Have you ever consulted a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor about how to improve your diet yet have been unable to follow their well meaning suggestions? I’ve spent hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on such advice to no avail. Now that I know more about addictive eating, I understand why a lot of this information was useless to me. Here are some common, very reasonable, recommendations often given by nutritionists and dieticians that just don’t work for most food addicts.
- Eat in moderation
Oh if only we could! But if we could, would we’ve not done it a long time ago? It seems that however we swing it, we just don’t know when to stop eating. We don’t have an off button. If we were able to eat in moderation there would be no obesity crisis. Addiction is a spectrum of extremes that doesn’t coexist with moderation and balance. It’s a brain disease. We’re just wired that way.
- Don’t cut out any foods
For the non-addictive eater, it’s totally reasonable to eat all foods in moderation, even sugary and processed foods. Not so for the addictive eater. There are certain ‘trigger foods’ that our bodies can’t eat without craving more. Once ingested the combination of physical craving and mental obsession drive the us to seek out those foods. We need to abstain from those foods entirely. And let’s face it, most of those foods are not really food. They’re man-made edible substances.
- Enjoy the occasional treat
For the addictive eater this is like for the heroin addict to inject heroin only on Sundays. Or the alcoholic only drinking beer but not whisky. Doesn’t work, right? It tends to be a bit more all or nothing for us. We also learn that we can have treats that are not food. We can enjoy eating for nutrition. But savouring the occasional ice cream will surely set us up for the next binge. One is too many and a thousand is not enough.
- Don’t restrict your portions
Restricting portion sizes is frowned upon because it seems depriving and too much like a diet. That’s so true for those of us blessed with ‘normal’ eating habits. But what is often overlooked is that addictive eaters usually are not only addicted to certain foods. We’re also addicted to volume! We just don’t know when to stop. I’ve binged on 500g pots of plain yoghurt, 15 carrots, a kilo of grapes and three salmon steaks. Portion control for the food addict can bring huge relief and freedom. And that doesn’t mean we’re depriving ourselves or dieting. Portion sizes are abundant and nourish us but don’t cause us to overeat.
- Eat small meals several times a day
Eating several small meals a day for the addictive eater can actually cause more food obsession because we’re constantly looking at the clock and salivating for the next little snack. Eating three meals a day with nothing in between is liberating because we can focus on life between meals. I always thought I needed snacks to keep my hypoglycemia at bay. Until I started eating three abundant meals a day without my trigger foods and realised that my hypoglycemia had vanished because my blood sugar levels stabilised.
- Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs
That’s true once you’ve stopped eating addictively. In the beginning, after years of addictive eating, your body will be craving exactly the foods that are killing it, and your brain will be telling you that you want them. If you’ve eaten to stuff down emotions for many years, it’s likely that you’re not in touch with your body and you’ll need firm direction on what to eat. Then, later, yes, your body signals will come back and you’ll be able to tell what it needs and make healthful food choices. I’d say it takes at least two years, roughly.
- There’s no one size fits all food plan
That’s so true. But let me add: In the beginning, when you’re first coming off a food addiction, it can be helpful to just follow a bog standard food plan. This can be adjusted under medical supervision over time. The reason is that what’s most important in the beginning is to follow clear guidelines. Why? Because our brains are telling us to eat and eat and eat, and we don’t have a clear compass for making sound food decisions, or even provide feedback to our nutritionists about what our body needs. We’re confused about, maybe even terrified of making food choices. Following a standard plan can be simple and comforting and tweaked later in recovery. Food addicts have followed simple standard food plans for decades without any nutritional issues.
- Eat as many fruit and vegetables as you like
The common knowledge is that fruit and veggies are so good for you, so go ahead and load up on them! But as an addictive eater you might find yourself bingeing even on celery sticks and broccoli. Three planned meals with adequate fruit and veggies are more suitable for us.
- Try fasting and juicing to give your gut a break
Oh yes, again, it’s so true. Except that for the addictive eater, not eating structured regular meals can be so triggering and lead to a huge binge further down the line. What’s more is that juicing actually means processing the fruit and veg to a point where the body absorbs the glucose so much more quickly and in higher quantities, which can lead us to want more. It’s best to heal our guts with a regular meal plan that we follow each day.
- Be sure to include variety into your diet
I totally agree. But I often find that in the beginning, addictive eaters do really well to just stick to a few simple dishes to get used to a new way of eating. Anything else, even thinking too much about how to vary our veggies, can be incredibly overwhelming at first. Over time, we’ll learn to introduce variety with ease. It just sometimes needs a little patience.
Can you relate to any of these? Do you have other examples? Please share! Let’s build up a knowledge base that can help nutritionists and dieticians help addictive eaters more effectively.