Friday, July 08, 2016

Diets and Life and Why I'm Going to Grad School

I've been on a bit of a crazy ride lately. Literally crazy, or, you know, craziER.

After a few years of learning everything I could learn about holistic nutrition, I had determined that I wanted to go to school, get a degree in holistic nutrition and open a practice coaching people around their relationships with food. I'd seen in my own life how a whole foods, plant-based diet had so positively impacted my life and I really wanted to share it. I read up on all the various modes/theories around eating--Paleo, Whole 30, Zone, Hormone, Intuitive Eating, Eat for Life --all of them.

And then last October, I joined a diet program that seemed like the perfect fit for me.  It was centered around research done around how the brain responds to certain foods, and it was based on a 12-step program that created "bright lines" against sugar and flour. I'd done a lot of research and had used my own body as a testing ground for how sugar and flour affect me, and this program really seemed to be speaking to me. I kind of wanted to lose a little weight, but mostly, this program promised me PEACE around food. The idea is that you automate your food so that you don't think about it anymore and suddenly, your life opens up. I was sold.

I've been searching for that peace for a long time.  From the outside, I look pretty normal, but my head was really full of The Crazy when it came to food. I'd just accepted it, the way I accepted that I have a disabled foot.  I had an eating disorder as a teen and all through my 20s, and even after I entered into recovery, I was just never free of disordered thinking around food.  It's like an alcoholic in recovery --you're never NOT an alcoholic; you're no longer drinking.

So anyway, I joined this program called Bright Line Eating. The founder, Susan Pierce Thompson, is a psychologist and a likable, articulate personality. The program has weekly video modules, and online community for support, and a very strict structure. You weigh and measure all of your food which you plan out the night before. You eat three meals, no snacking. The program is full of these pithy sayings: "Hunger is not an emergency." and "No one ever starved to death between meals."

So, I lost about ten pounds really fast and then I stopped losing weight. My body, after 17 years of abuse as a bulimic, tends to go into starvation mode at the drop of a cracker. At one point, I calculated that I was taking in about 1,100 calories per day, and this while averaging about two hours of yoga per day. It's so clear now that I was just...starving. Literally.

I kept waiting for the peace to arrive. But you know what? Peace doesn't come when you are actively undernourishing your body. I kept playing wth my food plan, restricting more and more, but I still wasn't losing weight. Finally, one day, I was making some herbal tea and I looked down at tea mixture and I was so hungry, so starved, that I started EATING it. And then I ate a lot of other things. And then I thought about purging --for the first time in almost 20 years.

Which led to a full-on panic attack. I reached out to the leadership at Bright Line eating and was told to just "stay the course." Which is not very helpful when you feel like your recovery of almost 20 years is slipping through your hands.

I withdrew from the program. I unsubscribed from the videos. I left the on-line support community. I set about recovery all over again. It was heartbreaking and it was really, really hard.

I'm still not back to where I was. It's just really hard work.

Because here's the thing about diets: they don't work.  I mean, there are always examples of a group of people who do well in each program, but long-term, diets don't work. There's all kinds of data on this. There is no one answer for everyone. And people with a history of eating disorders need to be particularly careful when choosing a weight loss plan.

I think I've figured out why diets do not work long-term. It's because weight loss is actually an inside job. It begins with understanding that, for some of us, food is just a physical manifestation of our mental health and self esteem. You can't start with the external and hope it changes you on the inside. There are a lot of people telling you to change your behavior, but I believe that, for a lot of us, behavior when it come to what we eat is just a symptom. To really address the symptom of disordered eating, you have to find the root cause.

So I'm going grad school to get my Masters of Arts in Counseling. I still am really interested in the healing properties of food and I'm hoping to find a way to dovetail the knowledge I have with the knowledge I am hoping to gain about the human psyche so that maybe I can help people find true peace around food. As always, I will share my knowledge with you and keep you posted.

So much love,
Barb