5 Signs Your Vegan, Gluten-Free, or Paleo Diet is an Eating Disorder in Disguise

by Melainie Rogers 

Gluten-free, paleo, vegan—these nutritional philosophies are frequently discussed and debated. But how often are they socially acceptable ways of sustaining an eating disorder? Of course there are situations where these diets are motivated by illness, love for animals, concern for the environment, or a doctor’s recommendation; however, in many cases they’re a strategy for maintaining control and saying no to the buttery cupcake or the Chicken Alfredo.

Here are five signs that your diet may be an eating disorder in disguise:

1) You avoid social events, family gatherings, dates, and trips.

Tara used to meet her girlfriends every Thursday night for dinner. They would try out a new restaurant in the city, each ordering several appetizers and mains between the four of them. After going gluten-free, Tara felt anxious about the choices the group would make. Anxiety prevented her from being able to be fully present at dinner, and she began showing up late or cancelling last minute. Eventually, she told the group she was taking a class Thursday nights, and stopped going all together.

If you’re avoiding social engagements, family gatherings, dates, and trips for fear of “unsafe” food options, your diet might be entering eating disorder territory.

2) You feel shame if you “cheat.”

Evan attended a potluck and ate the mashed potatoes labeled "vegan." When he heard they were mislabeled he felt a jolt of panic. The rest of his day was consumed by thoughts of the butter and cream he’d eaten. He felt disgusted and ashamed, and beat himself up for not triple checking the ingredients of each dish. He vowed never again to eat something he hadn’t prepared himself.

After a night out with her girlfriends, Anna had a slice of post-bar pizza. When she woke up the next morning, she felt deep shame about it. She chastised herself for the pizza (and the sugary drinks she’d consumed), and decided to do a juice-fast for the next 2 days.

The shame associated with "cheating" often occurs when your self-worth is tied to what you are, or are not, eating. This can be a sign of an eating disorder.

3) The motivation to change your diet is less about a healthy lifestyle and more about getting skinny.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but be really honest with yourself about the motivation behind your diet. Striving for a clean, healthy lifestyle is a great thing! But eliminating certain foods as an excuse to eat less is eating disorder behavior.

4) A great deal of your cognitive and emotional energy is taken up by planning your next meal.

If thoughts of your next paleo-approved meal or workout fills every spare moment, you might be bordering on an eating disorder. Like restricting, following a specific diet can become a way of feeling in control or coping with difficult feelings. If you’re consumed by thoughts of orchestrating a gluten-free/vegan/paleo-approved existence, it might be time to make a change.

5) Your diet is accompanied by other eating disordered behaviors.

Weighing yourself daily, fearing weight gain, scrutinizing your reflection in the mirror, over-exercising, binging, purging, feeling out of control around food, and using laxatives or stimulants are just a few behaviors that might suggest you’re struggling with an eating disorder.

What do you think? Have you ever used a nutritional philosophy as a socially acceptable way to restrict? Is it possible to abide by a nutritional philosophy without it going “too far?” If so, what does that look like? I’d love to hear your opinion!

10 Tips to Stop Binge Eating

by Melainie Rogers

Binge eating is an increasingly common concern. Feeling out of control, consuming large portions of food in a short period of time, and feeling ashamed characterize this highly distressing pattern. If you can relate, these 10 tips are for you:
 
1. Don't Restrict

In the "feast or famine" times of our ancestors, bingeing made sense. When food was available, they feasted, preparing for when food would be scarce. In those days, excess food didn't cause the anxiety it causes us now, and the feast-famine model was functional. Now, however, it causes distress and shame. If you restrict—whether it be intentionally or unintentionally (dieting, overexercising, or appetite-suppressing drugs), you're setting yourself up for a binge. It's very important to eat regular meals to shift away from this cycle. If you binge at one meal, don't skip the next or you'll simply set yourself up for another binge. 

2. Practice Self-Compassion

Usually, when we binge, we beat ourselves up for it. And then we feel shame. And we don't like those feelings of shame, so we distract ourselves from them. How? By continuing to binge! And what about when we want to understand what led to the binge? If we're self-critical, we avoid thinking about it because it makes us feel so crappy. Not only does self-criticism make us feel worse, it actually prolongs and perpetuates binge behavior. With mindfulness and self-compassion, we're actually far more likely to make a change in our behavior. Being self-compassionate means you treat yourself like you would a friend or loved one. If you slip up, you're supportive and understanding, rather than cruel and angry. 

3. Make Sure You're Getting Enough of Certain Nutrients

Oftentimes, bingeing is our body's way of seeking nutrients we're deprived of. A craving for sweets is often a sign that we're dehydrated or lacking vitamin C. A craving for salty foods might mean we're missing calcium, sodium, magnesium, or zinc. Low energy combined with insatiable appetite might mean you're low in iron or B12. Make sure you're getting enough of these important micronutrients, as well as satiating macronutrients such as high-fiber carbs, healthy fats, and protein. Not only do these fill us up, they prevent blood sugar crashes (that often result in binges).

4. Clear Your Cupboard of Binge Foods

The solution to binge eating is not simply to avoid binge food, but it's a necessary step in recovery. The way to work through alcoholism is not to practice abstinence while surrounded by vodka bottles; similarly, the way to work through binge eating is not to practice intuitive eating surrounded by your binge foods of choice. If you don't feel safe around cereal, don't buy cereal for now. If you don't feel safe around ice cream, don't buy ice cream for now. This is not a sign of weakness or failure; it's a supportive and compassionate action in your recovery process. 

5. Learn and Use Mindfulness

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. We can mindfully bring attention to our bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, and senses. With practice, we are able to switch out of the "autopilot" mode of bingeing, and change our behavior. Mindfulness also helps you become more aware of whether or not you're physically or emotionally hungry. Yoga and meditation are great avenues to gaining mindfulness skills. 

6. Do Low-Intensity Exercise

Unknowingly, many people who struggle with binge eating make their recovery more challenging by engaging in high-intensity exercise that can set them up for a binge. High-intensity exercise keeps our appetite high and can often put our bodies into that state of "famine" we discussed earlier. If you're wanting to get a handle on binge eating, consider scaling back on spinning or CrossFit. Bring more functional fitness into your life, like taking the stairs, walking, and practicing yoga. 

7. Learn to "HALT"

An acronym I encourage clients to use once they can switch out of "autopilot" is HALT: "Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?" Of course angry and lonely could be replaced with many other emotions—hurt, sad, bored, guilty. As you become more in touch with your body, you'll be able to better tell if you truly are hungry, or if your hunger is for something else. For example, if you can acknowledge you're lonely, you might reach for the phone or practice self-compassion instead of going to the cupboard. Similarly, we seek high-fat, high-sugar foods for quick energy when we're tired. For anyone prone to bingeing, this can be a trigger. 

8. Join a Support Group and/or See a Therapist

Shame thrives in secrecy, and shame perpetuates bingeing. When we can talk about our struggles in a safe, supportive environment, the shame begins to melt away. Then insight and change happen. There are many support groups for binge eating, both online and offline. If you're not ready for a group, consider seeing a therapist or attending a treatment center. It is very challenging to try to heal on your own, and usually bingeing has become a maladaptive way of dealing with more complex issues. 

9. Don't Purge

Purging perpetuates a cycle of bingeing on several levels: First, it sends the message to our body that despite eating a moderate amount of food, we're not satisfied. So what do we do? We eat more! Secondly, it psychologically permits us to keep bingeing, as we know we can alleviate the discomfort of a binge with a purge and not absorb the calories (yet, we still absorb most of them). When we stop giving ourselves the option to purge or restrict, we're more intentional about binges. 

10. Be Mindful of Your Relationship with Alcohol

I've had many clients who feel extremely vulnerable to bingeing when they've been drinking alcohol. This is because alcohol affects our prefrontal cortex, the area of our brain that controls logic, decision-making, rationality, and self-control, among other important functions. Alcohol also increases our appetite for up to 24 hours after consuming it, depresses mood, and destabilizes blood sugar—which raises your susceptibility to a binge the next day. If you're trying to binge less, consider cutting back on how much you drink, or cutting it out entirely.

7 Ways To Banish Emotional Eating For Good

by Melainie Rogers 

Let me start by assuring you that everyone overeats from time to time. When it’s Thanksgiving. When Grandma makes her famous blueberry pie. When you can’t decide between the pizza and the gnocchi at your favorite Italian restaurant, so you decide to order both. When dinner is delayed by two hours because you’ve been stuck in traffic.

But emotional overeating isn’t about our “eyes being bigger than our stomachs” or feeling stuffed because we were starving. It’s about using food to cope with uncomfortable feelings, then usually feeling shame and beating ourselves up afterward.

As a certified eating disorder registered dietitian, here are seven tips I recommend to anyone looking to shift out of the frustrating emotional eating pattern:

1. Discover mindfulness.

Don’t skip this step — it’s the most important! Mindfulness is awakening to the present moment with acceptance and without judgment. It’s as simple as it sounds, but it does require practice. After all, most of us live our lives on autopilot without ever paying attention to the current moment.

Mindfulness is a prerequisite for managing emotional eating, because it’s necessary for recognizing what we’re feeling in a current moment and learning to cope in a different way. It also helps us become more aware of whether or not we're physically or emotionally hungry.

Breath work, yoga, and meditation are powerful avenues to gaining mindfulness skills.

2. Practice self-compassion.

Usually, when we overeat, we beat ourselves up for it. And we don't like those feelings of shame, so we distract ourselves from them. How? By continuing to eat!

When we’re self-compassionate, we're actually far more likely to make a change in our behavior.

Being self-compassionate means you treat yourself like you would a friend or a loved one. If you slip up, you're supportive and understanding rather than cruel and angry. You explore what you need to make a change rather than berating and punishing.

3. Know your triggers.

Think about when you tend to overeat. Is it always after you speak to a certain person? Sunday nights before a busy workweek? When you go on Instagram and see a post that makes you feel inadequate? When you creep on your ex’s Facebook page?

Many of us think if we imagine a situation, we’re going to will it to happen. Really, it’s kind of the opposite.

Knowing your triggers will give you a one-up on emotional eating so you can either avoid triggering situations or make sure you’re armed the next time you’re vulnerable.

4. Find healthier ways to cope with difficult feelings.

Emotional eating may have helped you cope with overwhelming feelings in the past, but it’s no longer serving you.

Consider what you’ve felt during those moments that was unbearable: Sadness? Anxiety? Rejection? Loneliness? Inadequacy? Then, consider what you’ve needed in those moments when eating has comforted you. Support? Reassurance? Love? Company? Distraction?

Painful feelings are a part of life, and they’re going to come up again and again. It’s important for us to learn different coping mechanisms so we don’t fear them so much. When we feel equipped to experience the difficult stuff, we can live our lives with more ease.

Spend some time writing down alternative coping mechanisms, so you’re equipped for the next time you feel compelled to raid the fridge in response to uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes, your feelings are going to be so strong that it could help to distract yourself — think watching a show or engaging in an activity that takes all your concentration.

Other times, you’re going to want to gently “go through” the feelings in a self-supportive way. For example, practice self-compassion while writing out some of your thoughts and feelings, going for a walk and listening to music, or calling a supportive friend.

5. Learn to "HALT" before eating.

Once you’re gotten in the habit of using mindfulness, use the HALT acronym when you notice the urge to eat emotionally: Ask, "Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?" (Angry and lonely could be replaced with many other emotions, whether it's hurt, sad, anxious, bored, or guilty.)

As you become more in touch with your body, you'll be able to better tell if you truly are hungry, or if your hunger is for something else. Similarly, if we're tired, we seek high-fat, high-sugar foods for quick energy. HALTing can be a healthy check-in before going to the cupboard.

6. Don't restrict yourself after overeating.

If you restrict yourself, like dieting or over-exercising, you're setting yourself up for overeating. That's why it's so important to eat regular meals to shift away from the restrict/overeat cycle.

If you overeat, don’t punish yourself with starvation. Tune into your body and eat again when you’re hungry.

7. Seek out the right foods.

Overeating can sometimes be our body's way of seeking nutrients of which we're deprived. A craving for sweets is often a sign we're dehydrated or lacking in vitamin C. A craving for salty foods might mean we're missing calcium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc. Low energy combined with insatiable appetite might mean you're low in iron or B12.

Make sure you're getting enough of these important micronutrients, as well as satiating macronutrients such as high-fiber carbs, healthy fats, and protein. Not only do these fill us up, they prevent blood sugar crashes that often result in overeating.

Finally, consider working with a therapist or nutritional professional on your journey. It can be far more challenging to make these changes on your own, and you’re more likely to succeed with the support and advice of a professional.

5 WAYS TO SUPPORT SOMEONE WITH AN EATING DISORDER

by Melainie Rogers

Watching someone you love self-destruct is a heartbreaking experience. When someone we care about has an eating disorder — whether it's anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder — we regularly feel frustration, fear, confusion, hurt, and powerlessness.

As a registered dietitian for more than 12 years, and the founder and executive director of BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center, I've had the privilege of learning how eating disorders affect individuals and their loved ones. Ultimately, their illness is largely out of your control.

But there are some important things you can do — and some you shouldn't do — to support them and move them toward recovery:

What You Should Do to Support a Loved One

1. Frame your concern in terms of their behavior — not their appearance.

When someone we love has lost or gained a significant amount of weight, we tend to open our intervention with "You're alarmingly thin" or "You've put on a lot of weight."

However, this only reinforces a focus on appearance, and, in the case of weight loss, being "alarmingly thin" might actually be received positively.

So instead of focusing on weight, say something like, "I've noticed you haven't been attending social events lately," or "You seem distracted and don't _____ anymore. What's up? Is everything okay?"

2. Offer them resources.

Fortunately, there are numerous resources available, both online and offline. Because there's a great deal of shame around having an eating disorder, online resources that allow a person to remain anonymous can sometimes be a good gateway into more effective interventions.

The act of researching a few options and sending them to your loved one in an email can be an act of caring in itself, even if they don't actually check out any of them. Some of my favorites include the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Eating Disorder Hope, and Recovery Warriors.

3. Acknowledge destructive behavior in a supportive way.

Often, we react to disordered eating behavior by either a) accusing or interrogating (i.e., "I know you just made yourself throw up!"), or b) turning a blind eye to behavior.

A more constructive reaction to destructive behavior is saying something like, "I know you're dealing with stuff right now, as we all do at times. I know when I'm going through a tough time, it helps to know there's someone nonjudgmental around to talk to. I just want you to know I'm here as a confidential sounding board when you're ready to make a change."

4. Recognize the severity of the illness.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yep, higher than depression, schizophrenia, and so on.

The earlier the intervention, the higher the rate of recovery — so don't wait for it to get worse before offering resources.

5. Tell them you love them.

If you keep reinforcing that you love them unconditionally, they'll feel safe coming to you when they're ready to seek help.

However, depending on your relationship to the person, you want to be mindful that you set boundaries around behaviors rather than enabling them. For example, if your partner has been struggling with an eating disorder and has replaced your evening meal together with the gym, it's okay to say, "I miss you. I miss having dinner together after work. I know the eating disorder might be telling you the gym is more important than me, but I want you to know that's just the eating disorder trying to come between us. It leaves me feeling neglected."

Because eating disorders can be so manipulative and all-consuming, it can sometimes be helpful to remind your loved one how it's affecting you — just be sure to do it in a very compassionate way that puts the blame on the disorder rather than the person.

Telling someone they're "not fat" can just reinforce their belief that they need to be thin to be loved.

What Not to Do

1. Don't take it personally.

We sometimes take it personally that our loved one is struggling with an eating disorder. We feel guilty, angry, offended, frustrated, neglected, hurt, and confused.

Know that all these feelings are normal and okay to experience, but remember that eating disorders are complex illnesses that almost never come from a place of ill intent. They have a way of manipulating people into making the eating disorder the priority. It's not about you.

2. Don't assume you can heal them on your own.

Eating disorders can be one of the most challenging mental illnesses to treat — for a professional. So don't assume that because you are close to the person you can heal them. You'll end up overwhelmed, lost, and frustrated.

Plus, in assuming responsibility, you might be preventing your friend or loved one from getting professional help. Finally, many cases require a team of individuals, such as a therapist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist. It usually involves education, helping patients improve their relationship to themselves and others, and finding purpose. A treatment center is often your best resource for covering all these bases.

3. Don't tell them they're "not fat."

An eating disorder tells a person that they're never thin enough. When a person with an eating disorder looks in the mirror, they are repulsed by the image before them. So telling them they're "not fat" can just reinforce their belief that they need to be thin to be loved, and keeps the attention on their body.

Instead, try something like, "I love when you're present with me and the eating disorder isn't coming between us. I love when we can share a meal together or sleep in on a Sunday morning."

4. Don't shame or monitor them.

I had a client whose mother told her "You're smarter than this. You're being childish and ignorant keeping yourself at this sickly weight." But shaming someone for their struggle is an avenue toward disconnection.

And because an eating disorder is often a way of dealing with difficult feelings (shame being a very common one), shaming a person is just likely to reinforce the illness. Similarly, "watching" someone during or following meals breeds distrust, judgment, resentment, and control in your relationship — all things that might inhibit recovery.

5. Don't forget about yourself.

When someone we love is struggling, it's a heartbreaking and exhausting place to be. So it's very important to set boundaries, practice your own self-care, and seek help yourself.

Consider seeing a therapist, or joining a support group for people with a family member with mental illness. If putting yourself first is hard for you to do, think of it this way: you will be a better support to your loved one if your own mental health is in balance.