When it comes to eating, here are a few of my top recommendations:
- Let go of counting calories!!! A calorie does NOT equal fat and weight gain. A calorie is actually a measure of energy – it is the amount of energy or heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. Furthermore, foods cannot be reduced to a single numeric value and that number be reflective of its benefits. Nutrition has very little to do with calories, if anything at all. Contrary to popular belief, my body does not tally up at the end of each day how many calories I have consumed and expended then alter its weight accordingly. My body is far more complex than that! There are soooo many variables and my body uses different kinds of food/energy in different ways for different processes. Psalm 139:13-14 says: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous—how well I know it”. So, I have thrown out the concept of calorie calculation; I’m trusting my dietitian and doctor to shape my meal plan around what my body needs to repair and function at its maximum capacity; and I’m trusting my body to use that energy it receives in the way it most needs it and the way God creatively designed it. My body is a mass of systems and processes and cannot be reduced to an overly simplistic single calculation.
- Let go of reading ‘nutritional’ labels– I find that the desire to fixate on the numbers (calories, kilojoules, grams of sugar, grams of protein, grams of fat, etc etc) is often really powerful and I end up spending hours comparing every label of every brand in the store, making selections based on false beliefs. It generally then paralyses me and I end up walking out with nothing. This is not healthy. Reading labels does not equal increased knowledge of nutrition. My housemate used to come shopping with me and check the labels for me to ensure they didn’t contain that which I was allergic to, and would then remove the labels from the products to eliminate the temptation to peek and obsess! Now, labels hold little power over me.
- Alarms to remind me to eat– I have created 6 recurring alarms on my phone to go off each day at my allotted meal times (7.30am, 10am, 12.30pm, 3pm, 6pm, and 8.30pm). I no longer have any excuse for ‘forgetting’ to eat. Without the alarms, it is easy for one of my meal times to slide into the next without consuming anything, and although it might not be an active decision to allow the eating disorder to take some ground, it does so passively. Even ground taken passively by the eating disorder, is ground that healthy Sarah is relinquishing. By setting these alarms, I take back control of my life as when the alarm sounds, it requires a more active decision to eat or not to eat…and when I stop and think about my goals and where I want to be, I usually choose to behave in accordance with my values, adhere to my meal plan and eat.
- Mechanical eating – When my alarm goes off, I eat – whether I feel like it or not, whether I’m hungry or not, no matter how nauseous I feel, I eat what I have pre-planned according to my meal plan and menu…I take the decision making out of it, count to 3, take a deep breath, and just do it. I don’t always like it and initially, this can be really tough, but the more time and space I give to thinking about it, the harder it becomes. I remove the decision making by just doing it.
- Access to ACCURATE nutritional information – There is way too much hogwash available on the internet and even printed in books that are NOT messages of health and wellbeing, even though they are cloaked in such terms. I have fallen prey to so many fad diets, and ‘healthy lifestyles’ promoted by chemists, celebrities, and media. They feed off consumers’ inability to maintain unsustainable diets. Even when searching for nutritional information, I was affronted with site after site focusing on calories, irrelevant data, and ads for diets. In response to this identified gap, I have assembled a group of dietitians, doctors, eating disorder therapists, and leaders in the field of nutrition to begin work on a project called ‘No Numbers Nutrition’ (3N). No Numbers Nutrition will be a resource produced across a range of readily accessible mediums, designed to provide nutritional information regarding macro-nutrients, micro-nutrients and specific benefits of various foods, and how they contribute to eating disorder recovery and overall health and well-being. This collection of resources will be produced in a booklet form; as a box of index cards; as a website and Facebook page; and as an iPhone/android app. It will increase and maintain exposure to evidence-based healthy messages and recovery-facilitating material, whilst dispelling myths promoted by the multi-billion dollar diet industry; encouraging critical thinking and media literacy; and limiting exposure to triggering sources of information. Un-demonising specific foods or food groups will support the cultivation of a healthy understanding of the nutrients the body requires and their physiological significance. As Hippocrates said ‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food’. For more information on No Numbers Nutrition and to be notified of when it is released, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Mindful Eating – Mindful eating has been found to support some people in identifying hunger and satiety cues; breaking free from food rules; beginning to enjoy healthy, flexible and relaxed eating practices; and helping to disconnect from habitual, unsatisfying and harmful habits and behaviours. The Eating Disorder Foundation of Victoria have released an information sheet on mindful eating which can be accessed here.
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