Eating Disorders – Weight, The Recovery Process, How to Be an Ally, Tips & More [VIDEO]
Learn ED recovery process/tips, and advice for supporting loved ones
Most people are quite terrified of coming to see me as an Eating Disorder Dietitian because I’m going to be talking about the thing that they’re most feared of.
When you’re talking about food and an eating disorder, it can be very stressful.
There’s a lot of myths about working with an Eating Disorder Dietitian that provide that fear, that create the element of “I am terrified to go see her, she’s the last person I want to see”. And I mean, I expect that, we know that as Eating Disorder Dietitians, and so we’re comfortable not being your favorite person in the room for sure.
Dispelling Dietitian Myths
1. We are going to be working with you – not against you
One of the big myths that I want to dispel about coming to see an Eating Disorder Dietitian would be that I’m going to give you a meal plan and you must stick to it and I’m in control of what you eat and you have no say, and that’s so not true. For any client coming into the office, we are going to be working with you – not against you. It’s so much about your participation and your food preferences and working at the pace that you’re comfortable with. It’s not about us, we are here just to guide you through that process. So, if you hate broccoli, we are not going to force you to eat broccoli. That’s one of the big ones for people coming in.
2. You will not be judged
Another one would be that we’re going to judge you. There’s a lot of fear of coming in to speak with a dietitian or a nutrition expert. I think a lot of that really comes from the sense of maybe some shame or some worry about how I’m going to be judged with what foods I eat or don’t eat, my eating disorder related behaviors, my body size. That can be a really, really big one because there’s a huge perception that to have an eating disorder, to be worthy of treatments, that you must be either extremely large or extremely small, whether it’s being underweight or not, and that’s just not true. We can have an eating disorder without being large or small and I think that’s the perception and fear that’s there.
3. You are more important than your weight
The other piece, and probably the really big one is that I only care about your weight. Weight is a big hot topic in my office and there’s huge fear that I’m going to judge a person by their weight, that we’re only focused on the weight and then once we get you to where you’re supposed to be, then you’re done. No more issues. And of course, that’s not true either.
Determining a Healthy Weight
When it comes to weight, the reason it’s such a big topic, and kind of the elephant in the room that we have to address, is that people have a lot of different perceptions of what their best weight should be. We talk a lot about ‘best weight’ instead of what your weight needs to be. And when I say best weight, it’s influenced by so many different factors and to be honest, it’s a range!
When you come in and you ask me, “what do I have to weigh, what are you going to make me weigh? How much should I weigh?” I’m going to sit there and say, “I don’t actually know”. We’re going to figure that out. But to be honest, your body is smarter than you. Neck down, your body is brilliant, and it knows what it needs. And it’s our job to stop overthinking it from neck up and really start just figuring out what range it’s going to land. And like I said, your body is smarter than you, it’s smarter than me. And so, we’re going to work together to figure out where that range is for your best weight and also understand that weight is going to keep changing. Over the course of our lifetime, weight should change. Weight should not stay the same because so much life has happened.
When we look at the factors that influence weight, we’re going to look at:
1.Your genetics. That’s a huge one. We’re going to look at your family history, that can really impact what you weigh and why you weigh what you weigh.
2. Nutrition and exercise.
3. Your body composition, how much your muscles weigh, what your bones weigh. I mean I’m guilty of saying “I want you to be heavy, I want you to be obnoxiously dense” because that tells me your body is strong and your organs and bones are strong.
4. Your hormones are going to affect why you weigh what you weigh. And that can be so varied over the course of a month.
5. Fluid is going to come into play, how much fluid are you retaining? Have you eaten more sodium?
So, there’s so many factors that can come into play. And then of course, eating disorder behaviors. If we are symptomatic of eating disorder type of behaviors, then that can affect and show some fluctuation in our weight and that’s a tough one I think to process but a great one to talk through.
The Recovery Process
Learning to Trust Your Body
Neck down your body is smarter than you. My body is going to tell me when I’m sleepy. My body knows when it’s time to wake up. My body knows when I’m hungry. For the most part when I’m in a stable place, my body knows when I’m hungry. It knows when I’m full. It tells me when I’m anxious or worried. It tells us so much. But we really have to practice slowing down the neck up side of things (the cerebral brain) and learning to pay attention and learning to trust the body because there’s just so much information out there that teaches us to not trust the body. That’s where I think my role come in, helping you become the expert in yourself again.
Improving Your Relationship with Food
When someone’s recovering from an eating disorder, yes, we talk about weight but that is very much one piece of the puzzle. That’s just one small factor that we will hopefully not have to talk about for long to be honest. And in most cases I would much prefer to work with you on your relationship with food, your relationship with your body, how you use food, how you feel around food and in situations with foods. And that’s really the big work we do.
But early in recovery, things do feel quite mechanical. So I’ll often say things like “eat like a robot”, where it’s kind of just eating what you have to eat on a consistent basis and it becomes quite robotic, but part of that is to retrain your body. It’s to help your body learn to trust itself again, and to give you those cues so you can trust it. So, early on, things are a little bit more strongly guided by your team, including the Dietitian, and then we will move into what I think is the fun part. It’s scary, but it’s fun because we’ve made it to phase two, where you get to start exploring the more fun sides of food. You get to start eating for fun and flavor and be in experiences and go to events where there’s food and there’s people around, which in itself is going to bring out some other challenges.
Surviving Diet & Food Talk
When you’re moving from phase one, that very mechanical, robotic, really nutrition focused phase, into phase two, there is a chance that we’re going to run into people saying things about bodies and about food that can be really difficult for us when we’re in such a vulnerable place. There are some great tips to help enter some of those situations.
I always say first and foremost, disengage. I get really bored by it. I’m not going to join the conversation, because we don’t want to talk about food or about the body or about the morality of food or about your diet…I could go on all day. In these situations that present themselves whether it’s at work, in the lunchroom, at school, or when you go to order a coffee and someone’s commenting on their diet. It could also be happening at the family table. And so there’s a lot of situations where you might feel stuck around people who are talking about food and their body or your body and making comments. So my main strategy is to disengage, get really bored.
If you can leave, get up & leave, get yourself out of there. If it’s a lunchtime thing or mealtime thing, can you change your time of eating? Or can you change your location of eating? Can you eat with people who are going to be more supportive for right now? I’m also a big fan of setting a firm boundary. I’m a little bit more blunt, or direct with my boundary setting. So I’m happy to say “I’m not interested in this conversation, I’m not going to talk about my body. I don’t want to hear about your diet this week.” You can also do it in a more of a subtle manner. So if someone is commenting on the their diet, you can simply say, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that keto thing, but have you seen the weather this weekend?” or “I’ve been itching to tell you about this podcast I’ve been listening to”
It gets really difficult and it’s so common to be surrounded by people talking about their body, talking about the food they ate this week, talking about the diet that they’re on. And quite frankly, it’s not usually positive, if we stop and actually pay attention to what people are saying, it’s usually so negative and that’s become our normal. I know I’m a Dietitian here, but food is not that interesting. I don’t really care that much what you ate. Did you enjoy it? Great. Did you not like it? Great. Do you feel bad about it? Or you feel bad about you because of it. That’s a tough thing for me to engage with. I’m going to step back from that situation. And that’s where the boundary has to be set.
How to Be An Ally
So if you are a loved one or a support person or a coach or a mentor to anyone who you think might be struggling with an eating disorder or their body image, then there are ways that we can help. I think it’s really important to know that you’re not helpless in this situation.
First and foremost, be careful what you say, I know we’re all worried about saying the wrong thing and making things worse. But where we can start is watch what you say about yourself. How do you talk about yourself? When you talk about yourself, are you talking about how energized you feel today? How confident you feel today? When you talk about someone else, are you labeling their body? Are you talking about the human and the beauty in that human? When I see someone walking by I say “that person looks so confident today”. “Man, that person so happy!”. “I love when that person’s around, and they’re so easy to talk to”. So those are the types of things that we want to talk about. When we get caught, whether we’re talking about our loved one or not, they’re going to know what we mean, if we start talking about other bodies or our bodies, it’s unfair to say that my body is not this way, but you are fine. They know what you mean. And so we do really need to watch what we say.
The other thing that I really want support people to know whether it’s coaches, trainers, parents, is that you can’t be putting yourself on a restricted diet either. Don’t put your athletes on a strict diet. Don’t put your family members on a restrictive diet. And I know diets are in the name of my title, but we don’t need diets in that sense. If you don’t like a food, don’t eat it. If you’re allergic to a food, don’t eat it. But otherwise, there is a place for all foods in your everyday diet. And I promise you that includes our most elite athletes, our everyday weekend warrior and someone who really doesn’t like sports at all. All foods can fit into your diet and honestly, we’re actually going to be healthier by having all those foods in our diet because of the nutrient diversity.
I will put a special component in there for coaches and trainers around athletes. So athletes are unfortunately stuck in the situation where people will often talk about an athlete as having an athletic body. Well let’s be real, there is no “athletic body.” That does not exist. So we need to be very careful as coaches and mentors and trainers because we are in a powerful role with highly driven athletes. When we talk about the athlete, again, we need to talk about the human, the energy performance, their body has nothing to do with that. And we need to be very careful what we say because they are going to hear, and they are going to know.
How to Deal with Bad Body Image Days
Something that I will often teach a lot of my clients is what to do when you are having a bad body image day. And you know, we all have them. It’s okay. You’re not going to feel like a rock star every day, I mean, I would love if you did, but if you’re having a day that’s a little bit tougher, my goal with a lot of my clients is to spend less time with that thought!
If you can really kind of think to yourself and go, “Okay, what parts of my body am I really neutral about?” So for me, it’s my forearms, they mean a whole lot of nothing to me. They’re great, I’m happy they’re there. They don’t change from day to day. Sometimes they get food to my face, and that I’m very thankful for, but day to day, they’re not going change a whole lot. So when I’m having a bad body image day and I’m walking by a reflective surface or a mirror, or I’m just kind of sitting there, instead of spending time thinking about what I want to change, thinking about what I don’t like, I’m really going to quickly redirect myself to my forearms! Have you seen these today? I love these, they don’t change. They’re not that exciting. And so for some people it shins, it’s your forehead…when was the last time you looked in the mirror and you’re like, “check out my forehead today! Looks just like yesterdays!”.
And so that’s one of the great tips that I try to use when we get caught up thinking about our own body image in that day and just spend less time with that negative thought for now until we can do the work to address it.
Shut Down Body Bashing
With body bashing, and negative diet talk, the best thing we can do is start to change the norm for everyone else. When you catch it, let’s shut it down. I can tell you an anecdote. Before I was heading out on a girls trip, we were all in the group chat and there was one friend who was having a hard time. They were talking a lot about their diet and their body in a bathing suit. I set a boundary very quickly early on, I said “It’s really hard for me to hear you say those things about yourself. And I have to be honest, if this is the only topic we’re going to cover on the girls trip, then I’m not going to be able to participate”. And while that was hard for my friend to hear, I had other friends who were going on that trip that were so grateful and so thankful.
So sometimes we can be the person that stands up and shuts down the body bashing, shuts down the diet talk just for ease of mind of everyone else. Food is just food. Food isn’t good or bad. Food doesn’t make you a size or doesn’t make you a size. No food, no matter what it is, is going to make you balloon in weight. And when we talk about the fear around food… I don’t know if everyone’s seen Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, but there is a girl when she goes into the factory who eats the blueberry gum and turns into a blueberry. I think that is a level of fear that we need to be aware of for our loved ones, that sometimes introducing a new food for them might make them feel like that is going to happen. They’re going to blueberry and that’s really, really intimidating.
So, the less honestly good or bad, less pressure we can put on food, the better because like I said, food is just food. Your body, neck down, is smarter than you. Whether you’re eating something from the farmers market or something from fast food or something homemade, your body is going to go “Cool, I’m going to take what I need, and I’m not going to use what I don’t” and we need to practice trusting that body because food does not have morality. Food just keeps us going.
Keep Food Functional
We want to make sure that we are just eating food. We’re eating a wide variety of food. In our homes, we’re serving a wide variety of food and we’re kind of talking about food as just food. Either I’m energized, I’m hungry, or I’m full, period, that’s not good or bad. Making sure that when we’re talking about food or when we’re talking about bodies, we’re making sure that we are talking about the function of that human. We’re talking about the beauty that we see in that human and we are not practicing labeling, that human. That person is not their body size, because health is not equated to body size.
Making sure that when we’re speaking about ourselves, like I said, with that forearm piece, we want to talk about neutral things. And so I would love if you would actually practice walking into a room and saying positive things about yourself. This is going to feel a bit awkward for most people at first, but to walk in and say “I feel great today”. “I’m so proud of me today” Because we’ve gotten so used to the norm of saying negative things, focusing on what is hard, talking about what is bad about us, instead of “hey, check out how great I am”. And that’s not a bad thing, you get to be proud of yourself. The more that we can portray that, the more we normalize it for everyone else.
The biggest thing I’d want people to take away from this is when you’re working on recovering from an eating disorder, this is going to be a hard battle, but it is going to be the most worthwhile battle of your life. I can promise you that and you don’t have to do it alone. We want to make sure that you have the best supportive team around you and ask us the questions. Make sure your Dietitian knows their stuff. Make sure your Dietitian knows mental health and eating disorders and is a good fit for you so that you can feel the most supported in your recovery. We’re going to be hanging out a lot and I promise from the beginning, you might not like me, but by the end, you’re going to be enjoying our time together.
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Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Sports Nutrition
Fitness enthusiast and lover of all things food, Jana is passionate about helping her clients improve their relationship with food and their body. She is a strong, motivational leader. Jana also offers the balance of a warm, supportive coaching style to nudge her clients from their comfort zone while feeling safe and supported. She specializes in mental health, eating disorders, body image and sports nutrition.