopefully if you’re weren’t eating breakfast before, you’re convinced enough to start trying to make it a daily habit. If you’re not yet convinced (or you’re just being difficult), I’ve pulled together some of my favorite blogger breakfast ideas to tempt you into giving the first meal a fair shake.


From Living With a Healthy Hunger :: Banana Oatmeal

From The Front Burner :: Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal (a personal favorite!)

From A Weight Lifted :: Watermelon Smoothie

From Oh She Glows :: Overnight Oats (love them!)

From Oh She Glows :: Grilled Cashew Butter and Blueberry Sandwich


From Carrots ‘N’ Cake :: Almond Butter Stuffed French Toast (Can I get an “Amen”!?)

From Carrots ‘N’ Cake :: Polenta Breakfast Pizza

From Health for the Whole Self :: Asparagus Quiche

From Hangry Pants :: Sour Cream Coffee Cake

From Hangry Pants :: Ricotta and Orange Pancakes

Do you eat breakfast? What are some of your favorite foods to eat in the a.m.?


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August 18, 2010

People, places, things :: Identifying triggers

by Ashley Solomon

I can already tell you that my mother is going to be none too happy about this post. But the inevitable phone call I will receive tonight will be the price I pay to address a topic I think is extremely important: triggers, specifically ones that are difficult to recognize and confront. And hopefully she’ll forgive me by the time she gets to the end!

My brothers, Justin, and I - Photo by Gabi + Jeremy Photography

I say that Mama Neu, as my friends and I lovingly refer to her, will not be happy with this post because she herself is one of my biggest triggers for unhealthy eating. Well, her and the rest of my immediate family (but mom’s get blamed for everything, so why stop now? 🙂 ). Growing up in Cincinnati, my family didn’t exactly have an active or healthy lifestyle. In fairness, my mom was for a brief time a single parent, and then quickly a married mother of three, working full-time with a husband who often worked late or out-of-town. In addition, my mom is not the most open-minded of eaters herself. This meant that my brothers and I tended to eat fairly simple meals that lacked a bit in nutritional value (okay, yes, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese does have calcium…). We always had “junk food” (a term I really don’t like to use, but for the sake of simplicity will use it in this post) around the house. Breakfast was not a priority, and if eaten was often a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru or an Entenmanns donut (I still crave those chocolate pieces of heaven…). Vegetables were optional and not particularly varied (green beans, again!?).

I want to emphasize here that this post is not intended to demonize my parents for how they nourished their children. I’m quite sure that many, many parents out there have struggled with feeding their children in a balanced way, particularly twenty years ago when there was a much more limited focus on these issues and less information available.

But, this was where I learned, at least initially, about nourishing my body. The home is the primary source of learning for children about the meaning of food. I’m not addressing the science of developing “taste” for foods here, but rather the cultural and psychological significance of food. The things that I learned as a child were that food should be simple, taste is the most important factor, and that food is an integral part of connection. These are not all bad lessons, but taken to the extreme, as I do with most things, they can lead to some pretty unhealthy habits.

While I have branched out from my family’s more limited palate and have begun to value how foods make me feel physically and mentally (in addition to how they taste), I still struggle with the third “lesson” I learned, the one about food equaling connection. My family, like many others, bonded over food. Meal time was family time and every celebration or event was marked with some edible decadence. This is not inherently a problem. In fact, I think the cultural significance of sharing meals is incredibly beautiful. However, going back to the issue of extremes, problems arise when connection relies solely on food.

I began early on to equate food with love. And when I didn’t feel this love externally and internally (for reasons only my old therapists know!), I fed myself (a lot) to try to achieve the feeling of love and connection. As you of course already know, this does. not. work. I was left feeling very full and very alone.

Fast forward to today and I am a fairly healthy eater, have wide culinary interests, and have learned to receive love and give love to myself. But then I make a visit home…

As soon as I walk into the house, the urge to eat comes rushing back to me. No matter if I’ve just stopped at Skyline Chili and had a three-way or I’ve finished a big breakfast, I walk into my parent’s home and I want JUNK FOOD!!!! Seriously, you’d think I was one of Pavlov’s dogs the way my mouth salivates when I enter that old kitchen. I start dreaming of donuts and ice cream and potato chips (and I don’t even really like potato chips!). I feel like my ability to reign in this insatiable hunger has been left safely back in my apartment. So, my Cincinnati home is a trigger. I now know this.

What’s perhaps scarier is that this same thing happens when I’m around my parents, even in a different location, like, say, when they come to visit me in Philadelphia. Granted, some of this related to the fact that it’s like a mini-vacation when they are visiting us – all about doing fun things, eating at new restaurants, and relaxing. But for me it’s more than that. It’s an urge to not just eat, but to overeat and completely indulge. I have more difficulty gauging my body’s cues and feel more compelled to eat emotionally. So I now know that, unfortunately, my family is also a trigger.

My parents, Justin, and I in Atlantic City over the 4th

So… how do we deal with triggers? Well, that’s for another post due to the extensiveness of the topic. The first step, however, is figuring out what your triggers are. In AA and other recovery programs, a lot of emphasis is put on identifying PEOPLE, PLACES, and THINGS that trigger you to use alcohol or other substances. (For most of us, PEOPLE are the hardest to identify and change). This is a great principle for whatever your issue may be – emotional eating, compulsive gambling, intense anxiety – and requires some deep investigative work. It’s not easy work – I’ll give you that. But it’s important work in the journey to leading a new and different and healthier life.

So, have you figured out what your own triggers are? How you determined what have triggers you? How do you cope with triggers you can’t avoid or are hard to admit?


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August 15, 2010

Beyond the Pro-Ana/Mia Culture

by Ashley Solomon

“At a certain weight, which is different for everyone, you will lose your period. This is a good thing because it means that you’re losing weight.”

“Getting a pedicure is a good way to distract from eating AND to make yourself feel prettier.”

These quotes, heartbreaking on a number of levels, come directly from a website I was just browsing to research this post on Pro-Ana/Mia websites (“ana” is jargon for anorexia nervosa and “mia” for bulimia nervosa). Despite being very familiar with these sites from working in the field, I never cease to be amazed, and horrified, by the information being promoted. Examining these sites, my heart breaks for their authors, for their readers and members, and for the families of those suffering.

If you’re not already familiar with Pro-Ana/Mia websites (which, in most cases, is a very good thing), I’ll offer a brief description. These sites serve as a forum for the advocacy of eating disorders as a lifestyle choice as opposed to a serious and deadly mental illness. While admittedly these sites differ in their philosophy and approach, most offer support not for the individuals who are engaged in eating disordered behaviors, but for the eating disorder itself. They provide eating disorder tips, tricks for hiding the disorder, “thinspiration” (e.g. photographs of very thin celebrities), chat rooms, message boards for posting latest weights, and a multitude of other resources for those who are not ready for recovery. Some even include contests and a subscription for a daily e-mail to remind the user “just how good being thin feels.” (Please note that I am avoiding detailed descriptions or including URLs so as not to promote these sites.)

The Pro-Ana Food Pyramid, as seen on a popular website.

Think that just the very troubled teeny boppers frequent these sites? Think again. A recent survey (Custers & Van den Bulck, 2009) revealed that 12.6% of girls and 5.9% of boys reported having visited these sites at some point. While many young people may visit out of relatively benign curiosity, even a single viewing can be dangerous, according to researchers. In a well-designed experiment, Wilson and Cass (2007) found that participants who viewed a pro-ana website just once developed lowered self-esteem and an increased preoccupation with weight loss. Among those with eating disorders, the rates of reported viewing are expectedly higher. And, once again, their visits can be dangerous. Over 96% of these individuals indicated that they learned new weight loss and purging methods through these sites (Wilson, Peebles, Hardy, & Litt, 2006).

New research, however, indicates that it’s not the latest purging technique that draws visitors to these sites, but rather the allure of social support. Possibly as both a cause of and a result of their disorders, individuals with eating problems tend to feel segregated from the others, stuck in their own personal dungeons. An eating disorder can be a very lonely place, and thus some individuals use the internet to alleviate the potentially crushing feeling of isolation. Pro-Ana/Mia sites, while full of potentially dangerous ideas, offer their users the holy grail of womanhood… acceptance.

Understanding this need for acceptance and support, Michael Levine, PhD, a professor and author (and, for the sake of full disclosure, one of my personal idols), along with a student, Kelsey Chapman, developed an answer to Pro-Ana/Mia sites. Their site, Beyond Ana and Mia, aims to provide a support network for individuals who may or may not be ready for recovery, but does so in a safer and healthier manner. Their site offers users a section for creative expression, information about eating disorders and recovery, and a moderated forum (meaning no diet tips or “thinspiration” permitted).

The beauty of Beyond Ana and Mia and similar efforts is that, instead of simply dismissing or chastising the more dangerous websites, they have used research to identify what the real purpose of these sites are – to offer the human connection that all of us, even those with eating disorders, desire. They are then able to offer that same service in a way that supports not the disorder, but the person. This speaks to the importance of research and a thoughtful exploration of the issues. And to that I say, Bravo.


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