I had my first meeting with a nutritionist on Wednesday. She specializes in eating disorders and was recommended by the eating disorder treatment center that originally gave me my diagnosis. I had never been to a nutritionist before, although I’d worked with personal trainers and had done dieting apps. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, even though I’d done tons and tons of research into my eating disorder.
I basically gushed for the first 45 minutes to an hour, telling her everything about my history with food and how I had come to this diagnosis. It was just like going to a therapist, except we were talking about food. We discussed my history with antidepressants, my current medications, my eating habits, how food was offered in my childhood, and what I’d come to believe about food.
I consider myself pretty well educated when it comes to nutrition. I understand about proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, calories, etc. By all medical measurements, I’m healthy: all my lipids are within prescribed ranges; I’m not overweight or obese; I have a good heart rate and normal blood pressure and no major physical illnesses to report. I’m strong muscularly-speaking and I have a perfectly lovely VO2 output. And I know how to eat, and what to eat, to be “healthy”.
The issue with binge eating disorder, however, is not about what you eat exactly; it’s about why you eat, and how you eat.
A complete upending of the world
I was expecting the nutritionist to give me timetables on eating, so that I could remove the emotional attachment to food that I have. My friend who is undergoing her own treatment told me that they had her eating three meals a day at set times of protein, starch, and produce, as well as one afternoon snack of produce and protein and an evening/before bed snack of whatever she wanted (but only one serving). I thought I’d get a similar schedule.
“What I want you to do,” my nutritionist told me, “is have two servings of protein and two servings of carbohydrates at each meal, plus one fat. A serving of protein–”
“Wait, no vegetables?” I interrupted.
“If you want them, sure,” she said. “But I want you to have a minimum of two fistfuls of carbs and two decks of cards worth of protein, as well as at least a thumb-tip’s worth of fat. Obviously, with an avocado or whatever, it’ll be more fat.”
I was reeling a bit. Carbs? Two servings of carbs? At each meal?
“So,” I said, “like, blueberries with eggs for breakfast?”
“No,” she said, “like, two slices of toast with eggs.”
She went on to tell me that she wanted me to have three snacks a day that were a protein and a carb.
“So carrots and hummus?” I asked.
“Well, sure,” she said, “but I’d want you to add in some pita chips. You can have a fruit and a protein for a snack. Like, an apple with peanut butter.”
She kept going, describing portion sizes to me.
“So, like, if you’re having fries–”
“Fries?” I exclaimed.
“Yeah,” she said, and kept going, explaining I should have two fistfuls of fries.
My entire world had just been turned upside down. It was as if someone had just told me that my boyfriend was a serial killer.
“I think I’m going to cry,” I said.
“Why?” She asked.
“No one has ever told me to have fries,” I said.
Getting rid of the deprivation mindset
“Binging only happens because of some form of restriction.”
One of the biggest triggers for a binge with binge eating disorder is dieting. The reason for this is that when we try to restrict ourselves from things we need (like food), our brains and bodies and hormones react by wanting them more.
If I tell you not to think of an elephant… you’re going to think of an elephant. If I tell myself I can’t have carbs, I’m going to overreact to carbs when I get around them, and become obsessed with them, and hey, probably binge on them. This isn’t because I’m a bad person, or a lazy person, or a morally inept person. It’s basic psychology.
Deprivation mindset can manifest in all sorts of forms, and can include any basic human necessity, including eating, shelter, and love. And it can have devastating effects, such as impulsive shopping behaviors, relationship issues, and, yep, eating disorders.
Our society’s moral obsession with food has led us all to label foods as “good” or “bad”. For me, refined sugar, white flour, and basically most carbohydrates are inherently bad. I have learned to attach values to foods. Fats are good because they help you dissolve vitamins, and keep you feeling full. But carbs just make you fat. And fat is bad.
Or that is what I thought.
My nutritionist was starting me on a crash course in not assigning moral value to foods. “We’re going to level the playing field,” she said. “Bananas, hamburgers, Oreos, apples, and broccoli are all going to be on the same level.”
To do this, I have to completely reset that underlying assumption that carbs are bad.
“I don’t care if you don’t eat a vegetable all week,” my nutritionist told me. “You have to stop believing that carbs make you fat. Because it’s not true.”
This is not a diet
“This is only for a week, right?” my fiance said worriedly when I told him my new meal plan.
“Uh, find a new nutritionist,” my best friend said.
“But not for your whole life,” my mother said.
People have not been reacting well to my telling them that my nutritionist — who is supposed to know what does a body good — is telling me to eat carbs and not vegetables, and to basically keep myself full all day.
But my issue is not that I need to lose weight. My issue is that I need to reframe how I think about food so that I don’t completely lose control around it, or hate myself every time I eat.
Those reactions come from a disordered eating point of view that we all live in. Nutritionists are meant to teach us how to lose weight, because that’s what we consider “healthy”. But it’s not. Losing weight is not always healthy. Being thin is not always healthy. This is not a restrictive diet to get me within a certain weight range.
This is a reset
Eating six times a day and only eating carbs and fats and protein (and a veg if I feel like it) is about retraining my body and getting myself out of the deprivation mindset.
This will be accomplished in a number of ways:
- By eating on a regular schedule and in abundance, my body will learn that food is always available.
- My metabolism will turn back on, because I’m fueling it.
- I will have to face my relationship with carbohydrates and food labeling.
My nutritionist had told me that I didn’t need to eat everything on my plate; I should stop when I’m done. And if I’m full and don’t want to eat a snack, fine.
“I don’t care if you binge eat every meal this week,” she told me.
I’m only one day in, and it’s already working. After I got over my initial shock (which included nausea and dizziness and a lot of anxiety), I ate my first meal: dinner. My fiance made salmon with rice and vegetables. I heaped my plate up with two servings of salmon and rice and added the cucumbers and avocado on top.
I couldn’t finish it. I put what was left in a container and put it in the fridge and didn’t look back. Two days ago, if my fiance had made this meal, I would have eaten a small, “reasonable” portion of it, and then gone back for seconds, and then gone back for thirds when I was full (but didn’t “feel” full). Instead, I ate until I was satiated, and didn’t need anymore.
I’ll probably gain some weight this week. But again, my weight is not the focus of this exercise. My disordered relationship with food is. I’m not even going to get on the scale at all.
I woke up this morning feeling lighter and happier than I had in a long time. I placed an order with our grocery delivery service for cheese, crackers, pita chips, mac n cheese, and milk — all things I haven’t kept in the house in a long time. I did get some strawberries, blueberries, and apples, too. I like vegetables and fruits. But to be totally honest, I can’t wait to order my first burger and fries.