Category Archives: Food, Weight and Body Image

What Would Your Last Meal Be?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

On a recent road trip with my husband, we listened to a radio program about the last meal of a death row prisoner. While I can’t remember the exact food items that the prisoner requested, his menu was something along the lines of: three Big Macs, two large fries, a large pizza, two pieces of cake, macaroni and cheese and more. The inmate’s last meal of essentially carbs and fats brought me back to my eating disorder days when I likely would have ordered the same things if I were about to die.

I used to fantasize that if I was about to have my last meal, I would eat everything I never let myself have. Back in my dieting decades, that would have been a lot! I spent years bouncing back and forth between the prison of restriction and the diet riot of all out binges. So the idea of being able to have anything I wanted as a last meal conjured up a feast of treats. (Although by the time I was done bingeing, I never felt like I had treated myself to much of anything!)

As my husband and I drove along, we proceeded to tell each other what we might each order if we knew that we were approaching our last meal. “Grilled chicken and gorgonzola salad with vinaigrette dressing,” I said. “With my favorite bran muffin –the top of the muffin only, please, warmed — and some New York cheesecake frozen yogurt. Oh, and some perfectly ripe strawberries and pineapple with a few bites of my favorite chocolate cake.” We looked at each other and laughed as we simultaneously agreed that these are the kinds of foods I usually eat every day!

I spent most of my life eating salads with low-fat dressing, lean protein, fruit and a small list of what I considered to be acceptable carbs. I would then proceed (sometimes weeks, days, hours or minutes later) to binge on all the stuff I never let myself have. It took me many years and many pounds to gain the courage to break that crazy cycle. I eventually learned that if I ate what I truly wanted — in moderate amounts — there would be nothing to rebel from; I would be genuinely satisfied and I could go on with my day until the next time my body needed food. I thought when I first began this radical experiment that I would only want carbs and fats but that was only the case when I never let myself have them (or told myself they were “bad” when I did.) But when all foods became equal options on the menu, the deprived beast inside of me eventually began to tame. I began to eat what were previously forbidden foods, and a moderate amount began to satisfy me. When I truly listened to my body rather than the starving rebellious beast within, I began to crave what turned out to be pretty balanced meals.

What I also realized during our little “last meal” game was that not only is there no longer anything to rebel from but I also would want to feel good, even if, or perhaps especially if it were my last moments on earth. I wouldn’t want to stuff myself till I was sick. I would want a moderate amount of the foods that I love. Just like I now do every day.

Of course everyone has to find out what they truly love, what foods make them feel well, and what “moderate” is for them. Everyone also needs to find the courage to distinguish between their various hungers in order to nourish themselves with what they really need. When we eat, in moderate amounts, what we truly love and what our bodies love, we are eating to satisfy our physical hunger — rather than our emotional and spiritual hungers. But those other hungers are still there, and no amount of carbs or fats will ever satisfy them. When we no longer stuff down our feelings with food, we’re left with… our feelings.

A client of mine who has been striving to eat what she truly wants in moderate amounts has been facing this dilemma. As we spoke about food and feelings one day, she told me, “For years, when I am filled with really big feelings, I head to the nearest drive-thru or donut shop. That’s just what I have always done.” So, I asked her, “What if food was not an option? What if you were filled with feelings and could not get food?” She said, “I’d probably have to cry or scream or maybe hit something!”

Bingo! So we talked about the pros and cons of doing just that. She expressed her fears about crying or screaming or hitting something (not someone and preferably something soft!) We talked about what she would need in order to do those things and what it might be like to let her feelings out naturally so she wouldn’t have to stuff them down unnaturally. Easier said than done, I know. But it really does become easier once we learn to compassionately feel and safely express our emotional pain and see that it passes. And when we are moderately eating the foods that we love, when the tidal waves of emotion pass, we are no longer left with the additional pain caused by overeating. We no longer want or crave more than our body needs. Once we begin to feed ourselves lovingly and moderately, we can know that if we still want food then some other part of us is hungry; a part that food will never touch. Food might sedate those cravings for a little while but it will never fully satisfy them.

So what would your last meal on earth consist of? Would it be large quantities of the foods you often tell yourself you “shouldn’t” have? Or a delicious meal that truly satisfies you? As for me, I’m off to have my heavenly, moderate last meal… of the day. I hope you will join me.

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

How to Let Go of Dieting and Find True Fulfillment

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I started my first diet as a teenager in the 70s. This was before word got out that diets don’t work. It was also before we got the warning on sunbathing, so every sunny weekend, my friends and I took our starving little bodies to the beach, slathered on baby oil and waited till it was time to eat our next low-fat, low-carb, low-flavor meal.

Little did I know at the time that I would live like this for decades — well, not the baby oil part. I got the scoop on sunscreen somewhere along the line. But I kept up the food restricting, which was always followed by food rebellion: eating massive quantities of all the things my latest diet instructed me not to eat.

By the time the 80s hit, I was off to college and what had begun as an innocent dabbling with diets, evolved into a full-time, painful routine. My family and friends never knew which version of me would show up when I arrived home on holiday breaks — the obsessive, skinny, starving, controlling, snippy but “You look great!” version; or the out of control, blown-up, ashamed, sneak-eating, “Who ate all the cookies?” version. The truth is, I never knew who would show up either. I had no idea that I was caught in a vicious cycle or that there were many underlying factors that needed to be addressed (some that had to do with food and many that didn’t). I had no idea that dieting was not the solution to my out-of-control binges and constant weight gains. And I had no clue that dieting was part of what was causing them.

Many years and tears later, after finally learning what I was truly hungry for and what I really needed, I began teaching others how to break the painful cycle of dieting and overeating. Even though the word is out now that diets don’t work, I find that many people are still seduced by them. And whether it’s an “official” diet from some trendy book or magazine, or the advice of a doctor or friend, the bottom line is this: restricting leads to rebelling — as well as obsession, misery and isolation. Despite what the glossy photos and fad diets promise, if you consistently deprive yourself of delicious, nutritious food, you are going to end up either malnourished or overeating. If I told you not to think about the color red, that is exactly what you would think about. And if I tell you to stay away from carbs, fats or desserts, those are the foods you will likely yearn for!

So, if you have caught the dieting bug and find yourself obsessed with food and still not at peace with your body, here is some food for thought:

Let go of dieting: Whether you are on an official diet or you just think about foods in terms of “good” or “bad,” you are setting yourself up to rebel. Instead of restricting (whether it be in reality or mentality), try being honest with yourself and making your food choices from a place of self-love and self-care. Rather than asking yourself if a food is low-fat, low-carb or low-calorie, try asking yourself: Am I truly physically hungry? What sounds delicious to me right now? Is eating this food being loving to my body? What seems like a sane, moderate amount? Is this what I would serve someone else who does not diet or overeat?

Back in the day, when I approached food thinking about how much I wanted to lose weight, it would lead to one of two things: I would eat a restrictive meal that would lead me to binge later on; or I would rebel and overeat. But, when I began to approach meals with the above questions in mind, I found that there was nothing to rebel from. I began to feel satisfied after a reasonable portion rather than feeling unsatisfied after a restrictive meal or stuffed after a rebellious binge.

Be willing to stop at polite satisfaction: This one is a biggie. It takes a lot of courage to stop eating when you are politely satisfied rather than waiting until you feel overly full or stuffed. Eating moderately means you might have to feel the emotions that you have been numbing with food. It means you will have to find other ways to fill your time, your mind and your unmet needs. The good news is that when you eat what you truly want (when you are physically hungry) and stop when you feel politely satisfied, you will feel so much better about yourself and your body. And you’ll avoid waking up the next day ashamed and bloated and ready to embark on yet another ineffective diet. Easier typed than done but this is possible to learn!

Someone asked me once if I ever think about dieting or bingeing anymore and I said, “I would no more skip or restrict a meal than I would ignore my bladder when I need to go to the bathroom. And I would no more binge than I would take my car to the gas station if the tank was already full.”

Find sweetness, comfort and fulfillment in other ways: In order to alleviate the need to overeat on sweets and comfort foods, we need to make sure that we are getting enough of those qualities in our lives. Write down all the ways you might get more sweetness and comfort in your life and start integrating a few into your daily routine. Additionally, see if you can also integrate moderate portions of comfort foods into your daily meals. This can be challenging if you are used to depriving yourself of your favorite foods and then bingeing on them later. But one way to stop the vicious cycle is to experiment with moderation. There is a middle ground between restriction prison and diet riot. The first step is admitting that dieting is not the solution to your weight or overeating problem; it is part of the cause.

Feel feelings instead of fullness: Once you let go of dieting and rebelling, the feelings that you may have avoided will begin to surface. If you are not distracted by the fantasy of weight loss, the white knuckling at mealtimes, and the all out rebellion of binges, you are left with an array of emotions that are normal for all of us. Learning to tolerate and compassionately welcome difficult emotions until they pass is a skill, just like learning to bike up a steep hill. But the good news is you can get better at it and know that when your emotions pass naturally, you are on the other side of the hill and can coast for a while until the next uphill challenge. Becoming willing to be uncomfortable and feel your emotions until they pass will help you release the need for dieting and/or overeating. You can acknowledge the source of your pain until it passes naturally.

Upgrade your unkind mind: Most people who live on chronic diets also live with an unkind mind. After all, it is usually body dissatisfaction or hatred that leads us to diet in the first place. We are promised that if we lose weight, we will like ourselves. But if that were true, most dieters who lose weight would live happily ever after — and the diet industry would shrink as satisfied customers went on their merry way. But what usually happens is that dieters who lose weight live in terror of breaking their diet and remain obsessed with food, or they overeat and gain the weight back. And the unkind thoughts remain.

So instead of thinking I will like myself if I lose weight, how about trying to like yourself now? And how about ditching the unkind thoughts? What if you were to think along these lines: I will try to like myself right now and as a result of self-kindness and self-care, see how my relationship with food changes. If you can work on liking yourself or at least being kinder to yourself, you are already one step closer to what you think you would get if the diet actually worked long-term. You’ll not only like yourself, but the self-love and self-kindness you demonstrate will lead to better self-care, less overeating, and less dieting!

Speak your truth instead of stuff it: One of the things I needed to learn to do in order to stop overeating was to speak my truth. This was no easy deal given that I have a black belt in people-pleasing. But I realized I had a choice: I could stuff my truth down (or attempt to anyway) with cookies and ice cream, or I could learn how to say what I am feeling and ask for what I need. I also had to learn how to take in feedback without crumbling or retaliating and how to accept the humanness in us all, myself included. No easy task, I know, but neither is over and undereating!

Make non-diet, moderate eating automatic: Many people who struggle with dieting and overeating also struggle with creating a new routine of non-diet, moderate eating. They vow to eat moderately and then ignore that vow. They continue to restrict even though it leads them to overeat. Creating a new habit takes conscious effort at first, until it becomes automatic. A client who has been committed to vegetarianism for decades told me, “I would never in a million years forget that I don’t eat meat and yet I often forget that restricting leads to overeating, which only leads to shame and more restriction.”

See if you can put moderate eating in the same category as brushing your teeth or gassing up your car, activities you never forget to do. I used to forget that dieting would lead back to overeating and that overeating would lead me right back to despair and restricting. A time came, though, when I no longer forgot. Feeding my body what it needed became as important as all the other priorities in my life. Today, someone would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to undereat or overeat. It is simply not worth the consequences. But it took getting in the habit until the habit became second nature.

Make peace with movement: Many people have a relationship with exercise that is similar to their relationship to food. They either avoid it or overdo it. Learning to move your body in ways that feel good, and to rest without feeling guilty, is a challenge in our “go for the burn” culture, but meeting that challenge will help your body find its natural weight range. I often ask clients these questions: If you could never lose or gain another pound no matter what exercise you engaged in, how would you choose to move your body? What form of exercise would you still enjoy? When you take calorie burning and body sculpting out of the equation, you will be able to honor your body’s natural desire to move and rest.

Release the need to please: We live in a culture in which eating is constantly linked with socializing. This can add an additional challenge to someone who is trying to listen to their internal hunger and fullness cues. Many people eat when the clock says it’s time, or when others are eating. Some don’t eat when they are hungry because their family or friends don’t feel like eating yet. Or they eat dessert, even though they are perfectly satisfied with their meal, because a friend made it or their dinner partner is having some. Many people deprive themselves when others are not eating because they want to fit in or think they will be judged. Learning to honestly assess your hunger and fullness rather than giving in to the clock or the flock, is a practice that takes courage. But when you release your need to please and eat only when you want to, your body will thank you and you will have fewer reasons to rebel.

Here’s to letting go of dieting — and choosing from the menu of sanity, moderation, honesty and peace of mind.

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

A Body Apology

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Having spent the first half of my life trying to lose weight, I decided some time ago that I refuse to spend the second half of my life trying to lose wrinkles. All day long, our bodies work diligently for us, yet most people walk around lost in thought, ignoring, criticizing and often times even despising their bodies.

I used to be an extreme body hater. After decades of working on cultivating self-kindness and self-care, I am now extremely devoted to loving and appreciating the body I live in. I also have the good fortune of being able to teach others how to do the same.

It occurred to me recently that while my body must be infinitely more content with the treatment it receives from me now (both externally and internally), I felt like I owed it an apology. After all, if I had abused someone else for decades and decided to make peace, I would surely extend my sincerest apologies to them. So, I thought I would post my letter here in the hopes that some of you will join me in a Body Apology of your own.

Dear Body,

— I am sorry for ignoring your hunger signals for so many years.

— I am sorry for making you drink disgusting diet shakes and eat tasteless diet foods.

— I am sorry for stuffing you with excess food and then shaming you when you were only responding to the starvation and self-hate that I was inflicting on you.

— I am sorry for comparing you to other women I knew nothing about and thinking you were supposed to look like them.

— I am sorry I thought of you as an object to gain approval and attention, rather than the amazing miracle that you are.

— I am sorry for hating every freckle, lump and bump on your skin.

— I am sorry for stuffing you into clothes that felt too tight and hating you when things no longer fit.

— I am sorry for making you wear high-heeled shoes that felt way too cramped and uncomfortable.

— I am sorry for criticizing you every time I saw your reflection in a mirror or a window.

— I am sorry for thinking you could not leave the house without wearing make-up.

— I am sorry for depriving you of rest when you were tired.

— I am sorry for pumping you with caffeine instead of listening to your natural rhythms.

— I am sorry you had to ingest dangerous substances because I wanted to fit in and look cool.

— I am sorry I made you exercise in ways you didn’t even like.

— I am sorry I put you in situations you did not really want to be in.

— I am sorry I ignored your wise intuition and said “yes” when you clearly felt “no.”

— I am sorry I stayed silent when you nudged me to speak up, because I feared the disapproval and rejection of others.

— I am sorry I put countless cigarettes into your lungs because I didn’t yet know how to handle stress or pauses in the day.

— I am sorry I spent so much time criticizing you that I forgot to say thank you and acknowledge your amazing senses, systems, limbs and organs.

— I am sorry I thought my value as a human being was entirely dependent on you.

— Oh, and I am sorry about those leg warmers and shoulder pads in the ’80s!

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

An Improvement on Movement: Healing Your Relationship with Exercise

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

We are all born with the natural desire to move, play, and rest. But thanks to the fear-based messages that the fitness industry and our culture bombard us with, many of us lose our innate inclination to move pleasurably and rest plentifully.

What most of us naturally engage in as kids—playing, climbing, biking, dancing…and napping—becomes either constant cardio counting and fitness classes, or barely exercising at all. Others bounce back and forth between the two extremes: “I must exercise in order to be a valuable person and earn my right to eat,” or “I hate exercise, I have no energy, what’s the point?”

Many years ago, I took up running and innocently got caught in the web of fear-based exercise. I loved running when I first started. I felt free while I was on a run and happy when I finished. My body felt strong, alert and pleasantly tired. At a certain point, however, my motives shifted and I became obsessed with running every day, regardless of the weather or my energy level. Simply put, my motivation was fear. I had to run in order to feel that I was entitled to eat. Not only that, I’d learned from endless articles and “experts” that daily exercise was good for me, and the more the better.

What began as wanting to take a run turned into having to. I fanatically started calculating my running times and disallowing myself a day off. I began fearing and refusing situations where I might possibly have to skip a day of exercise. I realized I was no longer running for the pleasure of feeling my body in motion; I was fueled by fear and running for a sense of self-worth.

I remember the day I admitted to myself that running was no longer fun and that I actually wanted to stop. But then the fear kicked in: What will happen if I quit running? What will happen to my body? How will I get that energy boost for the day? How will I know what to eat?

I shared my feelings with a dear friend who had traversed a similar path. She told me about her journey from fear-based exercise to peaceful movement and guilt-free rest. I asked her, “If I go from running 5 miles a day to only exercising when I feel like it, how will I know what to eat or how much to move? What if I never want to exercise again?” She smiled lovingly and told me to follow my intuition, that I could trust it, and that I didn’t need to calculate or count anything. I just needed to listen to my body and reach out for support when the anxious feelings and thoughts took hold.

Somewhat skeptically and extremely scared, I decided to give it a try. I told her I would take one week and only move how I truly wanted to; if after that week, something unforeseen and terrible happened, I would reevaluate the plan. I have never looked back. Aside from running across the street if the light changes, I have not run in many years. I would if I felt like it, but that urge has simply not come. I walk slowly when I want to. I walk fast when that feels right. I bike or do yoga when I’m in the mood, but if I’m planning to exercise and my body doesn’t feel like it, I often end up in the bathtub with a book. I look inward for guidance now. I ask my body how it wants to move. And I rest, a lot.

Yesterday, I thought I might take a walk but ended up spending that time in bed reading—guilt free! I then went to work, ate delicious, non-diet meals throughout the day, and went to bed without a trace of shame or remorse. Today I plan to take a walk in the forest with a dear friend and I will not be calculating my cardio, my calories, or my credibility as a human being!

Along my journey from fear-based running to peaceful movement and guilt-free rest, I had to face and feel a lot of feelings. I had to challenge and change a lot of outdated beliefs. I got a lot of support and I had a lot of motivation. I wanted peace. I thought I would get it from all the running and “clean” eating, but what I really got from that path was stressed and scared. When I expressed my emotions and challenged my beliefs, I discovered what I was really hungry for and there was no longer anything to run from.

I often ask my clients, “If you knew that you could never gain or lose a single pound until the day you die, how much would you exercise? How often would you rest?” Faces soften, deep breaths are taken. I hear responses like this: “I’d walk slower.” “I’d go for a swim.” “I’d rest when I didn’t feel like exercising.” “I’d stretch and dance—and nap.”

When exercise is no longer linked to self-hate and weight, we can begin to follow our body’s natural cues, move how we want, and rest without a shred of shame. The diet and fitness industries may not have taught us how to eat, move, and rest without guilt or fear, but we can learn to do so when we trust our body and our intuition.

So, here’s to joyous movement, sweet rest, and a peaceful relationship with your body!

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

‘Tis the Season to Eat Sugar

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

With Halloween right behind us and the holiday season just ahead, many people are dreading the onslaught of so-called “treats” that will emerge on countertops and workspaces around them.

While there are some people who have an allergic reaction to sugar and need to abstain from it because they simply cannot stop eating it once they start, many people without a sugar addiction find themselves struggling to eat sweets in moderation this time of the year.

In my line of thinking, the definition of “treating” oneself to a treat is that it feels good while you’re partaking in it and it feels good afterwards. In other words, nobody gets hurt! When someone “treats” themself to something sweet but feels terrible afterwards, it might be time to look at what exactly is being “treated” here.

Here are a few tips to help treat yourself well this holiday season:

Rule Out Hunger
In the same way that a caregiver needs to rule out the different reasons their child might be crying, overeaters can rule out some of the reasons they may have an urge to overeat. First and foremost: They may not be eating enough. Believe it or not, many emotional eaters, particularly those who are overweight, tend to not eat enough. Many of my clients report that they skip breakfast or don’t eat much during the day. Often, they think this is a good thing and don’t make the connection that it has something to do with why they can’t stop overeating at night. But not eating is a set up for overeating.

So, make sure that you eat a lovely, non-diet, moderate breakfast in the morning… every morning. This is as important as brushing your teeth, showering and getting dressed. Ideally, you’ll have a protein, some fat and a carbohydrate. Then, four to five hours later, repeat. And another four to five hours later, yup, you guessed it, repeat again! If, in between, you get physically hungry, feed yourself a small snack, preferably with some protein. Besides the fact that eating this way will prevent you from getting too hungry, it will also help stabilize your blood sugar so that when you do actually treat yourself to something sweet, it will feel like an actual treat, rather than a ravenous out-of-control window of time to get in as much as you can.

Somebody who eats a grilled-chicken salad topped with cheese, nuts and a delicious dressing, followed by a few of their favorite cookies is going to feel much different, physically and emotionally, than someone who skips breakfast and lunch, and later finds themselves bingeing on cookies. I know this is hard to conceptualize if you don’t think you should be eating cookies at all, but that’s why I’m writing this blog and hopefully giving you some food for thought! The goal isn’t to get you to stay away from sweets. It’s to help you see that what you’ve been doing may be causing you to eat too many sweets. This leads us to the next topic…

Deal With What You Feel
Once you address hunger or lack of satisfaction as the cause of your overeating, you can then begin to take notice of what you’re feeling when you have the urge to eat sweets. If you eat a moderate amount and feel satisfied, then you can know that your body just wanted something sweet and your eating wasn’t an attempt to numb or stuff your emotions.

However, if you find yourself wanting to eat the entire box or bag of sweets, something else is going on. Ask yourself with compassion and curiosity what you might be feeling inside. What are you needing? What might you be truly hungry for? Even if you don’t know right away, it still helps to ask and wonder. Sometimes all we can think of is how full we are or how badly we feel, but this just serves to keep us unaware of the original emotions that were about to bubble up prior to our overeating.

So the next time you are obsessing on sweets or wanting more than a “polite portion” of something, try wondering about what feelings you might be avoiding. While overindulging in sugar feels sweet initially, it usually leaves us feeling physically uncomfortable and emotionally empty. Conversely, welcoming your emotions in a kind and loving way can feel painful at first, but it is usually a relief afterwards.

Challenge Your Unkind Mind
One of the biggest factors that causes human beings pain is the way we speak to ourselves. And avoiding pain is a factor that can often lead to addictive eating. So when some of my clients report their litany of abusive self-talk — “I’m so fat.” “I blew it at work.” “What I said was so stupid.” “I’m not special enough (or good enough).” — It’s no wonder they want to drown themselves in the nearest chocolate cake. And whether the cake is an attempt to quiet that unkind mind, or to punish themselves for being all that their mind accuses them of (or both), overeating never dishes up what it promises. It doesn’t make your life feel sweet. It doesn’t even help you forget the things that are stressing you out. Oh, there is the initial high of sweet tastes and textures, but that’s often followed by the low of self-hate and a blood-sugar crash.

So the next time you feel the urge to overindulge with sweets, pay attention to what your mind is telling you. Notice your unkind thoughts. See if you can challenge or at least question them. See if you can find some evidence against them. See if you can simply forgive yourself for your mistakes and for being human like everyone else. Get off your back and on your side!

Find Other Forms Of Sweetness
Overeating sweets is often an attempt to give ourselves some form of sweetness. And it’s a good try! After all, if you are not getting sweetness from the way you speak to yourself, if you are not treating yourself sweetly in your daily actions and if you are not feeding yourself lovingly on a daily basis, then at least overeating sweets is some attempt (albeit, unsuccessful) to give yourself some sweetness in your life.

How about making a list of non-sugar-related ways you could give yourself sweetness? Perhaps a bath; a nap; a manicure; a massage; a good book; a visit with a friend; a day off of work to play, etc. As you improve on feeding yourself balanced, delicious and moderately-sized meals while also learning how to welcome your emotions and challenge your unkind mind, you truly can have your (piece of) cake and eat it, too!

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

Beating the Body Image Blues

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I had my first “dart in the heart” moment at age 12, when a kid at school called me “thunder thighs.” Until then, I wasn’t aware of my body as being too big, I was simply in my body. So, I started my first diet. Little did I know this would lead to a career of sneak eating, a cycle of weight fluctuations and a full-time job — no matter my weight — of feeling fat. I joined the “club” of American women who partake in what I call “fat chat.” This is where you talk about how fat you feel or how good or bad you are according to what you eat or weigh.

Like many people, I look back at pictures and see that I was a normal, healthy adolescent but, alas, the dieting/overeating cycle was set in motion. Eventually I got help, and I learned to go deeper than the size of my thighs or the grams of fat on my plate. I learned that there are no “good” or “bad” foods and I learned to challenge, rather than believe, every thought in my head.

Bad body image is an epidemic. I’ve had 6-year-old clients who are already counting calories and feeling fat. I’ve counseled seniors who have no memory of taking a guilt-free bite of food. Ever. And I work with every age in between. I often say that trying to overcome disordered eating and bad body image in our culture is like trying to recover from the flu while you are living in a Petri dish of flu germs. We’re surrounded by unnatural and unkind messages of what we are supposed to look like and how we are supposed to eat and move. But it is possible to recover and if you are one of the millions of people who are plagued with the body image blues, here are some tips for you.

Tips for Beating the Body Image Blues

  1. Broadening your perspective — Shift from viewing your body size as the most important focus in life to seeing that there are many other important aspects of life.

    Many of my clients think that their size is so important, they miss out on what they actually have in their lives. People have told me that they would rather die or get cancer than gain five pounds. I recently asked a young client who is very thin whether she would choose what she considers the perfect body (and the self-torture and obsession that haunt her daily) or a healthy body that’s within the range her doctor wants her (which is about five pounds more than she is now) and be free of the torment. She chose the “perfect body.” People in our culture are hypnotized and possessed. We have had a spell cast upon us — from our first fairy tale to the current magazine on the checkout aisle. It says this: If you are thin and pretty, you will feel happy and special. Cultures with no disordered eating teach children that they are worthy and special no matter what. Here, we have to earn our worth. Other cultures have rituals that center around nature, the seasons, and following your inspiration. Our rituals center on diet and exercise regimens, and applying wrinkle removal crèmes. Our mantra is: “thin, rich, attractive and coupled.” Most people spend their lives striving to become one or more of those things.

    Can you create a ritual that has a deeper meaning to you? Can you find something to be grateful about in your life? Can you find something to appreciate about your body?

  2. Radical acceptance — Be willing to accept the size and shape that nature intended you to be rather than spend your life fighting it.

    So many people spend their lives fighting against their natural shape. Radical acceptance is about letting go of that fight and being willing to find your natural weight range. I tell people all the time that it’s like spending your time wishing your feet were smaller. It’s about changing your mindset from thinking that there’s something wrong with your body, to understanding that there is something wrong with your thinking. I had a client years ago who was obsessed with the size of her thighs. She is what we might call “pear-shaped,” and no matter how emaciated she got, she still had her shape. She spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to change her thighs — it nearly killed her. Eventually, after countless sessions and a lot of hard work on her part, she challenged her thinking and realized it was her thinking, far more than her thighs, that was causing the agony. She let go of the fight and she won. She is now free of obsession, eats “real” food and has a rich and full life.

    Can you imagine accepting yourself or even some part of yourself? What would you think about all day if you weren’t thinking about your body size? What would you stand to gain if you practiced radical acceptance?

  3. Challenging the myth that thinner people are happier — Break the spell that has been cast upon us that says thin means happy, more worthy and more lovable.

    In our culture, we’re taught that thinner people are happier. I’m guessing you know thin people who are unhappy and people of all sizes who are content, just as they are. This doesn’t mean that some people don’t need to make changes toward health, but the idea that if someone is thinner, they will be happier is challenged every single time someone loses weight on a diet and rather than saying, “Okay, I’m happy now,” they gain it all back. In fact, 98 percent of the people who lose weight on diets gain it back, and then some. In our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook, my co-author and I wrote that, “Trying to solve a weight problem with a diet alone is like trying to fix a major engine problem in your car by giving it a new paint job.” If losing weight made you happy, then most of America would be thin and happy by now, and the multi-billion dollar diet industry would be shrinking, not growing!Can you find something or some things to be happy about today, even if your weight did not change an ounce? Can you take a look around and see that on some level, we are all the same? We are all afraid of some things. We all want love. We are all here temporarily. We all have problems.

    How would it feel if the next time you compared yourself to someone who was thinner than you, you told yourself that you were making up a story about this person’s happiness and you really have no idea how they are on the inside, what they have gone through or will go through?

  4. Separating self-image from body image — Finding other ways to see yourself in the world that have nothing to do with your body.

    Healthy people have a self-image that is separate from their body image. They have an identity that is about many things. Perhaps their identity centers on being a friend, a student, a parent or loving nature. Maybe their focus is a hobby, an instrument or an animal. There are many things that go into a person’s identity or feelings of specialness and self-worth. And — on top of it all — they have a body that they take care of and live in.When someone has a bad body image, they generally do not feel special and they don’t have a strong sense of identity and worth. They latch onto being thin as something they can do and control and be good at. Then their self-image and their body image get twisted up and they think they are as good as their body looks to them.

    Can you find some other ways that you might feel or be special that have nothing to do with your looks? Can you imagine what it would feel like if you felt worthy? What are some other ways you might separate your body image from your self-image?

  5. Dealing with the underlying issues — Become willing to go deeper, beneath body image distraction, and heal the original wounds that started you down this path in the first place.

    Body obsession is very painful, but it also works as a distraction and sometimes a full- or part-time job. Part of healing is becoming willing to see that the problems go deeper than the size of a person’s abs, or how many carbs or fat grams they ate that day.Be willing to go deeper into the feelings, thoughts and relationship issues that the body obsession distracts you from. This is hard work. Rarely do people come to me and say, “I want to work on feeling my painful, unresolved feelings and learn how to challenge my thinking and speak up more to the people in my life.” It is more often that their weight or body obsession is what brings them to my door. The good news is that when they learn these things, they find a way out because they start to feel better over time, and they no longer need the bad body image as a decoy.

    What deeper issues do you suspect your bad body image might be distracting you from? Try asking yourself, the next time you find yourself obsessing on your body: What would I be feeling or thinking about if I wasn’t thinking about my size?

Healing body image is an ongoing process. Nobody goes from self-hate to self-love overnight. It takes a lot of patience and practice to unravel all the unnatural messages you may have learned. It takes the willingness and courage to listen to your natural hunger and fullness, and your body’s natural need for movement and rest. It takes finding the right teachers or role models to show you the way. And it takes the desire to want peace more than a certain size or shape or number on the scale.

It is possible to break free from the chains of food and weight obsession. It is possible to eat delicious, satisfying, moderate meals and not gain weight. It is possible to express difficult emotions and feel a sense of relief and peace afterwards. It is possible to feel a sense of connectedness and live more and more in the present. It is possible to change some of your internal rules and still feel safe in the world. It is possible to live a full life that is about more than the size of your thighs or the amount of carbs in your day. I wish this for you…

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

When Healthy Eating Becomes Unhealthy

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It starts out healthy enough — or, seemingly so. Maybe you started by cutting out processed foods. Then desserts. Then sugar. Then meat. Maybe you switched to all organic and while you were at it, went gluten-free and wheat-free. In a culture that has gone health-food crazy, it’s easy to see how some people can take a “healthy” diet to an unhealthy extreme.

For some, it’s a short-lived stage that ricochets into a junk food rebellion. Others find their way back to the middle of the road. But for many, this so-called “healthy” way of eating can become a true obsession and, at its most extreme, an eating disorder known as orthorexia. Derived from the Greek words, orthos, meaning “correct,” and orexis, meaning “appetite,” people who suffer from orthorexia become obsessed with eating foods they deem healthy, safe or pure.

Whether someone has a full-blown disorder or a lesser-degree preoccupation, what is unhealthy about being too healthy is that it is extremely limiting, very time-consuming and can ironically lead to malnutrition. It can also become a replacement and a distraction for finding healthy ways of dealing with anxiety or grief.

In my opinion, the definition of a healthy eater is someone who eats healthy approximately 80 percent of the time and with the other 20 percent, has desserts, snacks or quick meals. I always say, moderation in all things (except murder!).

When recipe browsing, meal preparation, food shopping, and thinking about eating become an obsession and/or a part-time (unpaid!) job, it might be time to ask yourself if your healthy eating is really healthy. When a slice of pizza with friends or an occasional piece of birthday cake are unthinkable, it might be time to take a closer look at your patterns with food. When taking a day off from exercise feels terrifying or unacceptable, it might be time to examine your so-called “healthy lifestyle.” When the list of what feels safe to eat becomes smaller than the list of what is off-limits, it might be time to admit there is a problem.

So what do you do if you suspect that you have orthorexia? First, take a look at when it all started. What was going on for you at the time? Many of the people I have treated in my counseling practice have discovered that they started when something painful happened, perhaps a loss, trauma or difficult situation in their lives. Feeling out of control with their painful life situation, they turned to perfecting and purifying their eating. Throw in a crazy culture that glorifies sugar-free, wheat-free, gluten-free and meat-free diets, throw in a sensitive person who has difficulty tolerating and expressing emotions, and the recipe for orthorexia is created, featuring perfectionism, food-obsession and emotional avoidance.

Many people who feel out of control with life will latch onto food, exercise and weight control in an attempt to try to control something. It’s easy enough to do in a culture that promises us nirvana if we eat, exercise or look a certain way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were true? If we could purify our eating, exercise rigorously, attain the perfect body and everything in our lives would magically be okay! It’s a great idea in theory, but the real power in life comes from learning how to manage and communicate difficult emotions, and learning how to face life’s challenges rather than avoid them with food preoccupation and body obsession.

One client in my counseling practice got teased about her looks when she was young. Rather than deal with her emotions and learn how to strengthen her sense of self, she embarked on a health-food diet she read about online. It started out innocently enough and she received a lot of praise for how “good” she was and how much weight she lost. But her healthy lifestyle took an unhealthy turn when it became more and more rigid and limiting. No longer willing to go out to eat with friends, she began to turn down more and more social invitations. No longer willing to eat what her family ate, she began to spend more and more time poring through recipe books and watching The Food Network. No longer casual about exercise, she stopped doing the walks and bike rides she had previously enjoyed with her family, replacing them with hardcore, rigidly timed runs.

Another client had a death in her family and turned to so-called healthy eating and “getting in shape” rather than dealing with her grief. It took a near-death experience from malnutrition to get her to turn inward and face the original grief she was literally and figuratively running from. Once she did, she learned it was necessary and healing to cry and that grieving (and eating some foods that were not on her “safe” list) was not going to kill her. It was a shock to her that her so-called “healthy” lifestyle is what almost killed her.

Imagine food, weight and exercise as the tip of an iceberg above the surface of the water. That’s all you can see and it’s what becomes easiest to focus on. But if you go deeper underneath the water and take a look at what you’re avoiding, you will find the real issues. For most people it’s good old human emotions that they’re afraid to face. Whenever an obsession is running the show, it’s easier to focus on the tip of the iceberg (in this case, food and eating) and ignore the emotions floating underneath the surface.

Oftentimes it’s only when the problems caused by food and body obsession get big enough or difficult enough in and of themselves that some people become willing to go deeper to feel and heal their pain.

The good news is you can heal your unresolved pain, make peace with difficult life situations and learn how to effectively cope with emotions. Obsessing on recipes, food, cooking, and exercise is a never-ending cul-de-sac since we still have difficult life situations occurring while we are cooking, baking and running! The only real solution is to gain emotional coping skills.

The next time you find yourself obsessing on food or exercise, try asking yourself what you might be thinking or how you might be feeling if you weren’t thinking about food or exercise.

If you have orthorexia, take a look at how isolated and limited your life has become. See if you would be willing to step out of your comfort zone just a little bit. Consider taking a class you have been interested in (one that has nothing to do with food or exercise). Try connecting with an old friend, reaching out to someone new or seeking professional help.

Consider challenging yourself to eat a food that is not on your “safe” list and see that nothing bad will happen if you do. (You might have some big feelings, but you will not get big from one food item!) You can learn to ride your emotions out until they pass, and you’ll become stronger and more equipped as a result.

You might start by adding one food item a week, continually testing the safety of the water. If you are having a free-range burger with organic aioli, try adding a few fries. The next time your friends are going out for pizza, try one slice with your salad instead of a salad only or staying home. Afterwards, you can try journaling out all your thoughts and feelings and reassure yourself that you are not unsafe, just emotionally full of feelings. The next time you are at a birthday party, consider having one piece of cake, even if it’s not organic.

See if you can begin to speak more kindly to yourself. Your unkind thoughts led you into these rigid patterns in the first place, they will not be what gets you out. Just like a child who is afraid to go to her first day of school, you will need a lot of kindness and compassion as you step out of your seemingly comforting rules. You can begin to find safety, value and worth in yourself that is unrelated to your exercise output or your food intake.

A question I love asking my clients is, “Ships are safe inside the harbor, but is that what ships are for?” It is safe to venture out. You don’t have to set sail for months. Simply taking one small step outside your safe, self-made comfort zone can help you develop new skills and prove to yourself that your safety does not lie in food control but in self-care and self-soothing.

View on The Huffington Post

Poem written by a client who is overcoming Orthorexia
The sense of control over food
Strongly affects my mood
From gluten-free eats
To vegan no meats
To strictly organic
Or I will panic
To sugar-free desserts
Oh how it hurts
Eating clean
Becomes my mean
For purpose in life
and to boost self esteem

Anxiety over ingredients
I wish to be lenient

Counting each calorie
Obsessing on my salary
Is not the answer
To if I’ll get cancer
If I’ll stay thin
Or get a double chin

Money will not define
To what is the fine line
Between happy and sad
Teary and glad

We are who we are
Each a unique star
Not by our type of diet
I need to train my mind to be quiet

← Return to blog entries

Fat Is Not a Feeling

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

My earliest memory of “feeling fat” was when I was about 12 years old. Up until that time, I was not all that aware of having a body; I was pretty much just in my body, doing the things that kids do. I had not yet learned that I was supposed to look differently than I did. I had not yet downloaded the program that some foods were “good” and others were “bad.” I did not yet have exercise and movement linked up with calorie burning or self-worth.

Then I got teased about my size. I started to compare myself to my skinnier friends and I began what was to become a full-time job of feeling fat. I had no clue at the time that fat was not a feeling. I didn’t know that body obsession was a cover up for low self-worth, and neither did I know, at the time, I was not alone.

Millions of people battle their body: some full-time, some part-time. The truth is, we have an epidemic on our hands. An estimated 8 million Americans suffer from a diagnosed eating disorder. This does not include the millions that struggle with food, weight and body issues but may not have or admit to having a full-blown disorder. What other culture praises people for starving themselves? What other culture envies people who lose weight, no matter their means of getting there? What other culture asks people who are often sick, starved and obsessed, what their secret is?

This epidemic has no age limit. In my psychotherapy practice, I have seen clients as young as 6 years old who already think that calories and carbs are bad and know about feeling fat. I have worked with senior citizens who have no memory of not feeling fat. And I have treated every age in between. Whether someone is on the restricting end of the pattern, the overeating end of the pattern or bounces back and forth as I did, body dissatisfaction and food obsession are a very painful way to live. The good news is that there is help. There is a way out of the vicious cycle of undereating, overeating and body bashing.

Food, Glorious Food
The first step to overcoming food and body obsession is learning to put food in its proper place, and learning to eat what you like, in amounts that feel loving to your body and to let go of the “good” and “bad” rules we have all been taught. It is not easy to strike all of our culture’s food rules from our internal record, but it is possible.

We all have a part of us that knows what foods we like and what amounts feel good to our body. For most people that innate knowledge is buried under years of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” I spent decades avoiding carbs and fats and then binged on them. It took me a long time to learn how to legalize all foods and learn how to eat any food in moderation.

Most people approach a meal with one of two options in mind. The first is deprivational thinking. This leads to an internal soundtrack that sounds something like this: What should I have? What is the least fattening thing on the menu? What has the lowest amount of calories, carbs or fat grams?

Others approach their meals rebelling from all those shoulds and this track is more along the lines of: Forget it! I am eating everything I want. I am eating all the stuff I never let myself eat and I will start again tomorrow.

And many bounce back and forth between the two.

Making peace with food involves a huge do-over. It entails approaching food from an intuitive place that sounds more like: What sounds good to me right now? What seems like a loving amount? If I am not physically hungry, what might I be feeling and needing?

Easier said than done? You bet. But walking around in food avoidance and/ or food obsession is no piece of cake either. (Pardon the pun!) With practice and patience, we can learn how to get back our natural relationship with food and eat what sounds really good to us in amounts that feel really right.

Beating the Body Image Blues
The next piece of the puzzle is often the foundation of what causes food obsession and disordered eating in the first place— body dissatisfaction or, in many cases, body hatred. Most people in our culture do not like their body. Many people despise their body and spend enormous amounts of time lost in that obsession. I know I did. I have memories of being in some of the most gorgeous places on the planet and all I could think about was the size of my thighs or how someone else was thinner than me. What a tragic waste of time. And yet, I was taught, like most of us, that the answer to my problems lay in losing weight and looking perfect. I did not know that many people who looked perfect on the outside also suffered on the inside (sometimes even more severely than others). I did not know that what I was seeking from my pursuit of a certain weight and shape could not be found in that pursuit because no matter how much weight I lost, I still did not like myself and I remained in terror of gaining it back. (Which, by the way, I always did, but only every time!)

Finding your natural weight range is a process. It unfolds as you learn to eat real food in moderate amounts and move in ways that you enjoy, also in moderate amounts. Most people begin their descent into the body image blues when they first start to dislike themselves or decide that they are not special enough, valuable enough or loveable enough. We were not born with these beliefs, by the way. We decide them when painful things happen and we cannot come up with a logical reason for the pain. So we turn it inward against ourselves. (More on that later.)

Then, rather than work on changing those unkind, false beliefs, many people latch onto the pursuit of trying to change and perfect their body. It’s an easy enough mistake to make since we live in a culture that teaches us at every turn, every mouse click and every check-out aisle, that the solution to all our problems comes from changing our outsides in some way. Our culture has been feeding us this message for decades … If you look a certain way, you will live happily ever after. Why do you think so many models, actors and famous people who seemingly look perfect, battle drugs, food and depression? The answer is because nothing outside of ourselves can change our internal tape (or CD for you younger readers!) We need to delete and upload new messages on the inside.

So many people spend their lives thinking they will love themselves or be loveable when they … (fill in the blank—lose weight, look a certain way, accomplish a certain thing.) But it isn’t until they start experiencing self-love and self-acceptance that they will have a modicum of peace. Does it sound a bit cliché? Self-love is the answer? Is it easier to think I’ll love myself when I get (fill in the blank) or get rid of (fill in the blank)? You bet! But then we spend our lives waiting. And for most people that day does not arrive because life will always have its challenges and all bodies change over time. If our means of weight loss is unnatural then we have to live unnaturally in order to keep it.

Healing Through Feeling
In the same way that many people think there are good and bad foods, most of us have been taught that there are good and bad feelings. Namely, happy is good, scared, sad and mad—not so good. And in the same way that we can have a big do-over with food as we learn to eat all foods in moderation, we can also have a big do-over with feelings as we learn that all feelings are natural and necessary and there are no good or bad emotions. We all have them because we need them all. We just get to decide if we are going to stuff our feelings down, blast them out or experience them in healthy ways. Sounds simple enough, right?

Unfortunately though, most of us are taught at a very young age to deny and/or stuff down our feelings. We are often fed or given a pacifier when we are sad or scolded and sent to our rooms when we are mad. In order to have a healthy relationship with food and our bodies, we need to learn how to have a healthy relationship with our emotions. We need to learn how to identify and express them in ways that do not hurt ourselves or anyone else.

Of course it’s not easy or fun to cry or to feel angry but it is the only way to achieve health and live a life without depression, anxiety or addictions.

All feelings are natural and need to be let out, just like having to go to the bathroom. If we have a feeling and we block up that natural process then we are not going to feel well or be well. Many of us treat our feelings as if they need to be figured out or fixed when what they really need is to be welcomed, understood and comforted.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think
Most people walk around in a trance. I know I did. When I was lost in food and weight obsession, I was basically a mind with legs. I was entirely cut off from my body and I spent the majority of my time fantasizing about the future or rehashing the past. I was either beating myself up for what I said, did and ate or I was obsessing about what I was going to get or get rid of.

Needless to say, I was a pretty unhappy camper. Using drugs and alcohol were my attempt at a solution (or so I thought!). I used them to try and get a break from my unkind thinking and although they led to more problems, it wasn’t until I learned other ways to quiet my mind that I could let all addictions go. Now I have the honor of teaching others what I learned so they, too, can climb out of the pit of addiction, depression and anxiety. Things like: challenging rather than believing every thought your mind thinks, using simple but effective mindfulness techniques, meditating or reaching out for help.

There is help out here and if somebody is one of the millions that are battling with their body or food, they are not alone. They could reach out for help, whether it is to a trustworthy professional, a safe person in their life or one of the many resources that exist in a community or online.

Once that person finds what they are truly hungry for, they do not need to look for it in boxes of cookies or bags of chips. Once they learn to be kind to themselves, they do not need to restrict and diet in the hopes that they will earn love. Once they learn how to welcome all their emotions, they never have anything to run from or stuff down. And once they learn to question their thoughts, they can experience more time here actually being here.

View on Good Times

← Return to blog entries

Breaking the Diet/Binge Cycle

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Having spent decades bouncing back and forth between my strict diet du jour and the “I blew it, screw it, eat everything in sight and start again on Monday” program, I am honored to share with others the tips and tools that helped me crack the diet/binge code once and for all.

In our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook and our “Defeating Overeating” online course, my coauthor and I teach readers all the things that helped us step off the diet/binge roller coaster and find what we call a “Live-It.”

There are several components to a Live-It. The first is learning to challenge rather than believe every thought you think. Learning how to cope with emotions is another important component (coming soon to a blog near you!) And, of course, learning how to live with food and make peace with your body are essential parts of a Live-It.

It took many years of trial and error (heavy on the error!) to learn that dieting was not the solution to my weight problems. It was in fact, one of the contributors. Changing rules with food, exercise and body image requires a huge do-over. We have all learned so many rules from our culture and our families that we may have thought were helpful. Some rules you might not even be aware of. But you will need to identify them and let go of them in order to find a loving, honest relationship with both food and feelings. This is a process, and fortunately you do not have to do it perfectly. You can start (and start again) any moment!

So if you are one of the millions who battle with your body and food, here are some tips to help you learn how to Live-It!

Shame-Free Zone: Try to be really curious about why you are turning to food when you are not hungry. Try speaking to yourself the way a really loving parent would speak to a hurt child. You need compassion, kindness and curiosity as you work on these issues and examine your patterns, not self-criticism. (If self-criticism worked, you would probably have all your goals met by now!)

Hunger and Fullness Scale: Most of us were taught to eat according to the external clock rather than our internal body cues. Here is a scale that can help you check in with your physical hunger rather than check out with excess food or diet rules.

Try using the following hunger and fullness scale anytime to get better at knowing your body’s needs. It is similar to a gas gauge:

Empty                                                                          Neutral                                                                       Stuffed

The goal is to eat when you are about a three on the scale. This is where you are not yet “starving” but do feel some physical signs of hunger. Then, try to eat until you are about a seven on the scale. This is what I call “satisfied” or “politely full.”

In many cases, people have been so cut off from their hunger and fullness, they do not know when they are truly physically hungry and when they are satisfied or politely full. If this is the case for you, try asking yourself how you would feed someone else who does not diet and does not overeat.

Diet-Busting Questions: These questions are adapted from our online course “Defeating Overeating,” and can help you to tune into your body’s natural needs rather than the restricting-and-rebelling pattern that so many people vacillate between.

Try asking yourself the following three questions when you are approaching a food choice:

  1. What does the dieter in me think I should eat?
  2. What does the overeater in me want to eat?
  3. What does my “healthy voice” or my “body wisdom” say?

Again, you might not be used to checking in with your healthy voice or your body wisdom, so ask yourself how you would feed someone else who does not diet and does not overeat (until you are one of them!)

Culture-Busting Checklist: Our culture has so many rules about food that steer us away from what our bodies really like, want and need. This checklist can help you get better at tuning into your body. When you are getting ready to eat, consider asking yourself the following:

Is this nutritious, delicious and moderate?

Nutritious: Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates and fats for different and important bodily functions.

Delicious: We need to eat things we really like and love so our bodies will feel satisfied.

Moderate: Cup both hands together to make a bowl out of your palms. This bowl is approximately the size of your stomach. So your meal, once digested, will fill that bowl, making a moderately-sized meal. Prior to ingesting, most meals will overflow your cupped hands. Keep in mind that denser foods like pasta and dessert will fill your stomach faster than water-based foods like salad and fruit, like the difference between filling a jar with rocks vs. sand. So, to get a visual, a moderate meal prior to being eaten would slightly overflow your cupped hands.

Flash Forward: When people are in a compulsive eating mode, they usually don’t think about how they are going to feel later. They want the food and they want itnow

Consider trying a “Flash Forward.” This is when you take the time to think about how you are going to feel later if you eat this food now. You can still decide to eat afteryou do this exercise, if you choose to, but this pattern interruption can help you to make a more informed decision — and build up the capacity to tolerate anxiety (which is often one of the emotions people eat over).

When we overeat, there’s usually a short-term feeling of good followed by a long-term feeling of bad. When we Flash Forward and decide to refrain from overeating, there are more short-term difficult feelings, but in the long-term, we end up feeling so much better in our body. We also train our system to understand that we do not have to succumb to its every whim, and to see that all cravings pass! Consider creating a list of things you can do to ride out the craving. For example: Journaling, reaching out to a safe person, taking a walk, doing a craft or project, reading, listening to music, searching the web for recovery-oriented websites (check out my website for free articles or podcasts here), checking out YouTube for meditations or mindfulness exercises, doing something in nature or something that fills your spirit, etc.

Food For Thought: See if you would be willing to slow down while you are eating. Pausing between bites, even if it’s just for a second or one deep breath, will help slow the mealtime down, which will help your body calm down and better register fullness and satisfaction.

It’s also important to try to eat most of your meals while sitting down to encourage more mindfulness and to help your body register what it is taking in. (Remember, you do not have to be perfect with these tips; simply trying to integrate them in a bit is a great start!)

Consider making a list of the foods that you find most difficult to eat moderately. See what would feel like the most supportive way for you to handle these trigger foods — e.g., not buying them, only buying them in small quantities, only eating them when out, or temporarily keeping them out of the house. Ask yourself what would be the most supportive in letting go of both dieting and overeating, keeping in mind that it will likely change as you heal your patterns with food.

Take note of your most high-risk times to overeat and consider making a supportive plan for those times. For example, some people have the hardest time after work, so they plan a supportive phone call or a nighttime ritual when they get home. One client created a sweet ritual with a candle, a cup of tea and a few minutes of journaling when she got home, as opposed to her previous ritual of TV and bingeing when she transitioned from the day to the evening.

Food and Feelings: Overeating is often an attempt to give ourselves comfort and sweetness and to numb intolerable emotions. So you can now begin to use the desire to overeat as a “doorbell” to mean that you are probably having big feelings. (Or you might be truly hungry if you have been dieting and restricting, which will get addressed as you practice the previous tips!)

See if you would be willing to wonder about and take guesses about what you might be feeling when you want to overeat. (Or after you overeat. It’s never too late to inquire with compassion, kindness and curiosity!)

Take a moment whenever possible (before, during or after overeating) and try writing, asking yourself or sharing with someone safe how you are truly feeling and what you think you are truly hungry for.

Some Final Thoughts: Don’t give up! It is possible to learn how to eat when you are physically hungry and stop when you are politely satisfied. It is possible to unlearn all the insane food rules our culture has taught us, and to enjoy a variety of foods in moderation. It is possible to find healthy ways to comfort yourself and sweeten your day. It is possible to tolerate difficult emotions and ride them out until they pass. It is possible to have a full life rather than a full stomach. It is possible to learn how to spend your precious time on this planet thinking about more than just the size of your body.

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries

Don’t Diet, Live It!

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I started my first diet when I was 12, and this began a full-time career of yo-yo dieting, sneak eating, and eventually 10 years of secret bulimia. It’s tragic to say that I thought about food and weight more than anything else. I was painfully self-conscious about my body and even when I briefly landed at a weight that was considered healthy, I never felt good enough, attractive enough, or enough of anything.

Today, I no longer diet or overeat. I no longer have several sizes of clothes in my closet, and I can honestly say that I feel comfortable in my body. And if I can do it, you can too.

Disordered eating has reached epidemic proportions and it’s no wonder. We are surrounded by unnatural messages about food and unrealistic images of what we should look like and the happiness it would bring if we could only achieve that look. We are encouraged to restrict our food, eat huge portions, and listen to diet books and diet doctors rather than our own bodies.

In our book, The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook, my coauthor and I teach the four components of a “live-it,” our alternative to a diet. Here is a brief summary of each:

Physical — We were all born with the ability to know when we are hungry, what we like to eat, and when we have had enough. We were all born with natural desires to move our bodies in ways that feel good and to rest when we are tired.

But here, in our culture, those natural connections are stolen from us. We are taught that certain foods are good and bad, we are encouraged to drink caffeine if we are tired, and we are told how many sets and reps and minutes of cardio we are supposed to do. It is not easy to strike all this from the record, but it is possible!

Emotional — In the same way we are taught that there are good and bad foods, many of us are taught that there are good and bad feelings. We are generally not encouraged to accept and express what we feel.

Over time, you can learn how to better identify what you are feeling and what you need when you are in distress, and eventually all that excess food and dieting will no longer be needed.

Intellectual — Think about how many silent self-critical thoughts can take place in the course of five minutes: “I feel fat.” “I hate my thighs.” “She’s so much happier than I am.” “I shouldn’t have eaten that.” “I shouldn’t have said that.”

It’s no wonder so many people try to comfort themselves with food and dieting. We have no choice about the fact that our mind will think thoughts all day long. That’s its job. It’s not always a problem. It’s only when we camp out on the unhealthy ones or believe the cruel ones that we get into trouble and misery.

We basically have five possible places where our thoughts can land at any given moment:

  1. Future: fantasy or hope
  2. Future: fear, worry or dread
  3. Past: longing or wishing
  4. Past: resentment, rehashing or regret. And now, drum roll here…
  5. The present moment

The present moment entails what is actually and factually here. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or the past. It’s like living in a dream or a nightmare rather than in the here and now. Luckily, we do not have to believe everything we think. We can retrain our brain and learn to live more in the present moment.

Spiritual — Cultures where there is little or no evidence of disordered eating have spiritual practice and meaningful rituals built into their daily lives. Our rituals seem to center less around spiritual matters and more on weight loss schemes and anti-aging creams.

Imagine living in a culture that teaches us we are worthy, no matter what we look like. Imagine a culture that values compassion and kindness more than the number on a scale. Imagine a culture without scales, clothing sizes and mirrors, but rather with the goal of connecting to what is around you and within you. Imagine spending the rest of today (or even a few moments) being kind to yourself and your body. I double dare you!

View on The Huffington Post

← Return to blog entries