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Written by Amanda Raffoul, MSc

Every year on May 6, individuals and organizations around the world recognize International No Diet Day (INDD). The objectives of INDD are to challenge misconceptions about dieting, push against the industries that sustain diet culture, and reinforce the harms of dieting among people across age, gender, culture, and body size. First, it’s important to delineate what exactly we are fighting against...

 

What is dieting & “diet culture”?

Traditionally, “dieting” has been defined as any intentional change in behaviour to achieve weight loss. But since body ideals are constantly changing and push different messages for different people in different ways, this definition of dieting as intentional weight loss might be too narrow. Instead, dieting can be seen as any intentional change to one’s weight, size, or shape to achieve a body ideal. This can range from changing one’s diet and exercise habits to lose weight, to trying to lift more weights and taking supplements to gain more muscle (and everything in between).

 

Dieting behaviours themselves can range in healthfulness - but just because one behaviour for weight change seems less harmful than another, it doesn’t make it any less of a dieting behaviour. Many diets disguise themselves as “lifestyle changes” or “healthy living”, but still reinforce messages of diet culture that permeate every facet of our lives. This can include constant remarks or discussions about weight among our friends, coworkers, and people in the media; seasonal days or events that encourage weight loss (e.g., “beach body season”, New Year resolutions), or a focus on “health” or “wellness” that prioritizes weight loss over actual wellbeing.

 

Who is dieting?

Dieting is incredibly common among the Canadian population. From my own research with other collaborators at the University of Waterloo, we’ve seen that over a 3 year period, 7 in 10 girls reported dieting to lose weight and that half of Canadian young adults have tried to lose weight in the past year. Dieting is most prevalent among women, non-binary persons, people who perceive themselves as “overweight”, and individuals with lower levels of health literacy. People within these groups are often targeted by industries that promote diet culture and pressure them to purchase products and give in to trends that promise wealth, success, and happiness if they can achieve a particular body ideal - but this is far from the truth...

 

So what’s the harm?

You may often hear that ~96% of diets fail, and that when diets don’t work, people are at a greater risk of weight gain. Although this fact has been supported by dozens of studies over decades of research, the focus on eventual weight gain just serves to reinforce elements of diet culture. On INDD, the goal is not to make people fear weight gain if they diet, but to inform them of the harms associated with dieting behaviours and attitudes.

 

Instead, let’s focus on overall wellbeing. Dieting has been associated with:

●     poorer cardiometabolic health (especially among “yo-yo” dieters);

●     an increased risk of eating disorders;

●     an increased risk of engagement in harmful behaviours, including substance use;

●     greater likelihood of stress, depression, and anxiety; and

●     poorer overall dietary quality.

 

How to break free from diet culture

Diet culture surrounds us in every sphere of our lives. Begin by aiming to challenge and investigate common statements about weight, size, shape, and their associations with “health” and “wellness”.

 

Do what works for you and your body, and embrace alternative frameworks to wellbeing such as Health at Every Size that shift the focus away from weight to wellbeing.

 

If you require it, seek support from reputable organizations, agencies, and practitioners within your community who dispel diet culture from their values, messaging, and practices.

 

The Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coalition (WWEDC) is dedicated to raising awareness about INDD in our communities - check us out on Facebook and Instagram to help spread the word in your own networks and make a difference today!

 

Amanda Raffoul is a PhD Candidate in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. Her research examines the unintended consequences of weight-related policy on dieting, disordered eating, and weight bias and stigma among young adults.

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By: Suzanne Dietrich, Registered Dietitian

When life deals us tough situations it's common to turn to one of the quickest, most gratifying ways to numb the emotions that arise - food. Do you eat emotionally? What does it look like for you? Does it look like eating beyond your fullness cues or ignoring your hunger cues? Emotional eating can exist upon a continuum. At one end it might be not eating at all, while at the other end it might be eating a lot.  For some people where they fit on the continuum might change with the type of emotion. Read further for a fresh perspective on emotional eating.

 

Just like our body sends us signals to go to the bathroom, go to sleep, sit down, stand up, etc., our body sends signals when we are hungry for food and when we are full.  These signals can be interrupted or hard to hear when we are dealing with stress or illness.   With emotional eating, one might not be able to tune into these cues because they are distracted by emotions, or they might choose to ignore them.  For many emotional eating is looked at as very negative, but let's look at some alternatives here... 

1.      Drop the guilt & shame - Believe it or not, when a client shares with me that they have been emotionally eating I often respond by saying, "I'm glad you found a way to deal with those tough emotions during those hard moments." Sometimes it is hard to bring out your best coping skills, maybe eating is one of them for you. For many, a feeling of guilt or shame is attached to this emotional eating. But are self-induced feelings of guilt and shame helpful? Maybe? For most people, they are not. Can you drop the side of guilt and shame? What about viewing emotional eating as a window of opportunity about what is going on inside of you?

 

2.      Be Aware - Can you use these moments of discomfort as an awareness opportunity? Can you name your emotions? Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, authors of the Intuitive Eating Workbook say that "the tendency to eat emotionally could provide you with a strange gift.... this urge is actually a voice from within." One helpful way to remember this is the phrase "Name it to tame it," coined by Dr. Dan Siegel.

3.      Permission to sit with your feelings - Your emotions deserve to be dealt with and your needs deserve to be met. Can you give yourself that permission? You don't need to act on these right away, even being able to sit with them and feel them can be helpful. Becoming an intuitive eater is about taking time to figure out emotional triggers. If you feel an urge to eat when you are not physically hungry or restrict when you are physically hungry - can you set the timer for 5 minutes and try to identify some of your feelings in a quiet spot? Often we don't give ourselves permission to acknowledge our emotions and they get left behind or stuffed down. If you need help with this, consider seeing a therapist for guidance.

4.      Meet Basic Needs - Once you have given yourself permission to identify your emotions, figure out your needs. If your basic needs are not being met - such as sleep, life balance, nourishment from food, and stress management - you may not actually be emotionally eating - you may just be disconnected because of limited self-care. Either way, how can you meet these needs? I know it is easier said than done. Just remember it doesn't need to be perfect. Here are some questions to ask yourself....

Do you need more restful sleep?

Do you need a more regular eating routine? Or more variety in your eating?

Do you need to give yourself permission to be more relaxed about nourishing and/or play foods?  Dieting or too many food rules and lead to uncomfortable hunger & fullness.

Do you need more alone time or social time?

Are there maintainable boundaries that you would like to set for yourself? Is it time to take a vacation from social media?

5.      Act with self-compassion  - Dr. Kristin Neff, Psychologist first established the self-compassion as a field of study (here & here).


The beautiful visual graphic above designed by Johnine Byrne is a great way to see the 3 principles of self-compassion - 1) Self Kindness 2) Recognizing our common humanity & 3) Mindfulness. Research tells us that self-compassion is linked to less severe binge eating, found here (Godfrey et al., 2015) and here, (Webb and Forman, 2013). Research has also demonstrated self-compassion might be a beneficial approach for reducing body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, see here, (Braun et al, 2016).

 Ultimately the question to ponder is: Is this emotional eating/or not eating interrupting my ability to live life? If so, how can I expand my coping toolbox? Intuitive Eating is a way to develop peace with food.

*See the entire blog, with graphics and video clip at: https://www.gutinstincts.ca/blog/what-is-emotional-eating-gut-instincts-nutrition-counselling.htm

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Waterloo-Wellington Eating Disorders Coa.. by Wellington-dufferin-guelph Eating D.. - 2M ago

Too busy…too chaotic…too much to do… never enough time. Sound familiar? We live in a fast-paced world where for some, the day doesn’t have enough hours to get everything done. This week someone said to me “I can’t afford to lose an hour of time with Daylight Savings time. I’m barely keeping it together already!”.  The reality is, time is one thing that keeps going and we can never get it back.

So what kind of a life do you want to live? One that doesn’t have enough time for the things and people you love? Caught up so much in your own thoughts that you miss out on beautiful moments? Or one that is fully present, slowed enough to stop and see the details and appreciate the people and world around you?

My personal theme for 2018 was ‘simplify’. Finding a way to slow down, be present with my kids, husband, friends, clients and in everyday moments. To slow down my thoughts, focus on doing what makes sense, rather than doing what feels familiar. It was a tough adjustment but it was LIFE CHANGING. REALLY.

Here are some ideas to try:

1-Practice gratitude everyday. I call them ‘gratitude vitamins’. Take daily, morning and evening. Say 3 things you’re grateful for even before your feet get out of bed, and as they tuck in at night. Its perspective shifting.

2- Show up in mind and body. Put down your phone, set aside that homework or work email, and do things one at a time. Watching your favourite tv show? Just do that one thing, and be fully into it. Be willing to lessen multitasking and trust me, it will make a difference.

3-Prioritize self-care. Focus on getting restful sleep, nourishing your body by eating intuitively and moving your body in fun ways. Throw away the self-judgement and critical self-talk. Say no when you mean no, say yes when you mean yes.

4- Figure out who matters to you most. Love them hard. Show up for them, encourage them, listen to them and make sure they know they’re loved. Life can change in an instant, and nobody leaves this world wishing they spent less time with their loved ones.

5-Be wonderfully, unapologetically YOU. We are all mean to be different – in looks, personality, talents and interests. Comparison will only rob you of your joy. Stop wishing and hoping to look different, be different, or be better. Appreciate your body for what is has done for you today, and your mind for what is has learned today. Slow down, and take each day for the gift it is.

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” 
― Mother Theresa

Written by Alison Elliott, MSW, RSW

March 2019

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Image retrieved from http://nedic.ca/edaw

By Therese Kenny, MSc

Over the past week, I have felt the enormous support for Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW). Landmarks across Canada have been lit up purple and my social media feed has been filled with posts opening up the conversation about eating disorders. People have courageously shared their stories to promote awareness and to spread the message that eating disorders cannot afford to wait.

1.     Eating disorders affect millions of Canadians. NEDIC estimates that 1 in 2 Canadians know someone (including themselves) who has an eating disorder and that 1,000,000 individuals in the country meet diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. That is nearly the population of Saskatchewan.

2.     Eating disorders have devastating consequences. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness and are, sadly, often associated with suicide. Additionally, eating disorders have severe psychological effects and are often associated with other mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder. Living with an eating disorder is all consuming, isolating, and exhausting. So even though the individual may be physically alive, it can still feel like a life is lost.

3.     Eating disorders have physical consequences at any weight. Eating disorders are psychological illnesses with physical consequences. Many individuals mistakenly believe that physical effects, such as organ failure, only occur among individuals with anorexia at low body weights. This is not true. Eating disorders can have physical consequences at any weight. Moreover, individuals across the weight spectrum die from eating disorders.

So what can we do to ensure that eating disorders do not have to wait?

1.     Donate. If you are able, you can make a financial donation to an organization like NEDIC, WWEDC, or Sheena’s Place to support eating disorder outreach and support. If you do not have the funds, you can donate your time to support an eating disorders organization in your area.

2.     Talk. After EDAW is over, keep the conversation going. You can do so by sharing posts on social media periodically, talking to your family and friends, or writing blog posts. If you have lived experience, you only need to share as much as you are comfortable and it is possible to share information without disclosing! There are also lots of ways to anonymously post online if you want to spread awareness but are not ready to open up.

3.     Participate. If you are interested in helping professionals learn more about eating disorders, participating in research is a great way to advance our understanding of eating disorders. This does not just apply to individuals with lived experience (although these perspectives are invaluable!). It is also important to understand differences between individuals with and without eating disorders. So even if you have never had an eating disorder, you can still be involved in helping researchers learn about eating disorders.

Although EDAW is over for another year, it is possible to keep the conversation going. With small steps like donating, talking, and participating, we can make it heard that eating disorders cannot afford to wait.

For more information, please visit http://nedic.ca/edaw

Therese is a PhD student in the Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology Program at the University of Guelph. Her research examines how recovery from eating disorders is discussed by individuals with lived experience.

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I first developed an eating disorder when I was 13, but it wasn’t until I was half way into my undergraduate degree that I faced the harsh reality of my eating disorder. When I was in my third year of university, I started to cope with stress using very problematic eating disorder behaviours. Things escalated quickly and I had to leave school for treatment. Beginning then, I became aware of how destructive my eating disorder was, and wanted desperately for things to change. However, in the beginning I struggled greatly with having a clear perspective of what was conducive towards my recovery. Today, things have improved immensely and I now wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her what I now know about recovery. Here are the 6 things I wish I knew when I started treatment.

1.    Regardless of my weight, my suffering was valid.

After I reached my target healthy weight, I found it extremely difficult to accept I still had an eating disorder. I had the false assumption that the psychological suffering would progressively, and linearly, reduce. In reality, healing the negative relationship I had with food was just beginning once I reached my target weight. Trying to maintain a healthy weight while not engaging in eating disorder symptoms was just as difficult as trying to gain weight.

2.    Wanting to be in recovery is not the same as being in recovery.

There were so many times I would tell my psychiatrist “I really want to recover.” However, my actions often conveyed a different message. Being in recovery was much more than wanting change, it was actually putting in the effort to do things that were conducive with letting my eating disorder go.

3.    I couldn’t restrict and expect my other symptoms to go away.

During recovery, I had a handful of food items I could eat and long list of items I could not eat. I often binged and purged and wanted those episodes to end, however, I didn’t believe that incorporating foods from a variety of food groups would help end my binging episodes. Surely enough, when I began to incorporate variety into my diet and let go of my restrictions, my binges seldom occur.

4.    I couldn’t heal my relationship with exercise by focusing on gaining muscle.

I thought that I could heal my unhealthy relationship with exercise by trying to focus my attention on gaining strength rather than losing weight. However, trading a fixation on weight with a fixation of muscle was not healthy for me. Only when I stopped my rigorous exercise routines and constant scrutiny, did I truly begin to learn how to accept my body without manipulating its shape.

5.    I was only hurting myself every time I didn’t follow my meal plan.

In the long run, all the false statements of what I ate only prolonged my suffering. It was difficult, but the times where I was open and honest with my team about my symptoms were much more productive than trying to portray the false image that I was not struggling.

6.    I needed to recover for myself, not others.

Recovering for others was a source of motivation for me to start treatment. However, in the long run, I had to recover for myself. Identifying reasons that aligned with my values, helped me to resist the voice of the eating disorder when it was loud.

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By Natalie Doan, BAH, MSc Student in Public Health and Health Systems at University of Waterloo

The following statements are some perfectionistic beliefs about weight and diet:

“I ate X. I messed up my diet”

“Since I ate X, I may as well eat a lot of it because I already messed up”

“If I eat, I’ll lose control”

“If I gain some weight, I’ll keep gaining weight until I’m obese”

“You can’t get anywhere in this world unless you’re thin”

 If some of these beliefs resonate with you, you might be interested to learn that researchers have consistently demonstrated that a person’s perfectionistic beliefs about weight and diet can lead to eating-related problems, such as binge eating, purging behaviours, and excessive exercise (Antony & Swinson, 2009).

 High Standards or Perfectionism?

So, what is perfectionism, and how is it distinguished from a healthy desire to achieve high standards? A healthy desire to achieve high standards can be very appropriate, allowing for effective performance in one’s environment. However, perfectionism results when standards are high beyond reasonable reach or reason and cause compulsive strain towards impossible goals (Burns, 1980).

In any given person, their degree of perfectionism varies depending on the life domain. Common domains for perfectionistic behaviours to manifest include: work, school, health, cleanliness, physical appearance, organization, neatness, aesthetics, and athletics (Antony & Swinson, 2009). Perfectionistic beliefs can lead to behaviours of excessive checking, organizing, list-making, and correcting others (Antony & Swinson, 2009). Alternatively, they may manifest through avoidance behaviours such as quitting too early, indecisiveness, and procrastination. Despite the heavy reliance on these behaviours to prevent mistakes, perfectionism inevitably leads to a sense of failure for the individual. 

Perfectionism and Eating Disorders

How does perfectionism relate to eating disorders? Eating disorder pioneer Hilde Bruch once characterized young individuals with anorexia nervosa as embodying “every parent’s and teacher’s idea of perfection” and demonstrating “superperfection” (Bruch, 1978, p.59). Here in this early attempt to characterize anorexia, Bruch observed a relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders. Empirical research supports this association, as perfectionism is one of the most robust personality temperament associated with eating pathology; so much that it has been frequently described as a central feature of eating disorders (Hewitt, Flett, Ediger, 1995). In a transdiagnostic theory of eating disorders, Fairburn and colleagues (2003) asserted clinical perfectionism can maintain eating disorders, and the removal of perfectionism would facilitate change. Indeed, many Individuals with eating disorders have unrealistically high standards for appearance and thinness, as well as exceedingly high expectations in other various facets of life (Butterfield & Leclair, 1988). These unrealistic expectations are often accompanied with self-defeating thoughts and behaviours (Cohen, 2015). For example, individuals with eating disorders may have unrealistic and unhealthy goals on how they want their bodies to look, and may therefore develop rigid rules that result in the development and maintenance of restrictive, bingeing, and/or purging behaviours.

Perfectionism and Eating Disorder Recovery

Perfectionism is not only relevant in the development and maintenance of eating disorders, but also the treatment of eating disorders (Bardone-Cone et al., 2010). Perfectionism can manifest during eating disorder recovery when individuals have unrealistically high expectations for their recovery process. For example, a person in recovery may hold themselves to the expectation that they are only in recovery if they always abstain from bingeing, purging, and never deviating away from their meal plan. However, not meeting these very high expectations, especially in the beginning, can lead to major disappointment, a sense of failure, and self-defeating behaviours (Cohen, 2015).

Is there hope for perfectionism to subside after recovering from an eating disorder? In general, individuals who recovered from eating disorders have levels of perfectionism comparable to individuals with active eating disorders (Bardone-Cone, et al., 2007). However, when perfectionism was assessed across different stages of eating disorder recovery, it was found individuals who were fully recovered had slightly lower level of perfectionism than those with active or partially recovered eating disorders (Bardone-Cone et al., 2010). Therefore, levels of perfectionism may depend on the stage of recovery the individual is in. Luckily, recovery from both symptoms of perfectionism and eating disorders is possible.

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*This blog was written by an individual with lived experience with an eating disorder. Content may by triggering for some people and the advice provided is based on the author's experience and should not be taken as professional or medical advice.

By: Sarah Braun

4. My Ability To Accept Love (and Gifts)

The month of December is a very busy, exciting and celebratory time in my life. Aside from Christmas, I also have the joy of celebrating my birthday and sober anniversary. My first year in recovery being mere days after my birthday, I decided to celebrate turning another year older and my success by paying tribute to all my hard work surrounded by my loved ones. Up until my 28th birthday, I was convinced I would be part of the “27 club”. In the past I had never wanted to make my birthday a big deal. Partially because I felt I didn’t deserve to be celebrated and partially because I was scared of the shame I would feel, if and when, nobody showed up; I felt as though someone like me, who felt was such a burden with my eating disorder and addiction didn’t deserve to feel loved or be celebrated. Over the course of my recovery, that mindset has changed. I deserved to be loved then, just as I much deserve it now. I only wish I knew that back then. 

As friends and family flooded in and gathered around the table I was overwhelmed with a sense of love and pride. I was swarmed with tight hugs, warm comments, thoughtful cards and precious gifts. A part of me still felt undeserving of these acts and the love being shown, however I’ve learned to combat those negative thoughts and accept reality for what it is. Therefore, I allowed myself to embrace it all. The love I felt in the room that day was something I had never experienced before and it’s all because I was open to accepting it. Had that love been there all along? Maybe, I’ll never truly know. All I do know, is that in the moment, everything I had ever wanted was surrounding me.

5. Anxiety & Triggers Are Still (Very) Real

The holidays can be a stressful time of year for anyone, not just those who live with mental illness, although that does (in my opinion) make it that much harder. This year I went into the holidays determined to make it my best one yet, as it would be my first Christmas in recovery and I wanted to prove that all my hard work has paid off. Turns out, the expectations I had for myself were set too high, and they were ultimately unrealistic. In my mind, I had convinced myself that I was far enough along in my recovery that fear foods and calorie counting wouldn’t get the best of me and that I could handle whatever came way. I believed that I could cope with being around those who were using my drug of choice. I thought that the drunken behaviour and words of others wouldn’t effect me or trigger flashbacks to my previous self. Turns out, I was wrong.

I have just over one year clean and sober under my belt, and have been committed to recovery from my eating disorder for the same length of time. I learned very quickly that the addiction and eating disorder do not care. There is no time limit, or finish line - they are relentless. To be honest, I already knew this, and perhaps was in a bit of denial. Or maybe I just hadn’t been exposed to the situations and triggers that I encountered during my time home. Either way, anxiety is still real, regardless of how far along you may be in your journey. It can still effect how you react and handle events in your life, expected or unexpected. I am not as invincible to reality as I once thought. Some meals were extremely overwhelming and I caught myself counting the calories or justifying and minimizing my portions. Some days I hated not being able to calm my nerves with a drink. However, I got through each day.

My holidays weren’t perfect - from from it actually. Looking back, I’m happy that they weren’t. I’m grateful I was put in uncomfortable, unfamiliar and triggering situations. I’m glad my emotions were all over the place and my anxiety sky-high at times. Rather than sailing through on smooth seas, I learned how to navigate my recovery over rough waters I hadn’t yet been through. 

6. I Can Survive

With the holidays now over, I have been able to take some time to step back and reflect. And guess what? I survived, I’m here to write about it. My body didn’t spontaneously combust because I indulged in some holiday treats. My heart didn’t explode from what felt like paralyzing anxiety. I didn’t miss out on, or not have fun at gatherings because I’m sober, quite the opposite actually. 

I had my reservations about what the holidays in recovery would look like and what they would entail. This was a whole new territory for me, my recovery and my life. Despite some moments being terribly difficult and challenging my recovery, others were incredibly powerful and I learned more about myself, my strength and my ability each time. The skills I have learned and have been practicing over the past year helped me stay afloat as I used them more than ever during this high pressure, high stress time. I continued to label my anxiety, and all my emotions for what they were, why they were there and what they were telling me. I acknowledged my triggers and rerouted my automatic thoughts. I took time to incorporate some much needed self-care into each day.  Overall I survived, and most importantly I learned that I can bounce back from a tidal wave of emotions and slippery behaviours that I once  was convinced would be the death of me.

The holidays no longer need to be a time of year to avoid or fear anymore. With recovery, they can be enjoyed, experienced and appreciated. It is by no means easy, but it is possible - just like recovery.

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By: Sarah Braun

*This blog was written by an individual with lived experience with an eating disorder. Content may by triggering for some people and the advice provided is based on the author's experience and should not be taken as professional or medical advice.

1. It’s Not Bone-Chilling Cold  

Living with an eating disorder brings with it an unbearable cold. For many years my body was unable to keep itself warm and regulated in the summer months, let alone the colder ones. I had always dreaded the dark and chilly days of winter. I would drape layer upon layer of clothing each time I left the house and nothing would suffice. Being inside wasn’t any easier. The thermostat would constantly be set at what others would call ‘sweltering temperatures’ and even then, my hands were ice and my body shivering. I would try my best to erase the continuous chill in hopes that alcohol could warm me up, but it was never successful. Nothing was able to comfort me from that bone-chilling cold. 

This year is vastly different. My body is now in a place that is able to sustain warmth. My blood circulates properly and I have a healthy amount of fat cushioning my bones to protect me from the elements. I have found myself numerous times venturing outside in nothing but a light jacket or sweater in what are supposed to be winter months. My wardrobe has greatly expanded and activities now seem unlimited. Sometimes it feels as though I’m experiencing a whole new season. As any winter, there are still cold days and I have to remind myself that it’s not just me experiencing them - that’s a true reflection on the weather and I am grateful that I am alive to feel it. I sometimes find myself waiting for that relentless and unbearable cold to return, but it hasn’t and I don’t plan on letting it. 

2. Having People To Shop For Is A Blessing

I have always enjoyed shopping for others, and as I spiralled more and more into my eating disorder and addictions, that enjoyment faded. Perhaps it was because I felt as though I no longer had anyone left in my life I could shop for. Who would want to spend the holidays with an alcoholic? They’d likely just toss it to the side or into the trash because it would remind them of the girl with the eating disorder. It wouldn’t bring joy to anyone because it came from the sick, lost and dying girl. Perhaps my gift-giving passion began to falter because all I cared to spend my money on was drugs, alcohol and food that would later end up in the toilet. I was self-centred in my thinking and would rather forget about the holidays altogether with my unhealthy coping strategies. Either way, in the past, this time of year always loomed over me. I would spend hours questioning my existence, my sense of belonging and the burden I believed I brought to the lives of those I loved.

Being in recovery for the first time since I was 10 during this holiday season has been so much fun. I spent the weeks between Halloween and Christmas carefully planning, shopping and making gifts for the incredible people I have in my life. I’ve heard it said that giving is the best feeling in the world, and now I can confidently agree. I had never truly experienced the joy that came with it until this year. As I was out in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season it dawned on me what a blessing it is to have people in your life to shop for during this time. I was overwhelmed with happiness thinking of all the special relationships I have in my life today that I would not have if I did not choose recovery. Even more exciting than the planning and effort that went into each gift, was the expression on their faces as they opened them. The time and thought dedicated to each one had truly shined through. As I no longer spend my time and money centred around my addiction and eating disorder, I was able to show my loved ones just how much they mean to me. Something I was unable to do during my struggle, as I constantly pushed people away trying to isolate myself completely. Now, I know Christmas is not about the presents under the tree, but instead about the people around the tree, and this year I’m beyond grateful that I have people around the tree to give to.

3. I Enjoy Eggnog 

The holiday season is very much known for indulging in both food and alcohol. In previous years, I refused to enjoy the snack trays and appetizers set out at parties or even sit down for Christmas dinner with family. Instead I filled my stomach with alcohol and spent my time at whatever establishment was open when I needed to escape.

A well-known holiday favourite of course is egg-nog. Throughout the course of my illness this drink terrified me to my core, and I steered clear of any offerings. Even if it was an alcoholic version of the drink, I would not allow myself to taste a sip, paralyzed by fear of extra calories. I spent the majority of my life telling myself and others that I simply did not enjoy the taste. Being in recovery for the holidays this year, I wanted to re-test that disordered assumption. Therefore one of the goals I made over the holidays was to try eggnog. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. I will admit thoughts of calories still swirled in my mind as I enjoyed the thick and creamy beverage, but I liked it nonetheless. I did not let it impact or dictate the rest of my evening, and more importantly, my meal plan. It is normal to indulge a little over the holidays and I refused to let my eating disorder take control and ruin yet another Christmas. This year I was able to sit down with my family for dinner without a tense and strained conversation. The humour and love in our home had returned.

I wish I could say that I made it through the holidays without an eating disordered thought, or craving for alcohol, but I did not. Even though I am in recovery, I still struggle with thoughts and urges from time to time. The only difference this year is that I did not act on them. Some days were harder than others, but through it all I learned that the holidays can be fun without alcohol and that enjoying the specialty treats, like eggnog, is okay (and delicious!)

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You may have heard Brian Wansink’s name before, or at least might be familiar with his work. For more than two decades, Wansink researched what he coined ‘mindless’ eating. Some of his many ideas around food include the idea that we eat larger portion sizes when eating off larger plates, and that we eat larger portion sizes when distracted. Throughout his work, he makes suggestions around how we can modify our environment to manage our portion sizes and eat amounts that are right for our bodies. In 2016, however, evidence began to mount that there were problems with Wansink’s work. By fall 2018, fifteen of Wansink’s studies had been retracted (that’s a lot!) prompting his resignation from Cornell University.

Throughout the process of eating disorder recovery, it’s common for individuals to learn about different types of eating, such as mechanical eating and mindful eating. It’s common to be encouraged by health professionals, myself included, to begin to notice and relearn how to listen to the physical signs of hunger. If Wansink’s work is discredited, does that mean that all of that advice was wrong and that all of the work you’ve done on mindful eating was in vain? I don’t believe so.

While the size of your plate, your company at the dinner table, or the size of your food packaging may not make as much of a difference as Wansink thought, I still believe that there is value in the idea of mindful eating. I think this situation is a good reminder that eating is a tricky thing. We eat for a lot of different reasons, which means it’s important to approach eating with a variety of strategies.

Many individuals with an eating disorder have spent a long time ignoring physical hunger cues or may have a very erratic food routine that makes it challenging to interpret physical hunger cues. I believe that there is a lot of value in working to notice and reconnect with what physical hunger looks and feels like for you. Practicing (yes, it takes a lot of practice) mindful eating can teach you many things. To name a few, it can help you learn about your body’s needs, how certain foods make you feel physically and mentally, and what foods you actually like or dislike. Once you have a solid food plan in place that is making sure you’re meeting your nutrient and energy needs, mindful eating can bring flexibility to your food routine.

Mindful eating, however, cannot stand on it’s own. There are many situations where it is important to eat even if your body is not giving you physical hunger cues. This is a common situation in the early stages of recovery when you are working to establish a regular routine with food. These situations can continue to occur even in the later stages of recovery if you are stressed, anxious, have just exercised, or have a cold of flu. Challenging yourself to eat mechanically in the absence of hunger cues is a very important skill that helps prevent situations where you feel over hungry (or hangry), experience low energy, or may feel out of control around food when you do eat.

Both the ideas that Brian Wansink brought forward about mindful eating as well as his recent discreditation are important for many reasons. They remind us that mindful eating (and eating in general!) is tricky to study and that many factors influence why we eat or don’t eat. Practicing mindful eating is still valuable, as long as other skills around eating are maintained and still utilized. Mindful eating cannot stand alone and cannot be used as the only strategy or explanation for why we eat.

Blog post written by Lindzie O’Reilly, MAN, Registered Dietitian, Student Health Services, University of Guelph.

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Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and a stressed stomach include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. These symptoms can be irritating, embarrassing, anxiety provoking, and can have a significant impact on quality of life. Aside from the common cold, symptoms of IBS are the second most common reason to miss work or school. In individuals with an eating disorder, symptoms of IBS or digestive upset are even more common than for those in the general population.

A diagnosis of IBS in and of itself is a frustrating diagnosis. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning you have worked with a doctor to rule out conditions such as crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or a stomach ulcer, yet you still have symptoms. A diagnosis of IBS often brings relief in that many serious conditions have been ruled out, but frustration in that usually very few recommendations are given in terms of how to improve or manage your symptoms. It’s common for individuals with digestive upset to feel so desperate for an answer that they are willing to try anything.

An option that is gaining popularity online and among alternative health care practitioners is IgG food intolerance testing. Before considering this test, it’s important to educate yourself on the science behind it. The current consensus among allergy professionals is that IgG testing is not validated and has risks associated with it.

What is a food intolerance?

Food intolerances are a real thing that can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life. They can cause symptoms of IBS, along with skin rashes and joint pain. Food intolerances, however, are very different from food allergies. A food allergy is an immune-system response that can cause anaphylaxis and an increase in IgE antibodies in the blood. A food intolerance causes symptoms and discomfort but usually does not cause harm or damage to your body and does not trigger an immune-system response.

How can we test for a food intolerance?

Unfortunately, an accurate and validated test for food intolerances does not currently exist. The only way to truly determine if you have a food intolerance is to complete an elimination diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian who can help you pinpoint foods that may be triggering your symptoms. In an elimination diet, it is important to remove certain foods to see if symptoms improve, and equally important to reintroduce foods to see if symptoms return and to ensure you are not needlessly restricting your food routine. Embarking on an elimination diet to determine if you have a food intolerance is a long process that requires patience and guidance.

Then what is IgG testing?

Immunoglobin G (IgG) is thought to be a marker of exposure to foods, and a measure of our tolerance to them. This means that individuals typically have the highest IgG levels for foods that they eat regularly. It is completely normal and healthy for all individuals to have positive IgG test results. Somehow this test has come to be marketed as a way to detect food intolerances, when it actually detects our tolerance to foods.

But if there isn’t a good test out there, can’t I at least try the IgG test?

The IgG test is very expensive ($300-700) and, according to the Canadian Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, not a valid way to detect for food intolerances. Instead, this testing often results in individuals following needlessly restrictive diets. For someone with an eating disorder, it is very likely that an IgG test will be triggering. The test results can cause significant fear and anxiety around specific foods when there truly is no benefit to excluding these foods from your food routine.

If you experience symptoms of IBS or a stressed stomach, it’s important to create a support team that includes a doctor, a dietitian, and a counsellor to help you determine your individual triggers while still including a wide range of foods and preserving a healthy relationship with food.

Blog post written by Lindzie O’Reilly, MAN, Registered Dietitian, Student Health Services, University of Guelph.

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