Embracing Thanksgiving vs. Fighting It

Thanksgiving is practically here! Are you getting excited yet??? 

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While the temperatures may be dropping and snow is creeping its way into the forecasts, I find this time of year to be the warmest and coziest of all. A friend asked me the other night if I experienced any of the seasonal "winter blues" that accompanies the shorter daylight hours. My response was that my holiday cheer buffers any depressing thought right outta there - and it's true! The months of November and December are saturated with family traditions and wonderful memories that I relive and revive each year. And Thanksgiving, with its decadent spread that populates buffets and dining room tables, is the harbinger of holiday spirit - setting the stage for the festivities to come. 

In the past I have approached Thanksgiving with anxious trepidation. I viewed Thanksgiving like the ultimate nutritional obstacle course. How could I get out of there alive? Could I hurtle the fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy and dodge grandma's sweet potato casserole in time to pivot to avoid the temptation of the apple pie? (Seriously sounds like the BEST obstacle course around - sign me up!

I would google survival strategies on how to avoid the most tempting of foods and then employ those strategies the day of like a troop strapping on his helmet for battle. And what inevitably happened each year? Overwhelmed by the allure of the "forbidden foods," I would eventually chuck my helmet and eat until my stomach hurt and then spend the entire evening berating myself to the tune of:

"Well, good going. You completely failed. How does it feel to have overindulged like that?"

"Oh my god, I probably gained 5 pounds just today. Tomorrow I start a new leaf: green smoothies every day!" 

"I need to hit the gym tomorrow. I wonder how long I would have to run to work off today's meal?"

Sound familiar? Historically speaking, that "strategy" of avoidance fails every time. And yet, why did I make the same plan year after year and expect different results? With some intuitive eating principles under my belt this year, my strategy looks a little different:

Lean into Thanksgiving. Forbid nothing. Eat what I love and banish the guilt.

Thanksgiving is a fraction of the year. 0.2% of the year to be exact. Yes, there are other holidays in the year that involve some amounts of overindulgence, but the point is: it makes zero sense to make your primary objective to "eat clean*" on a few days out of the year that are just so darn special. More than that, how wonderful would it be if we could all just focus on how amazing tasting all of the dishes are instead of making comments about our "blown diet" or impending weight gain?

I challenge you all to go into your holiday welcoming in all the warmth. Eat everything you wish and really focus on how it tastes. Revel in those moments of pure sweet potato+turkey+cranberry sauce bites bliss. Give yourself permission to enjoy everything you love. Focus on being present in those moments with your family and friends instead of having a negative internal struggle. Who knows? You may find yourself without a stomach ache at the end just because those foods were no longer "forbidden." 

But even if your tummy is overstuffed (it very well may be), do not despair. Have the self-compassion to recognize that you were enjoying yourself with your family. Food brings emotional and physical pleasure - it's a scientific fact. Know that the overall pattern of our lifestyles, the 99.8% of the year, is far more important than a day or two or three of extravagance. 

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Dealing with the Remnants of My ED - Part 1

These past couple of weeks I have been working through the book “Intuitive Eating,” and, boy, what a journey it has been. Among many things (that I will discuss in later posts), reading this book has made me reflect on my personal relationship with food. While I don’t want to dwell too much on personal issues on this blog, I make exceptions when I believe that sharing my experience could benefit others. 

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So I wanted to write today about my disordered eating experience: a time when food and exercise consumed my life and became a very unhealthy obsession. To keep this from turning into a novel, I’ve divided this into two posts. In this first post, I will describe my own ED experience beginning to present-day and in the second I️’ll detail how my ED continues to effect my relationship with food today. 

From the best I can remember, throughout my entire childhood I had a positive relationship with food. I ate when I felt hungry and remained entirely ignorant about what foods were "good" and "bad" for me. My diet consisted of things like Reeses Puffs, Pringles, and bags of Pizza Rolls and Bagel Bites. I was never truly overweight as an adolescent but I remember feeling awkward and out of place in my own skin. I started hating the body I saw in the mirror because it did not match what I saw in magazines. 

I went to college and after taking an undergraduate course in nutrition, I realized that I should probably eat healthier. My relationship with food changed completely. I took up running and began restricting my intake of fat and obsessively counting calories. I kept an intricate journal detailing every ounce of food and shame I felt when the scale moved up instead of down. I declined social events and activities because I would not be able to control my eating habits. My weeks revolved around workout schedules and meal plans. When other parts of my life spiraled out of control, I took solace in the fact that I had complete control over this aspect of my life. 

The result of all of my efforts were, on the surface, positive. I was losing weight and becoming an athletic person I had never been growing up. I was eating healthier. What was so bad about that? But even I could not deny that something was amiss. One morning when my family was making toast to go with our eggs, my toast slice almost got accidentally buttered. I freaked out. 

If I didn’t get to the gym, I would have massive amounts of anxiety and thought I was going to become overweight. I was terrified of slipping into old eating habits. I thought that if I deviated from my routine in the slightest, everything would be undone. I would lose control. 

While strangers would compliment my weight loss, which propelled me forward, family members expressed measured concern. I reassured them, saying I “had everything under control."

In the end, I lost 20 (unnecessary) pounds and wanted to lose more. But something did not feel right. The number (which got lower by the day) never made me feel satisfied. I was never happy in my skinnier body either, one of protruding shoulder blades and ribs, with a thigh gap and chiseled legs. I still dream about this body. But I saw an imperfect body in the mirror. I wanted to become wafer thin- I wanted to disappear. But on my way towards disappearing, my body started screaming. My hips hurt and popped when I ran so I had to stop. My joints felt like bone grinding against bone. I was always cold. And my mind obsessed. Unable to focus in class, I would spend hours looking at decadent pictures of foods I couldn’t eat, looking up recipes of low-calorie “healthy” foods. I had no social life and kept to myself to avoid people judging my eating habits. 

It all came crashing down one day in a political science lecture. I knew something was wrong- my body felt wrong. I opened my computer and googled “signs of eating disorder” and slowly I realized every sign pertained to me. My pulse started to race and my face grew hot as tears welled in my eyes. Unable to contain myself, I ran out of the lecture hall and outside to get some air. 

And all of a sudden I saw myself with concerned outside eyes. I needed help. But I knew if I couldn’t manage to help myself I would have to be treated. At the time I associated seeking treatment with being a burden. I knew that it would inevitably cost my family money we didn’t have. And even though they would have done anything for me, I did not want that burden, my burden, falling on them. 

I did not know what getting better meant beyond re-gaining weight, but I figured that was a start. So that night I googled a new phrase: “how to gain weight healthfully” and started another process that has taken me to present-day. A process that has included numerous breakdowns, mourning the loss of the tiny body I had unhealthfully obtained, and seeing a therapist. I wish I could say that it has been a linear progression from that time to today, sick to well. That there weren’t days I wanted to shrink back into that tiny self. But I can’t.

It has been a journey that I will continue to live for the rest of my life, full of ups and downs.

Next week I will talk about where I am at today, my triumphs and struggles, and how Intuitive Eating gives me hope. Thank you for reading.  

 

Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pecans & Dates

These days I️ find myself naturally leaning into (see what I did there?) the flavors and ingredients found on the Thanksgiving table (i.e. pumpkin, squash, and I️ got the cranberry cravings coming on!). It’s like my body wants to milk all these delicious flavor combinations for everything they’re worth while the season is here! Well, this salad does the trick for me this week! If an indulgent summertime slaw and crisp winter salad had a baby in November, this brussels sprout salad would be it. 

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I’ve found over the years that plain salads with little flavor (i.e. from fat and protein) just don’t do it for me. If I️ had to choose between a bagged “blah” salad and a juicy burger these days I would 100% choose the burger. Salads need to satisfy me and fill me up, and that means hitting up all of my taste buds, including a variety of colors and textures, and not shying away from protein and fat. 

With this salad, I️ added sweetness by throwing in chopped dates which were on sale this week. You could also sub in your dried fruit of choice (side note: soak raisins and currants beforehand to plump them up a bit, the result is delicious!). I️ added crunch and a hint of salt with the pecans and a bitter tang with sliced red onions. Lastly, I️ shredded up some leftover carrots purely for a splash of color (not to mention more crunch!) - I️ definitely eat with my eyes first. If a certain color is missing from a dish, I️ go out of my way to add it in! :) #eattherainbow !

I️ based the dressing off a decadent mayonnaise dressing from a broccoli slaw recipe (find the original here). However, because I️ find the straight mayo to be a little too heavy for my tastes, especially because this is more of a lunchtime salad than a side dish, I️ cut the mayo in half and subbed in some greek yogurt. I️ then added a combo of apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar (you could easily just use one or the other or fresh lemon juice!), s & p, and some sugar and whisked to my hearts content! 

The result is a HUGE batch of a sublime salad that will keep in the fridge all week long. Add in your choice of protein and you’ve got yourself a great lunch salad! 

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Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pecans & Dates

(makes 10-12 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 8-10 cups of shredded brussels sprouts*
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, shredded or diced
  • 3/4 cup chopped or halved pecans
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • ground pepper (to taste)

*I bought a large stalk of brussels sprouts at Trader Joe's and shredded by hand. This is probably equivalent to 2-3 pounds of brussels sprouts if you bag your own. Supplement with other shredded root vegetables (i.e. carrots, cabbage, kale, etc...) if you fall short!

Directions:

  1. Combine the mayonnaise, greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until well combined. 
  2. Place the shredded brussels sprouts, sliced onion, sliced/diced carrots, chopped dates, and pecans in a large bowl and toss to combine.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad mixture and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated and well-dressed. 
  4. Serve immediately or refrigerate (allowing at least 30 minutes of refrigeration will allow the flavors to combine more thoroughly). 

*Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Notes:

  • Adding sliced apple or pear would be a great addition.
  • Shredded kale would also work well 
  • Throw in some whole grains (such as wheat berries, farro, or brown rice) for an even heartier salad.
  • Chickpeas!
  • I️ do not recommend eliminating the sugar in the dressing as it really accentuates the tang. Feel free to decrease the amount to your liking but remember that this recipe makes A LOT and in the context of that, 2 tablespoons is nothing!

[Nutrition Note: This recipe has a heaping dose of fiber as well as a good supply of vitamin C (perfect around cold season) and vitamin K, which helps our bodies rebound after injury & helps keep our bones strong - I'd say that's a good combo for the beginning of winter!]

Give this recipe a shot and let me know what you think in the comments below! In the meantime...What are you most looking forward to about Thanksgiving next week?

Eliminating Fear from Our "Diets"

Last week's NYT opinion piece "Relax, You Don't Need to 'Eat Clean'" by Aaron E. Carroll prompted me to think about our society's dysfunctional relationship with food. Over the years, we have attached a moral code to foods based on an imperfect science. (A science that studies the trillions of molecules interacting inside of our bodies. Easy peasy, right?) There are "good foods" and "bad foods" and we are conditioned at an early age to feel good/bad based on which foods we eat. Fear, Mr. Carroll argues, is the basis of our society's diet. And I would have to agree. 

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We live in a society where news channels are a barrage of terrifying nutrition news, each segment a harbinger of death.

"You eat that food? Well, studies now show that you're now going to have a heart attack...in the next 5 minutes. Better luck next time!"

"X, Y, or Z is going to give you cancer. Get it out of your diet now!"

Due to the fact that nutrition is an active science, what we understand changes over time and the news reflects that...by veering in the opposite direction 5 years later:

"NOW margarine is THE WORST for you. Go ahead and have that butter." 

We are a culture obsessed with lowering risk factors. And yet, the behaviors we make as human beings all come attached with degrees of risk. Your risk of dying in a car accident increases every time you drive your car. And yet, the majority of us accept and take that risk multiple times a day. But for some reason, that risk (which, if your curious, is 1 in 645 for your lifetime) does not carry nearly as much weight as the risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

My point is NOT to say "f*** it, eat bacon." My point is that we put SO much stress on being the "perfect" risk-free, 100% healthy humans, that it becomes unhealthy

Historically, food has been a source of nourishment and enjoyment. It unites cultures and families, binding them with traditions and collective memories that get passed down from generation to generation. It brings people of all walks of life together under the common theme of "OMG. Aunt Susan. This pie is AMAZING!!"

Truth is: none of us is getting out of here alive. When we focus too much on being "perfect" in our diets, we sacrifice one of the purest joys in life: enjoying food with others. And even if you make it to be 100 years old and healthy as a horse, would you want to look back on your life and realize that instead of being saturated with comfort and joy, all the meals of your life were filled with anxiety, guilt, and dread? 

I'll close with a quote from the opinion piece (which you can read here.)

Food should be a cause for pleasure, not panic. For most people, it’s entirely possible to eat more healthfully without living in terror or struggling to avoid certain foods altogether. If there’s one thing you should cut from your diet, it’s fear.
— Aaron E. Carroll

I am so interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic! Please comment below!