801.361.8589 [email protected]
The Joy of Eating

The Joy of Eating

What is one of the most memorable meals you have ever experienced in your life? What made it so memorable? What was it about the food? The people who were with you? The ambiance? The event?

One of the most memorable meals for me wasn’t anything fancy. But it was very special. I remember my husband bringing a Café Rio sweet pork salad and mint limeade to me in the hospital, after I had given birth to our first child. I remember feeling famished (they don’t let you eat before or during labor-not that you want to eat during labor). But wow, my body had just done something incredible! I was exhausted, happy, and maybe a little overwhelmed with the new prospect of being a parent. That sweet pork salad felt like a celebration. A celebration of becoming a parent, and an act of gratitude for my body for what it had just accomplished. I loved that meal so much that Café Rio became a tradition after I gave birth to each of my children.

To quote Evlyn Tribole, “Eating can be one of the most emotionally laden experiences that we have in our lives” FOOD IS MORE THAN FUEL. Food is love; food is comfort. Food is reward. Food is celebration. Food is connection. Food is solace. Food can feel like a friend. A way to care for ourselves. I am not in the business of divorcing food from an emotional experience. Food enhances our lived emotional experience! It is part of valued memories. Eating can genuinely bring happiness to our lives and be a vital part of connection with ourselves and others.

Diet culture seeks to take away, or at best, minimize, our positive emotional experience with food. Diet culture creates strict rules and attitudes about how and when we can experience food. It labels food that is inherently delicious (aka enjoyable) as an indulgence that must be earned through deprivation and “good behavior.” If you haven’t earned said “treat” then you are doing something naughty, or bad. Many diets don’t even allow for enjoyment at all. If the food you desire doesn’t fit in the diet prescription, it is off limits, period.

As a result, diet culture creates morality in an experience that is amoral. NEWS FLASH: EATING IS NOT A MORAL BEHAVIOR PEOPLE! But diet culture makes us believe negative stories about ourselves if we “indulge” or even want to indulge in food rich in taste and pleasure. We feel like we are “undisciplined” or “failures” or “weak” or “bad.”

This morality around food then creates fear. Fear of forbidden foods. Fear of ourselves and whether we believe we can control ourselves around food. Fear of when we might “slip.” Fear of social situations where we can’t control what food is available.

Diet culture then robs our lives of the richness of experience with food. It creates a belief system that food is only for fuel, when as I described before, food is so much more than that.

Diet culture doesn’t deserve our time, energy, money, or emotions. It only serves to destroy trust in our bodies, ourselves, and food. It further deprives us from the beauty found in including food as a source of joy, pleasure, celebration, connection, and comfort in our lives.

I want you think about positive memories you have with food. Like staying up late at night, laughing, and eating homemade brownies with spoons, straight out the pan with my college roommates. Visiting Mexico on an exchange program and learning the right way to eat a mango. My mom teaching me how to make her famous orange rolls. Drinking my first Lava Flow (a Pina Colada with added strawberry sauce), the first time I visited Hawaii. My first introduction to Fry Sauce from Burger Supreme, in Provo, Utah and realizing that Utah might not be such a bad place to call home, after all. Let’s remember that food is a vital part of our lived experience as humans. Let’s actively invite it to accentuate our joy, connection, and memories.

Finding Beauty During Dark Days

Finding Beauty During Dark Days

We are memory collectors. Memories shape the narratives of our lives. They shape our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world. Memories contain stories as well as the full range of emotional experience. Memories hold our humanity. (more…)

Overcoming the Wasteland in Eating Disorder Recovery

Overcoming the Wasteland in Eating Disorder Recovery

Why is recovery so long and hard?

There’s a long stretch of land in treatment for eating disorders that I describe as a “wasteland.” It’s in this space where clients are most likely to relapse. Who wants to continue trekking through a wasteland without knowing when or how they will arrive in the elusive but apparently wonderous Promised Land of recovery? This Wasteland can feel like it stretches far and wide before you, indeterminately and maybe even permanently. And the trek is arduous in every way: physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

When someone first comes to treatment for an eating disorder, the changes can feel intense and difficult. But when people come to treatment they are coming with fresh awareness of the pain and misery of living a life with an eating disorder. Something brought them to treatment and that something gives them energy, willingness, and a hope for change.

You enter the Wasteland when you’ve mostly recovered behaviorally (stabilized eating patterns) but haven’t yet changed psychologically. This is when some really difficult work starts. You may be eating more normally but you still don’t quite feel comfortable with the food your dietitian continues to ask you to consume. Maybe you feel distressed as your body’s long silent hunger cues snap back into gear and start asking for more food. You feel uncomfortable in your body and probably feel that your body image has only gotten worse since beginning treatment.

You’ve also experienced some benefits to stabilizing your food intake and re-nourishing your body. You notice you can focus better in school or at work. You notice you can track conversations more effectively and are more present with friends and family than you have been in a long while. You are sleeping better and feel more energy. And yet, the novelty and enjoyment of those improvements are decreasing as you face the onslaught of a renewed range of emotional experiences.

One of the main functions of an eating disorder for many clients is how successfully eating disorders numb painful emotions. In a physically malnourished state, one can’t feel much happiness, but there can be relief in not feeling intense negative emotions either. When a body is re-nourished, it once again has the capacity to feel and process the full range of emotions and negative emotions may show up with vengeance.

This can feel like a double-whammy in treatment because you are not only facing anxiety and distress around negative body image and resulting struggling self-esteem, but also negative emotions that haven’t been processed or treated (like anxiety, depression, or trauma).

This may bring up concerns and fears about trusting your treatment team. You may wonder if this process will really lead you toward healing and toward a better version of yourself or if your therapist and dietitian are just blowing smoke in your face? Because it doesn’t feel like healing…yet. It feels psychologically and physically uncomfortable and painful.

And then there’s the question of identity. Depending on how long you’ve had an eating disorder before getting treatment, you may feel confused about who you are. You may have forgotten who you were before your eating disorder started. You may feel fear as you wonder, “Who will I be, if I don’t have an eating disorder?” You may worry about your ability to succeed in life, in relationships, and indeed, even wonder if you will like yourself, without your eating disorder. You feel overwhelmed with the prospect of creating a new version of yourself: a healthy version of you that shows up more completely in the world. You may not realize that you can take time in discovering yourself and developing yourself when you get distracted by the fear that you believe you need to somehow transition into someone “new” in recovery.

The Wasteland can be a difficult place for relationships too. Perhaps in the beginning of treatment there was a lot of empathy and support from family and friends for all the work you were doing. There was acknowledgement and celebration for the concrete behavioral changes you made and now you’ve been eating normally for awhile so it should be easy …right? 😉 As you continue to struggle, you may feel more lonely because you may have used your eating disorder as a way to be seen, to speak your pain and be noticed. Now this far into recovery, people may assume you are doing well because they can’t witness the invisible, emotional pain you are trudging through and you haven’t yet learned how to open up and be vulnerable with your words. Because family and friends can’t witness the emotional turmoil, they may feel frustrated or confused when they realize you still struggle. They may wonder why you aren’t better yet? They may be angry and proclaim that you are just continuing to hold onto your eating disorder and refuse to fully lean into recovery.

Maybe there’s some truth to that. Maybe there is resistance. But it’s not the whole picture. This Wasteland is complex, fraught with twists and turns, new mountains to climb, unexpected snares and cliffs, and you likely find yourself exhausted from the effort.

In this place you hear the siren call of your eating disorder. It sings its sweet promises of relief, control, predictability. It soothes concerns about the misery you experienced with it before, telling you, “This time will be different. You’ll see.” As you listen to the alluring call, you convince yourself that you can control your eating disorder instead of it controlling you. You remember all the ways in which your eating disorder “helped” you. You believe you’ve learned a lot about yourself, and it, in this process, and somehow compromise with yourself that you won’t get as sick as before. You tell yourself that you will only have your eating disorder, just enough, to escape this insufferable Wasteland desert.

But what you don’t realize at this point, is that the oasis, off in the distance, is NOT a mirage, but is REAL. It’s not yet the Promised Land of Recovery, but it is sustaining relief, healthy nourishment, and deep love and support, that you need to keep moving on. Those Oases can be found along your route if you look for them in the form of turning to others for support, trust in your treatment team, seeking meaning, and continuing to believe in hope for yourself and a better future.

And it DOES get better. I PROMISE, it DOES. As you continue your trek and refuse to turn back to the eating disorder, you will continue to build new “muscles” (skills and experiences) that help decrease the exhaustion and build your momentum. You will begin to feel stronger, more confident, and even more hopeful. And eventually, the Wasteland, slowly and almost imperceptibly, will start turning lush, verdant, and full of life. Recovery is possible. The trek will be hard, and it can be long, but it WILL be worth it!