Archive for ‘Tips for Recovery’

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 8, 2010

Tips for Recovery Series :: (4) Eat Like a Child

by Ashley Solomon

Welcome back to the Tips for Recovery Series! Again, a small hiatus (this time to address Girls on the Run), but now we’re back for the final tip…

To review, in this series I’m sharing with you some tips for eating disorder recovery. However, these tips can really apply to any of us who have ever struggled with disordered eating, emotional eating, or simply live in a world where eating has become distorted and complex (I believe that would be all of  us, unless you live on a planet to which I want to move!). Don’t forget to leave your own tips in the comment section below or e-mail me at nourishthesoulblog@gmail.com! ____________________________________________________________________________________________

If you missed any of the previous tips, you can find them here:

Tip 1: Develop Empathy for Your Body

Tip 2: Stop Supporting the Culture of Thinness

Tip 3: Take a Risk!

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Tip 4: Eat Like a Child

No, I don’t mean eating sliced hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for every meal… not that those aren’t tasty at times! What I mean is learning to eat based on our bodies cues of hunger and satiety, which some of us refer to as intuitive eating (related to mindful eating, but not the same thing).

Here’s a (true) story for you:

Recently, Justin and I were invited over to our friends’ home for a Friday evening cookout with Justin’s classmates. As we sat outside on this mercifully cooler evening, sipping on Belgian beer and nibbling on delicious salmon dip and bruschetta, I noticed that my mind was somewhat preoccupied with what I was consuming (and not in a mindful, “oh this is so heavenly!” kind of way). I noticed, because I have gotten reasonably good at being cognizant of my own thoughts, that I was thinking about everything else I had eaten that day, the length of my run that morning, and the food that I knew was to come for the main course.

As I was observing my own internal dialogue, my attention was suddenly turned to our friends’ three-year-old, a spunky blonde boy who, I must point out, speaks three languages. But that’s beside the point. The point is that I noticed this little man eating chips like it was his job. And then he ate a cupcake. And then he started to eat a cookie, but put it down after about two bites. HE PUT IT DOWN!

Okay, so maybe I should explain what calls for the all-caps. I have a very hard time putting things down. And if the “thing” is a chocolate chip cookie. Well. God help me.

What amazed me about this little boy is that he was truly eating based on his hunger. He wasn’t eating based on how good or bad his day was at preschool. He wasn’t eating based on the amount of calories in his PB&J at lunch. He wasn’t eating because he worried what the hostess (granted, it was his mom) would think about his eating habits. He just ate.

Me, being childlike as... a child. I've clearly always been an emotional person.

Intuitive eating is all about just eating. Not eating just to eat, but eating based on the signals that our bodies so lovingly and wisely provide us. It’s about trusting our bodies to consistently provide those signals. And it’s about eating in a way that respects our bodies, as well as our minds and souls. Here’s a great primer from Christie at Honoring Health!

Trust your body? Yes, that’s quite a foreign idea to many of us. But it’s the foundation of intuitive eating. And it works! (Here’s some empirical evidence, for nerds like me!) But trusting your body means giving up the fight that you have had against your body. It means going back to that place before your mind (not brain, but mind) or culture or internalized messages took over control of what you put in your mouth. It means becoming a child again.

Perhaps the first step in the journey to eating like a child again is rejecting the “diet myth.” This is the myth that we begin to buy into at a certain age (for me I believe it was approximately seven) that our hunger has to be controlled by external means (e.g. counting calories and fat grams, taking pills and other substances to suppress appetite, etc.) It’s the myth that our bodies cannot be trusted and our hunger is dangerous. Children don’t think of hunger as dangerous. Hunger is simply hunger. It’s a need to which attention should be paid and then they can go about their business of playing in the sandbox.  So I am challenging you this week to be childlike in your experience of hunger.

Some questions to respond to below:

What does hunger feel like, when you really pay attention? What foods did you love as a child, the  ones you ate without considering anything but your desire for them?


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August 3, 2010

Tips for Recovery Series :: (3) Take a Risk!

by Ashley Solomon

And we’re back to the mini-series! Sorry for the break in consistency – there were some time-sensitive issues to address (like Change the Way You See Week!).

To catch some of you up, I was recently asked by Justine Hoepfner, an author and speaker who is currently developing an eating disorder recovery book, about the “top tips” I had related to eating disorder recovery. I’m sharing with you some of what I shared with Justine in this series.

If you missed Tip 1 or Tip 2, check them out!


Tip 3: Take a Risk!

Eating disorders, especially restrictive ones, are about control and rigidity. They “work” by keeping a person locked inside a world of rules of his or her own making, and this does not apply strictly to food. Limiting your diet may put you inside the box, but limiting your choices and experiences in other areas of life keeps you firmly planted there.

A person with an eating disorder is often petrified to take a risk or try something, anything, new. A creature of both habit and perfectionism, I myself know this fear all too well. For someone struggling with eating, knowing precisely what she will do each day, how much time she would spend on each activity, how many calories she would consume, and so on, allows her a false sense of power and comfort. Sadly, however, this inflexibility can be both part of the cause and the perpetuation of an eating disorder.

The need for order and control can lead some us, especially those predisposed to disordered eating, to control every morsel we eat. It also keeps us tucked in a safe little haven from which we never had to venture. Thus, one important aspect of recovery is to begin taking risks.

This does include trying new foods and incorporating a new way of looking at eating, but it means more than that as well. It also means simply getting out of your comfort zone at times, whether that means riding a roller coaster you’re are terrified of, calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in years, applying for a job you feel under-qualified for, or ordering french fries instead of the fruit.

As I mentioned (and have addressed in previous posts), part of who I am is someone who is quite comfortable with routines and being able to predict the future. But another part of who I am craves what is new and exciting. I have to try, despite my reservations, to feed that part of myself as well. For me it helps to be married to a guy who loves adventure and excitement, and so regularly pushes me beyond my comfort zone. Here’s an example:

In planning our honeymoon, I thought zip-lining in Costa Rica sounded like great fun. When we got there, however, I was not so thrilled to be out of my element.

BUT, I faced my fear and took a risk. (Here’s proof! Though not especially flattering…)

And I ended up… you guessed it!… HAPPY! (Or just thankful to be back on solid ground.)

While Justin’s gentle nudging is helpful, there are many times when he’s not there, and I must push myself to do what might be unknown and therefore scary. I try to remind myself what order and regularity have gotten me (boring Friday nights!) and try to go ahead and take a risk.

What risks have you taken lately?