eating disorder

Is There Any Food In Your Food? How To Be a Nutritarian

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This topic has been getting more airtime lately: how calories aren't created equal. So make them count! I dug up an old-ass blog post when I wrote about this SAME topic, oh about 5 years ago. And here I am, 6 years later, still working on this with my own nutrition. It's a lifelong thing. I remember hearing for the first time that we should shoot for nutrient-dense foods as often as possible, and that all calories weren't created equal. I immediately though about my eating disorder back in high school. Thinking I was being such a conscious calorie-counter, I made sure to ingest ~600 calories a day.

And I never once considered that the calories I DID consume all came from one source: carbohydrates.

Do you know what carbs do if you don't use them up via exercise? They turn to stored fat.

YUP.

So I was effectively defeating the whole purpose of counting calories to lose weight or be thinner--if that was really my true motivation. I have thoughts to share about my eating disorder which I'll cover in my book. Thankfully, I eventually healed on my own but not before that experience forever changed my relationship to food. That relationship continued to be problematic for another 10 years before I became a certified health coach. Now, I still have some old habits that need work from time to time, but I'm not acting them out in complete ignorance like I was before.

I think some people struggle with food not because they don't have a passionate desire to be more healthy or change their relationship to food but more because they don't know what else to do. There are SO many conflicting messages in our culture, it's hard to make sense of it all. That's a small piece of what I do with my clients and in my workshops and business meetings: we talk about food in a clear and honest way.

What are the habits? What are the questions? What are the fears?

What are some simple tweaks one could make that would add up over time to real, sustainable change in lifestyle?

One good place to start is assessing how much food is actually in your food. How much nutrition are you consuming compared to mere calories? Are you eating something, thinking you're doing well by yourself only to realize, dang! You just ate 300 calories worth of refined sugar and simple carbs in that "nutrition snack bar".

How about your smoothie? What's in it and how much of the calories are packed with nutrients? Check out my blog post on the anatomy of the smoothie to read more about that.

How To Be a Nutritarian

I have a client who loves carrots and hummus. Carrots and hummus is a nutritious snack, for sure. It doesn't make a meal, though, because it really isn't very comprehensive as far as nutrients go. You may have heard about Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I feel sorta cool because his wife was a regular customer at a store I worked for in New Jersey 10 years ago. I got to talk to her about once a week. Dr. Fuhrman has coined this term "nutritarian". While I don't agree with everything Dr. Fuhrman says, I DO love this term. It really seems to be the "diet identity" that would work well for many if not most people.

Nutritarians focus on the nutrient-density of their daily food intake. They ingest food not just because it's what they want to eat or because it tastes good (although it often does) or because it was convenient (even though it can be) but based on this one very simple distinction: how many vitamins, minerals, macro and micronutrients does it contain?

Got that?

You're eating to consume nutrients, not just to consume (or avoid) calories.

I consider myself a nutritarian, albeit an imperfect one. When I plan my day of eating, I scan through ideas in my head and make sure I have a plan to consume as many nutrients as possible--not just what I feel like eating. My goal is to eat because of what food contains, not just because it sounds like a good idea or because someone told me I should eat it according to the latest diet craze (ever notice the shelf-life on those fads, by the way? In one day, out the next.)

It's all about being intentional and mindful. It's where my Buddhism shows up in my everyday life, so it informs everything I do--not just those 10 minutes on a meditation cushion.

These are some ideas for what you can do on the run, but obviously you see why cooking at home makes this much easier--you can buy real food as much as you want and you don't have to try to pick from limited options available at restaurants, etc. It makes the case for cooking at home more often. 

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Back When I Counted the Raisins

When I was in high school, I developed a serious eating disorder.

I've alluded to it here and there, but I've never really written about it--or shared it with any great detail.

Speaking with a prospective client the other night dug up some memories for me, particularly when he mentioned counting raisins. You might think it's silly. Or unnecessary. Or any number of things. But me? I got it. Because I once did the same thing.

What are the odds that he'd find someone to talk to who had the same exact experience? Maybe the odds are pretty good, I have no idea. But I can share how it affected me to sit across from someone who is so compelled and consumed by counting calories, that he's missing a lot of his precious life. And how I remember being in that same position. I remember being that stuck in something that felt so exhilarating ("hey! Look how good I am at this! I am so damn good at depriving my young developing body and mind of essential nutrients on a daily basis!") yet exhausting at the very same time.

I know that, for as good as I was at the game, I never got any damn medals for my meticulous calorie counting. There are no Eating Disorder Olympics, unfortunately. No awards doled out for how many days my weight stayed the same, the needle never budging from that precious and--extremely--important number over which it hovered. I got no Honorable Mention for the amount of time I managed to take to consume a bagel. A bagel. On average, they contain about 600 calories, give or take. To most people who are conscious of their nutrition in healthy ways, plain bagels wouldn't be considered an option, mostly because they are 600 calories of pure carbohydrates--nothing of real value unless I was running a 10K. But to my eating-disordered mind--bagels were on "the list" and believe me, I wasn't running any 10Ks. In fact, I had to quit my high school basketball team my Junior year because my weight dropped so low I couldn't hold my own against opposing teams. If you know me today, you would find this unimaginable--I am pretty stocky and incredibly fucking strong. And I had been that strong as a kid and teenager, too, but not when I starved myself to the point of losing all my lean muscle mass--you know, the kind that makes us strong and, ironically, burns the most calories.

Never knew this. Wish I had.

Instead, I allowed myself to fall down the rabbit hole of a sub-clinical (called thusly because I was never actually hospitalized for it) eating disorder. It was, in many ways, the opposite end of a scale I had been on as a kid. I maybe ate a bit too much sugar and sweet stuff than I needed to. I probably carried an extra 10-15 pounds I didn't need between the ages of 9 and 15, but it never was anything the Doctor spoke to my mom about. But let me tell you, he certainly spoke to her when I went from 165 pounds to a drastic 118. I can't tell you how long it took to lose that weight--I think a few months. I don't have much memory of that time. I just remember being very hungry, very tired, very confused and very angry. Nutrient deprivation will do that to you.

I remember starving myself most of the day and coming home late at night from hanging out with friends and standing in my pantry counting out raisins in my hand. Or bingeing on dry cereal right out of the box--never making the connection that the massive amount of late-night calories I consumed off-set the "great work" I did during each day.

None of it was rational or logical. None of it made sense. But it was my friend--it was the best friend I had when my life felt extremely lonely and challenging beyond what my teen brain could comprehend.

Many years later, I have conquered the obsession with calorie-counting. I eat and drink every day with no real clue about the calories I consume. I eat nutrient-dense, organic food as often as I can because it tastes good. I do it for my health. I still love sugar, and so I have to be mindful when I eat it--because it's also a friend I reach for in times of stress and confusion.

I am glad I struggled with that eating disorder--that compulsion to control my food when the rest of my life felt unmanageable. I am glad, so so glad, I know the visceral reality of that experience so that when clients talk to me about it, I can say with total honesty, "I get it. I really do."

But I am also glad I worked my ass off to end it. And I am glad that when I pour boiling water into my plain instant oatmeal--flavored now with a nice swirl of pure maple syrup and a pat of organic butter---that I don't have to count the raisins anymore.