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The Warm Embrace of Comfort Food

The Warm Embrace of Comfort Food

Few things bring as much comfort as homemade bread, especially when it’s hot out of the oven and slathered with sweet cream butter. It’s warm; it’s soft; it’s delicious. I attended a charity event, and one of the items up for bid in the silent auction part was called Delivered Comfort—homemade bread delivered to your house every week for two months. It was a very popular item. People would walk along the tables, reading all of the cards and descriptions of items to bid on, and when they’d come to this one, there was almost a universal sigh. “Oh, fresh hot bread every week!” You could hear the longing in their voices.

I kept track of this silent auction item because it intrigued me. Watching this particular bid sheet, I kept seeing the same bidder number. As other bidders outbid her, this bidder kept upping the ante. Finally, the bidder signed up for the “guaranteed bid”, which meant she would pay any higher price, thus guaranteeing herself the winning bid. It was her way of saying, “The bread is mine!”

Aren’t you like that about your comfort food? You tend to get grouchy if anyone tries to interfere with it. You need that food. It’s your reward. It helps you feel good. You use it to cope. It brings you back to your happy place. It’s your comfort.

In an increasingly uncomfortable world, comfort food takes on new importance. You’ve dealt with the ignorant and mindless eating, but comfort food isn’t ignorant or mindless. You know precisely what you’re after when you eat it and give it your complete and undivided attention. You don’t just eat it; you revel in it.

It is no accident that comfort food tends to be high in carbohydrates from grains and sugars. You’re after a certain outcome where this food is concerned, and without really knowing the science of it, you stumbled upon starchy, sugary food to achieve that feeling. Your unscientific trial and error with the pantry produces a very scientific result. Foods high in carbohydrates cause your body to have an increased supply of substance called serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a fancy way of saying it provides a pathway for nerves to talk to each other. When your nerves are communicating with each other through serotonin, you feel relaxed and calm. If you have a lot of serotonin, you can feel drowsy. After that really big pasta meal on Sunday afternoon, what do you want to do? Why, take a nap! That’s serotonin at work.

One of the precursors of serotonin is tryptophan. If your body has tryptophan, it can make serotonin. Turkey has a large amount of tryptophan. After a big Thanksgiving meal, you sign, stretch, feel extremely content, then curl up on the sofa and snooze. This is your body on tryptophan.

Comfort food is physical, and it is emotional. It is snuggly, cuddly, feel-good food. The world can be harsh, stark, and edgy, so it’s no surprise you like your feel-good food. Even if you’re increasing your fruits and vegetables each day, this type of food can be difficult to give up, because if you give it up, you think you’re giving up comfort itself.

It’s not enough to add fruits and vegetables to your diet. It’s not enough to give up snacking. You need to come clean about your comfort food.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are ready to get the help you need to regain your health and to reach the end of the tunnel, call us at 1-888-771-5166 today.

 

Fear, Guilt, Shame, and Eating Disorders

Fear, Guilt, Shame, and Eating Disorders

People who struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating often experience companion emotions. Three of the most common companion emotions to eating disorders include fear, guilt, and shame. Addressing these emotions is a crucial part of truly recovering from an eating disorder.

Fear

If you grew up in a rigid, perfectionistic family, you may have developed an intense fear of failure and rejection. If someone you desperately wanted approval from conditioned that approval on unrealistic goals of perfect behavior, you got the message that no matter how hard you try, you were never good enough. If that person conditioned their approval on physical appearance, you got the message that being thin was the surest way to measure up.

Your parents or other family members may still focus their attention on outward appearances. They may not be comfortable, even today, talking about your feelings and emotions. They may express their approval only of your outward signs of success: your physical appearance, a prestigious job, exemplary school performance, a high salary, or material possessions. Success for them is determined by how you are “doing,” as opposed to how you are feeling. You need to recognize the possibility that your eating disorder or disordered eating patterns have come about as a response to your need for this conditioned approval. If you were unable to gain acceptance in other areas of your life, you may have turned to your physical appearance as an avenue of acceptance. Your fear of rejection has metastasized into fear of being fat.

Guilt

Children’s frames of reference for sorting out the jumble of adult actions and motivations are their own experiences. So there is a tendency for children to blame themselves for family difficulties. A child whose parents are divorcing will ask himself what he did wrong. A child whose mother is angry all the time will wonder how she can make her mother happy. Children understand when something they have done wrong produces pain in others. An immature leap in logic can produce the false impression that when they experience pain themselves, they must be the cause of it. And those feelings lead to tremendous guilt.

Eating disorders and a dysfunctional relationship with food can often be caused by past guilt manifested into control and self-harm. In order to control the guilt, an anorexic will self restrict food and liquids. A bulimic will binge to comfort the fear and purge out the guilt. An over-eater will binge to bring comfort as a way to appease the guilt. People who insist upon intentional unhealthy eating may have already written themselves off because of guilt and lack of motivation to make better choices.

Shame

A dysfunctional relationship with food thrives in an atmosphere of shame. Without significant weakening in the self-esteem and self-worth of a person, these destructive behaviors could not stand. In the progression of the eating disorder and disordered eating, shame over her inability to control her own behaviors is like a suffocating blanket. The person who has learned to love and forgive herself would throw off that blanket. But to the person who has lived in an atmosphere of shame, that blanket is a familiar, acceptable place to hide.

The anorexic feels shame at never achieving impossible perfection. The bulimic and the overeater feel shame at the out-of-control binging. In addition, the bulimic who purges through vomiting or laxatives will feel shame at the very way the food is expelled from the body. The overeater feels ashamed at simply being fat. The disordered eater feels ashamed at being unable to control those urges. Together, they constantly attack self-esteem and promote self-doubt—the perfect breeding ground for shame.

If you or someone you love is struggling with and eating disorder and the co-occurring emotions of fear, guilt or shame, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone from The Center • A Place of HOPE will be in touch with you soon.

Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.

Signs that Someone Might Be at Risk for Developing an Eating Disorder

Signs that Someone Might Be at Risk for Developing an Eating Disorder

Guest blog post contributed by Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Director @ Eating Disorder Hope, and Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, it may be difficult or confusing to understand the many signs and symptoms that may be present.  Though there are many stigmas surrounding eating disorders, these diseases should not be taken lightly.  Eating disorders are severe mental health illnesses that are caused by complex factors, such as biological, psychological, and environmental reasons.

Many of the misconceptions about eating disorders concern the reasons why eating disorders develop.  Unlike a diet fad or the latest dieting trend, eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by abnormal eating patterns and disturbed eating behaviors.  These disorders are not simply an attempt to “lose weight”, or a “disease of vanity”.  Whether it is Anorexia, Bulimia, or Binge Eating Disorder, these psychiatric diseases develop and progress over time.  To heal from an eating disorder, a professional treatment team is needed to address the many factors involved.

With over 20 million women and 10 million men suffering from eating disorders in the United States, it is important to understand the signs that someone might be at risk for developing an eating disorder.  Identifying these diseases as early as possible improves the chances for interventions and treatment outcomes.  Thankfully, treatment methods are improving as eating disorders are better understood by researchers and health care professionals.  While it may feel daunting to face the fact that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, recognizing what you are struggling with will only help the recovery process.

Given the complexity of eating disorders, it is critical to be aware of the different ways symptoms may appear.  Eating disorders impact a person’s physical health, emotional well-being, relationships, finances, and more.  If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with an eating disorder, look for these signs and symptoms:

  • Abnormal food behaviors, rituals, or eating patterns, such as eating unusual portion sizes, cutting food into tiny pieces, hiding food, or purposely eating alone.
  • Fixation with food, weight loss, and/or body image
  • Obsession with counting calories, fat grams, nutrient content of foods, etc
  • Heighted depression, lethargy, and/or anxiety
  • Withdrawal from relationships, social functions, family, and friends
  • Severely restricting caloric intake, resulting in unstable weight loss
  • Intense fear of eating and/or weight gain
  • Episodes of bingeing on a very large amount of food, followed by purging
  • Feelings of guilt or shame in regards to eating or body image
  • Feeling out of control while eating

While these symptoms may indicate that an eating disorder is developing, it is necessary to see a qualified health professional for a full assessment and diagnosis.  If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms, it is important that you seek the help and guidance of a medical professional.  Your life is valuable, and recovery from an eating disorder is possible, no matter what has brought you to this point in your journey.  Though it may be scary to reach out and ask for the help you need, you are taking the most vital step in reclaiming your life and finding freedom from an eating disorder.

Rebuilding the Body’s Digestion System After an Eating Disorder

Rebuilding the Body’s Digestion System After an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders can wreak havoc on all aspects of a person’s life: their mental wellness, emotional balance, relationships with the people around them, and most certainly their physical body. Recovering from an eating disorder therefore requires comprehensive treatment in order to address each of these areas of a person’s life. Healing the physical body after suffering from an eating disorder is a process that takes care and time, and in some cases needs to be supervised by medical specialists.

Typically, to start your body’s rebalancing process you must first rebuild your digestion, your gastrointestinal (GI) ecosystem. After all, if you are unable to digest what you need to rebalance your system, what you take to rebalance it will have little value. The first step is to re-establish your digestive system’s natural levels of healthy bacteria. Although each body is different, a healthy digestive system supports 300-1000 different species of beneficial flora. Together, these species account for the approximately 100 trillion microorganisms found in the GI system. When healthy digestive bacteria flourish, they provide the mechanism to break down the substances you eat into components your body can absorb and use. Likewise, digestive enzymes allow food to be broken down into its component parts for easy absorption and a reduction in intestinal bloating and gas. When your digestive enzyme level is out of whack, healthy flora can’t grow; unhealthy organisms like yeast Candida, make opportune use of this imbalance. Faulty digestion also affects mood and energy levels. If your stomach is upset, you get irritable and fatigued.

Eating disorders can take a major toll on the number and diversity of beneficial stomach flora. It is therefore paramount to rebuild the bacterial colonies before any sort of nutritional absorption can occur. There is not one quick solution to rebuilding healthy digestion, but instead healing requires multifaceted, continual progress. Here are four important nutritional practices to keep in mind when building or maintaining a healthy digestive system:

1. Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods can be the easiest and most cost-effective way of rebuilding your digestive enzymes. Some examples of fermented foods include yogurt, lacto-fermented pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, and keifer.

2. Stick to a clean, healthy diet. While fermented and fiber rich foods can help contribute to healthy flora in your system, there are also foods that negatively affect this process. Processed foods, sugary foods, and foods laden with chemicals and pesticides should be avoided.

3. Consume fiber. Another important step to rebuilding your digestion is the reintroduction of adequate fiber, to keep your elimination system regular. One of the best ways to do this is through the consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Reintroduction of adequate fiber is especially important when there as been laxative abuse. The bowels need to relearn how to function again.

4. Supplement your diet with a probiotic supplement. Taking a probiotic supplement can dramatically speed up this flora rebuilding process. When looking for a good probiotic, it is important to find a supplement that includes many different strains of bacteria to ensure good diversity. Also, make sure to store your probiotics in the refrigerator to keep them alive and active.

Once you reestablish healthy digestive flora, your gastrointestinal ecosystem will be better equipped to begin absorbing the nutrients the rest of your body needs to heal. Again, this is a process that requires careful patience. If you or a loved one is in the process of recovering from an eating disorder but may need the supervision or support of professional nutritionists, please call the team at The Center • A Place of HOPE at 1-888-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.

Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.

Eating Disorder Recovery: Overcoming Denial of Your Past

Eating Disorder Recovery: Overcoming Denial of Your Past

Individuals with an eating disorder or disordered eating are often unaware of the source of their pain. In order to begin the recovery process, they first must discover the wellspring of pain from the past. Denial is a significant detour in that quest.

There are two kinds of denial. The first is your own denial of what has happened to you. This may take the form of doubting that what you remember ever took place. Because the abuse has been denied, it may take on an unreal quality when remembered. Almost as if it happened to someone else. If the abuse is remembered, it is often seen through the prism that “explains” why the abuse was not really abuse after all.

Denial enters through self-talk. These are the messages repeated over and over to ourselves as we try to deal with the pain and our relationship with food. Thoughts of “nobody’s home is perfect” or “it could have been worse” or “it wasn’t that bad” or “there’s nothing I can do about it now” allow you to minimize the damage. “I should be strong enough to deal with this on my own” or “everyone turns to food when they’re down” increases frustration at the inability to bring the eating disorder or disordered eating under control.

But denial, this minimization of the pain, is merely a coping mechanism to keep the pain at bay. Denial is the ticket that allows you to transform life-altering pain into that limbo state of “not that bad.” If it is “not that bad,” you believe you can find the strength to go on.

The other form of denial comes from the person or people who hurt you. They may deny that the abuse ever took place or that there was not anything wrong with it if it did. He or she may accept that the event or events happened but deny responsibility or minimize the damage. This can happen regardless of the nature of the abuse. Whether the piece was a single, specific event, or a pattern of hurtful behavior carried over out a number of years, this person may refuse to accept the ramifications of his or her actions.

This person may even attempt to make you feel responsible for the abuse itself or responsible for your “version” of the events. They may deny the damage by calling into question your natural response to the damage.  It is to his or her benefit that denial goes both ways—their denial of the event and your denial of the damage done. They may resist acknowledging your eating disorder or the place food now has in your life, because acknowledgment means recognizing the abuse or pattern of hurtful behavior behind it.

So the responsibility for the abuse itself and the resulting eating disorder could be shoved back at you, increasing stress surrounding your eating disorder or pattern with you, escalating its progression. As this escalates, it becomes easier to focus your attention solely on its progress, diverting attention from the root cause.

The desire to go back and rewrite your past is seductive, especially if your past was one of the abuse and pain. Denial allows you to do just that. Denial takes the pages of your past and alters them according to “if onlys,” or it substitutes blank pages for the pain that is really there.

A familiar proverb assures us that those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. You can also be said that those who deny the events of their own history are doomed to relive them. To deny abuse is to perpetuate it. The only way to stop the chain of abuse is to stop denying the truth of that abuse.

Each of us is the product of our experiences, and not one of us is immune to the pain they have cost us. We may not be able to control what happened to us, but we can control who we become as a result of those past events.

First, however, we need to look at those experiences honestly. The light of reality can seem harsh and bright to those who have been hiding from the truth. Clarity and detail spring forth from the light of truth.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call 1-888-771-5166 or fill out our contact form and someone from The Center • A Place of HOPE will be in touch with you soon.

Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr. Gregory Jantz’s book Hope Help & Healing for Eating Disorders: A Whole-Person Approach to Treatment of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Disordered Eating.