Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.
Food Freedom Coach
Overcome disordered eating and find peace with food
by Harriet Frew on February 1st, 2020

Weight stigma is huge in our culture and particularly amongst health professionals. It might feel hugely demoralising and shaming, if you’ve worked hard to overcome disordered eating behaviours, but then this has left you with a BMI that is above the so called healthy range.  You might feel caught between a rock and a hard place and very tempted or even outwardly persuaded to go down the dieting route again. Before you do this, read this post, as disordered eating to achieve a ‘healthy’ weight is absolutely NOT the answer.

1. ACCEPTANCE. Radical acceptance of your natural body shape is key. Our individual body shape is largely influenced by our genetics. Looking at your family members and generations back, you will glean a realistic perspective of where your body is in its happy place. If you come from a long line of muscular brunettes, you are likely not going to have the genes for a boyish shape and blonde hair.  That’s okay because all body shapes and types can be celebrated. Step boldly away from the outdated ‘ideals’ and be proud of the body you have.

2. NO TO REPLAPSE. Adopting disordered eating behaviours eg: restrictive eating, purging, over-exercise to maintain a thin ‘ideal’ is NOT healthy. These behaviours are damaging physiologically and psychologically. If your body’s is genuinely in a happier place, over the healthy BMI range, then that needs to be honoured. This is not licence to overeat and not take care of your body. Rather, its acknowledging where your set-point naturally sits. Additionally, you might be a muscular build and remember that muscle weighs more than fat; this can distort BMI calculations.

3. BEHAVIOURS. Research shows that adopting healthier behaviours is highly beneficial for wellbeing, rather than getting fixated on weight loss. So this might mean: moving your body more; eating more vegetables; getting good quality sleep or socialising with your peers. Including more of these healthier habits in daily life, is going to improve your health, regardless of your BMI.

4. TRUST. Begin to trust your body and listen to your hunger cues. Eating when you’re hungry; stopping when you’re full; enjoying your food and eating a whole variety of different foods. Learning to trust your hunger and satiety cues can be valuable in helping your weight stabilise and knowing where your body is in balance.

5. MOVE. Get active for the joy of movement. Make it social; make it something you love; make it something that makes your body feel great.

6. DIVERSITY. Embrace size diversity. Read up on the Health at Every Size Movement. It is a crazy myth that anyone can be thin, with just following the right diet or exercising hard enough. We are all different shapes and sizes. This is to be celebrated 100%.

7. So love your body as it is. Work to make healthy lifestyle behaviours changes that honour and respect your body and appreciate the wonderful diversity of bodies that we all have.

What are your thoughts on this? Do share.

by Harriet Frew on January 28th, 2020

Are you plagued with pesky eating disorder thoughts that you just can’t switch off?

Without even knowing it, faulty thinking could be sabotaging your bravest efforts to transform your eating.

Before you completely blame your poor brain though, remember that if you are restricting your eating, then your thoughts around food are inevitably going to be LOUDER. A definite way to reduce these ruminating thoughts is to take the brave step of eating more, eating regularly, eating a range of foods and working to keep blood sugar stable.

Assuming you’ve done that, let’s talk more about faulty thinking.

With 60,000+ thoughts plus per day running through your mind and many being repetitive, you can see the power of your thoughts to potentially affect your mood and behaviour.

Negative thoughts often evoke intense emotional reactions such as anxiety, upset, guilt or overwhelm, these then having a profound impact on your actions. Unwittingly, you can be catapulted back into patterns of emotional eating, restrictive or over-eating as a consequence of negative thinking.

1. All or nothing thinking

‘I’m perfectly in control of my eating’ or ‘I’ve failed and am eating everything in sight’.

When you judge your eating in ‘all or nothing’ terms, the rules are often overly strict and therefore unsustainable. Many people can follow an eating plan for a few days or weeks. Beyond this, you will likely crack and rebel against the rigidity of your expectations.

Instead: Be more flexible in your thinking whilst being kind and compassionate towards yourself. Genuinely permit yourself to eat a range of foods without judgement. You will find that you actually desire the food less, when it is allowed.

 ‘I don’t need to overeat as I can have this food whenever I want it’.

2. 'Shoulds'

‘I should never eat this food’.

Some people need to genuinely eliminate foods from their diet for health reasons and it is also true that certain foods will enhance your mood and energy levels. However, militant ‘shoulds’ can feel suppressive and bring on feelings of deprivation. If you have a long list of foods you are forbidden to eat, you might well think, yearn and dream about them more. You may also be more inclined to rebel against your ‘shoulds’ and gorge on the banned food.

Instead: You can still eat healthily, whilst allowing in a range of foods.

‘Allowing myself to eat and enjoy this cake, prevents me feeling deprived and helps me to stick to my eating plan.

3. Fortune telling

‘I have no control around cheese’.

When you think you have no control around a specific food, you have almost set yourself on the dangerous path where your predictions can become truths. You will likely feel a slave to the food in front of you and helpless to change the outcome.

Instead: Believe you have control of your eating and collect evidence of this through experimentation. Introduce the dangerous food in a planned and safe way. Sit down at a table, really savouring and tasting the food. After eating, distract yourself and be super kind in your self-talk. Every time you exert control in this way, it is a little victory to help build self-confidence.

‘I can be in control around food’.

4. Surrendering

‘I always fail at my healthy eating so what’s the point of starting again’.

This kind of thinking saps all motivation and renders you powerless. Hence, you may surrender to your goals and raid the biscuit tin.

Instead: Be your own number one cheerleader. Whatever has just happened put this behind you and see yourself as persistent and resilient as you continue onwards.

‘I learn from my slip ups in the process of change’.

5. Discounting the positive

‘So what if I’ve followed my plan today, there is so much further to go’.

When you discount the positive, you don’t see the mountains you have already climbed, instead focusing on what seems like ‘the Everest’ ahead.

Instead: Recognise every little step and mini victory along the way.

‘Every day I am making progress towards my goals’.

6. Labelling

'I’m a greedy pig for eating the cake’.

Unkind thoughts will absolutely affect your mood and motivation. Failing to show yourself respect can likely lead you to become more self-punishing.

Instead: Talk to yourself in a kind and courteous manner. Avoid using discouraging names or labels.

‘I am resourceful and resilient, as I learn from my mistakes’.

7. Wishful thinking

'If only I was thinner then people would love me more’.

You put life on hold until you reach that magic weight. You fantasise that life will change when you ‘arrive’ and acceptance will finally be yours. This is a myth. Weight loss might certainly bring some health benefits (not if you are losing weight into the underweight range!) but it rarely boosts self-esteem in the way you hope for.

Instead: Live for today and pursue your dreams. Don't wait for the perfect moment.

‘I accept myself completely today’.

The first step to changing your thinking is through developing awareness. Decide today to become conscious of your thoughts and to be open and questioning of them. This is the starting point of change and potentially changing your eating habits for the long-term. I'll be writing more on how to to challenge these destructive thoughts soon.

by Harriet Frew on January 27th, 2020

Recovering from disordered eating is complicated. It’s an unconscious coping strategy for dealing with the tricky life stuff.

Logically, you might know what you need to do to change. You could give incredible advice to anyone standing in your shoes. It’d be a no brainer.

Frustratingly however, when it comes to you, it can be a whole different ball game.

And why?

Because it’s bizarrely helping you day by day – it was never a conscious decision to cope this way; it just happened over time.  

We know that disordered eating is a pretty effective way to numb painful emotions and offer a distraction and focus, all whilst keeping you safe.

On some days, it goes so far to offer fleeting satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment; that can feel rewarding, when there’s not much else you’re feeling good about right now.

Of course, you’re UNDERSTANDABLY going to feel reluctant to let it go.  Who wouldn’t feel ambivalent about saying goodbye to something that partially helps?

But another part of you might hate it with a vengeance. It’s eroding your life and making you less than you can be. Whilst offering brief fulfilment, it’s simultaneously draining the life blood from your veins. Your poor body is suffering; your friendships are distant; your goals have become hazy and lost, because the disordered eating short-term goals will always win.

You might feel powerless to change things. The voice in your head might be giving countless justifications and excuses for why change isn’t possible.

The voice in your head might be telling you that you’re unworthy of change and why even bother.

You might feel 100% justified in being stuck as the voice in your head might have ground you down so much.

You might blame others for not fixing or making it better. If only they were helping me!

And I know, there is a shortage of quality help for the treatment of disordered eating. It is a real problem.

If you recognise yourself here, take a pause and stand back.

This voice in your head - it might feel true and honest and real.

In truth, this voice is likely an internalised voice from a childhood place. It has much more to do with your past, than your present. This critic is on a never-ending loop of self-chastisement and condemnation.

What can influence your internal voice?

The way you were spoken to as a child.

The way your emotional needs were tended to.

Your personal experiences of trauma, abuse or grief.

Childhood experiences cannot just be swept under the carpet, and a positive mindset adopted.

Childhood experiences need processing with support and healing is a necessary part of moving forward.

Healing is possible though. It is not easy work, but it is a choice to do so.

Giving yourself permission to heal and to acknowledge your hurts is important.

You might have all kinds of conflicts around this, as feel that you are somehow deserving of bad things. So you might unconsciously recreate these negative experiences again and again. So you believe it even more.

And when help shows up, you might reject it or pull away. It doesn’t feel safe or right.

You might sabotage any goodness or progress.

It doesn’t have to be this way forever.

Realise that the power lies within you to change.

This is scary at first.

You might be used to other people telling you what to do.

And a part of you hates that. It feels controlling and didactic. But -  it gives you something to push back against; to react against and a reason not to change.

No-one can give you permission to change but you. Therapists or supportive friends or family can encourage and spur you on. Ultimately the decision is yours.

How to foster change?

1. WANT IT. Make a decision today to change and focus on your recovery. Get clear of the ways that disordered eating is holding you back. Write down your forgotten longings and dreams. You are more than the eating disorder.

2. ROOT OUT THOSE LIMITING BELIEFS FROM CHILDHOOD. What’s getting in the way of change? Which old messages are you clinging onto? Which ones are just not serving you anymore?

3. DON’T OVERTHINK. TAKE ACTION. There is no perfect way to change. Over-thinking creates procrastination and endless naval gazing. Harness the desire to change and use this to find the motivation to seek out the resources; the determination to set recovery goals and the desire for seeking out fulfilment beyond food and body image.

4. SEEK OUT LIKE-MINDED INDIVIDUALS. Connect with others who understand the path. Your regular beloved friends might just not ‘get it’. Your old disordered eating buddies might unintentionally sabotage your progress. You need people who are also walking the walk.

5. BECOME YOUR OWN NUMBER ONE SUPPORTER. I’m sure that you offer your friends and family much kindness, support and compassion. You likely lift them up, encourage them and offer warmth and understanding. You deserve this too and if you believe it now, act as if you do. It is virtually impossible to simultaneously self-critique and self-care in one go.

Be brave. Be bold. How are you developing a mastery mindset for recovery today?

by Harriet Frew on January 22nd, 2020

You’ve meticulously read the anti-diet books from cover to cover. They stand proudly piled on your bedside cabinet, key phrases annotated in pink highlighter and noteworthy pages book-marked and available for instant inspiration, as needed. These books are a crystal-clear reminder of your life changing declaration to yourself and others. No more diets for you.
And what a contrast: - you reflect over the last few Januarys, noting how they have each been deeply associated with a specific regime.  Cleanses, Keto, paleo, shakes and sugar-free; you’ve always had something on the go.  But not this year!

And surprisingly, you’ve even survived the incessant diet chatter of the past month, drawing on your new determination and resolve. It has in fact, been quite a relief to be disengaged from the old water cooler diet chat. You’re pleasingly an anti-diet newbie; fresh faced and determined to reject the old ways for good.

A few weeks in though, you’re struggling to maintain your anti-diet stance. You’ve even had a few sneaky Google searches ‘how to lose belly fat really fast’. You’ve found yourself feeling conflicted and disappointed that you’re not sticking to your guns. You can’t quite fathom why this anti-diet business is harder than you thought.

Some thoughts on this:
  • 1. You purpose and identity. For as long as you can remember, you’ve either been on or off a diet, or plotting and planning your next one. Although this has been an uncomfortable mood rollercoaster of sorts, giving catastrophic lows, with intermittent fleeting highs; this way of living has defined you. It’s offered a structure and purpose to the fabric of daily life and has become a way of bonding with others. You might be known as the ‘one that’s weird with food’; ‘the one that doesn’t eat cake in the office’ or ‘the one that’s the fit gym bunny’. Although a part of you loathes these pigeon holing labels, they have also become a part of you and your identity. Who am I without scale hopping or calorie counting or food obsessing you wonder? Being anti-diet feels wishy-washy and less defined.
  •  2. The mindset hangover. When food has been associated with sky rocketing levels of guilt, better matched to someone committing murder, it’s pretty darn hard to shake this off quickly. The black and white diet thinking: ‘I’m a greedy person for eating this’ or ‘I’m a saint for drinking my green juice’. Or ‘I’m so good at keeping to this diet’ or ‘I’ve completely fallen off the wagon and failed, as a human being’.  These thought patterns will be wired strongly in your brain, having built up with years of repetition. Not surprisingly, dichotomous thinking patterns will take significant time to blur towards helpful shades of grey. And you will likely need to proactively practice the mindset work to find this grey in the first place.
  • 3. Time. It probably took you several months (likely years) to immerse yourself in the grimy depths of diet culture. You were unconsciously and consistently reinforcing the beliefs, behaviours and thinking that saw dieting as ‘good’. Alas, this cannot be reversed immediately.  Instead, expect it to be a plodding marathon rather than a dashing sprint. If you can lower your expectations and engage with the long game, this will massively help.
It takes time to move away from diet culture and establish a healthy relationship with food. Don’t give up on it though, as the long-term benefits are absolutely worth the investment. Remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself in this process; as one step forward and two steps backwards is the norm. Seek out support through other people on the same journey and work to put the blinkers on, to the old seductive diet triggers.

You will get there with consistency and a commitment, but it will likely be a gradual dilution of symptoms, rather than an overnight transformation.

by Harriet Frew on January 21st, 2020

Eating disorder therapy - what does it look like?

Do you need to unearth your past?

Can you focus on symptoms alone?

What therapies can help?

There are a number of eating disorder therapies available. Therapy can help you understand why disordered eating has become a coping strategy.

You can look to your past, and you can also work on your present symptoms and learn new ways of coping. I think that both have their place.

A focus on symptoms is an imperative part of treatment. It’s all very well to understand your relationship with your parents to the nth degree; process the past trauma and grieve loss, but if you’re continuing to starve your body, over exercise, purge or binge eat, you will need help in breaking these cycles. They have become destructive habits that need interrupting.

What about the deeper work? I think that this is also essential. A symptoms only approach might never result in longstanding change, if you’ve feeling undeserving of recovery or if the disordered eating symptoms are effectively numbing deeper pain. Focusing only on the symptoms might temporarily plaster over the wound. You could be vulnerable to redirecting your symptoms in another destructive direction.

Therapies that can help: -
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy – if you have disordered eating, you are likely ambivalent about change. This therapy helps work with your ambivalence and makes sense of it. It’s about helping you move to a place of taking responsibility and feeling more ready for change.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – a more symptom focused approach and is very helpful in treating bulimia and binge eating particularly. You will learn to identify links between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The therapist is directive and guides the therapy and you are an active participant in the process. You will likely use a range of diary keeping tools and thought records.
  • Cognitive Analytic Therapy – this combines developing an understanding of your past, with practical tools for new ways of thinking and behaving. You will develop a visual map with your therapist, outlining patterns in your relationships, with others and yourself. You gain awareness about cycles you have become caught in and then look for exit strategies to manage things differently.
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy – a therapy working in the present (similar to CBT) but with a greater focus on emotional and social aspects. It can be particularly helpful if your emotions are extreme or if you are engaging in particularly self-punishing behaviours.
  • The New Maudsley Method Family Therapy – this therapy supports carers of people with eating disorders. This is valuable work, as carers can often be drawn (without awareness) into unhelpful ways of helping. You learn skills to help support your loved one and this approach is largely motivational.
  • If you have experienced trauma, EMDR treatment Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can be valuable, as can longer term psychotherapy.

This is by no means an extensive list but gives some pointers on helpful therapies. Many therapists also work integratively and can combine helpful approaches.

What type of therapy has worked for you? Do you have an experience to share?

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Find peace with food and overcome disordered eating.