How Do I Learn To Eat Correctly?
Just as there is no one road to recovery, there is no one way to eat correctly. Every individual body is different, and deciding what and how much to eat will ultimately be up to you. In the early stages of recovery, however, when emotions are high and thoughts are spinning, food decisions are extremely difficult, sometimes immobilizing. It is helpful to have some plan with which you feel comfortable as you embark on new eating patterns. A qualified dietitian or nutritionist, working in conjunction with your therapist, can help you with this. (See Chapter Six, “Healthy Eating and Healthy Weight.”)
As I indicated earlier, there are two main approaches to the food behaviors in recovery from bulimia. People who use the abstinence approach eliminate certain foods from their diet and stick to a food plan. This enables them to avoid those foods which might trigger fears about weight gain or binges, such as sweets, processed, or fried foods. One common practice is to have three, well-planned meals each day and up to three healthy snacks.
The other orientation encourages people to eat whatever food they want, in moderate portions, when they are physically hungry. This is a more spontaneous approach and for this reason can be extremely difficult for someone new to recovery, requiring a new awareness of hunger cues and permission to eat that which was previously considered “bad,” without guilt or loss of control. Most therapists recommend a more externally-structured eating plan at first, and a slow introduction to a more internally-guided plan.
It is hard even for a normal eater to make choices these days. The four food groups appear to be fast, frozen, fat, and fried— poor choices for anyone! Many restaurants serve overly large portions of fatty, sugary, processed food. With rare exceptions, fruits and vegetables are chemically treated, poultry and livestock are pumped with growth hormones, and much of our seafood swims in polluted waters. Finally, millions of dollars are spent promoting diet plans with powdery meal-substitutes or brand-name processed foods. What is considered healthy one week has warnings the next. Recovering bulimics have a particularly difficult time wading through this muck in order to learn how to eat nutritious meals.
Eating correctly obviously means not binge-eating or feeling badly about what you have eaten. It does mean following a relatively healthy, nutritious diet, allowing one’s self the freedom to eat occasional treats without guilt or fear.
A healthy, well-balanced diet includes complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source and are crucial to the functioning of the red blood cells, brain, and central nervous system. Therefore, whole grains are an excellent source, as is pasta, rice, and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes. Protein also provides energy, and if enough carbohydrates are eaten, protein is used to build and repair tissue and help maintain adequate immune system function. Animal products provide “complete” proteins, but grains and legumes (such as rice and beans) can be adequately combined within a 24 hour period to form “complementary” proteins, which are essential for vegetarian diets. The body also needs fat to provide and absorb fat-soluble vitamins, fatty acids, and to slow the emptying of food from the stomach, which gives a feeling of fullness. Good sources are seeds (such as sunflower seeds) and unsaturated oils. A balanced diet, with plenty of variety, will provide the vitamins and minerals needed, although supplements may be appropriate. For more information, consult a professional or books on nutrition (not diet books).
Often, individuals with eating problems are well aware of these basic nutritional facts, but have difficulty acting upon them. This is because food represents much more than fuel and the act of eating symbolic of deeper issues. Changing your eating behavior may require trial and error over time in order to find what changes you are ready to make at the different stages of your progress.
Eating normally means enjoying what I eat. It also means loving myself enough to nourish my body with healthy, adequate nutrition.
To normal eaters, food is just food; it’s not a substitute for something missing in your life, or a way to stuff feelings.
There are no more “good” or “bad” foods. I eat when I’m physically hungry, and stop when I’m comfortably satisfied. I can eat the foods I enjoy whenever I am hungry for them, and I am more aware of the taste and texture. I no longer binge as a result of deprivation.
I no longer binge or purge, but I also have to watch how much I eat, and I abstain from certain foods such as wheat, flour, hard cheese, and crispy, salty things like potato chips or rice cakes.
Eating normally is being able to eat anything I want, in moderation, with anyone I want. Now, I enjoy going out to eat with my husband and friends.
Reprinted with permission from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery
By Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
To find out more about this helpful book click here.